Sunday, July 26, 2015


Sometimes, however political one is, it is good to set aside time for personal reflection and introspection. I have been very busy travelling and speaking and I am only settling down to do this. And I have come up with very interesting ideas and thoughts.

As we go through life hustling, different people respond to our hustle in different ways. While some people just stand aside and watch, showing us neither support nor aggression, most people will either be for us or against us. And as far as this big bad world is concerned, the greater number will be against us, with some even mocking our efforts. However, it is said that a hustle that God has blessed has many mothers. And fathers. And friends. And relatives. As soon as one becomes successful, people begin to seek association where there was none, and claim friendships, even when they once openly antagonized you.

I am happy that President Buhari, in responding to a question at the United States Institute of Peace in the US a few days ago, said “naturally, constituencies for example that gave me 97%, cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues the same with constituencies that gave me 5%.”

Our president is an old wise man. I completely agree with him that in life, those who did not support your hustle cannot be treated the same as those who did. It is like you wanting to get married and then someone asking if the woman who tried to snatch your husband from you will be on your bridal train.

For me, there are two kinds of people in the world, people who are in the 97% and people who are in the 5%.

I have been thinking of people in my life who are in the 5% just in case God should suddenly bless my hustle. Some times God doesn’t give a warning and your blessing can sneak up on you like an unwanted pregnancy. It is important to have this in mind before you make the mistake of allowing those who did not even want you to succeed into your new space of success. That is how people get poisoned.
Here is a list of the 5% people I will snub when I make it in life:
1.    My neighbour’s children in Kaduna who used to make fun of our clothes, calling them hand-me-downs, even when they could see that the clothes were new.
2.    A group of boys led by a tall lanky boy called Danjuma who never used to include me in their team when we used to play football. I may not remember all their names, but I remember their faces. If they ever see me on the television and think they can just look for me and gain from my hustle, I will remind them of how much hurt they caused me by excluding me from football. If I was a white American child, I might have been severely emotionally damaged by this and ended up as a bitter adult who would walk into a school and shoot several people. Or ended up as a white police officer who would have killed an innocent black person. And they would have been ultimately responsible for that. In my head, those boys – men now – are technically murderers. In the likely event that I become successful, I will leave instructions with my PA not to even let any of those 5% people past my reception. I just thank God I am not an American.
3.    South Africa is also on my list. In 2012, they frustrated my visit to their country and made it impossible for me to travel for an important workshop. When I become rich, famous and powerful and I hear anyone from the South African government try to praise or talk about me as a fellow African, I will remind them of the visa they did not give me in 2012 and warn them to stop mentioning my name as if we were friends. Because they are in the 5%. I think this is really fair.
4.    The editor of my newspaper, Sunday Trust who always reduces my salary if I am caught up travelling and can’t send in my column. He used to be in my 97% but since he started reducing my pay, he has since been shifted to the 5%. I know that if I become rich and famous he will want to take a photo with me and share my glory. He will want to say: this successful man is my columnist. But I will tell him, get thee behind me, you 5% man.

Ps. The United States keeps killing its people of color. Only a few days ago, Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old African American became the most recent victim of police heavy handedness. She was found hanging in her jail cell a few days after her arrest. I will say this again: if America is tired of its black people they should return them to us. Suffering and smiling is better than being shot by a white police officer. Plus I think we need real Americans in our radio stations not these our presenters whose attempts at an American accent is often very painful to listen to.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


I want to tell you about camels. For those of you who do not know what a camel is, let’s get the basics out of the way. Wikipedia says that “a camel is an even-toed ungulate within the genus Camelus, bearing distinctive fatty deposits known as "humps" on its back.” Done.

Camels fascinate me. That is why I was excited when former activist and civil society man Shehu Sani who is now the Senator representing Kaduna Central, decided that the best use of 15 million naira this Ramadan, was among other things, to buy camels for his constituents. I remember Shehu Sani apart from his afro which he is bold enough to carry with his slowly receding hairline, as a man who was vocal against human rights abuses, wasteful government spending and corruption. But now I will remember him for spending millions to deliver camels to his constituents. And this is a good great thing. Let me explain.

Camels are very symbolic. First, camels live for up to 50 years which is close to the life expectancy in Nigeria. Donating camels is a symbol of where we are as a people, a sober reminder of how short our lives are and how much work there is to be done. When Shehu Sani’s constituents slaughter the camels and eat the meat, they will be killing that spirit which makes us die in our 50’s. Only a man with extreme wisdom could have thought of something as deep as that. I mean he could have used 15 million naira to sink a few boreholes or start a scholarship scheme, but you can’t beat camels as an idea. I pray God continue to give Shehu Sani uncommon wisdom. There is more.

Camels can go for a long time without water. Nigerians are no strangers to water scarcity. In fact many parts of Kaduna and indeed Nigeria have never had running water. But somehow we have been surviving. Our life expectancy may be 51, but we have been surviving. Just like the camel. When the Senator donates camels he is wishing us resilience in the face of scarcity of water and other essentials of life. We need resilience. We need camels. We need Shehu Sani.

The thick skin and fur of the camels insulate them from extreme temperatures. The symbolism of this is clear to see. Nigerians have had extremely bad leadership and have had to deal with extreme conditions like poverty, weekly bombings, and stupid politicians. As the constituents in Kaduna central skin the camels after slaughtering, they are adopting the insulation of the camel and protecting themselves from the extreme conditions they find themselves in. Are you beginning to see why I love Shehu Sani? Let us continue.

