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Archive for February, 2011

The infamous Nokia ring tone sounded in my purse. “Mum” flashed on the caller ID.

“Hello, Titilayo, where are you? There is someone at the house who I want you to meet.”

My host mom knows me well and wouldn’t go out of her way to introduce me to just anyone. I knew this mystery person must be interesting. Nawow–I was correct.

I walked into my parlor to find a young man, maybe in his late 20’s–there’s no telling with a Nigerian man–sitting at the table looking suave in a trendy newsboy cap and button down shirt. I sat down next to him and extended my hand, “Hi, I’m Titilayo.” He chuckled in disbelief the way most people do when they meet me for the first time and hear my name is Titilayo. “I’m Andrew,” he said.

Andrew (I found out later, it’s Andrew Esiebo) is an emerging photographer/film maker and overall multimedia enthusiast based in Nigeria. His work takes him all over the world–South Africa, Italy. France, Brazil– to name a few countries, but he has a base in Lagos and Ibadan. He is from the Urhobo tribe of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria and speaks mad Pidgin. He takes stunning pictures and you will be doing yourselves a favor by spending some time on his site: http://www.lightstalkers.org/andrew-. Click on any of the galleries, particularly Travel Nigeria. In my opinion, (and I happen to be the daughter of a professional photographer myself) Andrew has exquisite perspective and a real desire to tell stories through photos. He covered the World Cup in South Africa. Governments in Nigeria commission him for all sorts of things and he is currently elbows deep in different film projects. He is focusing mostly on video now, sporadically incorporating stills for emphasis. His photos are just stunning.

I think the world will be seeing more and more beautiful things from Andrew Esiebo very soon.

Andrew took this picture at the Osun Osogbo, the Sacred Grove in Osogbo. The light is perfect.


One from his World Cup collection.

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Witnessing the stunning political events of the past few weeks in North Africa and my very own college town of Madison, Wis., unfold through the glow of a television screen and plethora of Internet articles has got me feeling detached lately. Sitting in the comfort of my Nigerian family’s parlor reading about thousands of people flooding the Wisconsin state capital to protest a proposed bill is unsettling not only because of the nature of the bill, but because I yearn to be there among the protestors, reporting the story. I had the same feeling ingesting news about Tahrir Square in Egypt. Even though I am in Africa (one country separates Nigeria from Libya) the protests seem a world away because they are the Arab Africa, not the black Africa I know. The timeliness of these protests and my current residence in a country in the middle of a potentially nation changing event–a presidential election–I find myself asking the question, could united, ardent, somewhat peaceful (Libya is a big exception) protests happen in Nigeria?

Nigeria is doing OK. It is not governed by a president who has been in power for three decades. It’s state governors are not trying to pass a bill that will undermine union workers’ collective bargaining rights. It has a great deal of wealth from lucrative oil reserves and it is in the middle of a democratic election. But if you compare it’s ranking on the success at achieving the Millennium Development Goals, it falls far behind Tunisia and Egypt and all the while it is fact that corruption and bribery is rampant in government. The youth know things need to change, but the looming question is how? I asked some of my classmates what they think about the uprising in Egypt, if something like those protests could happen in Nigeria in the future and if they need to.

Here’s what some of them said:

“The state of corruption in this country is really terrible. You don’t have to stay in the country a long time to know there is corruption in the country. It’s more like our way of life now, it’s a normal thing. If there will be change I don’t think it will be in our generation. Many Nigerian youths are not going to go through the stress. I mean one of the things you consider is why do I have to study very hard when I can actually bribe lecturers to give me a 7 point (perfect grade point average)? Why do I need to go to school at all when at the end of the day if I don’t get a job opportunity all I need to do is know somebody in big places and they just write me a letter of recommendation. Why do I need to finish in the first class when when I’m ready there’s a job waiting for me? My motivation is that I want to serve as a role model for my children.”
-Mayowa, 24, female

“Why such a revolution cannot take place in Nigeria, there are so many reasons for it. Number one is that things are still bearable unlike the days of military when people could no longer make ends meet. There was no fuel, no firewood in the forests so people had to take to the streets and ensure that the government was changed at that time. Another is this culture of positive thinking. Nigerians don’t want to accept that they are poor that they are suffering. We simply want to believe that tomorrow will be alright, tomorrow will be okay, giving people false hope… It’s as if people have made up their mind to continue suffering and calling suffering another name, maybe a positive name… I think religion is also to be blamed for most of it because the way religion is done in Nigeria, it suppresses thinking.”
Wole, 28, male

