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The aptitude test conducted by a third party for recruitment into the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) portrayed the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria. I was a guest on the Channels TV social media show #Channelsbeam to discuss it.

Gabriel_Garcia_MarquezGabriel Garcia Marquez The Nobel prize winning author of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ passed away Thursday 17th April, 2014. He was 87 years old. In celebration of his many literary achievements I reproduce here a farewell letter he wrote to friends and lovers of literature when he declared his retirement from public life after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. 

 

If God, for a second, forgot what I have become and granted me a little bit more of life, I would use it to the best of my ability.

I wouldn’t, possibly, say everything that is in my mind, but I would be more thoughtful l of all I say.

I would give merit to things not for what they are worth, but for what they mean to express.

I would sleep little, I would dream more, because I know that for every minute that we close our eyes, we waste 60 seconds of light.

I would walk while others stop; I would awake while others sleep.

If God would give me a little bit more of life, I would dress in a simple manner, I would place myself in front of the sun, leaving not only my body, but my soul naked at its mercy.

To all men, I would say how mistaken they are when they think that they stop falling in love when they grow old, without knowing that they grow old when they stop falling in love.

I would give wings to children, but I would leave it to them to learn how to fly by themselves.

To old people I would say that death doesn’t arrive when they grow old, but with forgetfulness.

I have learned so much with you all, I have learned that everybody wants to live on top of the mountain, without knowing that true happiness is obtained in the journey taken & the form used to reach the top of the hill.

I have learned that when a newborn baby holds, with its little hand, his father’s finger, it has trapped him for the rest of his life.

I have learned that a man has the right and obligation to look down at another man, only when that man needs help to get up from the ground.

Say always what you feel, not what you think. If I knew that today is the last time that that I am going to see you asleep, I would hug you with all my strength and I would pray to the Lord to let me be the guardian angel of your soul.

If I knew that these are the last moments to see you, I would say “I love you.”

There is always tomorrow, and life gives us another opportunity to do things right, but in case I am wrong, and today is all that is left to me, I would love to tell you how much I love you & that I will never forget you.

Tomorrow is never guaranteed to anyone, young or old. Today could be the last time to see your loved ones, which is why you mustn’t wait; do it today, in case tomorrow never arrives. I am sure you will be sorry you wasted the opportunity today to give a smile, a hug, a kiss, and that you were too busy to grant them their last wish.

Keep your loved ones near you; tell them in their ears and to their faces how much you need them and love them. Love them and treat them well; take your time to tell them “I am sorry,” “forgive me, “please,” “thank you,” and all those loving words you know.

Nobody will know you for your secret thought. Ask the Lord for wisdom and strength to express them.

Show your friends and loved ones how important they are to you.

Send this letter to those you love. If you don’t do it today…tomorrow will be like yesterday, and if you never do it, it doesn’t matter either, the moment to do it is now.

For you, with much love,

Your Friend,
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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History matters. It matters even more when it is about Africa’s most populous country- Nigeria, which celebrates the centenary of her existence this year, 2014. At this point when the younger crop of her over 160million strong population are contemplating the future of their country, a proper knowledge of the past, where the rain began to beat as a popular Igbo adage will say, is imperative to ensure that the future is a different story. And when history is well told, in an engaging manner devoid of academic encumbrance, it makes for a truly engaging read. Such are the accomplishments of the book ‘Soldiers of Fortune by brilliant historian, Max Siollun.

Siollun satisfies in this book, the yearning of Nigerians and non Nigerians alike who have long sought an insight into what really went down during what were undoubtedly Nigerians most important years. The 300 page book captures essentially, the major political events in the country from 1983 to 1993, an uninterrupted period of military rule characterized by coups, rumours of coups and reckless decisions some of whose consequences the country still grapples with.

