Sunday, March 12, 2017

Don't blame the Nigerian man

The diminutive white banker next to the Nigerian man is sweating. Big, ripe lumps of liquefied anxiety. His matted hair glistens and his leather jacket lays limp on his shoulder. 

He’s from New York, he had told the Nigerian man back in the lounge. This trip to Lagos is his last before he returns home. 

After a 2 hour delay, the airbridge too had stopped working, and two FAAN officials in oversized suits had directed everyone to the foot of the aircraft. 

This was how we got here. 

Everyone looks up at the open entrance as though willing themselves to levitate to its mouth. 

It is 11 am in January and the sun maniacally lets lose its celestial heat. Against the tarred tarmac, the heat multiplied by many notches.

As an airstair made its way down the foot of the plane, towards where the Nigerian man stands - the little white banker still beside him - a scene begins to play out not unlike the ones at Oshodi bus stations on a Monday morning. 

Nigerians - men and women in native dresses now packed up so as to be unencumbered - run up the stairs. 

At the foot of the airstair, jostling arms flew every which way and truculent tongues traded curses. 

If one happened upon this scene without a context, one might be tempted to assume it’s a free plane ride to an exotic unknown place.

It would appear that everyone was not checked in, counted and assigned uncompromisable seat numbers before they got to the foot of the plane. 

The white banker invokes a wry smile and pulls out his iPhone 5. He will preserve this patent absurdity for his friends back in New York who will throw their heads back in self-righteous laughter when they see it. Like they just didn’t elect a racist wank-bucket into their White House. Like they don’t cheat on their wives and watch porn movies when they are alone in the den.

I’d like to tell you the Nigerian man didn’t jostle. He did. 

But don’t blame the Nigerian man. The one who has endured years of having to fight for the very air he breathes, and hearing often that the person who sucked the last air out of the room did so because she knew someone in Aso Rock. 

Don’t blame the Nigerian man. For if it weren’t for the interminable betrayal constantly visited on him by his nation, he might be less inclined to scramble. 

When his little white banker finally made it into the cabin, everyone including the Nigerian man yelled: “what took you so long?”

On being practical : A letter to my new atheist friend

A stilt house around Third Mainland Bridge. (c) Gbenga Onalaja, 2017. 


Hope you've been well? I'll get right to it. 

First. Being a Christian is not a burden. It's a perk. 

I would have been humble and kind to my neighbours anyway. It's simply more functional to cop the shine of a sovereign God while at it. (Call it brownie points if you like). 

You don't believe God exists. Indulge me, though, as I touch on this brownie point idea. 

It's bullcrap. 

God has mercies on those he will, and for those he doesn't, he doesn't. So yeah, my brownie points count for shit. 

His love and protection and all the unseeable little things he does are not based on anything I bring to the table. 

And I feel compelled to mention at this point that I am not a great Christian. Church isn't on my weekly laundry list. And I am one of the most creative dissemblers you'll meet. (And, of course, those are only the misdemeanors I can admit publicly.)

And on the long run, this Christianity might only be an opium - a numinous analgesic to relieve our existential pain. 

Maybe, like you said, we are a product of a random collocation of atoms. No heaven above or hell below.

But here's the rub: when we die, peek behind the curtain and find God isn't the force behind all the action, we would have lost nothing. I would have lost nothing.

Me you both will subsist in this new reality. None of us the better or worse off. 

But what if God really was there and planned to make good on all His promises from, say, the Bible? I don't have the answers to all your big question, but riddle me that.  

What if God exists and he is who says he is? 



Wednesday, February 8, 2017

On humans and illusions of control

I am listening to a pretentious suit pontificate on how to make it in life.
"The secret to success is .... " I stop listening now.
I am thinking:
This speaker has no idea what he's talking about it - like most of us.

He's just the one brave enough to make a fool of himself. And perhaps sometimes it's all that it takes.
See, someone is paying him for this performance. He earns influence, cash or something else. There is no free cheese.
"So what's your purpose?"

"Where do you see yourself in five years?"

