Adeleke Adesanya

Adeleke Adesanya

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Coffee with the Quakers

Anyone looking in through the glass from outside would think we were just having a coffee break, while working on a Sunday. We talked about politics, heard a first person account of the civil demonstrations against planned cuts in child services. Someone brought up the issue of expected redundancies at the museums and I wondered whether it would have been preferable to charge entrance fees for adults instead. The majority did not seem to agree with me. I was having my first meeting with the Quakers of Birmingham, otherwise known as the Society of Friends. They are a religious organisation, founded in the 1630s and infamous for being non-conformists. But I am getting ahead of myself.
In the middle of the healthy debates, an elderly lady asked me if I had attended a Friend’s meeting before. I said, “No”. Truth is, I had attempted to find their meeting place the previous week but had a difficult time locating them and arrived just in time for coffee. I decided not to partake then.  Their meeting rooms are tucked discretely into the middle of Bull Street, at Birmingham’s commercial centre. The premises, without any signage, are better known for hosting seminars and business meetings. Inside, the decor was stylish in a minimalist, business like fashion.

The elderly lady asked how I heard of them. I told her of a handbill I had received in my post graduate student induction pack. But once again, the truth is a bit more complicated. Many years prior, I read Charles Colson’s Born Again. The lasting impression that book made on me was that President Nixon was a Quaker. Later, I found out, President Hoover was also a Quaker. They were arguable the two most unpopular US presidents before George.W.Bush.  Both of them demonstrated placid sedateness in the midst of the worst public storms and they credited their faith for the fortitude to stay calm. I was intrigued; what made these guys tick?

I got a clue when I joined them for worship last Sunday. It was devoid of any ceremony; we sat for an hour in easy silence. Quakers believe God is an inner light that should speak to us as we wait on it. Sitting in meditative silence, they waited to hear. I was informed that sometimes, someone who was inspired will speak up but that did not happen on my watch. It was a refreshing silence, so humbling to listen in prayer for a change. The challenge was, of course, not in abstaining from speaking but in quieting the mind. Anyone who has taking part in meditation would know that thoughts seem to wait for one to be calm before intruding. But I can imagine a habit of silent meditations being useful in dealing with worries.  After the silent service, there were some brief announcements, and then we had coffee together.

A first time visitor would like to ask Quakers when their service starts. They like to say it is immediately after worship stops. Quakers have been conscientious objectors throughout their existence and made history as a result. They founded Pennsylvania to escape persecution.  They were pioneers in the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements.They still campaign against the death sentence. Perhaps, in the UK, much is made of their past because today they have shrunk in size, numbering 25000. The meeting I attended had only eleven members in attendance, excluding myself. The other thing I was made to realize is that English Quakers have an inclusive, flexible and unwritten theology that now includes atheist Quakers. What struck me most about them was what was absent; loud prayers, direct exhortations.I left feeling I had spent a Sunday morning rather well and thinking, I could do this again. And that was one more item off my “Things to Do before I Die List”.

Monday, April 25, 2016

IBB and the Nigerian Story

Nigerians hate to love IBB. For those who don’t know who IBB is, it is the nickname for former military ruler, Babangida. When you have learnt to love to hate someone for almost three decades, it kind of gets confusing. You hate to love him. You love to hate him. And in that confusion, you get a classically defined, part sadomasochist, part Stockholm syndrome relationship. But what is this hold that Babangida has on Nigerians? Or perhaps, what is the Nigerian fixation with this former dictator? Permit me to take you on a journey in history.

Nigeria in early 1993 was a very complicated society, not as simple and straight forward as the Press like to think it is, nowadays. On one hand, there was a dictator who had promised several times to hand over power. On the other were pliant and corruptible politicians, willing to do anything for power. If the truth be told, many Nigerians agreed with Babangida’s policy of screening his successors. The political class was such a rotten lot that in exasperation, he (Babangida) declared, ‘I don’t know who will succeed me but I know who will not’.  The political waters were so mucky, having been sullied by the latter day politicians, mostly opportunists who had made a fortune fornicating with the military, that those who know better, like the late Bola Ige , decided to ‘siddon look’ and abstain from partisan politics.

People forget that the military once decreed political parties into existence and these opportunists still jostled to contest, confident that once they entered office, the financial outlay incurred in fixing the elections would be readily recouped. They forget that Babangida commissioned the manifesto for both PDP and NRC, under which elections were held. Those were the heady days of sandwich politics when loafs of bread were stuffed with twenty naira notes at party conventions. After one election, it was said that the rigging was free and fair.  If after their trysts together, the politicians had lost the respect of even their benefactor, Babangida, the ordinary Nigerian didn’t really care.

At a stage, a close associate of IBB and populist philanthropist entered the political equation. After apparently seeking Babangida’s blessing, he deployed the best political campaign money could buy, the kind we had not seen before and ever since. But there were doubts along the way that the military establishment will not change their mind. I recall that some days before the election, Beko Ransome-Kuti was, in a radio interview, expressed his conviction that the military was not ready to handover, that the elections would be cancelled. It then it dawned on me that it was all a nullity. There was no logical reason why the elections should hold. If IBB was a logical person, why should he change his mind then? What was the fundamental difference between Abiola and the others except that he had more money and loved reciting proverbs?

