The writings of an intense journalist

Tuesday, 29 July 2014


Please give us a short biography of yourself
I’m a journalist and fiction writer. Though I studied political science at the university, I soon gravitated to creative writing.  I’ve published short stories in Harper Perennial, One World Anthology of Short Stories, B.B.C Focus on Africa, and many other places. I’ve published a full-length novel titled Labulabu Mask with Macmillan Publishers (Nigeria).

When did you start writing?
I started writing in the early seventies. My writing habits are quite simple. I conceptualize ideas after reading. Then I sit down to write. I write everywhere. However, I write best in the morning. Then the brain is fresh. After writing for sometime, I get up and walk around. When I return, I come with a fresh perspective.

Why did you to write American 419 and other stories?
As far as the title story is concerned, I heard about an American who had been duped by Nigerian fraudsters. To recoup his money, he came down to Nigeria. He wanted to get his money back by duping Nigerians. I felt he would lose out. Duping people cannot be right. He made a mistake by falling for the scheme in the first place. Both the American and Nigerians are mere crooks. Also, the situation in my country is harrowing. Daily existence is shocking. Life is nasty, brutish, and short. Things have fallen apart and the center cannot hold. I wanted to depict this situation through short stories. However, despite the shocking life that we live, there is no much laughter, so much humor. In Nigeria, you can fall down in laughter when you hear about what is going on. The sheer possibilities of drama, tragedy, and humor are irresistible materials for fiction.

How did you select the themes in the book? 
I didn’t select the themes. They grabbed me as the experiences in Nigeria suggested them. I didn’t consciously set out the themes. However, I tried to ensure there was a trend running through stories. Namely, we’re living in a really crazy world. Anything can happen in this mad situation.

How long did it take you to write the book?
About two years. However, I wrote the first draft in about eight months. While revising, I sent some stories out to publishers. Mobius was kind to publish one of them. Harper Perennial also used one of the. The editing took some time. In fact, it took most of the time.

What challenges do you face as a writer?
 In Nigeria, there are too many challenges. This is why people self-publish their work. But I didn’t like that route. For this book, I wrote the stories not knowing they would ever be published. You see, I have no agent, somebody to push the book. I sent it after completion to about thirty publishers and agents. Three were interested, but they suggested I take out most of the stories. This is why I feel so happy that Laughing Press agreed to publish it. I can’t thank Mr. Dylan Jerome enough. Basically, the lack of an agent, the poor publishing network, the power problem, the poor reading culture in Nigeria, these are the challenges.

What impact would you like this book to have on readers?
We can’t continue to live in a world like this. There is too much cheating, oppression, manipulation, and terrorism going on. We are destroying the environment without thinking of the consequences. We are doing things as if there is no tomorrow. We’re living in the moment. The little men are being pushed to the wall through government and corporate interests. We can’t continue to live like this. I think we have to stand up and fight. We need to change the world.

How have you evolved as a writer during the process of writing this boot?
Before this book, I was hasty while writing. I would want to finish writing in a month. However, American 419 taught me to be patient. I developed stamina. I learned if I rushed the book it would come out bad. Of course, I didn’t want this. I paced myself. It made me read as well. My creative instincts were sharpened. I discovered possibilities I never knew existed while shaping experience into creative fiction.

What are your ambitions as a writer?
To write as well as possible. My ambition is to learn so that I can improve in the process of creating literary fiction.

Can you give us a hint about your next writing project?
I’ve just finished an 80,000-word novel. It is about a pair of lovers who are forced by excruciating social circumstances to undertake a 4,000-mile journey across the Sahara Desert. They went by road. They experienced so many incredible things. They were not prepared for the journey. It’s life itself. We’re never prepared for the journey we take. Can they remain lovers through the suicidal journey? Why were they forced to emigrate? Human beings died like flies in the course of the journey. I intend sending it out to agents with the hope that they can pick it up.

What books are you currently reading?
I’m currently going through Half of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie. I’ve just got Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead. I’ll soon settle down to read it. Of course, I also go through Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I think it is a great book.  Tolstoy, Turgenev, Hemingway, they are the other authors I’m reading. Obviously, reading is a continuous process. You cannot write if you don’t read.  

Do you have any advice for aspiring writer?
Don’t write only from your head. Learn to write while reading a great writer. It solves so many problems. I think aspiring writers should first study the theory of creative writing. What is originality? Is it something that drops from the sky? What are the elements that ensure original writing? If I learned this earlier on, it would have enhanced my writing.

Anything else you would like to say about your work?
American 419 and other stories is not just about Africa. It’s universal. What goes on here also goes on in other places.

Thursday, 10 March 2011


By Adetokunbo Abiola

Not unlike Europe, Asia and South America, Africa has embraced mobile phones as an important communication device. According to research by RNCOS Industry Research Solutions, the number of mobile subscription in Egypt will touch ninety million by the end of 2012, with penetration exceeding 100%, comparable to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Ghana clocked fifteen million subscribers recently, with the number expected to rise. Nigeria added a whooping 22 million mobile subscribers in 2008, with the level of penetration exploding. Even in tiny Rwanda, according to its technology minister, Romain Murenzi, cell phone revenue will reach $1 billion by 2012. Similar development takes place in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and others. A report from the London Business School stated that over the last few years Africa has witnessed faster growth in mobile telephone subscription than anywhere else in the world.

More surprising is that much of the development is because mobile phones are applied to innovative tasks on the continent. In the last few years, South Africans in Western Cape trigger their supply of electricity by using text messages on their phones. Vodacom Tanzania subscribers pre-pay for their electricity via a mobile payment service. Ugandan handyman Jackson Mawa bought a solar-powered mobile phone to cope with unreliable electricity supply.

