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Archive for April, 2011

I just found this blog, Method is Madness written by a Nigerian named Saratu. I read this post titled “Not Speaking Yoruba” and loved the witty, colorful writing. The detailed description of the difference between English and Yoruba is insightful and echoes a lot of the difficulty I had with learning it. I think it also depicts the sentiments thousands of Yoruba people all over the world have who cannot speak their native language like they want to.
Here is an excerpt from the post. Read the full thing here.

I should be more clear: speaking Yoruba, speaking it well, is not the same as speaking English well. You can do quite well without speaking English idiomatically, each word an island that reveals itself through practice of conjugations and direct meaning, like a street increasingly familiar with returning visits. Words in English take their place like soldiers. Subject, verb, direct object. You can get more complex than that if you wanted to, of course, but it really is enough to convey your meaning the majority of the time.

Yoruba, however, doesn’t work that way. True, you can learn Yoruba in a classroom, like I did in my primary school days, with paperback textbooks the exact thickness as freshly-ironed adire. You could, but why would you, when you could listen to your grandparents talk, read the Yoruba daily newspaper Alaroyin, watch Yoruba movies and laugh at the grammatically-incorrect English captions? No. Yoruba is to be experienced, lived, not – in the academic sense of the word – learned.

And, anyway, the kind of Yoruba you learn is not the kind of Yoruba you want to speak. Where English lines up, Yoruba is a contortionist. I am going to the market. The market, I am going. Both correct. And as you get to more complex situations, this ability to shape and reshape itself gets even thornier, expecting the speaker to move into a thicket of idioms, metaphor. In English, this will only serve to embellish, soften the stark nakedness of one’s words. Not quite so in Yoruba. Individual words in this language can take on so many meanings, depending on where one places emphasis. Ife could be a small, university town some hour or so outside of Ibadan, or it can be love. Oko can mean husband, or perhaps forest, and, maybe, if you really butcher it, penis. This nuance is true not just of Yoruba pronunciation, but of Yoruba itself.

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An assortment of party favors you can expect to get at any big celebration 'ìnàwó" in Nigeria.

In the U.S. you go to your friends house for a dinner party, you bring a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine to show your appreciation. In Nigeria it is the opposite- the guests are the honorees. After a dinner party here, guests are the ones who walk away with bottles of wine. But a “dinner party” is not a realistic example for Nigeria because it is rare families have their friends over for a intimate three course meal. Fill a large room with plastic tables and chairs, hang some colorful decorations from the ceiling, hire a company to hand out glass bottles of Coke and Fanta and dole out heaping plates of jollof rice and amala and bam, you have yourself a true Nigerian party. At a true Nigerian party you will also always see the guests leaving with some type of personalized, pragmatic gift for domestic chores or living. What use is a t-shirt printed with the newlyweds’ picture when you could have a bucket with their picture printed on it to do all sorts of things? When I attended my first wedding here, I found it odd to be walking away from the chapel hall with a ceramic bowl, especially since the bowl had a sticker with the bride and grooms faces, date of marriage and a mention of who paid for the gift. After more and more parties, I am used to receiving a cup, a food cooler and a notebook all covered in stickers commemorating the celebrants and inside a personalized cloth bag.

Why do Nigerians do this? Kíló dé? What is the impetus for the brides parents to spend thousands of Naira making personalized clock radios, and the groom’s parents printing stickers to put on plastic fans all to give hundreds of guests at the wedding? Some people say Nigerians just love spending money. One of the names for celebrations like weddings, funerals, naming ceremonies is “ìnàwó” which literally means “money spending” in Yoruba. Others say everyone does it because everyone else does it, nítorí náà ó tí di baraku fun gbogbo omo Naijiriya lati na owó katikati fun àwon ebùn yìí. Maybe it’s because Nigerians go to so many parties in their life times that they need something useful, something they can use everyday for fetching water or writing notes to remind them of that wonderful “ìnàwó” they attended years back. If you are lucky enough to be be among the guests at a party where the celebrants are very wealthy, to lowó bajebaje, you might even get a Blackberry complete with the a picture of the newly wed’s faces on the back.

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The Obafemi Awolowo Hall polling place.

April 9th, the first day of Nigeria’s national elections that I observed at different polling places inside the University of Ibadan was an exercise in the purest, most proactive display of democracy I have ever witnessed. Nigerians lingered peacefully at polling places from early morning until late afternoon carefully monitoring the Independent National Election Commission officers’ every move for any signs of mistakes or rigging. The desire to guarantee that this is election fair and credible was palpable on campus Saturday.

“It doesn’t really matter who wins,” Ifeanyi, a post-graduate student in geography at UI said about the election for Senate and House of Representatives. “What matters is that the election is credible so if something goes wrong the only people we can blame are ourselves.”

