My personal experience with Low self-esteem

To all those who have known the feeling of rejection and worthlessness that comes with feeling inferior; to those who have known the misery of self loathing – that deep-seated resentment towards oneself; to all those who doubt their ability to achieve their dreams, who are paralysed by indecision and fear of the future; I want to share my experience and how I overcame these negative emotions, in hopes that someone finds something useful in my story. Today is Salah, so there’s time.

My feelings of inferiority started from childhood. I was a skinny, wide eyed kid who looked like he’d collapse any moment and die. I was often taunted by my mates, who gave me nick-names such as skeleton, Okporoko (stock fish), kidim-kidim isi Okpukpo, Isi-triangle, and so on.

I’d often come home from school depressed. It was such that school became a gruelling ordeal. I had no friends, and when I eventually made one, Spurgeon, one wide eyed kid, with whom I dreamt of making a helicopter and flying away to Antartica, I considered it a priviledge.

Girls were the scariest thing in the world. I could not bring myself to talk to any girl. And when one, perhaps out of curiosity, decided to befriend this skinny weird kid, I drove her away with my insecurity. She merely was talking with another kid, and I wrote her a letter, bringing our young friendship to an end. Nwamaka. She is married now.

I carried my feelings of insecurity and inferiority into adulthood. Albeit, I had discovered abilities in me which gave me some measure of confidence. My self-worth also appreciated as I began to open up and reach out to like minds, in whose association, I found a sort of safe haven.

Anyone who met me then would think ‘This guy is very confident’ but at the same time, there’d be this feeling of something-not-being-quite-right that the person would get.

This was because occasionally, there’d be a crack in the wall of false confidence I’d built around me, and the true person would show. That true person was afraid, depressed, always seeking external validation, and very proud.

So afraid was I of confrontation that a friend who borrowed a sony phone I spent a fortune on, never returned it, and I never mustered the courage to demand for an explanation. I later learned that he lost it to gambling.

Yet, this friend, whenever I met him, I’d smile, and pretend everything was alright, even though I was seething with fury inside. I wanted to please everybody, to be seen as ‘a good guy’. I must tell you, it’s the most miserable thing to be, the good guy.

It is important to say that somewhere inside of me, was the person who wanted so much for people to respect and love and appreciate him for whom he is because he could see the beautiful hidden person. That person was the person I wanted to be, the person I knew I could be; the person I knew was the true me. Yet I could not bring the world to see this. I was waiting for sometime in the future, when I’d finally prove to them that I am ‘somebody’ and command their respect.

I was helped by the fact that I was constantly learning and improving in areas I felt I was deficient, and this included reading books like John Maxwell’s Winning With People, How To Win friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie, Awaken The Gaint Within by Anthony Robbins, 48 Laws Of Power by John Green, The Power Of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Pearl, Myles Munroe’s series on Discovering, Understanding and Maximising your potential, and so many others, including the Bible.

In my studies, I gained useful insights which aided in my journey out of low self-esteem. Setting goals, pursuing and achieving them also supplied me with the energy I needed to keep going when my confidence level ebbed to an all time low, but one single incident happened that changed my life forever.

A certain man, where I once lived, with whom I had held intellectual discussions on several occasions and even shared part of my life experiences with, began to call me by a name which reminded me of my father. It was a name that appealed to me, yet one which I was hesitant to answer to, because I felt I did not have the necessary pedigree to live up to it, at the time.

Agu! (Lion)

He’d call me,
with such force that I’d timidly retreat further into my shell. I’d respond with a weak greeting and quicken my pace, wanting to get far away from him as fast as I could.

Yet, I wondered to myself why he called me by that name. My father’s proverb came to mind.

‘Ife Agu ji ele ile, di ya n’ime’ (What makes the lion roar is within)

I desperately wanted to roar, but I feared that if I did, I’d be seen as ‘proud’, or I’d not have what it takes to stand up to it.

One day, as I made my way home, shoulders drooping, head hung low, out came from the shadows, that thunderous voice again!

Agu!

I was startled, annoyed, and ashamed that someone had seen me in that mood. Yet he called me again, Agu!

I went into my room and locked the door, then I began to talk to myself.

Prior to this incident, soliloquy was a problem solving tool for me. It helped me clarify my thinking, as I thought through difficult issues. It was also a means by which I entertained myself, for it was not uncommon then to hear me conversing with myself and laughing my lungs out, alone. On this occasion, soliloquy came in my father’s voice.

I paced around the room, angry at myself, angry at my life.

“What is wrong with you? Why are you so timid? What? The man calls you a lion and you recoil like a snail! He calls you a lion because that’s what he sees in you! He is calling you forth! That’s who you are! Ah!”

I went on.