Much of the explosion in mobile phone users can be attributed to other innovative uses such as cash transfer, commodity price monitoring, weather forecasting, health research and medical diagnosis. In Ghana, MTN introduced Mobile Money in partnership with nine banks to provide people with a way to transfer money through mobile phones. In South Africa, Wizzit, a cell phone banking facility, evolved a system where customers can use any cell phone to deposit cash into their cell-based account in any post office, branches of Amalgamated Banks of South Africa or the South African Bank of Athens. In Zambia, Celpay allows businesses to pay for services and receive payment via mobile phone accounts. In Kenya, M-Pesa, a joint product of Vodafone/Safaricom mobile phone company, the Commercial Bank of Africa and Faulu Kenya, a microfinance organisation, allows for deposits and receipts of money through phones. In Rwanda, MTN, like in Ghana, introduced a mobile phone money transfer service. "The service has been quite successful in its uptake," said the Head of MTN Mobile Money in Rwanda, Albert Kinuma.

Africans use the phones for interactive purposes. In Uganda, people spend almost $600,000 last year to send greetings to their friends and relatives over the Christmas/New Year season. In some countries like Zambia, Ethiopia and Namibia, households devote as much as 10% of their income, compared to 3% in developed countries, to communicate with friends and family members through mobile phones. According to Synovate, a research company, South Africans, not unlike Europeans and Asians, save their contact information, birthdays, addresses, photographs and others in their cell phones and cannot live without them. ”With mobile phones, you also have the opportunity to be more interactive," said Andries Lombaard, Synovate's Clients Services Director.

Though low income and poor telecommunications infrastructure keep many Africans from using the internet through the computer before now, cellular protocol technology letting mobile networks offer inexpensive internet access is changing this. Internet protocol allows phones route all types of calls, whether they be voice, text messages, or mobile internet surfing sessions, as small packets over the network. According to MTN, around 80 to 120 million Africans, attracted by this last year, accessed 3 G mobile, many of them never having used the internet for web surfing and/or e-mails. To drive mobile phone internet usage upwards, MTN slashed data transmission costs in South Africa in April, reducing the cost of one megabyte of data from $8 to $0.33. MTN plans to cut the mobile data costs for users of its network in other African countries it serves, including Swaziland and Nigeria.

The growth of mobile phones can be attributed to another factor - mobile advertising. According to InMobi, an ad network, mobile advertising acceptance is highest in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world. InMobi's survey, done in partnership with Digital Marketing Intelligence Agency and ComScore, also found, after 2,500 customers were interviewed in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, that Africans are among the most progressive in the world when it comes to mobile advertising. . "With advertising space shrinking in Zimbabwe newspapers," wrote Stanley Kwenda, a Harare-based journalist, in Mail and Guardian, "companies are making use of SMS to advertise. Their advertising has become one of the most lucrative businesses in the country for the thousands seeking to flee the country."

To remind patients to take their medicine and warn them if they are about to make a mistake, a doctor in South Africa, David Green, developed a cellular-enabled pill bottle. The Rwandan Ministry of Health unveils a new technology using mobile phones to support public health. IntraHealth International launches a partnership to provide mobile phones to African health workers who offer maternal and child health services, safe deliveries, obstretic consultations, HIV prevention and treatment.

Other major users of mobile phones are farmers and fishermen. According to New York Times, farmers in Niger Republic use cell phones to find out the market that gives the best price for their products. Amos Gichamba, a Kenyan, created a text message-based system allowing farmers to query dairy companies so they know how much farmers can charge for their cow milk. Many fishermen in Zanzibar, according to a BBC report, now carry mobile phones while they are at sea, using them to check market prices.

Just as internet connects large areas of China and India, mobile phones do the same in Africa. It reduces the transaction costs of financial services for the poor, especially those who do not have access to banks in the rural areas of Rwanda, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. City dwellers send money to relatives living in rural areas` through the same process. "Users do not need to have a bank account to use the service," said Carl Ashie, a mobile phone specialist at Zain, one of Africa's leading telecoms companies. South Africans often paid couriers the equivalent of $30-50 to deliver cash to relatives, now such transactions cost only $0.50 through mobile bank networks. "The greatest impact is in rural areas," said Beyers Coetzee, a rural community officer for Wizzit.

As in Asia, Europe and South America, the phones appeal to the need for expression and individualty among the younger generation. According to many surveys, people use them as alarm clock, camera and instrument to download music. According to a research by Synovate, almost a third of South Africans send and receive e-mail through mobile phones while 46% use them for internet browsing. Synovate research found out the phones are also used for social networking, instant messaging, video viewing and, to a much lesser extent, watching television.

Nowhere in Africa is the use of mobile phones more prevalent than Nigeria, which has the fastest growing mobile phone market on the continent. In Lagos, a megalopolis of 18 million, their use is as common as in New York or Mumbai in India. Sales of mobile phones have soared, and it seems everyone is tied to them in one way or the other. Everybody has one - people in public transportation, private vehicles, on the streets, in restaurants, etc. They are talking 24 hours a day. "It has really enlarged my business," said Mabel Ogunleye, selling crates of soft drinks and dealing with a customer on phone. Other parts of Nigeria experience the same phenomenon. Market women and bus drivers are not left out. Both the young and the old are in the game. "We're all connected and fully integrated into the information world, thanks to GSM," wrote a Nigerian blogger. "If your thing is mobile phone accessories and you're looking for a ready market, Nigeria is it."

Not just in Nigeria alone. The number of mobile subscribers in Rwanda hit 2.6 million in a country of 10 million, and the figure is projected to rise this year. With rapidly improving mobile infrastructure and intense competition among operators, the number of consumers will grow by 14% between 2010 and 2013 in Nigeria. The number of mobile subscribers in Kenya will grow by 15% between 2010 and 2013.