As many historians have identified, the foundation for Nigeria’s under development was laid in its colonial history. What the British handed over at independence was an administrative liability, a country which was expected to fail. After the euphoria of Independence had died down, the task of fostering development in the country fell squarely on the shoulders of leaders who were in many ways representatives of regional interests. The internal disarticulation and disunity which colonial rule promoted created problematic imbalances and engendered a situation where ethnic domination became an obsession even from the very inception of the country.

It was not long before the young nation came crashing with the 1966 coup. A counter coup followed the same year and a series of events that led to a bitter civil war (1967-1970) in which over a million people mostly Igbo’s from the south east of the country are said to have lost their lives. A brief period of democracy was experienced between 1979 and 1983, a period during which Siollun noted, the military essentially acted as a government in waiting. Populated at its top echelon by the same persons who had been members of the last military government and indeed the core team of officers mostly of Northern Nigerian origin who had executed the counter coup of 1966 and fought the civil war, the military was already too politicized that it found it difficult to stay away from civil affairs. For example, Siollun noted that during this period, some senior military officers drafted a list of government ministers they wanted President Shagari to sack accompanied by a list of their own as replacement.

The politicians on their part helped create an atmosphere that justified the return of the military to power for the ten years stretch of military dictatorship that ‘Soldiers of Fortune’ covers. General Babangida is quoted in the book to have claimed that every coup fed on the frustration of the people with the current government. His claims find merit in the events of 31 December 1983 when following the nationwide disquiet evoked by the general elections that held earlier that year, the Military staged a comeback bringing in General Muhammadu Buhari and later Ibrahim Babangida (who ousted Buhari from power in 1985 and ruled until 1993.) They would remain in control until 1999 when a conclusive democratic transition to civilian rule was effected.

This book, a sequel to his ‘Oil Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976)’ by the same author captures the downward slide Nigeria witnessed in all spheres of her national life under the leadership of the duo of Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida. The book captured on the one hand, the defining element of Buhari’s regime, a draconian approach to anti corruption which in the process muzzled the press, promoted inhuman decrees and failed ultimately in bettering the economy which was the most important yearning of the people. Babangida’s reign on the other hand witnessed the glorification of corruption which reached a level Siollun described as ‘spectacular’, the creation of a power cartel some of who continue to enjoy massive influence even in retirement today and a long expensive but inconclusive transition programme.

Soldiers of Fortune reads like a novel, like a thriller with familiar characters some of whose actions you are already familiar with and others which you might scream out in disbelief about. The way Siollun builds his plot and narrative, unraveling the intrigues associated with coups and the tensed drama that defines the success or failures of same, leaves you feeling as though you had a Robert Ludlum or a David Baldacci book in your hand. Readers are sure to pause and wonder at various points at how a handful of gun toting rascals to whom not much intelligence can be credited to, held and decided the fate of an entire country for so long a period, with very little resistance.

While the narration is not academic, there is no doubt a scholarly attention to the detail and judicious backing up of claims with verifiable facts. This combines to make the book a refreshing and engaging read. Siollun’s well researched analysis provides interesting details on the inside story behind most of the critical happenings during the period under review including many of which the absence of information over the years have made to appear like myth. Among this is the way Babangida quelled the Dimka coup, the Diplomatic Baggage story involving ex Minister Umaru Dikko, the Vatsa coup story and the circumstances surrounding the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential elections.

Soldiers of Fortune reveals that the Nigerian military was not as united as most of the people assumed, that the actors were not as powerful as we believed they were, that they had their moments of fear and insecurity like other mortals, that the people, the media and notable personalities alike were accomplices in whatever harm the military succeeded in imparting on the country during their reign.

Importantly, Siollun in this book confirms what undoubtedly is an accepted fact, that military rule in Nigeria embodied everything that is antithetical to development and should never be allowed to happen again. A renewed appreciation of this fact I hope, will ensure that the younger generation who are today aspiring to positions of leadership, will guard her democracy jealously and lead the country back to the prosperity envisioned by her founding fathers at Independence. The book is thus a recommended read for every Nigerian and all those who love Nigeria.