“Why are you so afraid to come out? Why do you keep editing yourself for the world? You edit the way you talk, the way you walk, the way you smile, the way you eat! Everything! Why not show people the real person? Why not show them this wonderful you? This person inside this room now. Raw! Naked! Real!

When sleep came, it was peaceful, such that I had not had in a long time. In the morning, I woke up feeling like a huge load had been taken off my shoulders. I was free. As I stepped out that day, I knew that my life had changed forever. When in the evening he saw me from afar, the man, his face was lit up, as if he knew.

He reached out and shook my hand, and he said ‘Agu!’.

I smiled, and stood straight, and responded…

Odogwu. (warrior)

For I saw in him, the spirit of my father.

Your experience may not be this dramatic, but the principles are the same. I remember a quote from the movie big mama’s house. It was the comedian/actor, Martin Lawrence disguised as big Mama who said:

‘Inside everyone of us is someone pure and beautiful waiting to be released.’

It stuck with me. I can not even begin to numerate the many miracles that began to happen in my life when I set myself free from my fears and insecurities. I began to develop richer, fuller relationships. My work began to improve, and other areas of my life began to fall into place as well. I became imbued with God-like confidence, one which came from accepting me for who I am, my weaknesses and all.

One of the beautiful things that also happened after this transformation is that I became more attuned to the inner pulsations of my spirit, and because I sought to always radiate that inner confidence, I began to learn that you cannot be confident if you have something to hide. You have to stop doing anything which makes you hide. If you cannot tell a person to their face that they fucked up, then don’t say it behind their back.

Confidence is not an act. Its simply being your unedited self. It means you laugh how and when you feel like; and when you get angry, you are not afraid to let even your closest friend see it in your eye. It means you look people in the eye and let them see through you. It means you are comfortable with your limitations and are not ashamed to admit them. It means you reach out when you need help, and do not feel inferior for doing so. It means you overcome the need to please everyone; and loose concern over how you are being perceived.

To maintain this kind of balanced life requires that you become an open book. Negative thoughts, hatred, unforgiveness, worry, fear, unhealthy pride – all these must be expunged from your mind, and then the child in you will wake up again. You will see the world anew, and approach life with awe and wonder. You will begin to touch divinity.

You will also begin to see that your destiny is not who you are trying to be. It is who you are. You will see that your dreams are not impossible, because deep in you, you will know, that inside of you, is all you need to make them happen. You will begin to see the beauty in others too as you begin to let your true self shine forth, and your relationships will be more rewarding, because you’ll be able to connect with people on a deeper emotional level. You will be able to reach out and call them forth.

I hope this helps someone. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to hear your experiences too.

Have you struggled with low self esteem? Your story could help someone too. It doesn’t help to keep it to yourself and wait till you write it all in a book.

P.S

Self confidence comes with a lot of pride and if you are not careful, it will ruin you. When I discovered that I was becoming haughty, I ran to God in prayer and asked him to teach me humility. God answers such prayers speedily. You may do the same when you begin to feel too important.

Stay inspired.

A Call For Social Responsibility

Posted: July 14, 2014 in Essays

The era of content democratisation has brought with it diverse opportunities and possibilities. It has empowered people everywhere and made information like the air we breathe. The world has shrunken, to the size of your finger tip. You can tap your way up to China in seconds.

The humans of the 21st century wield more power, than was available, to humans, from the primeval to the medieval ages, up to the period of the renaissance and the industrial revolution.

A Twitter hashtag can light the fire for an ‘Arab spring’, it can also spark off a global outcry against terrorism – #‎bring‬ back our girls. Humans have never been more powerful!

But this power has brought challenges with it as well. Nowadays, mischief-makers can concot a story, type it in those annoying short-forms on a mobile device, and broadcast to their contacts who in turn broadcast to their contacts, and it just keeps going like that. No one questions the source. So you have a lot of information going around – information that has no value nor credibility.

Facebook posts that implore you to type ‘Amen’ to claim blessings are no longer new, and doomsday prophecies that command you to ‘repent now now and share this message or perish in hell’ are a constant companion. We have learnt to endure.

What is truly shameful however, is the gross irresponsibility on the part of people who you’d expect to exhibit more awareness of their social responsibility on the internet. A tweet from Ynaija this morning, for instance read:

New post: She ain’t stopping. Rihanna exposes under wear to celebrate Germany’s world cup victory. (Look)

And some fools will go and look!

Now, just what is the value of this information to their readers?

For Ynaija, undoubtedly there’s a benefit. Catchy title, yeah? more traffic, yeah? More money, yeah?

This is exactly the kind of business model that cripples a nation. What kind of nation grows with businesses that turn its citizens into morons? Now I have nothing against the medium, but if you have the time, do a review of their posts. Don’t forget to read the comments. You go weep.