Businessmen and ordinary people are so optimistic about the mobile market they plan big for the future. Wizzit hopes to reach 16 million South Africans in a country where some 60% of the population do not have bank accounts. David Bangirana, a village leader in Uganda, sees potential in using a network of community leaders armed with mobile phones to educate and collect key data in remote places. Celpay, Safaricom and MTN are convinced the mobile telecoms sector has changed the lives of millions of Africans, catalysed economic development and strengthened social tires. "It means unprecedented, substantial change for ordinary people," said Lauri Kivinen, head of corporate affairs for the Nokia Siemen network.

Still, questions remain about the ability of mobile phones to catalyse development. Despite their prevalence, critics say the extension of mobile phone networks and services in recent years have been 'sub optimal'. Jenny Aker and Isaac Mbiti in Boston Review argue the promise of economic development in Africa cannot be realised merely by the use of mobile phones. Other questions concern universal access; inadequate investment in physical, financial and human capital and refusal of cell phone banking facilities to give credit to their customers. But these have not debarred Africans from buying into the industry. Like other continents, Africa's patronage of mobile phones cannot be easily overlooked, and it is indicative of a brave new world where people still find a way to forge ahead.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

MOBILE TELECOMS: Why Africa is Experiencing Growth

By Adetokunbo Abiola
Though Africa remains at the very frontier of emerging markets, the expansion of its mobile telecoms industry sometimes surpasses growth elsewhere. A report from the London Business School stated that over the last five years Africa has seen faster growth in mobile telephone subscription than anywhere else in the world. The continent's mobile phone use during the period increased at the rate of 65% annually, about twice the global average. Africa is reported to be the first continent to have more mobile phone users than fixed line subscribers. The continent is rated as the fastest growing mobile telephone market, faster than in the economies of India and China.

Much of the boom in the industry is driven by a burgeoning domestic market, the largest outside India and China. Although a modest middle class made up of government workers or others tied to the ruling elite has been present on the continent, it expanded in recent years with private sector employers. This growing segment of the African population is upwardly mobile, low-to-middle income consumers. The new class could number as many as 300 million, out of a total population of 1 billion, according to development expert, Vijay Majahan, author of the 2009 book Africa Rising. It includes secretaries, computer gurus, teachers, journalists, lawyers and others who by virtue of education, geography or luck have benefited from economic growth of 6% annually in such countries as Ghana, Uganda and Kenya and around 8% in Rwanda. According to Bloomberg Business week, the household spending of this class and others in Africa totaled $860 billion in 2008, more than that of India or Russia. What's more, Africa's consumer markets in the last few years grew two to three times faster than those in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

The growth in Africa's telecoms industry can be attributed to other forces: trade liberalisation, strengthening the rule-of-law, improved legal and support institutions, better governance, improved transparency, better transport and economic reforms. At least 17 countries have broad-based privitisation programmes in place. Some 25 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa transferred all or part of their telecoms ownership from the state to the private sector. Countries that privatise such as Ghana, Mozambique and Uganda attracted significant foreign direct investment, allowing profits to be repatriated freely or offering tax incentive and similar inducements to foreign investors. Often changes are deliberate and domestic. Inflation has been cut by half to 11% since 2001. "Most importantly, we've seen regulatory changes and this begins to open up a door to long-term investment," said Obiageli Ezekwesili, Vice President, African Region, World Bank.

Despite Africa’s reputation for sit-tight leaders, pointless wars and corruption, a substantial chunk of the continent is experiencing change. Many countries embraced democracy, freedom of speech and political reforms. Spurred by their citizens, African governments, like in China and India , deregulated the telecoms sector and developed infrastructure – gone are the days of central planning and public sector-driven growth strategies. The political situation reflects a free flow of information and a parallel rise in expectations. During Kenya ’s recent political crisis, members of the middle class, who were losing money, reportedly pressured the country’s warring leaders into a compromise. Change has translated into boom for the telecoms sector.

Urbanisation has increased at the same time, making Africa a potential source of substantial consumption and production in the years ahead. Today 40% of Africans live in cities, a portion that is close to China and continuing to expand. This segment of the population accounts for 80% of the total GDP, according to UN Centre for Human Settlements. Apart from this, the continent already has 52 cities with population greater than 1 million - equal to Western Europe - and is projected to add 32 by 2030. One in five of the planet's young people will live in it by 2040, and it will have the world's largest working-age population. Already, the continent boasts of the world's highest rate of urbanisation, which jump-starts development and growth through industrialisation and economies of scale. McKinsey and Company estimates that over the last 20 years three-quarters of the continent's increase in GDP per capita came from expanding workforce and higher productivity. As in countries such as China, India, Brazil and Mexico, urbanisation created jobs and increased demand for telecoms goods and services.

Not surprising is that urbanisation is also lifting income and fuelling consumption. According to Bloomberg, the number of households with discretionary income has grown and is projected to expand by 50% over the next 10 years, reaching 128 million. While few African households have the kind of disposable income found in Asia and the West, they are driving up demand for goods and services, particularly mobile telecommunication products. For instance, while households in developed countries devote only 3 % of their income to telecoms use, those in some African countries such as Namibia, Ethiopia and Zambia devote as much as 10% . Though unemployment is high and something needs to be done, the surge in private consumption of telecoms products seems likely to continue.

According to a study by a World Bank program, the Africa Infrastructure Diagnostic, improvements in African mobile telecoms infrastructure have led to growth. Nowhere is this relationship between infrastructure and potential growth more apparent than in the multimillion-dollar Glo 1 submarine cable being laid across the West coast of Africa between Nigeria and the UK. Having a length of 9,500 kilometres and a minimum capacity of 640 Gbit per second, the submarine cable is set to rival the South Atlantic cable (SAT-3), which has been enjoying complete monopoly in the West African sub-region. The arrival of the submarine fibre-optic cable will boost bandwidth, cut costs, and stimulate businesses that rely on technology. "Africa has been able to leapfrog from having the most backward system to taking advantage of the latest technologies," said Vanessa Gray of the International Telecommunications Union.