Soldiers of Fortune is published by Cassava Republic Press.

The Baby Mama Syndrome

The term ‘baby mama’ and it’s less famous equivalent, ‘Baby Daddy’ has gradually, unconsciously, and typical of all things copied from across the Atlantic, made its way into our vocabulary and has today become not only hip but is also playing a critical role in shaping our culture. With more of our celebrities who have huge social influencer credentials getting caught up in this syndrome and advertising it proudly, it is no surprise that suddenly being a “baby mama” or “baby daddy” as the case may be, has become a cool thing for many of our impressionable youngsters and teenagers.

Change is constant they say. But certain changes are worrying and present threats to our common existence. When I was younger, the news that a young lady got pregnant through premarital sex provoked a certain kind of reaction. Of disapproval. As a child, no one needed to tell you that getting pregnant or impregnating someone before marriage was simply unacceptable conduct. The fear of the associated stigma ensured you kept your legs together and your knickers, zipped up.

Today however, we seem to have done a complete U-turn. More and more celebrities and people who shape opinion are having babies out of wedlock. The media celebrates it. And more and more women talk excitedly about just “having his baby” and not “being his wife.” Indeed, there is increasingly emboldened argument against marriage itself and the liberalization of sex such that sex even among minors is becoming a normal thing. Now, when it is said that a neighbours delinquent teenage daughter is pregnant or that a stubborn cousin who talks back at his father has gotten a girl pregnant, people hardly flinch. At most, they sigh and then go on with whatever they were doing, unruffled. Unconcerned.Image

So what has happened? What is causing the meltdown?

The issue in my opinion is bigger than any one reason that anyone can adduce. People talk about a general break down of morals, about young people being more ‘corrupt’ these days. Others have indicted parents for abdicating on their responsibilities of raising their children aright. Others still have argued for sex education and safe sex, arguing against the treatment of sex like some kind of mystery, something discussed only in hushed tones by society, advocating for more openness. Today birth control methods are advertised without restrictions across all media channels. Yet even with the knowledge many young people simply lose the sense of control. Some others still blame it on globalisation and how the practices of the west are negatively influencing our own way of life, turning us into what we are not.

The answer to the question is a combination of all these arguments. For the most part, it is a consequence of our failure as a people to place emphasis on what should be important; the family. Over time, in our pursuit for wealth, career and the advancement of certain concepts that is supposed to promote a sense of freedom and indicate civilization, we have ended up complicating our lives and in the process putting a blade on the strings that hold us together as a people. Our sense of responsibility has become eroded and replaced by a dangerous mind-set that suggests that we are at liberty to live our lives anyhow we want to without giving a hoot about the consequences of our actions.

You see, events in the society today have conditioned us to believe that it is all right to be irresponsible. People steal public funds and become celebrated role models, opinion leaders and title holders. People engage in unscrupulous businesses, trafficking drugs and sending scam mails and are hailed as they drive by in their big cars. Some even become recognised as youth leaders. Young people have glamorised prostitution to such levels that the title of ‘Runs girl” is now some kind of professional career which many young ladies aspire to. We cite examples of people who have made it to the top simply by doing exactly what they should not be doing. The result is a general disposition to act ‘anyhow.’

Let me at this point note that there are circumstances where a woman has to raise her child alone because the pregnancy was a result of rape, some kind of mistake or because being with her partners threatened the life and security of herself and her child. While these women could be categorized as baby mamas, they are not the subjects of this intervention. This offering concerns strictly, the increasing engagement in unprotected sex and the advertisement of the resulting pregnancies by adults who are convinced that they are not ready to be parents, or in which only one half of the pair ends up being responsible for the upbringing and welfare of the child because the other pair is simply not ready for any commitments.