Almost through with accreditation at the Awo polling place. The people on the ledge are waiting for the vote to start at noon.

After voting, Ifeanyi and his colleagues stood under the bus-stop-turned-polling place at Obafemi Awolowo Hall or “Awo” in UI–the largest dormitory in all of West Africa– waiting for the INEC officials (college graduates working for Nigerian government for their year of mandatory government service) to count the votes out loud.

Say no to election rigging

At Awo, around forty people huddled around a small table, all eyes transfixed on the stack of long paper ballots as the official counted each one, one to 202.

Down the road at Queen Idia Hall, a girls’ dormitory, observers stood and sat at the edge of an invisible makeshift barrier, five-feet away from the clear plastic ballot boxes as the lady

About 50 people stood by waiting to monitor the vote count and hear the results.

officiating held each of the 216 votes in the air, enunciating each increasing number clearly. Boys at Independence Hall hung over the balconies, stood on ledges, ran up and down halls with brooms in the air, cheering and yelling as the INEC official counted the senate votes for their favored political parties.

Everyone who made the choice to stand for the hour or so it took to manually count the votes did so for the prospect of a fair and credible election.

This is Nigeria’s third democratic election since the end of Sani Abacha’s military rule in 1999 and people are determined to make it the most transparent. In the previous two elections, voting officials at each polling place carried the ballot boxes away to local headquarters to count the votes. Later, they would announce a number that was almost always surely altered. The votes would inflate or deflate somehow to guarantee the candidates favored by people in power ascended. Other times, politically aligned thugs stormed polling places to steal ballot boxes full of votes. Politicians even paid people to vote for or against a certain candidate multiple times.

The all boys Independence Hostel. They cheered and yelled as INEC officials counted the votes Saturday.

On April 9th, the process looked different.

After the polls closed in UI, officials counted every vote in the box right in front of the people while security guards and police stood guard. Newspapers reported that police shot six thugs who tried to steal ballot boxes in Delta State Saturday.

To make it impossible for one person to vote multiple times all voters have to be accredited on the day of voting. Voters line up from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. to receive an indelible marker mark on their left hand nails that shows they have been accredited. Voting starts at noon and only accredited people can vote. After you vote, officials draw another indelible ink mark on your right hand nails.

“If they do the same thing they are doing [at the Obafemi Awolowo Hall polling place] throughout the country, then we will be very happy,” Abeni, a female teacher and doctor living in UI said in Yoruba.

Dark blue marker on the right hand thumb nail indicates she voted in the first election. The left hand means she is accredited.

April 9th’s election is the most fair she’s seen so far, “except for June 12th,” she said.

June 12th, 1993 is a date engrained in Nigeria’s memory as the country’s most fair and credible presidential election that resulted in one of the biggest disappointments in its history. The most popular candidate, M.K.O. Abiola, won and in an act of power, the military dictator of the time, Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election and paved the way for six more years of harsh military rule.

Many Nigerians are doing everything they can to see that this year’s election is the start of a new chapter, a true democracy.

Peaceful but poor turnout

Signs of a peaceful voting process were evident all over the UI campus Saturday. Walking along the leafy empty streets where few cars or okadas passed and the only sounds were the shrill squawk of birds sharply contrasted the chatter and excitement at each polling place.

The President of UI’s Students’ Union, Tokunbo Salako, better known as T-Cool, visited each of the eight polling places within UI Saturday and reported fewer students than expected at the polls. He noted multiple reasons for the low number of accredited people compared to the high number of people registered.

“Students don’t know who they want to vote for,” T-Cool said in Yoruba. “Or they have no patience to wait to be accredited. Some students also think they aren’t serious because they pushed the election forward.”

At Awolowo Hall, 1,421 people registered to vote and only 244 actually accredited.

T-Cool says he thinks the number of voters will increase with the presidential and gubernatorial elections coming up on April 16, and April 26 respectively. Candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives races are not as well known to students so they did not get out to the polls en masse, he said.

Counting and separating the ballots into those for senate and house of representatives at Awo..

Voting for Saturday’s election was more about the political parties than the candidates. The ballots listed the 10 political parties in a vertical line and voters put a thumb print next to their party choice, not a single candidates name appeared on either the house or senate ballot.

Omolara, a fourth year undergraduate studying Communications Language Arts held a megaphone in her hand as she stood behind the crowd of students listening to the vote count at Idia Hall. She walked around her hall that morning encouraging students to vote. “Ibo e, eto e ni, (your vote is your right)” she announced through the megaphone.

Back at Awo Hall, Ifeanyi saw the election process out from start to finish around 4 p.m. to see that “we get it right.”