Many experts believe growth is also driven in part by the fact few Africans own computers or can access the internet. So mobile phones are applied to tasks such as health research, cash transfer, weather forecasting, commodity price monitoring and others. Often users themselves conceive such adaptation of the intended functions to meet everyday needs.

Safaricom, Kenya's biggest telecoms company, is one of the firms cashing in on Africa's mobile telecoms boom. Incorporated in 1997, it had only 20,000 subscribers when its chief executive Michael Joseph arrived in 2000. By Nov 2010 when Joseph left the company, its subscribers base grew to 20 million in a country of 40 million. Its peers are now Pan-African giants such as Orascom and MTN. Its 2008 initial public offering became the biggest flotation on an East African stock market, and surpassing it may take some doing. It posted $262 million in profits at the end of its financial year in March 2010, attracting investors into the Kenyan economy.

Econet Wireless is another company that cashed in on the remarkable growth of the mobile telecoms industry in Africa. Founded by Strive Masiyiwa, it began operations as a cell phone provider in 1998 in Zimbabwe. It soon expanded its operations into Botswana by establishing Mascom Wireless, which is one of the spectacular success stories of the African telecoms sector and currently enjoys a market share of over 70%. Econet Wireless then put together a consortium that later dominated MTN in the Nigerian market before winding up its operation. Econet Wireless has expanded into such countries as Lesotho, the United Kingdom, Kenya, Burundi, New Zealand and several other countries.

As a result of all this, Africa's mobile telecoms growth story cannot be easily overlooked. The continent's telecoms revenue increased at a compound annual growth rate of 40% in the last few years, achieving the highest profit margin in the industry worldwide. Swedish-based world's leading supplier in telecommunication, Ericsson, benefited with sales soaring up to 400 million Euro this year alone, its highest ever sales. With recovery in Western economies still looking fragile, Africa continues to be the destination of choice for firms seeking expansion and growth, as countries such as China, India, Japan make forays. Telecommunication firms signed up more than 400 million subscribers since 2000 - more than the total United States population. For example, Nigeria added over 22 million mobile subscribers in 2008. Though the level of penetration in Africa went up from 0.8% in 1998 to 33% in 2008, ample room exists for more foreign direct investment.

While many experts believe Africa, with its expansive base of consumers, may very well be on the verge of becoming the next India and China in the telecoms industry, challenges remain. Alison Gillward, Director, Research ICT Agency (RIA) said: "The extension of networks and services in recent years have been 'sub optimal'" Other problems include inadequate governance arrangement, corruption, absence of institutional capacity and some regulatory incompetence. To be sure, there remains serious problems and risks to growth to any individual country, but if recent trends continue, Africa will play an increasingly important role in the telecoms industry. Like China, India and Brazil, countries getting all the headlines for their prowess in the telecoms sector, Africa has the potential for more growth in an industry that aims to bring the continent's widely dispersed people in closer contact with one another.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Of Agbada, Babanringa and Other Matters

Of Agbada, Babanringa and Other Matters
By Adetokunbo Abiola

Everybody wants to wear suits and ties. Bankers, teachers, businessmen, lawyers,
managers – they all believe in the craze of moving with the latest in Western fashion. If
you do not believe in it, you are cast away like a leper – and they’ll say, as my teacher
used to say, "He doesn’t belong."

This craze for suits and ties is becoming too much. The other day, I went to the park
where people boarded buses for Lagos. Lo and behold, I saw an Agbero (a motor-park
tout) wearing suit and tie. He was strutting around as if he worked in a first generation
bank, unaware of the contradiction of his situation. What has gone wrong with our

Even Okada riders (commercial motor cyclists), like people who have taken too much
local gin, have adopted this dangerous and alien fashion. I saw one of them last Sunday
(his plate number was OD 2561 A) wearing a coat torn at the armpit (yes, torn at the
armpit!). If my father rises up from the grave and sees this, he’ll say: "What is Nigeria
turning into?"

Suit is not part of Nigerian culture. The same thing applies to jeans, ties, shirts, skirts and
others. When we wear them, we become Judases to our culture, and a traitor to our
tradition. It is time we turn away from forty pieces of silver.

Why am I talking like a town crier who has drunk too much palm wine? You see, like a
thief in the night, Christmas has crept on us once again (did the last one not seem like
yesterday?), and we have to buy clothes for our children, brothers, sisters, wives, aunties
and friends; if not our children’s children, our brothers’ children, our sister’s husband or
our sister’s grandchildren.

We should forgive ourselves for the mistake we made last Christmas. We did not know
the implications when we bought those symbols of Western civilization for our
dependants. We were misled, like men dazzled by too many beautiful women, and we
acted in error. This Christmas, we have the chance to act like Barnabas on the cross, and
our sins will be forgiven. In essence, we must celebrate Nigerian culture and fashion.

I know the question you want to ask – what do we mean by Nigerian fashion? I mean
fashion created from materials like lace, jacquard, Ankara, Adire (my personal favorite),
"tie and die", Aso Oke, George, Hollandaise, Akwete, Nigerian wax, etc. They are unlike
those bought from America and Britain; they do not make us sweat like fowls in the
afternoon. After we buy them, they make our wives say to us: "Darling, I’ll cook sweet
ewedu soup for you this afternoon."

For those of you who don’t know – I mean non-Nigerians reading this piece – men's
materials are styled in the following pattern: a wide-arm, flowing piece of clothing; a loose-neck shirt; pants or trousers and a cap. The Hausa man calls the combination Babanringa. The Yoruba man calls the wide-arm piece of clothing Agbada, while the Hausa man calls it riga. Both of them call the loose-neck shirt Buba (pronounced Boo-bah) , while the Igbo man calls a variation of it Isiagwu. The Yoruba man and the Hausa man call the pants Sokoto, while the Igbo man calls the
variation of it Akwa.

