Social Critics and the Human Face of Activism

Dennis Brutus poetry

This isn’t about Reuben Abati; it’s about you and me. He is just the ham in the sandwich, the one whose treachery, his becoming a mouthpiece for a government he once challenged, the spotlight’s beam has caught.

What makes a man leak from both sides of his mouth? I pondered this question and found it difficult to throw stones. Pebbles maybe, for I don’t want to excuse actions, but understand them.

So, I imagine that I am a writer with strong opinions who has nailed the art of persuading others with my words. My words are pregnant with love for my country, a sense of justice, and concern for the plight of the ordinary man. When published they give birth to a stream of followers whose voice I become.

This voice makes me a fly perching on the government’s egusi soup, small yet irritating. Knowing that spraying Shelltox is an overkill, the government places another bowl of soup on the table. Enter seduction: moving pleas from emissaries in babarigas and boubous, a call to arms for my country, not with an AK47, but with my words.

This seduction, more pleasurable than a woman’s fingers kneading coconut oil in my loins, causes my heart to race as visions of power, affluence, and a platform for greater influence fill my mind. Thoughts of Babangida’s offer to Tai Solarin surface. Does it matter? I know I will make a difference. I will no longer merely itemise our problems with lengthy editorials.

And so, I resume my new job in Aso Rock. The first thing that slaps me is the ineptitude of those I work with. The second is the indifference of those to whom I am accountable. All my lofty ideas, received with fist pumps, translated into memos that have been circulating in a hierarchical system that bemuses me, have reached the ceiling and died there.

In six months, only cosmetic changes like the framing and hanging of our work ethics in every office are visible. Money is changing hands, but mine are clean so far. I am preoccupied with change and our meeting minutes reflect this even if those that attend, now openly yawn.

Soon, I must sell a policy that smells like dead fish to the people whose voice I am or was; I am not sure for I am losing who I am or was. By this time, my children are in the best private school in Abuja, my wife has a thriving import business patronised by senator’s wives, and I have laid the foundation for my house in the village. My convictions have clashed with duty before, but this time, the stakes are higher.

I do what I must and then I read the outcry on social media. Haba! This longing for heroism, this cry for a saviour, did I put it in people’s heart? This search for credibility, is it because their lives are so untrue? At least, I answered the call. What about them? Useless people firing tweets in between replying emails in some god-forsaken cubicle!

I scratch my belly and the ten kilos I have gained causes it to wobble. I roll my tongue over canines that once drew blood, now blunt from lack of use. Look, I cannot sit on a pile of human praise anyway, such fickle things to base affirmation upon. Hands that tweeted me to the top show no mercy. I am a high-rise set to detonate. Before them, I crumble to the dust.

As elections draw near, I angle myself right. My loyalty may fetch a ministerial appointment. If not, I will offer media houses an exposé with names and lists. In the middle of the Twitter wars and Facebook debates, I will metamorphose into my old skin, a social crusader, a voice for all who forgive and forget.

The government needs human capital to build the Nigeria we dream of. When you are called, how will you serve?

 

I saw Reuben Abati once at a writing workshop where he was a keynote speaker. He must have delivered a good speech, I don’t recall. I remember that he was dark, average height, ordinary like you and me, yes, like you and me.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

The poem by the South African activist, Dennis Brutus, addresses the conflict between love for one’s country and love for a woman. In it, I see also the conflict between heroism and self-preservation. African Soulja reviewed the poem here

Reuben Abati: Journalist and Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan (2011 –  ).

Egusi soup: Popular soup made with melon seeds.

Shelltox: Brand of insecticide.

Babarigas and boubous: Traditional clothing. Used here to denote a custom where elders cajole one’s hesitant feet into a course of action.

Ibrahim Babangida: Military dictator (1985 – 1993).

Tai Solarin: Deceased. Social critic and secular humanitarian. Served as chairman of the Babangida Administration’s People’s Bank, but later resigned in protest of corruption within the bank.

Aso Rock: The residence and office of the Nigerian President.

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Your Enemies Shall Never Succeed

Your enemies shall never succeed

“It’s a lie! Your enemies will never succeed!”

“So after the prayer meeting . . .”

“Yes?”

“I took the holy water to the office.”

Eh hen?”

“I didn’t take all. I poured some into La Casera bottle—”

“You washed it first—”

“No o! Is that bad?”

“Hmmm, it would have been better to sanctify it, but well, it is well.”

“So, I got to work very early, before people started coming . . .”

Eh hen?”

“I entered my oga’s office and I started sprinkling the holy water. Then his secretary came in—”

“Bloooood of Jesus! She saw you?”

“No. I quickly hid the bottle behind my back.”

“Good . . . good.”

“She asked me if I was looking for the leadership presentation printouts.”

“I said, ‘Yes.’ She told me to check the cabinet and left.”

“Thank God!”

“I continued sprinkling the holy water, on the desk, under the desk, on the chair, on the computer. I even sprinkled some on the pictures of his wife and children. When I finished, I started marching round the desk, then the secretary popped her head through the door—”

“Your enemies shall not succeed!”