On the Election Day, I did not vote.  I sat in my room and read Campaign for Democracy (CD) literature. I had a bet with a friend that the election would be cancelled. He never paid but I enjoy to this day, the satisfaction that I did not vote that day. It was much later that I learnt that the June 12 elections were also boycotted by MOSOP, triggering events that would lead to the death of the Ogoni 13 and later the Ogoni 9, including Ken Saro Wiwa. In between the many waves of crises that engulfed Nigeria, Babangida was able to engineer a political transition that ensured that for the next seventeen years, he and the military power block has chosen their successors, with little opposition from any section of the Nigerian society. These are the facts. Whatever opposition to the military power group has effectively crumbled over the years and Babangida is right to say there is no viable alternative it.

The sad fact is that, in the experience of ordinary Nigerians, the era of Babangida has become the good old days. Infrastructure has become worse, the standard of living has fallen, and little progress has been made in giving marginalized communities a sense of belonging. The energy sector is nearly comatose. To many, Nigeria today is clearly worse off than in Babangida times. Now, we could do the easy thing and blame it on him but frankly, should there not be a statute of limitations on the blame game? It has been 17 years! In that time, several civilian governors have proven that when it comes to embezzling, they could easily outdo the military.

And just like Nigerians were convinced to recycle Obasanjo, the refrain is now out for Babangida, again. I will be the first to argue that political jobbers are behind this campaign. Babangida is assumed to be mythically rich, in stupendous proportions. Nigerian elections are expensive affairs and a candidate of the caliber of IBB will be able to raise resources and favors that will assure his close disciples of a highly rewarding stewardship.

Then I read that President Jonathan’s posters are now all over Abuja, in spite of loud protestations from his (Jonathan’s) camp. We have heard that before, haven’t we, many times, the reluctant leader syndrome? Babangida taught them this shit, and 17 years later, they still can’t be any more creative. Little incidents like that bring us face to face with our fear that, should Babangida decide to effectively contest, he will meet no opposition. Babangida’s comment is just to send a signal to his constituency within the reigning power block that all is well. If all else fails, he will step back in.

(Initially published on April 29th, 2010)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Lost in Birmingham

I have often found that when I put pen to paper, it is easier to express my feelings and thoughts than the sight and sounds around me. Perhaps, this is because I am often so lost in thought, and I don’t look around so much, and this is why, I find, I keep my losing my way. Perhaps this also allows me to say a lot about the environment in a way a visual description would not allow. Nothing expresses better the warm welcome I received on arrival in Birmingham than how my mind related to its cold weather.

Getting lost in Lagos was no big deal. I confess my propensity to get lost, in the marketplace of my mind, is an old habit. Many a times I had driven straight ahead to Ojota, on the way to Victoria Island, because at that split second when I should have turned right towards the Third Mainland Bridge, I was lost in thought, pondering perhaps the similarities between Buddhism’s belief in reincarnation and that of Yoruba native beliefs. I would find this ironic and maybe funny, considering I had, un-Buddha-like, been unable to drive “in the moment”.

But getting lost in Lagos is a piece of cake. You might have to drive against traffic, “one way” in local parlance, to get back in track. Or you could hail an Okada, the commercial motorcyclist, to take you through back roads, back to your destination. And then, as a Yoruba proverb hints, you aren’t yet really lost in Lagos if you do ask around for directions.Getting lost in Brume is a different pot of stew. I am not so crazy as to attempt driving myself; they drive on the wrong side of the road, you see. My right to travel is entirely dependent on route schedules determined by local transport companies.

As soon as I find a seat on a bus and look through the pane onto those cold, snow covered streets, my mind retreats into its marketplace, ruminating over morbid thoughts like, if one was to die of exposure and is buried in this cold, frozen land, would the cadaver ever know corruption? It is not entirely strange that over and over again, I miss my bus stop and get driven around the outer circle of the town. Once I made a mistake of coming down from the bus. Picture me, unwisely clad in a suit, fending off snowflakes with bare freezing fingers. I tried to cheer myself up by singing lustily the chorus of Don Mclean’s American Pie with extra emphasis on “this would be the day that I die!”

And then I start asking for directions, which is not as simple as it appears. For one, the aborigines (whether white, Indian or Jamaican), I find, do not speak the English Language. Their accents are so thick; it is virtually another dialect, nay, language. It sometimes makes more sense to acknowledge the verbal challenges and try to communicate via sign language. Now they, I mean the natives, would politely go through detailed explanations of buses I should take and changes I must make, while I put on my best Nigerian smile. But in the end, I am in no wit wiser.

A few times, when the bus driver appeared African, I wrongly assume that linguistic challenges would easily be resolved if not eliminated. Alas, this clan is mostly of taciturn types, more eloquent in communicating by nods and grunts. I once wondered whether they had signed a pact not to speak in complete sentences in order not to betray their Nigerian accent. As if that is a bad thing…

In the end, I learnt to cope by using the Internet to research my route and printing detailed maps. I also avoid traveling at night, when visibility may not be as clear. On the bright side, getting lost has its benefits. It is the perfect alibi for lateness. It makes for humorous jokes when with good company. And if you are a stranger and you really want to know the town, you really should get lost sometime. It is wonderful, the things you find and the people you meet, when you get lost, sometimes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Knock, knock

Hiiiyee!

Anybody home?

Am back.

I started "kiibaati~mania" eons ago. Kiibaati roughly translates "impossible to fail". The optimism of the young. I had the future all planned like a summer rave. Those were the good times...

 A part of me still lived here and never left. But many things changed." Even such is Time, that takes in trust. Our youth, our joys, our all we have,..."

The blog is now about the present,as it was in the past. Eclectic. Whatever passes through my mind in the now, whether from the past, present or whatever.

If you are new here,no biggie. Every one is new here. Hit me up, let's have fun.
Here or on twitter @martinsactually .