“I think the issue in Egypt might not happen in Nigeria. I think in Egypt they share a common ground, it’s one of the Arab nations and being together as religion makes it easy for them to achieve a purpose. Unlike Nigeria, this is a multi-ethnic society with different religious groups…to bring the interest together and have a common ground might be very difficult. We also still have a bearable situation…People are all hoping that this upcoming election will change things, maybe peoples votes will count and it will be reflected in the turnout. I can only hope, I cannot be too certain. If INEC won’t be manipulated. People seem to be ready to monitor elections to make sure their votes count. One of the basic things I think that needs to be changed is leadership. We still have leaders that are not so concerned about the welfare of the people. It’s more like leading an elitist government. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Imagine the senate where less than 500 people taking 25% of resources for the whole country. These are people who are supposed to be representatives of the masses… I can only be optimistic that this generation will do something. I see the change coming its a gradual process.
Femi, 26, male

Hearing my classmates discuss this topic was an incredibly eye opening experience for me of the goliath task many of these youths feel the country is facing. Whether Nigeria–or any other country–will take to the streets in the next month is impossible to tell because riots and protests occur completely unexpectedly. A Facebook message started what turned out to be thousands of people protesting their president in Egypt. In the 1980’s Nigerians did protest against the military government and worker groups here go on strike all the time. Massive scale protests are possible everywhere in the world, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily the answer to fixing a country’s problems.

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My english teacher lecturing about Amos Tutuola's The Palm Wine Drinkard for English 444–African Prose Fiction.

I was sitting in English lecture the other day, looking around the room, taking in the entire scene. Students sitting more or less attentively in chipping wooden swivel seats propped up by long, thin wooden tables. Students in sorts of different outfits, some in native ankara fabrics, most in jeans and fancy tops with matching earrings and shoes. My English teacher’s usual slow and deliberate pace of explaining our topic of discussion, The Palm Wine Drinkard. I shifted my seat on the wooden bench, noticing beads of sweat forming on my forehead, wishing for a breeze to rustle through the open glass windows.

I noticed that one thing separated me from the rest of the students. No, it was not skin color. It was our notebooks. The notebooks had minor differences in the size, shape and line height, but the contents was what starkly differentiated mine from theirs. My page had a couple inches of white space on the left, a column of bullet points, roman numerals, letters, stars, what have you, and words filled the rest. Lines had different indents and some important words were underlined. My Nigerian mates had no white space on the left and no bullet points. Their notebooks were filled with paragraph after paragraph of full sentences that created an essay. I noticed that the students crammed on each side of me were writing down every word the professor said almost verbatim–well the important sentences anyway– instead of rephrasing it in their own words in shorter form.

My mate's notebook in English class. Filled with pages of paragraphs of notes, very different from how I take notes in the U.S.

I asked my friend in my Development Communication class if she learned to take notes by writing down everything the lecturer said. She said the fact is they did not learn to take notes like that but people use that method because of the essay based test format. Also, the lecturer might be dictating directly from his notes, and in that case the students want to get as much information as possible. Also, reading supplements for classes can be difficult or impossible to find sometimes. Many of the books I’m reading in English class-African prose fiction-are not sold at the UI bookstore so it is sometimes in the students’ best interest to capture as many of the professor’s exact words as they can.

Sometimes I feel like a slacker with my bulleted lists and roman numerals. Should I be writing three page essays like my peers every class? Nah, I think I’d rather save ink and prevent severe hand aches.

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I cannot express how truly amazed, inspired and happy I am when I read comments you all make on my blog. People from all over the world are reading–many Nigerians abroad and many Americans. When people comment, I know they are actually reading what I say; that’s what blogging is all about. I just received an incredibly touching comment from Sanmi Odelana. It–like many, many others–lit a smoldering fire in my heart and has been lingering in my head all day. At my lowest moments when the electricity is out, the water in the tank has finished and I am sweating myself silly trying to fall asleep, all I have to do is remember one or two of your comments and magically all those woes seem like no wahala (problem).

This is what Sanmi said….

“Hi Titi,
And what a beautiful name that you chose. OK, I am biased because Titilayo is also the name of my one and only sister.

This is really impressive stuff that you are doing in Nigeria. And the way you speak and even write Yoruba is just absolutely amazing!
There are so many Yorubas (especially those living abroad) who wouldn’t be able to speak fluently as you do.

Your journalistic skills are also remarkable.

You can easily become the West African correspondent for BBC, CNN, CBS or Fox News after your studies.
I actually hope that Nigerian Journalists can learn a thing or two from you about how to write reports comprehensively.

You are a star!”