We cannot continue to sacrifice responsibility and decency on the altars of commerce and freedom. To whom much is given, much is deservedly expected.

This is a call for social responsibility. Everyone who uses the internet whether for business, or purely for social purposes, has the moral obligation to provide only valuable and credible information to the public. You don’t have to take every nude picture and upload it online. You don’t have to share the link from every garbage website or blog you come across, and you absolutely do not need to define yourself by your like buttons, or drive traffic to your blog by posting about Rihanna’s exposed underwear!

If you cannot provide content valuable enough to attract quality traffic to your platform, then you may need to think again about where to invest your energies.

No be by force say you go become Linda Ikeji or Bella/Y Naija.

Ekwuchakwaanum.

The Unknown Visitor

Posted: January 7, 2014 in Fiction

This entry was found in a diary belonging to a certain visitor to the village. It was dated 29th December 1999. There is no title and we do not know the name of the author or what became of him or her. There is nothing to indicate the sex of the author. It does however tell a very intriguing story. It has not been edited in anyway and we therefore present it here as the original testament of the “unknown visitor” to the village.

Kweku

I followed the path.

Cautious.

Aware of every single element around me. My heart beat in unison with the rhythmic silence of the woods – a silence so clear, that it became in itself, a sound. There was also the high-pitched voices of birds above, in the trees, and the beautiful music they made pleasantly accompanied the silence. I could distinguish their voices. There were four of them – The short, sharp chirp; the bubbling whistle; the throaty gargle; and the ominous, domineering hooting which belonged to the Owl – They all sang a different song, yet in the forest, their different songs merged into one, and its beauty was in its elusiveness. It was there, and not there, blended with the silence in a most harmonious manner.

I had taken the path that led from the Secondary school. It was one of those very old missionary schools now controlled by the government. Renovation work was on, and it was this which drew my attention in the first place. I had gone into the school premises to fully take in the beauty of a statue which I had seen from outside. It was the statue of the Catholic saint, after whom the school was named. The statue of St Michael stood at a towering ten feet, atop a marble base of about four feet. Sword drawn; poised to strike; one foot resting on a defeated foe; wings spread out; hair blown back by the wind; divinity finely chiselled into the face – Michael, the warrior-angel. While I was aware of the religious context from which the artist drew the inspiration, what elicited much thought was its significance in the religious and social life of the people. They were a “Pagan-people”, still very much afraid of their own gods. Many still had little shrines in their homes, shrines housing their ancestors, or some other diety, to which they paid obesieance. This was necessary because, it was believed that they’d provoke the punishment of the diety for being negligent should they fail to do so. This often meant death. Whether the many instances related to me by the villagers, of such happenings were fabricated or merely coincidental, I could not determine, but I’d hasten to add that the consistency of their testimonies, was very convincing. This did not stop the villagers from attending Sunday services however. There was a catholic church and every sunday morning, they all went to listen to the reverend father’s sermon and pray to God whom they believed was represented on earth through their many dieties. They practised a simple religious philosophy:

“Give unto Ceaser what belongs to Ceaser and to God what belongs to God.”

The presence of Black Magic in the people’s daily life was so palatable that you could cut through it with a knife. Huge Irokos were girded with white cloths and sacrifices littered bush paths. You were warned not venture into the woods alone because the pythons and lions of dangerous deities were lurking in the shadows. A story was told of a woman who ventured into the forest for firewood and never returned. There was also the man whose bones were found after having gone missing for months. It was believed that Mbuba, the diety in charge of the village’s only source of water – a spring – had taken his flesh.

The reader may then imagine my frame of mind as I followed this dusty path that cut through St Michaels, leading into the forlorn Agu forest. I recall that at that moment I was apprehensive. I had not originally intended to go into the forest. The plan was to gaze at the statue, take some pictures and return to the home of my host. The horrors of the stories came back to me, and I paused momentarily to consider the foolishness of my venture. My thirst for adventure fortunately, was greater than these unfounded fears for I looked upon the forest with wonder and amazement. It presented to me, an opportunity to enrich my mind and to fellowship with nature. It seemed to call to me, to beckon with a silent seduction that stirred within me such arousal of curiosity, that I went hurriedly down the path, eager to cross the rubicon; to be lost in its orgasm.

There is an experience which I had, along the way, which will interest the reader. However, I doubt my ability to relate this wonderful experience as accurately as it happened. This is because I do not fully understand it myself, but I shall try to relate it as best as I can.