The consequences of this kind of behaviour are many and their implications grave. Let us be real with our selves, a child needs both parents as well as the love and safety a family provides for proper development and for them to become productive members of society. The kind of parenting advanced here is not the type in which an absent father sends money from time to time for upkeep. It is instead, one in which both parents live in the same home and everyone share the same surname. It is one in which both parents share responsibilities for the child’s upbringing and are there to provide guidance and direction. The home it must be stressed has a great influence on the child’s psychological, emotional, social and economic state. This is because the family background and presence of co-parental influence affects the child’s reaction to life situations and their level of performance.

There is a lot of research to this effect. Children raised by single mothers have been shown to be twice likely to misbehave as those born into traditional two parent families. A 2003 study in the US on how the absence of a father could lead to early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy found that about one-third of girls whose fathers left the home before they turned 6 ended up pregnant as teenagers, compared with just 5 percent of girls whose fathers were there throughout their childhood. Closer home here, a 2013 study by Azuka Obieke Uchenna of the University of Lagos on Single-parenting, psychological well-being and Academic performance of adolescents in Lagos, Nigeria found that children profited psychologically and academically when both parents provided aspects of an orderly and nurturing home life.

What these findings tell us, if it were not already clear enough by common sense, is that the more shame vanishes from our consciences and we begin to encourage the birth of children outside of the safety net of marriage and even celebrate the whole idea of it through the glamorization of such names as baby mama and baby daddy, what we are essentially doing is endangering the future of the earth and the universal brotherhood of mankind. As more young people influenced by the activities of their favourite celebrities begin to adopt this thinking and act on it, we gradually evolve a society that is heading for some kind of self-destruction.

There is therefore, an urgent need for us to focus on rebuilding the family as the most important unit of human existence. We need to search for and find the values of love and mutual respect which we seem to have lost along the line. Our young men must be made to understand that there is more to manhood than sowing wild oats and not feeling obligated to be permanent fixtures in the life of the children they beget. Our girls must know that being a woman is more than big hips and breast enhancements or the loose cash that they can get from randy men. Our children need to feel loved and be protected by their parents. They need also to be taught what is right to counter the effect of what they are exposed to through the media.

Our celebrities and role models should note that this hurry to replicate the lifestyle of Hollywood artists is essentially a race to the bottom. There are certainly so many things we can learn from them and be proud to emulate not the habit of having unprotected sex all over town and going about with the title of baby mama or daddy like it were some kind of trophy. There is no other way of describing this but plain irresponsibility.

Picture credit: www.etsy.com

So I contributed this piece to a friends blog. Enjoy!

 

X and O is a paper-and-pencil game for two players who take turns marking the spaces in a grid. The player who succeeds in placing three respective marks (X or O) in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal row wins the game.Despite its apparent simplicity, there is a trick to winning this game; detailed analysis and guess work.

Nature plays a similar X game with us but this time with Y as its pair. In this case also, unlike in the X and O game,the players are some invisible hands and we are mere spectators, or perhaps I should say participatory spectators since we are the ones who actually set the game in motion and then sit back for nine months, analysing and guessing, waiting for what the winning pair will be; XX or XY.

Click her for the full article Much ado about a baby’s sex;a man’s viewpoint.

strikeThere is a dirty turf war, an ego filled battle for supremacy, going on in our Health sector. I shudder by just even thinking about it.

There is today perhaps no sector that is as unstable as the health sector which continues to witness industrial actions as though this was now a part of its DNA. Between the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), National Association of resident Doctors (NARD) and the Joint Health Workers Union of Nigeria (JOHESU) comprising, literally, all other health workers with the exception of medical doctors, activities in government owned health care institutions have continuously been paralysed in what has become painfully, an endless cycle of strikes and protests targeted not at any direct improvement on the sector itself but for propaganda and the advancement of group interests.

The ultimate victim of this has been the patient.

A doctor friend who practices at the Lagos University Teach Hospital (LUTH) revealed recently that he could actually count on the fingers of his hands, the number of days he has seen patients in the last two months.