Mention must be made of the Agbada or riga . The first type (according to our
classification) is called small Agbada, the second medium Agbada , and the third big
Agbada. As the name suggests, small Agbada is not very big. It is worn by thin and
skinny men, and fat men who want to look slim. Medium Agbada is the average type. It
is for those who are not thin or fat.

The last, big Agbada, is not only the largest, but it is worn by all manner of very
interesting people. The first among them are important men such as kings and chiefs,
using it on important occasions such as funerals and weddings. The second are those
seeking political offices. It makes them look extremely powerful and ‘majestic’, and they
can fold their garments like Very Important Personalities (VIP).

The third users are those who regularly attend Owambe parties. It makes them stand
out among a multitude of people. The fourth are extremely fat people. It hides
their big bellies so young girls won’t know how fat they are. The fifth are thin and skinny
men who want to look rich and powerful. They are rumored to pad their bellies with
pillows, belt them up and put on the big garment.

Beyond the Agbada and Buba, we have the informal Danshiki (men's shirt), used by both men and women. The Danshiki and Buba differ in that the former is boxy and baggy with a straight bottom, while the latter is fitted with a curved bottom,or baggy with a V-shape bottom.

As for caps, the Yoruba man calls it Fila or Abeti-aja ("eye of a dog" in English translation, a triangular-shaped cap). The Igbo man calls his matching cap Opu Ogudu. It is rare seeing a traditional Igbo man without his cap (some say more rare than a leopard without its spots).

Irrespective of what materials are used, the fundamentals of a Yoruba woman’s apparel
are four. They are Buba (a blouse going a little below the waist), Iro (pronounced E-roo,
the bottom part of the outfit that goes to the ankles), Gele (pronounced Geh-lay, a
matching headpiece), Iborun or Ipele (an extra scarf piece) and Kaba (a one-piece dress).

Mention must be made of the Gele (no Yoruba woman will tolerate any man who
trivializes her Gele). Indeed, the Gele is a crucial element when the Yoruba woman
wants to dress. Some people tie Gele for a living. Some photographers feed their
children through Gele. For the person who ties Gele and the wearer the moment of truth
is when others see it. The only barometer for further contractual agreement is how much
the wearer is admired by other women. If the person wearing it is admired by all and
sundry at a party, the person who ties it is guaranteed a ‘meal ticket’ for a long time to
come. If the contrary happens, the person who ties it will never be forgiven.

Some people go as far as say love alone cannot guarantee the Yoruba woman marries a
man. What does the trick is how much you admire her exquisitely tied Gele. That is why
Lagbaja, the masked musician, sang praises of the Gele in a hit album a few years ago
(yet some women say his praises were not enough!).

When it comes to the style of Gele, it depends on the fabric used, the shape of the head of the woman and face type. A style that fits a person may not look good on another. This is why customized Gele, like a customized car or customized wristwatch, is stored in
special places, ready for use at customized occasions where Yoruba culture is exhibited
(and there’ll be many of such occasions in the fast approaching Christmas).

However, after a Nigerian woman dresses up, other things are added (these are the salt
and tomatoes added to soup to make it tasty). In other words, women, to portray our
culture, need to make their hair. A typical Yoruba traditional woman weaves her hair into
styles such as Adimole, Suku and Shade, as well as makes tattoos on her skin (Faze, the musician, did not know what he was singing about when he said Nigerian women do not have tattoos).

The accessory of women from the Edo tribe includes the lavish use of beads, called Ivie,
on their bodies, with a wrapper tied around their breasts and waist. Tiv women, apart
from wearing dress made from fabric called Anger, Viav, and Tyo, also weave and thread
their hair. The local fabric makers, like good wine, become experts at making these
fabrics with time. The Igbo woman not only plaits her hair with thread, she uses
traditional make-up (Uri, Angele and Uhe) to beautify her face.

Generally, wise husbands, to prevent World War Three with their wives and a breakdown of law and order at home, obey a simple law: "Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give women hat belongs to women."

The importance of dressing in Nigerian fashion cannot be overstated. Is it an
overstatement to say it impacts on national unity?

I will tell you how. From experience, when we wear Buba, Kaftan, Agbada, Danshiki,
Agwa, Isiagwu and other assorted clothing of the ethnic tribes in the country, we are
slapped at the back, accepted by people who wear these styles and catcalled. If all of us
do this, will it not promote unity and oneness than contraptions like ‘federal character’,
football, ‘zoning formula’, ‘even development’, ‘quota system’, the National Youth
Service Corps and all other what-not?

There is another reason why we should go traditional this Christmas. When we wear a
Euro-American two or three-piece suit, or put on blouse and a skirt, no matter how smart
the clothes are, nobody bows down for us. As far as Nigerians are concerned, we are a
lost lizard (a white man in black man’s skin).

When a Nigerian puts on a Kente dress from Ghana, or a Boubou from Senegal or
Guinea, or a Blousa from Algeria, no matter how smart and rich he looks, his
countrymen will give him only little respect, perhaps just half a bow. As far as they’re
concerned, though he has identified with Africa, he has still lost his way by not wearing
a Nigerian attire (hence the half- bow).

But when we put on an Agbada, Isiagwu or Babanringa, and we have just a little money
to spend, everybody will bow down at least eight times for us. Some people will add an
‘extra ration’ of respect by prostrating and rolling on the ground. As far as they are
concerned, we are the ‘sons of the soil’ (men of ‘timber and caliber’ who, like wise
philosophers, respect the culture and tradition of the people).

Pop culture and folklore demonstrate the importance of wearing Nigerian clothes. Thanks
to Nollywood films, we know dresses such as Akwa, Isiagwu and the Opu Ogudu play
vital roles in Igbo culture. In a musical sequence titled Akwete, Sir Victor Uwaifo extols
the beauty of our traditional cloth material with exciting guitar work.