I had made a right turn when I arrived a certain point where the pathway from St Michaels divided into two tiny foot paths. The left I presumed, would lead to a nearby village, for it wound up and disappeared among the trees, from whence I could hear the distant sound of vehicles. The right was more promising and I had taken it, intent on reaching the far reaching valley in the distance. Now the word “valley” may confuse the reader, because what is actually being described here is a depression in the landscape, spanning across miles, so that from where I stood, I could see it rise again and merge with the sky in the horizon, forming a skyline similar to that seen from the cable-car at Obudu cattle ranch. It was incredibly amazing to behold this sight – the setting sun, the orange sky, the green hilltops depressing backwards into the carpeted valley, the misty horizon, the silence. It called out to me, drew me in.

Irresistibly.

As the path wound down, the vegetation grew thicker and the nature of the trees – sprawling, snaky-trees, with prodigious stems the size of the centre-circle in a football pitch – changed. It had grown dark and I could see only with the help of sunlight trickling in from the occasional perforation in the massive roof of leaves and branches above me. I did not have the slightest idea whence led the path or what lay at the end, but I was intent on finding out. Up to this point, I had engaged reason in choosing which turn to make or which path to follow and I had proceeded well. However, a change began to occur in me as I went further into the forest. Suddenly, my mind seemed to have acquired a new silence and clarity, my vision assumed an amazing resolution, the colours became exceptionally brilliant, my steps got lighter, nimble. My ears grew super-sensitive to the various sounds around me. It was as if I had awakened a super-human faculty, of which I was previously unaware. Most exhilarating was the sudden sense of tranquillity I felt, there in the forest, surrounded by trees, and birds, miles away from civilisation. It was the kind of peace that reached into your mind and set it free from all the cares of life. I wanted nothing at that moment but to spend the rest of my life there. The forest ceased to pose a danger. It called to me once again, and this time I listened. I listened, until I could hear the voice of the forest within, until all thoughts vanished and what remained was that basic, primal instinct which is said to control animal behaviour. I could sense it clearly; it had a pulse of its own, one that beat in tune with the forest. I followed this instinct as it led me away from the snaky-path, into the jungle. The forest welcomed me, and the first touch of leaves on my skin felt like the embrace of a loving mother. Nothing could happen to me. I was nature’s child.

From that moment I proceeded with such ease and lightness of heart that I was unaware of the great advancement I had made into the forest. Each step prompted the next eager step. Every tree, every leaf, every single sound, every little insect, every forlorn stone was an item of utmost interest and learning. At times I ran and laughed and jumped and screamed till I got hoarse. At times I paused and lingered over a flower for close to an hour, examining it down to the minutest detail and wondering at its beauty. So marvelous was this experience that I wondered for a second, how awesome it would be to just abandon civilisation and retire to the quietness of the forest, to the communion with nature, which the African once had before colonisation. I began then to view colonistaion with great disdain for It assumed an inhumanity of the most alarming proportions. It was a gross violation of the basic right to existence. This momentry indulgence in reason gave way as quickly as it came and I resumed my course happily, venturing further into the forest, taking note of every scent, every colour, every sound.

I noticed that the land had begun to slope again, and the vegetation had grown thinner also. In place of the prodigious trees, smaller ones began to spring up. They were accompanied by young bamboo plants and harmattan-sticken elephant grass. There had been a bush fire and many of the trees had shed their leaves. About twenty feet ahead of me, the slope steeped.

I was now on rocky terrain. I proceeded to examine the steep and came to the conclusion that it would be best to climb down backwards. The descent was dangerous but I ensured that I tested every crevice thoroughly before placing a foot in it. After about ten minutes, I got to the base of what was now a towering cliff above me. The journey up would be difficult, but I did not care. The forest beckoned to me still. I was now in the depression which I described earlier. From my vantage point, what I saw was a vast expanse of green on every side, sloping for miles, before rising to meet the sky.

I went further north, and before long, I came upon a foot path and having no inkling as to where I was or where I was going, followed it without the least hesitation. I was not prepared for the surprise that awaited me along this path, but I shall hasten to say that my frame of mind at that point was of utmost advantage.

The animal had suddenly appeared in the path – a dark skinned, animal. It resembled a fox, had a foxy snarl, and was obviously enraged that I had dared into its territory, for it bared its teeth, and spread its legs, daring me to take a step further. I was not the least afraid however. I was instead overjoyed at meeting a fellow animal comrade and proceeded to communicate this in my body language. First I made eye contact, and as our gazes locked, in that one split second, I saw something like a flicker. It happened very quickly. It seemed for one moment that the animal had a personage within, and that this personage or soul could see through me. I noticed the change in its poise when this happened. The snarl left, and as I approached, I did not feel any sense of danger. Gently I stroked its forehead, and murmured words to it. I do not remember what exactly I said, but our communication was not a monologue for it did speak to me in its own language too; neither do I have any remembrance of what it said to me. It was however, a most felicitious and enriching communication.