…In response to Sanmi: Wow! I am smiling so big reading your comment. You predicted my goal for the next couple years. Being a West African correspondent for one of those news stations is my dream job. I am sometimes shocked when I read Nigerian newspapers and see sentences like, “Sources say blah blah blah,” but they never mention the sources. I have to thank my journalism school at University of Wisconsin, and maybe more so The Badger Herald-the first and only newspaper I have ever reported for–for teaching me good journalism and curiosity.

So from the bottom of my heart, thank you to those who take the time to leave comments. And to those who don’t, I still thank you for reading and hope you will be moved to comment one day.

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Alaafin of oyo on his throne

The current Alaafin of Oyo, Làmídì Oláyíwolá Adéyemí III sitting on his throne inside the royal chambers in Oyo city.

I was not well prepared to meet the king. Standing at the iron gates to the king’s palace surrounded by the sharp, rhythmic beats of talking drums, I was unimpressed and confused. Our teachers told us we were going to see the Alaafin of Oyo (the King of Oyo). At that time in October these words passed in one ear and out the other. We are going to see a king, I thought, how will he be different than the chairmen, big time boss executives or local politicians we have met, what role does a king have in society today anyway? Today, months after kneeling before the king himself, the significance of our meeting and the historical importance of his position in Yorubaland is dawning on me.
titi standing on ijapa

Here I am standing on a 400 year old tortoise who lives in the Alaafin's palace. Pretty incredible.

For the other four students and I, the experience was nothing more than greeting a very old well dressed man sitting in a gigantic cushioned chair, listening to him praise us while explaining the importance of learning other languages and snapping pictures in his royal chambers. I felt disconnected and foreign walking around the palace grounds; I could not fathom what it looked like at its height nor connect to the artifacts around the palace. The most exciting part of the tour was standing atop a 400 year-old turtle and taking pictures. Equipped with the knowledge I have now about the expansive power of the 16th-18th century Oyo Empire, with the Alaafin as it’s leader, I wish I was more curious in front of a person who comes from the lineage of such a monumental group of men in Nigeria and West Africa’s history.

Although Nigeria is a democracy–in fact we are in the middle of a presidential election right now–kings still exist in Yorubaland today. Each Yoruba city has one, but you do not just call him “king”, each one has his own particular name.

A map showing the size of the Oyo Empire at it's height in the 18th century.

There is the Aláàfin of Òyó, the Oba of Benin, the Oòni of Ifè, Sòún of Ògbómòsó, the Awùyalè of Ìjèbú, the Aláké of Ègbá, the Oba of Èkó, the Òsemàwé of Ondó and so on. Aláàfin means one who owns the palace, aáfin. Today, the Aláàfin owns the palace in Oyo but he is not responsible for much more than that. When the British arrived in Nigeria in 1861 they established a new governing system that greatly reduced the Aláàfin and every other kings’ power.

The Aláàfin’s word used to be law. In the 16th-18th centuries, the Aláàfin of Òyó was the most powerful king out of the list because he the ruled the strongest, most expansive empire in all of Yorubaland (what is presently southwest Nigeria)–– the Oyo Empire. He had privileges no other citizen or official enjoyed. He could marry or gbesele any woman he pleased no matter if she was already married. In theory he was an absolute ruler. Other names for the Aláàfin include Kábíyèsí (the unquestionable ruler) iku baba yeye (one who can command death), ekeji orisha (second to the gods) Alashe (one with the authority). However, he relied on a council of seven kingmakers called the Oyo Mèsí which means Òyó mó èsí (the Oyo people who know the answer), to advise and legitimize his decisions.

oyo mesi

The Oyo Mesi, the council to the king, with all of us in the Alaafin's greeting courtyard.

The Oyo Mèsí, under the leadership of the head council called the Basorun, had the power to remove him from power if he did not consult them before making a policy. Any rejected king was expected to commit suicide. Also, the Aláàfin could not dismiss the Oyo Mèsí because they–like the Aláàfin himself–were born in a hereditary lineage of chiefs.

These days (since British arrival), the king’s role is somewhat ambiguous, a fusion of monarchial traditional rule and foreign imported government. The state government and the governor have replaced the Aláàfin as the authority on political matters where he used to have control. Before British arrival, the Aláàfin’s court was the court of appeals in the land. All civil or criminal cases would be tried and decided there. Today his court deals with petty customary situations. The king used to collect taxes from all the citizens in Oyo. Today, the Aláàfin does not have a role in the constitution; the state government pays his monthly salary.

No shoes allowed in the Alaafin's greeting courtyard. Everyone who meets the Alaafin must have bare feet except for him.

The governor can remove him from the throne and must approve the election of a new king. The Aláàfin of today plays an advisory role to the state government. The governor consults him on matters and petitions him to convey or persuade the people about laws or policies. The governor knows that the local kings, especially the Aláàfin are the closest to the people and that citizens still have great reverence for the them.