No doubt, Western fashion is out, what about those of nearby West African countries?
For instance, Ghana’s Kente. I bought one on a recent trip to Accra. Its colours were so
strange in Nigeria, I felt like a fish out of water (may God never let me feel like that
again). The Cameroon Boubou? I saw one on a colleague in Togo. It was as big as the
Agbada, and looks just as impressive. But if I wear the dress, I cannot say with pride:
"I’m a Nigerian." Togolese and Guinean dress? No! I prefer the Nigerian Adire any day.

Can I wear the fashion of other African countries? For instance, the Moroccans have the
Takhita, a two piece ornately decorated dress. It does not have the flow and comfort of the
Agbada. What about the Shuka from Kenya and Tanzania? It cannot protect me from the
heat of the sun. Ethiopia’s Habesha quemis? It does not have the motifs of Nigerian dresses. Somalia’s Sarong? No, no! I want something uniquely Nigerian.

My dear reader, our traditional fashion, like oxygen, is very important in this country. We
win and lose out on contracts because of fashion. We marry or divorce because of
fashion. Even a two-year-old girl, already a professor of our culture, will tell you:
"Fashion makes the woman." Our federal government (yes, our federal government) does
discuss the merits of our fashion and culture every time (and with so much big grammar
– far more than on politics and economics - spoken in the process).

So this is my Christmas message to you. In these perilous times, when our culture is in
danger of going to hell, Nigerian fashion is the answer to cultural survival. But I’ll not
overstate the point like a man who loves speaking too much. Just disregard what I say,
and you’ll discover you’re on your own. We must love our culture and tradition so we
can make Nigeria an enviable place for us all.
The Power and Glory of Naija Music
By Adetokunbo Abiola

When Peter and Paul Okoye, popularly known as P Square, wanted to push their fourth album titled Danger into the market, they did not go to any recording company for a deal. Instead, they did what they had been doing for years.

They contacted a reputable marketer and struck a 50 million naira deal for the marketing, duplication and the distribution of the album. P Square got a 40 million naira cheque upfront, and the album was in the market.

P Square symbolizes the new trend in Nigerian music. Unlike in the past, the new musicians are cutting million naira deals in Nigeria and Africa , bypassing record companies and government structures. In the process, they have become celebrities and naira millionaires, the role models of many Nigerian youths.

Previously, they were considered drop-outs and rejects because music was not considered a respectable profession. But today, many musicians have braved the odds and now dine with kings, who would not deign to glance at them in the past.

The Nigerian music industry has exploded. The days when investors lost money in the sector are gone. Stereotyped music boundaries in terms of message, genre, instrument and sound have broken down. No matter what genre appeals to the listener, in whatever local language, the Nigerian music brand satiates their taste.

It is largely a story of young men and women overcoming incredible obstacles to display their talent. Some of them were unemployed, while many were underemployed. Some dropped out of school to pursue music, while many went through school and came back to music. Others dropped whatever they were doing in Europe and America and came home, while others dumped professions such as veterinary medicine, law, business and became musicians.

Despite the large number of music recorded in the 70s, 80s and 90s, Nigerians listened more to foreign music, particularly from the United States . This was because foreign record labels like Polygram, EMI and others did not know how to reach the grassroots. However, the duo of Junior and Pretty, emulating Nollywood by using local recording companies and marketers, released Monica, a vernacular rap tune in the late 90s, and things began to change. The Remedies and Plantashun Boyz followed soon after with chart-topping albums, and the floodgate was thrown open. Since then, thousands of albums have been released. All a musician need do is record songs and meet the marketers, who have become kings

Tu Face Idibia, formerly of Plantashun Boyz, released African Queen in 2004 and opened doors for Nigerians on the international scene. Along with him, artistes such as Style Plus, D’Banj, P Square , Faze, Tony Tetuila, Eedris Abdulkareem, Paul Play Dairo, Slam, Ruggedman, Pastor Goody Goody, Black Tribe, Blackface and others recorded hit songs.

The rise of contemporary Nigerian music is a landmark in commercial and cultural terms. The use of pidgin English and vernacular make it purely Nigerian and accessible to the teeming masses on the streets. Musicians like Timaya who are authentic and cultural are in, others like Ras Kimino and others who sound Jamaican are out. Says Blaise (Funke Martin Luther), a singer: “As I’m feeling, that’s how I’ll be speaking through my songs. It’s my story as a woman, growing up in Nigeria , in Africa .”

Many of the new musicians sing about cultural themes. Many sympathize with the ill, the poor and the less privileged in the society. Others extol Nigerian values towards marriage, womanhood and city life. Some promote good neighborliness and denounce negative tendencies such as witchcraft, ill-will and prostitutes. Others celebrate Nigerian and African pride and heritage.

Nigerian music has however been criticized for not having an established method of production and distribution. Marketers have offices in Surulere, Idumota Market and Alaba Market in Lagos , Onitsha and other cities. Recording companies bring studio work from all over the country to them and are not responsible for marketing and distribution. This is why Efe Omorogbe, spokesman for the Nigerian Music Industry Coalition, says: “The system has failed to structure itself in such a way that people are compelled to pay musicians.”

But a Nigerian-born South African based filmmaker/musician, Tosin Igho, says the marketing and distribution problems does not mean the situation is hopeless. He says: “The Nigerian music industry is far better than South Africa in terms of making money off your music. They have better structures in South Africa , but they favour record labels, and it is not profitable for artistes.”

The impact of the Nigerian music industry in the past few years has been dramatic, and thousands of singers, session men, producers, marketers and others have been employed. Ordinarily, these people would have been without work and contributed to the population of militants and criminals in the urban areas and Niger Delta region.

Musicians have used their new-found popularity to pick up major awards. Tu Face Idibia and D'Banj won MTV Europe Best African Acts in 2005. Tu Face also won the best African Musician Award at Britain 's Music of Black Origin Awards in 2007, and was followed by 9ice, another Nigerian singer, in 2008. MI, P Square and Tu Face Idibia won awards at the 2009 MTV Africa Awards.