After parting with the animal, and walking a little distance, I noticed another change in the vegetation. The trees remained, but beneath them, grew grasses and weeds mostly seen near water bodies. There was also a dampness about the air that suggested that a water body was close-by and so I was not surprised when I began to hear, In the distance, the sound of rushing water. I hurried along, following the sound and soon came to the source. it was a spring! I lack the language to communicate to the reader what great transports of joy I felt upon this discovery. Here at last was water, and water meant life, refreshment, vitality! Perhaps it was this spring that the forest wanted me to discover.

I drank to my fill and followed the sides of the little river it formed until I could go no further. I was obstructed by marshes and bushes too thick to navigate. I also did not go further for fear of spoiling my clothes for I was still remotely aware that I would return to civilisation. I turned back and started homewards, trusting my instincts once more for direction and resolving to return and explore the river at a later time. I was sure it would lead to the Niger.

Africa, a great lion of our Land has fallen.
The young lions must set forth at dawn.

For none is left, who speak truth for us
And we need truth now
None is left, who matches words and deeds
And Africa needs intergrity now

A great lion is fallen
Let the young cubs roar

Summon the drummers, summon the town criers
Summon the women, summon the children
Let’s sing a song and and remember how
As he walked among us he’d wave and bow
How we once were bound but he set us free

Let the story tellers and the scribes write
Let the musicians make melodies
Let the statesmen give eloquent speeches
For our lion is fallen
The last of a rare species

Bring no ashes nor morning cloths
Everyman come as you are
Let’s sit and let’s reflect
For someone once walked among us
And now he walks no more
Let’s take from this the lessons we must
For Africa needs leaders now, more than ever

Africa, a great Lion has fallen

Now the young lions must gather
Now they must ascend, and take their place

Tributes will pour in, orations will rain
From east to west all shall proclaim
O he was such a noble man
O he lived for high Ideals
But we lack in ourselves
These virtues we so extol
Of it we make a fanfare, each beating an odd rythm
And so harmony is lost to discord
For we forget, that his life, just like that of Ghandhi, and Martin Luther King’s
Is a message to be lived and not preached

Africa, a great lion of our land has fallen
The young lions must arise
And set forth at dawn.

He answered the phone in his native language, but at intervals, a perfunctory sentence in pidgin punctuated his conversation, revealing snippets of the deception of which the caller was apparently unaware. The feigned American accent, the reference to an “Oyibo business partner”, and the mention of snow – while they served to buttress his act – failed to recruit me into their illusion.

The hard-knock Nigerianness of our reality vehemently protested these claims to being abroad; yet, reality often is perception, and Osas, as I would later learn is his name, seemed to understand this.

Osas is not a yahoo boy. It had all started when he called one of those numbers. You’d see them, bold and conspicuous, spray-painted on Lagos bridges.

“Need Uk visa, call…”, “Live and work in the Us and Canada”, “Fast and easy visa to anywhere in the world.” The messages differ in their construction, but the promise is the same – A fast and easy way out of the hell called Nigeria.

He had met with the supposed travel agent who helped him procure a Visa to Belgium for the price of 450,000 Naira. In less than two months, Osas was pulling his bag along the tarmac of the Brussels international airport. His dream had come true.

A Taxi driver assisted him in finding a low cost hotel where he stayed till he ran out of cash. His next port of call was a slum where he found fellow Nigerians, who had also come to Belgium through similar dubious means. There he was introduced to the drug trafficking and gangsterism characteristic of such immigrant communities.

Luck ran out on him one day when he was unexpectedly accosted by immigration officers who discovered, upon examination of his papers, that they were fake. He was immediately taken into custody and deportation seemed imminent. However, issues were compounded by the discovery of the drugs hidden in his boots and after a trial in which he pleaded guilty, Osas was sent to jail for 3 years. He was repatriated after serving his jail term.

On arrival, He remained in Lagos, ashamed that he had failed his family, and even more afraid that the news may send his parents to their early graves. He fraudulently configured his Nigerian telephone number into a strange one with a UK telephone ID. It was to sustain the deception that he still lived abroad – since no one knew he had relocated home. His plan, I learnt, was to make enough money to return abroad, where he’d attempt to mend the broken pieces of his shattered life.

The trend is not a new one. It’s common in Lagos to see stickers in buses, thumb-sized adverts in soft sell magazines and posters in public places, promising the coveted visa to foreign countries. The perpetrators of this act, driven by the same circumstances which their victims seek to escape from, have successfully established a lucrative trade, exploiting the frustration and desperation of their victims who are not made privy to the fact that the Visa being procured is fake.