The present Aláàfin of Òyó is Làmídì Oláyíwolá Adéyemí III. He was born in 1938 into the Adéyemí Alówólódù of the Aláàfin of Oyo dynasty. His father, Adéníran Adéyemí II was the Alaafin from 1945 until 1955 when was sent into exile by Chief Obáfémi Awólówò’s political party.

The current Aláàfin of Oyo, Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III on his throne with another one on the left side, in the colors of the Nigerian flag.

Làmídì Oláyíwolá Adéyemí III, ascended the throne in 1970 when he was 29 years old and working as an insurance clerk in Lagos. He is a Muslim. At 73 years of age he is still ruling and attracting hundreds of people to his palace daily to pay him homage.

Meeting the Aláàfin of Oyo was surely an interesting, memorable experience. I mean it’s not everyday you meet a king. I just wish that I knew all I know now three months ago when I got on my knees on the deep red carpet in the sepia toned room, bowed my head and said “Kábíyèsí!”

All of our students sat in big cushioned armchairs on one side of the aisle while the Oyo Mesi and other guests sat across waiting for the formal meeting to commence.

Entrance to the Alaafin's royal chambers.

Contrast of the dimly lit king's chambers resplendent with intricate wood wall carvings to the intense sun and heat outside.

One of the Alaafin's wives outside her compound.

People playing the Shekere, a Yoruba instrument made by covering a calabash in a net of beads, as we leave the Alaafin's palace

All of us and our resident director in the Alaafin's greeting courtyard with the Alaafin himself.

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As I was reading up on the current situation in post-Mubarak Egypt, I came across this article about the billions of dollars that flow into Nigeria due to it’s oil supply but then disappear at the hands of state governors or make-believe building projects. This article focuses on the situation in Bayelsa state in the Niger Delta, an area I am forbidden to go while on this program. I live in Oyo state, quite far from Bayelsa. I cannot speak for the situation there first hand but the problems that state is facing represents a lot of the problems this country has overall with huge amounts of money disappearing into the hands of very few people.

NY Times: Riches Flow Into Nigeria, but are Lost After Arrival

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If you were wondering if people celebrate Valentine’s Day in Nigeria, the answer is, oh yes, they most definitely do.

February 14th, the day for lovers, is absolutely crazy in Nigeria, Lagos in particular. Entire streets, hotels, stores, restaurants are covered in red, pink and white streamers, with big heart shaped signs wishing passer bys a Happy Valentines Day. Fancy and fast food restaurants are filled with couples eating out for the holiday. Ibadan, a city which usually gets sleepy around 8:30 p.m., was bustling with cars and people out tonight. I went to Lagos this weekend to relax and get out of Ibadan for a bit and all of my friends there warned me to leave before noon today because the traffic would be horrendous – one of the worst days for traffic the entire year. Many couples spend their nights in the car trying to get to the Island across the Third Mainland Bridge. Boys even walk around in traffic selling heart-shaped Valentine’s Day cakes wrapped in red cellophane for those who are so unlucky.

Valentine’s Day in the U.S. is all about chocolates and roses. Any woman would be satisfied and happy to receive those items from her man. In Nigeria, a woman would just laugh if her partner showed up with a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates. These gifts are not valued as anything special here and the man who makes the mistake will surely suffer the wrath of an angry girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. Suitable Vals (people shorten the holiday to Vals here) gifts in Nigeria are the three C’s: cakes, cell phones and cars.

Nigerian’s take cake baking to another level, especially for Vals. Heart shaped molds with perfectly smoothed fondant icing, covered with red and pink piping, maybe even a personalized message on top. Cake baking deserves a post all to itself so I won’t go too much into it now. Vals cakes are a serious matter and a really popular gift for girlfriends and boyfriends to give.

Cell phones, like I’ve mentioned in a previous post, are an extremely important gadget to Nigerians. Everybody wants Blackberrys or Nokias and girls who receive them as Vals gifts will be extremely excited.

Obviously cars are the creme de la creme of Valentine’s Day gifts no matter where you are. Enough said.

Seeing how much fervor went into Nigeria’s Christmas celebration I was just mildly surprised to see the Valentine’s Day frenzy take over Ibadan and Lagos. Valentine’s Day plays no part in Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa culture but the younger Nigerian generation values this holiday named after Saint Valentine, one of the Christian martyrs, with great anticipation and delight. Hopefully I will get to hear girls’ gossop and try some of their Vals cakes tomorrow since Nigeria declared a public holiday to observe Prophet Mohammed’s birthday.

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