First his colleagues under the auspices of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) embarked on a 5-day warning strike in December and were due to commence a total indefinite strike beginning January 2014 but for the timely intervention of the government. But at the turn of the New Year, another union in the teaching hospital, known as the Joint House Unions and Associations (JHUA) commenced its own strike demanding a better welfare for its members. JHUA, I have come to learn comprises the medical and health workers union (M and WHUN), Senior Staff Association of Universities Teaching Hospital Research and Allied Institutes (SSAUTHRAI), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), and their grievances range from allegations that their members were denied promotion by the hospital management, thereby leaving them stagnant on the same level for several years and seeming favouritism of members of certain other unions in the hospital. Just last week JOHESU whose one agitation run parallel to those of NMA staged a warning strike, an effort to counter whatever gains NMA was registering in its talks with the government.

As we speak, LUTH is still shut down. So are many other government hospitals.

The infighting and counter activism between the various unions in the health sector has degenerated so much that doctors and nurses in tertiary health facilities in Nigeria today no longer go on ward rounds together. Does it get any worse for the patient?

What are they fighting about you might be wondering. The issue is simple; who is the Oga-at-the-top? to use a popular Nigerian lingo, who should earn more pay and what is the path for rising to the top of the peeking order.

This offering is not to adjudicate on the crises or to as many commentators often do, approbate and reprobate on the matter, glossing over the real issues and ultimately awarding credence to a particular union depending on the leaning of the writer or the purse sponsoring the vituperations. This piece is simply to indict all health workers for selfishness and loss of focus and to remind them of the primary calling to save lives which most of them are not doing at the moment.

The WHO describes health workers as all people engaged in actions whose primary intent is to enhance health. And these includes doctors, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory technicians, community health workers, management and support workers such as financial operators, cooks, drivers and cleaners. All of these persons share (or ought to share) a common concern for the well-being of the patient. In other words, the patient is the centre of gravity and they like planets, revolve round the patient.

teamwork

The patient is the center of all healthcare effort.

No one of these professions can really exist on their own and frankly, no other job requires team work as much as the task of  treating a patient. In health care it is not just enough for each of profession to take care of only its own responsibilities, they must also take responsibility across boundaries forming a synergy that compliments each other in the overall interest of the patient.

However, while specialization has bought about great clinical advancements it has also bred problems of communication, a lack of shared understanding, and fragmentation of responsibility, fierce self-righteous defence of boundaries and by implication, turf wars. The various professions exhibit such grave distrust for each other and try to down play the role of the other.

This deep-rooted and crippling turf war is killing the health care industry and killing our people. It creates a tensed and unpleasant work environment that invariably rubs off on the patients. It is taking affordable health care far away from the reach of ordinary Nigerians who are now left at the mercy of private hospitals. Already it has cost us the National Health Bill, a law that would have led to a lot of reforms in the sector. And while the various unions continue to sing the aluta song and wave clinched fists at TV screens, our life expectancy continues to slide and the possibilities of meeting the Millennium goals especially on maternal and child mortality continues to slip further from our reach.

Sadly, most of them do not care. As the Government hospitals are shut down, they focus fully on their private practices, making brisk business, certain that whenever the current strike was called off, they will get their salaries for the period they did nothing. The trend is simply to blackmail government and get away with it. Where went the nobility that health workers so famously claim for themselves?

We must all call them out. They are our friends and relatives. We must put the required pressure on them to do the right thing which in this case is a speedy resolution of their differences with each other and the government and having at all times, the interest of the patient uppermost in their mind. We cannot afford to continue like this.

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All health professionals should co-operate in the patients interest

Collaborative care is absolutely necessary for the best outcome for the patient. Wouldn’t we all be better off if the various health professionals could find a way to work together based on the common goal of helping the patient? If we can get down from our high horses, we will realize that our healthcare system is largely weak and can only be strengthened through collaborative efforts.