It is easy to blame the victims for not investigating the claims of these visa merchants, for not going through due process, and that would not be entirely wrong. However, one cannot help but adopt an empathetic stand in understanding the issue, given the circumstances that created them in the first place. There are alarming figures of Nigerians who die on the Sahara desert each year in an attempt to reach foreign shores, and of others languishing in foreign prisons for drug trafficking and forgery of travelling documents. The inevitable question is: What are they running from? The answer, as you’d agree, is not far-fetched.

The prevailing, extremely harsh economic condition in the country is the catalyst of what may be termed an “escapist mentality” prominent among young Nigerians. It is also the catalyst of “Inventive crime” – that version of crime which is creative in its formulation and execution. It thrives on the merchandising of illusion, on the false promise of respite from untold hardship, on manipulation and cutting-edge deception. It progresses and grows by the exploitation of desperate conditions, speaking of which, Nigeria grooms in no little number.

I recall an incident on a bus, during which some of the reflections that culminated in this piece were crystalised. I had boarded a bus to Ikotun on a rainy afternoon. The roads were flooded and the dilapidated state of the road, especially between Ejigbo and Ile-Ekpo, reduced vehicular movement to a snail’s pace. Our driver took an alternative route which led through the inner streets of Ejigbo in a bid to avoid the traffic. We were already mid-way when we saw the long stretch of vehicles ahead; our hearts sank. It wasn’t long before we discovered the cause of the traffic: Residents of the street, comprising mainly touts and street urchins, had organised themselves, put up a road block and imposed a levy of 200 Naira on every vehicle using the route. They brandished sticks and bared their teeth, threatening hell on anyone who dared refuse payment. On pavements on each side of the road, elderly men, whose demeanour established their culpability in the campaign sat, drinking Ogogoro. Their presence appeared to lend legitimacy to the process. As our bus drew up to the road block, a young man, whose teeth bore the mark of years of tobacco intake, appeared by the drivers side and demanded “Owo da!”

His stance was combative and it was apparent that he’d break something if the driver did not comply.

The driver tried to reason with him.

“Owo da!” He demanded again, baring his teeth. By now his companions were already advancing menacingly, wielding sticks. The driver dug out 200 Naira from his pigeon hole and flung it at him. The barricade was raised and while we crossed, I thought of how the collective difficulty which we all faced – lack of good roads – was being exploited by people who shared the same fate. They did not care that the difficulty was mutual. All they saw was an opportunity to make money off other’s troubles – troubles which they weren’t excluded from, themselves. As we sauntered ahead, I could still hear behind us, the distinct, emotionless, desperate cry of “Owo da!” meaning: “your money!”

“Owo da”: A Yoruba expression common among bus conductors, local government touts and even policemen at times. It represents a strand of the Nigerian character which runs through, from the bottom to the top most echelon of our social strata. “Owo da” – Your money; emotionless, brutal and desperate in its demand. Yet it goes beyond the simple demand for money. It is a mentality, deeply ingrained in the Nigerian Psyche.

The “Owo da mentality” lives and breathes at Oshodi, in that individual who shoves a hand bill at you – a hand bill promising immediate employment with mouth watering salaries. You’d discover upon investigation, that the individual is probably another unemployed youth, who is now a job agent. He makes a living from the “service charges” paid by other job seekers who soon learn that the hand bill, the promise of employment, and the cubicle sized office Inside Oshodi market where they submitted their CV are all a big hoax!

You see it played out in the proliferation of unacredited satellite campuses all over the nation, exploiting the desperation of young Nigerians to get a certificate. You encounter it when, on a rainy day, the Okada man demands 1000 Naira to take you from Cele to Ikotun, a trip that would be three times less on a normal day, just because there are no buses. It stares you in the face, when the Agege bread you used to buy for 50 Naira suddenly becomes 80 Naira and never comes down again, because flour sellers went on strike for just one day. The fake preacher is not left out in the vicious circle of this orgy; fake miracles and testimonies are concocted to create the impression of divine power; and the Nigerian, vulnerable, and longing for hope and respite, is drawn into the web of deception, paying outrageous tithes and offerings to secure non-existent blessings! Through all these, we hear it; loud, distinct and emotionless… “Owo da!”

On the superficial level, it does seem like sadism, a knack for profiting or deriving joy from other’s suffering; but it is more than that. There is a biological law which all mammalian bodies obey: All mammalian bodies, when they cannot find something to feed on, turn on themselves and feed off themselves, and this is a certain kind of masochism – the act of deriving pleasure from hurting oneself. When Nigeria is viewed as an entity, the idea being communicated here becomes clearer. The difficulty which we have to live in as a nation has accentuated our survivalist tendencies, such that the lack of the basic necessities of existence is augmented by feeding off ourselves; by exploiting the desperation of others – desperation caused by circumstances from which we aren’t exempt ourselves. For the politician, Owo-da is the politics of exaction, of the greedy fattening at the expense of the populace; and the politician is the culprit of this ailment, having failed the Nigerian people countless times. The Nigerian politician exploits our collective lack of good governance; he promises to do better than his predecessors, bandies change slogans about, re-brands his political party, and when he has secured the trust and vote of the electorate, he proceeds to milk them dry by denying them the very amenities that they voted him to provide. By so doing he sets off a chain of events that worsen the plight of the people who resort to an orgy of masochism in a bid to survive. One is wont to ask: How long can we survive feeding off ourselves? Is there hope of any cure for the enormous ulcer which must inevitably develop as a result of this self-destructive practice?