At the fifth edition of Channel O Music Awards this month at Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, Nigeria’s General Pype, P Square, D’Banj, TuFace Idibia, Naeto C and Mo’Cheddah mounted the stage six times to clinch different awards. P Square became the African Artiste of the Year at the 8th Kora Awards, going home with the one million dollars.
Most of the musicians make a lot of money from concerts and shows. P Square could be rocking Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania , while D'Banj performs in Accra ( Ghana ). Tu Face Idibia could be in Nairobi (Kenya), Naeto C and Ikechukwu in Johannesburg (South Africa), while musicians like Timaya, Terry G and KC Presh are holding forth at home in Lagos.

With the music industry breeding naira millionaires on a daily basis, the lifestyle of musicians has undergone radical changes. Some have houses in the choicest of places in Lekki Peninsula (a rich neighborhood in Lagos ) and drive luxurious and expensive cars. Others leverage their wealth by owning world-class music studios and offering better deals to assist upcoming artistes.

Record sales, compared to the situation of yesteryear, have shot up. According to reports, P Square has sold an estimated 17 million copies of its second and third albums, Get Squared and Game Over, becoming arguably the greatest selling Nigerian artiste ever. Faze, a former member of the Plantashun Boyz, has sold over five million copies. Artistes such as Timaya, D'Banj, Tu Face Idibia, Eedris Abdulkareem and others have sold millions in record sales. They have all outsold Nico Mbarga's Sweet Mother, for many years the best selling album in the country.

Apart from this, many of the musicians partner the private sector in music and product promotion. Coca-Cola, Globacom, Zain, Nigerian Breweries, MTN, and others use them for billboard advertisement and radio and TV commercials. P Square reportedly got over 100 million naira to endorse Globacom, the telecoms giant. Tu Face Idibia reportedly got 22 million naira for endorsing Guinness Extra Stout a few years ago.

Nnenna Ezeakune, an artiste, sums up the situation: "It's like there's an explosion going on now.”

Despite the explosion in the sector, many stakeholders feel there is no industry yet. They claim the sector is plagued by piracy, promotion and distribution problems, refusal of radio stations to pay royalty to artistes and other challenges. The problems seem so daunting OJB Jezreel, a producer and singer, says: "I think the Nigerian music industry is really growing big and making waves. The only problem is that I'm scared that the blowing up might change a lot of things."

But Lanre Lawal of Blarque Brotha Entertainment and Media is not afraid of a blow up. "There have always been rumours that the Nigerian music household is an ungovernable madhouse,” he says. “With certainty, efforts are on a grand scale to restore sanity on all fronts. You can join the campaign by cultivating the attitude of BUYING ORIGINAL ALBUMS rather than the pirated ones."

Weird MC, who stormed the scene a few years ago with a monster hit titled Ijoya, is also optimistic about the future. She says: "It's evolving into something really exciting. There's more quality than quantity. Artistes are putting out great material."

The gold fishes of Nigerian music, underground for so many years, have emerged from their hiding places, thrilling the world with their teasing and titillating tunes.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Global Climate Change Comes to Lagos with A Bang
I thought we in Nigeria could ignore global climate change.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m aware of the increased rainfall over the past few years, the shorter dry season, the small span of Harmattan, the uncertain weather. But I still thought global climate change was not a major problem – at least not in our corner of the earth.

Not anymore. You need to witness what happened in Lagos, our commercial capital, over the past three weeks. It’ll make you a believer. Global climate change is real!

What happened. The Ogun River overflowed its banks continuously for two weeks. At first, experts thought it was because a dam on the river collapsed under pressure of increased rainwater. But as the days rolled by, they knew the situation was not as simple as this.

Then how does global climate change come in? Not such a tough a question to answer.

At first, global climate change was not linked to the issue, but investigations revealed it may be part of the problem. Ogun River drains into the Lagos Lagoon. However, the water level of the lagoon had been rising due to global climate change over the years, making it higher than the level of Ogun River. Due to this, water from the river, unable to get into the lagoon, flowed back into the surrounding plain, flooding it.

The result is not pleasant at all (and statistics confirm it).

* Areas such as Ikorodu, Ketu, Mile12, Thomas Laniyan Estate and others flooded, while people, like fishes, swam to their houses.
* Immediate relocation of 681internally displaced persons, including 405 children, by the Lagos State Government (it reminds one of a civil war)
* Over 1,000 people rendered as homeless as broad daylight
* Hundreds of pupils evacuated from schools, while parents, like camels, evacuated from their houses.
* Canoes (yes canoes), rather than cars and motor-cycles, became the means of transportation. * Thousands of men, women and children got trapped in their homes.
* People became afraid of home collapse due to flood weakening the foundations of their houses.

You must have heard bad news begets bad news. Well, same is true in this case. With this effect of global climate change, there were some unexpected consequences. Here is what happened (and you won't find this in any book):

* Because the flood chased away security officials, hoodlums, the new lords of the streets, took over the situation and attacked people in their homes, stealing mobile phones, money and other valuables
* Women trapped by the water at home got raped, as well as innocent girls coming from schools
* Workers who did not come home anything earlier than 8 p.m. (and it is difficult to so in Lagos) stayed outside so they won't get attacked and raped by hoodlums.

Assuming the dam on Ogun River collapsed, global climate change still had a role to play. It increased the water level of the Lagos Lagoon, preventing the water from Ogun River to come in.

The global climate change is real (and it doesn't have to come to your doorsteps before you recognise this). If the effect could happen in Lagos, it could happen anywhere, anywhere, in the world.
The global climate change, when it comes in full force, will have unexpected consequences!


Long and winding road
ADETOKUNBO ABIOLA - Oct 18 2010 08:27
(First published in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper

We had just settled down to enjoy the journey to Ouagadougou.