First published Here.

introvert-badgeI am an introvert. What this simply means is that I spend quite a great deal of time hanging out with myself, inside my head. Growing up, it did not mean anything to me. Solitude was life. I read voraciously and spent time holed up inside my room, covered with a duvet and consuming written words. I spent an unusually long period in the bathroom just sitting there and letting my mind wander. It was the best place in the house, still is – my thinking room, where I was alone to my thoughts but which I always had to give up for others to use.

This is not to suggest that at age eight I was a hermit or something. I had my fair share of the social experiences of children’s early lives. Like every other child, I had friends in school and in our quarters. I played all the games of that time, from stick gun movies to building of sand castles and football. I attended birthday parties and left dance floor tales. But as I grew older, I became more shy and withdrawn. This came with the realisation of sorts that other kids my age did not exactly think like me, that I did not seem to flow with the regular customs of the day, that my interests seemed to be at variance with all others.

This made me feel a little abnormal. In our largely extroverted world, being vocal and outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable. Such traits are seen and judged as a mark of happiness, confidence and even leadership. People naturally gravitated towards the extrovert in the group; and with adolescence and the desire to be noticed especially by the girls, the challenge became even more serious. So naturally, I began the struggle to fit in, to be loud and social like everyone else, to fake extroversion.

Research suggests introverts are wired differently. Their make-up means they have an inner-directed mental life – theyIntrovert prefer to be alone and are drained by social contact. There is a close link between introversion and high sensitivity, which includes an appreciation of detail and beauty. In 2003, Jonathan Rauch wrote an article for The Atlantic Monthly magazine in which he opined that introverts are “wildly” misunderstood and even oppressed. They are described with words like ‘guarded’, ‘loner’, ‘reserved’, ‘taciturn’, ‘self-contained’, ‘private’ – narrow, ungenerous words, words that suggest emotional parsimony and smallness of personality.

But introverts have one awesome gift which others can only imagine – Solitude. Solitude is beautiful beyond measure and the reason the world is the way it is today, why there is a seeming breakdown of human relationships be they at family level or between countries, why there is a worrying crisis of identity among young people, is that we are not having enough of it any more.

Oscar Wilde opines that it is very healthy to spend time alone. “You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person,” he says.

There’s just something special about being alone and reflecting. Being alone with your own thoughts forces you to look at the greatest as well as darkest parts of you. This is essential in understanding who we are and what our purpose is. In solitude, I discovered happiness and independence and honestly I never felt alone. Ironically I would feel more alone and empty with others around me but when I was finally alone I felt whole. I had my thoughts and ideas and opinions to myself and no one could influence them. This helped me to develop a persona and a strong character while also feeding my interests in creative writing.

The advent of social media and advancement in distractive technologies is slowly killing our time in solitude and by extension our creative spirits. The time that we once spent doing the things we loved – reading, cooking, gardening, or even simply watching sunsets – we now spend scrolling through newsfeeds and gossip. The time we once spent in creative idleness we now spend in what some people have described as ‘destructive idleness.’ Our world is worse for it.

We need more solitude. More introverts if you like. There is nothing shameful about it. It does not make you a loser. Quite on the contrary, it actually makes you a healthy and well-adjusted person because you have the ability and strength to just be and if you are a creative person, it accords you the greater advantage of being perpetually connected with the creative juices, the muse as some will term it. Brenda Ueland once said that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.

Introverts rockPersonally, I have learned to take pride in living in the moment and experiencing life fully by myself and in the company of others. Faking extroversion is one very exhausting endeavour which I have since given up on. Over time, I have honed my social behaviour and immersed myself in my family and a closely knit cycle of few but wonderful friends. I am secure in the knowledge that it is a wonderful and sacred thing to be able to take time to be with myself without all the noise and bustle of the surrounding world.

I hope this encourages someone battling with introversion and the pressure to conform to the noise which is in vogue. I also hope it makes others realise the emptiness of their loudness and discover the beauty of solitude.

First Published here

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