Perhaps we should turn our eyes to India and China: Countries which have faced as much difficulties as we have. We should borrow a leaf from them. The same conditions that have driven us to the very depths of cannibalism, fraud and criminal exploitation, have driven them to creativity, innovation and development. The Nigerian is not bereft of creativity and innovative intelligence. On the contrary, the various deceptive devices and charades employed in the merchandising of illusory solutions attest to our intelligence and creative abilities. What we lack rather, are patience and integrity. The patience to apply the same mental powers used in exploiting other people’s difficulties to finding the real solutions; the integrity to persevere in the process, to refuse to compromise.

Dear Nigerian writer,

I decided to write this letter to you after our meeting last night. You are wise my son. You heard me Lecture at that writer’s workshop. You’ve also read my books, and you knew that those things I taught them wouldn’t bring their dollar dreams to pass. You knew. That’s why you came by night, like that ancient roman ruler, to inquire of me, as did he the Jewish Rabbi, what you must do to attain salvation in this world of writing. You have kept all the rules of grammar, you have written and re-written that manuscript, you have obeyed all the commandments. But you lack salvation.

Salvation is what you seek – that moment when a white document sits before you, offering a space to sign your signature and dispose that burden of a book for the long-dreamed-of precious dollars. That moment when you hear a knock on your door, and it’s the courier bearing five copies of your book in foreign print! That moment when all your friends stop seeing you as the perpetual geek forever typing away on that antique laptop of yours. That moment when the whole world learns that another Nigerian writer has been published abroad and our darling Nigerian media carries you shoulder-high, home; with trumpets and clanging cymbals, bragging about how you are one of our own, even though none of them would even look at your short story before now.

That is your salvation! You are wise to have come.

Before I continue with this letter, I want you to know that those things I taught them at that seminar are not wrong. In fact, the brilliant ones among them will find them useful in their writing journey. But as you know, I have become a public figure, my hands are tied like that of our beloved president and as such, there are things I cannot say in public lest I be stoned for blasphemy. So I have to say what they want to hear and leave it at that. I know you will think I am wicked, but before you judge me, listen to what I have to say.

It is more complicated than you think. We often say that corruption is endemic in Nigeria, but what you don’t realise is just how deep it really is. Corruption has now become a lucrative trade. Corruption is a commodity, one that we exchange in gory details for dollars. Are you beginning to get the gist? You probably think that the Yahoo boys and corrupt politicians and Boko Haram are the only ones destroying the Image of Nigeria, but that is not true, dear Nigerian writer. For these lack the power, they lack the subtlety, to smear or deface the image of our dear nation as we writers have done. How then do you expect me to stand before a group of young aspiring Nigerian writers who look up to me and declare myself worse that Dimeji Bankole and that Police pension-funds thief? How do you expect me to stand before them, bones and flesh and tummy, to declare myself an accomplice of Boko haram? So you see, my dear Nigerian writer, that my hands are tied. However you have come and you are wise to have come!

To be published abroad, you have to first determine where exactly. You see, when I say abroad, I’m not talking about Ghana or Burkina Faso, although these too are “Abroad”, but you know what I mean. When you have determined where, you have to research into their history. All western nations have their secret obsessions. Now I must warn you. Do not think that just because Martin Luther King said “I have a dream” and Obama is the American president, a magic wand has been waved over the country and they’ve all been purged of racial propensities. See you have to understand human nature. We like the feeling of power we get when we treat other people with disdain and make them feel sorry for themselves. 

Do not think that racism has gone extinct because there are apparently no “Whites only” signs on the buses and restaurants in America. The “Whites only” signs still exist in their minds and even though they hardly show it these days, they’ve found a way to keep blacks in poverty and servitude. That is where you come in, my dear Nigerian writer; you have to show them what they want to keep seeing. Do not think that this means betraying your own people, they’ll celebrate you when you are finally published. For us, the saying “Bad publicity is better than no publicity at all” holds true. We do not care as long as one of our own is showing them that we can do it too. Its probably one of those aches you’d learn to live with as a Nigerian writer.