“Amen!”

Eh hen, what did she want?”

“She asked me if I had found it. I said, ‘Not yet—’”

“And then?”

“She said she would help me.”

“The water?”

“She asked me what it was. I said, ‘Nothing. Just drinking water—’”

“Your enemies will never succeed!”

“She asked me why I’ve been pouring it around the office.”

“Jesus! Jeeesus! . . . What did you say?”

“I said I wasn’t pouring it. She said I was lying that she had been watching me on the CCTV”

“CCTV ke?”

“Yes!”

“So what did you do?”

“We started arguing.”

“Your enemies shall never ever succeed! Eh hen?”

“Then I got angry and stormed out—”

“The holy water?”

“I . . . I . . . I left it there . . .”

“Sh*t!”

“Anyway, when I stepped out of the office, I saw people gathered round her computer.”

“Who? The secretary?”

“Yes! Someone was saying, ‘Rewind, rewind . . . ’”

“What were they watching?”

Leave mata. I wanted to pass quietly. But she shouted, ‘Stop him!’ Then everybody looked up and started laughing.”

“Don’t worry; it is not the end of the world—”

“That’s what I thought. Until the security grabbed me—”

“What?”

“I tried to struggle—”

“Jesus!”

“The other one tackled me to the floor. Then my oga—”

“Your boss? Where did he come from?”

“I don’t know. He told me not to struggle. That I should respect myself and pack my things and leave.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that. As I was packing, the security guards stood by me. They kept saying, ‘Oya hurry up!’”

“All hope is not lost. God works in mysterious ways. It is well.”

“As I was going to the lift, my oga was following me. He shouted, ‘Wait!’ So I turned.”

“Hmmm, what did he want again?”

“He said, ‘You are not the first and you will not be the last. My enemies shall never succeed!’ Then he pushed the holy water into my hands!”

“It’s a lie! Jesus!”

“What? What? . . . What is it?”

“Your enemies . . .  Osanobua! Your enemies, they have succeeded!”

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Image credit: curtain vector: zcool.com.cn

font: Christopher Hand by El Stinger: http://www.dafont.com/christopherhand.font

font: Acid Label by Billy Argel: http://www.dafont.com/acid-label.font

design: ©Timi Yeseibo 2014

Fire. Passion. Desire.

Fire Passion Desire

“It’s midnight.”

“I know.”

“I thought you said you were tired.”

“I am.”

“Come to bed.”

“Not yet. I have to finish this.”

When I finally stagger into bed at 4 a.m., I have a new definition for passion: the thing that keeps you awake while others sleep.

Is this passion?

I used to go to bed at midnight and then wake up at 3 a.m., to watch The Australian Open, while everyone else slept. I love loved tennis. I kept abreast of rankings; I rearranged players’ bios in my head. I tracked live scores on my iPhone during sermons on Sundays.

I put my definition to the test. I ask friends, “Does this mean I was passionate about tennis?”

“Nah, you are were passionate about Rafa Nadal’s biceps!”

Never mind my friends they are goofy like that.

 

I attended a meeting, where the speaker’s call rang true: we should be passionate about life. He didn’t tell us where to find passion, but I have a thought or two, and maybe you do too.

Passion- Origin

Middle English: from Old French, from late Latin passio(n-) (chiefly a term in Christian theology), from Latin pati ‘suffer’1.

Pati, to suffer. How true in the sense that we willingly suffer pain to gain the thing we love. But the word has evolved.

passion

Is passion duty?

I think of the nights in secondary school, when I read a small book called Calculations in Modern Chemistry—the bane of my fourteen-year-old existence. I couldn’t tell an atom from a molecule, those minuscule things unseen by the naked eye. Forged on I did, cramming formulas, until I decided I’d make my parents proud some other way.

“You want to drop chemistry from your electives? You won’t be able to study aeronautical engineering?” my teacher queried.

“Mmmm,” I replied, grateful that I would never speak of covalent bonds again.

Can Passion die?

“What happened to you?”

“I gave birth to the most beautiful boy in the world.”

“But . . . I don’t understand. You were going to go to LSE, you wanted to work for the World Bank—”

“When I cradled him in my arms; I can’t explain the feeling . . .”

“And now that you don’t anymore?”

“I don’t know, I mean, I have no desire . . .”

“Your degree?”

“Yeah, so what?”

Where does passion come from? Is it innate?

I stumbled on my love for writing, drawing, and music before I was eight. I experimented, my parents indulged. Books, art lessons, cassettes, and karaoke, kept me indoors and out of trouble, but I learnt they were not the path to wealth and security. So I chose another path, an acceptable one.

I remember watching planes land and take-off at the airport and the exhilaration that filled my young heart. Giant birds, what makes them fly, I wondered. Watching planes gives me a rush to this day. I know a little about lift and the law of motion. I know also that this thrill is not passion to study engineering. It is desire to fly and be free.

Passion is not the romantic word I once imagined it was. For me, it is natural ability honed by attention, repetition, focus, discipline, excellence, tenacity, and commitment. It grows, it dies, it resurrects, and it changes, as I evolve.