The milk of a camel is richer than that of a cow in vitamins, minerals, proteins, iron, potassium, vitamin C and immunoglobulins. Also it has lower fat and lactose. Meaning if you are a bit lactose intolerant you can enjoy camel milk. Do you see how thoughtful he is? Lactose intolerance is more common in adults of African descent than in Europeans. Who needs real long lasting projects when you can have milk that lactose intolerant people can drink? This is an idea born way before its time. There are tears in my eyes as I write this. I want to be like Shehu Sani when I grow up.

I saw someone who did not even vote for Shehu Sani writing to him saying that he did not queue in the sun to vote for someone who would begin his political career by distributing camels. How ungrateful. Some will say that Shehu Sani should be a senator to all regardless of whether they voted for him or not. But they forget that even though he has uncommon wisdom, the brilliant senator is not God. It is God that treats everyone equally. In fact, even God makes a distinction between those who follow Him and those who do not. That is why there is heaven and there is hell. People who did not vote for him should not complain about his camels. If they do not like camel meat or milk or skin, they should go and find a senator who will give them what they want – unimportant things like scholarships and boreholes. I am happy that Shehu Sani responded to the man by saying that he did not ask for his votes. Some people need a strong hand.

Intelligence should be rewarded. Uncommon wisdom should be praised. Because only a politician who truly cares can come up with the idea of giving away something as important as camels. I thought I cared. But Shehu Sani cares more.

Ps. Someone has drawn my attention to the following posted on his Facebook and Twitter pages in 2012: 

Let me just say in response to people who don't have anything to do with their time apart from digging up Shehu Sani's past comments, that rams are NOT camels. It is an insult to camels to make this comparison. Rams cannot compete with camels in any way, not in symbolism, nutritiousness, resilience or size. Moreover, the money he used to buy his camels do not "belong to all". People really need to mind their own business. 

Friday, July 3, 2015


By the time you are reading this, it will be only hours before the announcement of the winner of the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing. Five writers who identify as African will be headed to Oxford to hear which of their stories has been selected by the judges to win 10 thousand pounds. I like to think of it in naira. Not because I think of winning. Because “3 million naira” sounds sexier.

Competitions will be competitions. Many may claim not to care, but there is a spirit that invades people and does things to them. As one of those shortlisted, it would be a disaster if I became visibly angry or allowed whatever disappointment I feel in my heart make its way to my face or body. I will explain.

The prize is announced at a grand dinner with many important people. All eyes gaze intently at each of the five shortlisted writers. Many will be checking for the slightest signs of discomfort. Some will put their hands on your shoulder, telling you they hope you win. They will probably have said the same to the others, but that’s not the point. The point is that they care enough to say something they don’t mean. Some will ask if you are nervous and by doing that, make you nervous, because then you have to lie that you are fine and that it doesn’t matter who wins and that you love everyone on the shortlist dearly and that there is peace in the big bad world at last. Crap like that. That “I swear I am not nervous” speech that one is lured into is often followed by an awkward, exaggerated smile, which discredits everything one has just said. Then as the prize is about to be announced people start looking at all five of you even more intently. This is the killer. You don’t want your body language or facial expression to change too much the moment the winner is announced. If your smile suddenly drops, people will notice. If you appear too excited even when you have no reason to be, it will be artificial and people will notice too. Eventually, when you lose – because four people have to lose – the news will filter out that you were a sore loser. And the news will be exaggerated as it passes from ear to ear. It will end up changing from your smile dropping when you lost to you becoming distraught and smashing property belonging to the British government.

When I was first shortlisted in 2013, I had the foresight to visit a pub around the corner before the announcement and down many whiskeys. I will not say how many because I don’t want to be a bad example for children. But it helped. Plus my (I admit not very elegant) story was about a poor, starving child fighter and could not have won anyway. Poverty porn and all. But old things have passed away and I am on the shortlist again. This time, God be praised, the children in my story are not starving or killing people. They are mostly good, obedient, well-fed children. The children even have fruits in their diet. Mangoes. Ripe mangoes. However, there are other awesome stories on the shortlist. Stories that stop me in my tracks as I think of what 3 million naira can buy. Stories that make it necessary for me to practice my losing face. Because the thing is, if like me you have lost before, people will look even harder at you for signs that this time, you broke down and were devastated that you were rejected twice. Thankfully, I am not the only one who was shortlisted before. So statistically, at least two of us who have been on the shortlist before will lose. I will have company.

My plan is simple: I will visit that pub around the corner in Oxford. I will change the shots from whiskey to tequila this time. I will go into the dinner smiling, but not too much because if the speeches are too long then I will get tired of smiling and if my smile drops and suddenly the prize is announced and I lose, the stories will start. “Nigerian Caine Prize Nominee Breaks Down After Losing (Twice).” God forbid that bloggers use me to get hits. God forbid.

The good thing about the prize this year is that they have given each of the shortlisted writers 500 pounds. I am happy about this. It means I can buy an air conditioner and maybe even a small generator for my studio apartment in Abuja. Whatever the case, my levels have changed and even with a second loss (especially with my new air conditioner), God has kinda blessed my hustle. And that is all that matters.