The key, like I said is to identify a secret obsession, one that still breathes in the consciousness of the country where you want to be published and exploit it. Let me give you a tip. Germany is to Communism as America is to racism. Iraq is to Terrorism as Britain is to neo-colonialism. Your task is to look around you and trust me; you don’t need to look hard in Nigeria to find events that you can match to these ideas. Build stories around them, exaggerate a lot and make them real sad. These things do not happen there anymore. Haven’t you ever wondered why they make those movies about cannibals? Do you like watching your fore fathers eat human flesh? You see why I don’t teach these at seminars.

The task of the Nigerian writer is to feed the western imagination with pictures of human suffering and bestiality. It’s a pity that we have to be the characters but never mind. Its not your fault. Just remember your mother in the village.

The west has a picture of Africa, that is both putrefying and untrue but you do not have a choice. The principles of marketing apply in writing too. You have to find out what your customers want and give it to them. Please do not blame our brother Rick Ross for making that video that portrays our poverty-stricken people and refuse-embellished streets, he was being innovative!

This business of writing is tough business and the foreign publishers are going to publish you only when they are convinced that you have enough gory stories of Nigeria in your book to feed the western fantasy of Africa. Fortunately, you don’t have to look far for the raw materials you need to write your book.

You must paint Nigeria not in green white green, but in black alone. Black. Do you understand? You must highlight all the issues of corruption you can recall. Remember, that is the commodity that sells to foreign audiences. No one will tell you this in a writing workshop, but I am telling you now.

Now to the title of your book, look for something catchy; a statement that conveys at a glance, the content of your book. Remember, you are selling corruption. Do not title your book “Green is beautiful”. No foreign agent or publisher will talk to you. Look for titles like “The Broken Green” or “Fire in the North”. I know they sound depressing. Do not worry. You will forget all about it when your first cheque comes in.

Foreign publishers don’t like dealing directly with writers, so you have to find an agent. If you were living abroad, it would have been easier for you. Unfortunately your father isn’t a corrupt senator, so he didn’t make enough money to send you abroad. But you are lucky, you have the internet. Look for them online. Wait. Before you rush off, there are a few more things you need to know.

You will need to write a query letter to accompany your manuscript before you send it out to any agent. The query letter is just a simple letter that tells the agent what your book is about, and why you are qualified to write about the subject. I advice that you begin your query letter with phrases like “over 3 trillion Naira has been looted and carted away by corrupt Nigerian politicians in the past three years”, that is,  if your theme revolves around the poli-thiefry going on in our government. Consolidate on this by showing how your story explores and reveals all the details of this trend. Don’t worry about convincing the agent that you are qualified to write about the issue. They already know that 98% of Nigerians are living below the poverty line as a result of the activities of corrupt politicians. You are one of them, how can you not be qualified!

Lastly, you need a photograph to go with your manuscript. Do not shave your beard or comb your hair. I only started combing mine recently. You have to look really sad and reflective. Fast for one week so that you’ll look very thin in the photograph. Wear a shirt that reveals your jutting neck bone. This will give you an air of genuineness. You are a Nigerian writer, the voice of the people. You are weighed down by the burden of your nation on your shoulders. You have to look it. Ask the photographer to print it in Sepia. There are no color films in Nigeria!

Before you send out the package, take it to your pastor. Let him pray for you. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. You never can tell who is sending the Juju-traffic that will delay your manuscript. Let your pastor pray real hard. Send out your manuscript after that and be patient. It won’t be long before you get a call or an email. Do not forget the one who helped you find salvation when the dollars finally arrive. Come and pay your tithe!

Yours in the Hustle, A once-upon-a-time Nigerian writer

Beautiful Sights Seldom Seen

Posted: November 2, 2013 in Fiction

A bush path Inside Ijebu-Igbo, Lagos-Benin route 23rd December 2012

Commentary

I had been unaware of the beautiful sights that lay behind the forests on either side of the road while travelling from Lagos to Benin. On this day, we were forced to take a bush bath that led through the forest because of the traffic. The path, large enough to accommodate only one car at a time, snaked through an undulating landscape that was a sight to behold. There, in the annals of Ijebu-Igbo, an ancient town cut off from civilisation, lay a vast reserve of tourism potential. We crossed many a make-shift bridge, quaking and creaking underneath us. The calm, clear rivers below the bridges coursed into the forest, disappearing into lush expanses of green vegetation on either side. They beckoned with a seductive serenity, those bushes into which the rivers disappeared. They drew you in, awakened your sensuality, stirred your curiosity, with a silence that seemed to sing – “Come, come, come see what’s beyond!” It was saddening to leave this enchantment behind but I did however feel blessed to have felt nature’s embrace, in the depths of Ijebu-Igbo, whose beautiful sights were seldom seen.