The writings of an intense journalist

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