“Barack Obama said Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men,” he said. “This is the only way we can have a stronger institution. If what we are witnessing here should spread throughout the country, then I think we are on our way.”

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The assignment was about community mobilization- encouraging a community of people to address an issue and see that they worked together towards the solution. Professor Ojebode told the fifty of us in the Communication Development class that we were to choose a primary school within the University of Ibadan campus or outside in the city to do a mobilization project about hand washing. Why it is important for kids to wash their hands, when they should wash and what they can wash with if there is no water. My group decided to take another route. We chose St. Matthews Primary School in Ajibode, a neighborhood just on the other side of a very threatening bridge far out in the UI campus. Our topic was wearing shoes, why it’s important and what can happen if you do not wear shoes. Many school children in Nigeria walk barefoot outside regularly.

Women carrying loads, starting the journey over the bridge that connects UI campus at the botanical gardens and Ajibode.

The hot sand can burn their feet, the vast assortment of sharp trash on the ground can cut them, walking through puddles of stagnant water after the rains can give them terrible parasites.

If you step too close to the sides, this is what you could fall into. During the rainy season, the water level reaches the bridge.

The list goes on. On the day of the presentation, we met laughs, lyrical songs, and loud voices of the small school children. Poverty was apparent there. Some kids didn’t have shoes or the money to fix their torn blue and white striped school uniforms. Pictures alone could not capture the mood of that morning, so I made this video to share with everyone.

My group members walking back towards campus after a very successful morning at the school.

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We made front page headlines again…I was standing with my classmates in the Faculty of Arts at UI this morning when one of my classmates told me, “Titi, mo ri oju e ni oju iwe kinni Punch loni. Titi, I saw you on the front page of Punch today.” I said “Enhh? Opuro ni e. You’re a liar.” He said he was serious, so I went to the Student Union Building to investigate. I approached the newspaper table where men (women are never there) congregate everyday to look at the headlines and gossip about news. I pushed my way to the front. Sure enough, there was my face on the bottom of the paper, under election headlines. I paid 150 Naira for the paper and after about five people nearby grabbed the paper from my hands and exclaimed that it was in fact me on the cover, was on my merry way.
::Surprise as undergraduate Americans teach Nigerians Yoruba::
The article is about the program we did at Vivian Fowler Memorial College for Girls a few weeks ago. It is well written for the most part but, like the other articles printed about us, there are serious misquotes. At least they captured the overall idea of what I wanted to say. I guess the exact words are too much to ask for.

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Well, whoever commented and told me not to be surprised, that I hadn’t seen anything yet after the first election postponement was correct. After hours of meetings between the 63 (Sixty three!! is that a joke?) political parties in Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission decided to set the National Assembly elections back another week, making it April 9th.

INEC, under the leadership of Chairman Attahiru Jega, also moved the presidential elections back to Saturday April 16 from the originally scheduled April 9th and the gubernatorial to Tuesday April 26.

This is a prime example of Nigeria happening. A plan for executing the election was in place. Millions of people had registered successfully months ago, then on the day of the big event Nigeria happened and the dashed everyone’s hopes. Everyone I’ve talked to is disappointed in Jega and the failure of a election that had so many hopes behind it. People are praying it all goes smoothly from here.

Some political parties, out of the whopping 63, are asking Jega to resign from his position to save Nigeria from more international embarrasment. Other parties are saluting Jega for giving the commission more time to organize fair and successful elections and restore the nation’s faith in the electoral process. Quite opposing views.

On campus, students were a flutter of frustration and criticism of Jega and the problems that led to cancellation and postponement. Overall though, people are very hopeful that the three days of elections will go peacefully and according to schedule. When things like this happen, all Nigerians have left is prayer. Let’s hope God answers them.

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As Nigerians say, “they tried.” The third nationwide vote in Nigeria since the end of military rule in 1999 almost started successfully today. Due to an unfortunate logistical mishap of ballot materials, specifically result sheets, the elections for National Assembly have been postponed until Monday, April 4th. I heard the news this morning via Twitter (it really is an amazing news medium) that the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) cancelled the vote and was currently holding a press conference about it. I rushed to the TV to watch the chairman, Attahiru Jega apologize to millions of Nigerians who had been standing in line since early morning hoping to cast their votes only to find out it is postponed.

Apparently, planes that brought paper ballots and results sheets into Nigeria from four different countries-including Japan-were delayed and did not land in Lagos until late Friday night, giving INEC officials little time to disperse them to the polling places throughout Nigeria. Some cities, especially those with smaller populations, received materials and successfully carried out the voting process. Since Jega cancelled today’s election, those citizens who were able to vote this morning will have to return to the polling places Monday morning to do it again. No movement on Monday means another national holiday is likely, giving Nigerians a four-day weekend. We’ll see how it goes.

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