We were over the bumpy part of the road outside Accra and the luxury bus was air conditioned. But it wasn't the long distance ahead of us that began dampening my spirits. It was the driver.

When he got to a shopping complex near a town called Nsutan -- just 50km out of Accra -- he slowed down, turned off the road and stopped.

I did not know it was common for luxury buses to stop for passengers to refresh themselves during a journey. And even if they had to stop, I felt it was too soon. But the driver and his assistant got down and went into the complex, the passengers following on their heels.

Thirty minutes later, the driver came and announced: "Let's move on."

I was at the beginning of my journey to Ouagadougou to attend a conference of international journalists, which was starting the next morning. I did not want to be late and we still had more than 720km to go.

After the passengers got back into the bus, the journey continued. Buses like the one I boarded abound everywhere in the West African sub region.They are supposed to be comfortable, slow to break down and quick to get to passengers' destinations.

But things were not going as they should have. At Kumasi, 200km from Nsutan, the driver drove the bus to a filling station and stopped once again.

When I asked why he could not just go on, he snapped: "If you're so desperate to get to Ouagadougou, why didn't you take a plane?"

It was clear that this was going to be a tiring journey.

After the driver finished refuelling the bus, we headed for Tamale, a town more than 200km from Kumasi. As the bus crawled on, the driver stopped briefly at Tetina to pick up passengers.

I discovered this was normal practice for drivers along their routes. I wanted to ask him whether the money would go into his employer's coffers but I did not. Like bus drivers everywhere, the driver would oppose anyone who questioned his behaviour.

A few hours after we left Tetina, we encountered another bad piece of road. There were gullies, potholes and loose stones in and on the highway. To cope with them, the driver slowed down.

After two hours on the bad road, the bus got to a transit spot called Sawara in Katanpon, about 96km from Tamale in northern Ghana. The driver, who had been behind the steering wheel for 12 hours, stopped the bus, got down and sneaked into one of the joints in the place.

After 30 minutes, he emerged, refreshed. His assistant took his position behind the steering wheel. This too, I discovered, was standard practice.

Now that it seemed we were making progress I felt better disposed to appreciate the buses. A 40-year old Ghanaian acquaintance told me in Kumasi they had been around since he was a young boy. He told me a luxury bus could make as much as 35 00 cedis (more than $20 00) from an Accra-Ouagadougou return trip.

Our bus was typical of thousands of luxury buses that ply their trade in the region. They provide employment for drivers, ticket issuers, managers, clerks and canvassers, rescuing many young men and women from unemployment in the villages or from perpetrating crime in the cities.

Besides, when the buses stop at transit points, they are besieged by hawkers, who offer passengers all manner of goods for sale. The buses also carry traders and their goods around the region. They provide a reliable, regular service and so boost business.

By 8am we had crossed the border. When we drove into Po, a small town in southern Burkina Faso, the driver slowed down and stopped. He said that armed robbers were fond of attacking buses a few kilometres further up the road. He would not continue unless escorted by policemen through the area.

An hour later policemen escorted us past the trouble spot and we closed in on Ouagadougou, thinking there would be no more problems. But there were -- the bus hit an enormous pothole just before a narrow bridge some kilometres from our destination.

I hit my head against the window, bruising it. But the driver steadied the bus and crossed the bridge.

He stopped the bus at the Ouagadougou International Bus Station at 12 noon, 29 hours after leaving Accra. I was late for the conference, but I nodded to the driver and he gave a thin smile. As I moved towards a street, I sighed. It was the longest journey of my life.Adetokunbo Abiola is a prize-winning Nigerian journalist and author


Thursday, 13 August 2009

ADETOKUNBO ABIOLA - Aug 12 2009 06:00
As infectious as yellow fever, internet chatrooms are the new Nigerian craze. Students, pastors, politicians, journalists and business people log on 24 hours a day offering cyber-romance or business deals.

Nigerians have wised up to the scamming spammers such as 419 practitioners, the Yahoo Yahoo Boys and the Night People.

Now they're crowding into chatrooms such as Hi Nigeria, nimsanigeria, Online, UK Chatterbox, and Nigeria Chat Room to look for kindred spirits and do business with them.

For some African women, chat-rooms unshackle them from the requirements of traditional modesty. Shina 247 signed up to Nigeria Chat in April, writing: "I'm a nice lady. Looking for hot sex and fun. My email address is ..."

Sugar-mummy lovers -- young men who can't keep their fingers off the bodies and money of older women -- join in the chatroom mania. One wrote in Online recently: "I'm a 21-year-old young guy who is looking for a sugar mummy to cater for his needs. My number is ... I am in Ejigbo, Lagos, and I promise to be good to that woman."

Many use chatrooms to express their love for their girlfriends or boyfriends. Analechukwu Nwachukwu, a student, wrote on Online "Baby, ur baby boy is missing u so much. Just have it in your mind that I can't do without u."

But it's not all about love or cybersex for Nigerians. Online entrepreneurs use the chatrooms for schemes that aren't quite scams but are close. Tidestring 80 had this proposition in "I have discovered a new secret that can help anyone browse the internet for free. You can use your MTN card. And as a loyal member of this forum I'll be willing to teach you for free." When you contact him -- as I did -- you'll learn that Tidestring 80 won't tell his secret for free. He wants money.

Chatrooms aren't free of embarrassment, though. A journalist who logged into a chatroom in March was confronted by a fellow Nigerian who wrote: "I'm in Port Harcourt. A u a g?" When the journalist learned that "a u a g?" meant "are you a gay?" he promptly logged off. He didn't know how to cope with a situation he was experiencing for the first time -- meeting someone who admitted being gay.

Adetokunbo Abiola writes for The Hope Newspaper in Akure, Nigeria

Source: Mail & Guardian OnlineWeb Address:

First published I2 August on Mail and Guardian, Africa's first online newspaper