The desire to be a good mother, a loyal friend, a mentor, coach, teacher, the desire to tell stories, to influence lives, and to blaze trails have stayed. The how changes and control of the when slips from my hands when I clench my fist, but these desires, they are like liquid fire in my bones.

 

P.S. Aha! You thought this was some witty post about sex romance, so you kept reading waiting for the twist—gotcha! Maybe I like Rafa Nadal’s biceps, but that is a part-time obsession passion. What keeps you awake when the world sleeps?

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

1. Definition of passion at Oxford Dictionaries.com.  http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/passion

Urban Solitude: Eko o ni baje o!

Mainland Bridge Danfo

Hasn’t it always been this way? Isn’t this the drawback of metropolitan cities? That they teem with busy people who bury their conscience in the fortress that earphones and smartphones provide? Agitated people with tired eyes that look past others to admire the moving vision of success. Rush-hour people who hold their bodies tautly to avoid brushing against each other as if touch is an infectious disease.

Lagos is Nigeria’s biggest cultural melting point, a land of opportunity where I hope to make it big if I hustle right (not everyone returns to Nigeria with excess Pounds and Dollars). In spite of all the promise it holds, people warn that Lagos can be a dangerous place. I feel safe in our flat and the office, but the streets scare me, crowded as they are with worker ants motivated by the fear of poverty and beautiful homes on The Island.

At 04:45, my internal rooster crows and I use warm water to flush traces of sleep from my eyes. I leave our flat with my handbag and a waterproof bag that contains my office shoes, my feet in rubber slippers for the morning jostle on the streets.

“CMS, Lagos CMS, CMS!” the bus conductor’s call rouses the streets.

The driver whisks us away from The Mainland to The Island, where we’ll run laps chasing dreams, luck, and money. At CMS, Victoria Island beckons. Behind the bus stop, the ripples on the sea glitter like diamonds under the rising sun, while container ships dock at Apapa Port.

My jewellery lies scattered in crevices in my handbag. Unadorned with shiny objects, I am an unlikely target of pilferers. I hold my bag tight under my armpit as I board the bus to Victoria Island. I have not spoken to anyone since my journey began. My hair rests on the window and my eyes feast on luxury cars. One day, I will ride in one of them.

The day’s work is hard and my journey home long and silent. Small puffs of dust rise from where my flip-flops slap the earth. In five minutes, I will enter the haven of high walls and still warm air trapped between three-storey buildings that is our flat.

Ahead, a car burns slowly at first, and then with a feverish rush that epitomises the pulse of Lagos. I mean to walk past, but the fire is a magnet that draws others and me. I mean to just look and shrug and stand at the edge, as I am sure the others will do too, but this victim of sudden misfortune tugs at the heartstrings of calloused street people.

We pour water and sand alternately on the burning car. The fire mocks us; its flames lick our concerted effort. Commands fly left, right, and centre as raindrops escape from the sky. Unable to surmount the singleness of our vision, the fire sucks its last breath when a fire extinguisher emerges.

Smoke clouds shaped like ghosts sail across the sky. We, and our ghosts, our resurrected conscience, shout for joy. The rain plasters my hair to my skull and dripping water teases my ears. Eko o ni baje o, Eko o ni baje o, now, I believe the streets still hold promise.

protected helmet

When I open my bag in our flat, my purse is gone. Disappointment strikes blows at my gut as I calculate what I have lost. I embrace urban solitude, the definition that at first made me laugh because I thought it was relevant only in London.

“Don’t acknowledge fellow passengers or sustain eye contact beyond two seconds. Please respect urban solitude.”

And why not? On the streets a kind deed breeds mistrust that quickly turns to scorn. Asking for directions or providing them is a chore weighed with suspicion, and if death nearly claims a soul, the body that houses the soul stands no chance; it will be mangled in the stampede to “arrive” or survive.

This city bustles with life, yet there are fewer strangers to talk to. I long for human contact, not the obligatory type I receive when I walk into a shop, but the disarming type. The unexpected touch from a stranger whose smile meets my upward gaze as he hands me something that dropped from my bag, or the kinship in eye contact with a stranger, after a silly advert on a giant billboard has amused us both.

Eko o ni baje o!

©Timi Yeseibo 2014

Eko o ni baje: (Yoruba) Lagos will not spoil.

Read more about Lagos? These are snippets with photos worth seeing:

1. Yellow. Bright. Happy. Memories of Lagos:

KitchenButterfly memories of Lagos

http://www.kitchenbutterfly.com/2013/12/23/yellow-bright-happy-memories-of-lagos/

2. Eko The Musical

eko the musical@crea8ivenigeria

 http://www.creativenigeriaproject.com/ 

Credits

1. Beyond The Rules (Danfo on Lagos Bridge) by Kosol Owundinjor (Photo by Lagos)  http://photobylagos.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/beyond-the-rules/ 

2. Protected Helmet (eko oni baje helmet) by Kosol Onwudinjor (Photo by Lagos)  http://photobylagos.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/protected-helmet/

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.