"What are your short and long term goals? (Meh)"
All these are questions we ask, and answer to deceive ourselves into an illusion of control. You are thinking right now about your answer, I imagine.
Newsflash: whatever you are thinking about is wrong. And you won't know that until five years from now. It's why it's all so sad.
Reality crawls up behind you like a beady-eyed uncle on a night mum and dad are absent and goes: "BOO!."
Your five-year plan makes you feel like you have your life absolutely, 100% together.
You don't.
No one knows what they are doing. All we have is the task we got. We should be kicking ass at them and then see where they lead us.

90% of the jobs we now have didn't exist few years ago. So you didn't have this all planned out.
We are all led along a path willy-nilly. The universe is a passive-aggressive dictator who is repressive and liberal at the same time.

The good (or evil) we get are results of unmerited cosmic odds. To make the best of what life places on our laps is the only real choice. And that's what will make all the difference. That’s why hard work makes sense even in a plane of existence where the universe cannot the defied nor coerced.

Only stupid fools and dead people don't change their minds. So perhaps in five years I'll have a different view. But right now, don't ask me about my five-year plan.
I have a plan for right now. Right now, I want to publish this and go eat oatmeal.
You are in control of right now. Your actions and inactions. But not the future.
You are tired of your job. Move.
You are tired of your job but you know leaving will send your family to the streets and leave you in the throes of hunger. Give yourself brain and stick around.
Let's stop pretending like we can figure this shit out. Let's stop pretending that we have. We haven't and we won't.
You have no job controlling the future. Give God his job back.
Ps. You have the right to disagree with me here and I'd like you to. This brain dropping came from a long-running skepticism I carry for people who like to portray the fantasy of control. I am learning that our dreams and missions are a product of the social canvas on which our reality is painted. And that continues to expand.  When that canvas expands, our understanding of the world and the idea of what we can accomplish does the same. So every time we meet someone new, we set off a reaction that expands our social canvas and updates our dreams, at the same time.
I have found it to be a thankless job changing up goals willy nilly. This is cheesy, but I plan, for now, to “live for now”.  

Disclaimer: This is not content marketing for Pepsi.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

6 years that were far worse than 2016 and why you didn’t hear about this Ebola vaccine

2016 was god-awful. 
We had: 
  • the shit show that was the US election
  • the rise of neo-nationalism
  • the death of liberalism as we know it
  • the many celebrity deaths
  • Aleppo
  • batman vs. superman
On the local front (Nigeria): 
  • your cost of living doubled while your salary remained the same (cue recession and fuel money).
So, yeah it was awful. But it really wasn’t as bad as our near-sighted social media denizens and CNN would have us believe. The year threw up some pleasant surprises, too. 
Good news doesn't appeal to their business model. So, they rammed only the gory tales of carnage and police brutality down our throats. 
2016 was the year we discovered the most effective Ebola vaccine since this lethal pathogen wreaked pure havoc in West Africa in 2013 and 2014. 
If you haven’t heard about that breakthrough, it’s not only because CNN didn’t make a splash screen out of it. It’s also probably because good news is boring. 
Our brains which have been hard-wired to look out for danger are most excited about “dangerous” stories. We pay attention and remember selectively. So, though violence has decreased continuously in the last decade, the social media has a fresh story of police brutality waiting for our primordial brains to gorge and dwell on. 
By any objective measure, 2016 was pretty awful. It isn’t the worst year yet, though. 
In fact, here are six years that are actually worse than 2016. Let’s cue in those bullet points again: 
  • 1969, Nigeria: Thousands of southern Nigerians were dying of hunger and raids at the peak of Nigeria’s 3-year civil war. More than a million Nigerians had died at the end of that war. 
  • The 1100s: The Chinese invented firearms - enabling genocidal levels of violence for centuries. Thanks, 1100s* 
  • 1918: in addition to the killing field of WWI, the influenza pandemic of September, October, and November of 1918 killed more people than AIDS has done since forever. 
  • 1945: Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • 1993: The Rwandan genocide. 
  • And if we are being air-headed with this worst year doohickey, how about 2013? The year of the Selfie, Selfie Stick and the Twerk. The worst. 
Was 2016 awful? Yup. Is it the worst year yet? You need to close your Twitter, get out of your echo chamber and stop watching the news. 
Happy new year.
*For this quote, thanks to Baratunde Thurston, CEO and co-founder, Cultivated Wit; author, How to Be Black

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Do it like a man

  • Or: unpopular thoughts about feminism from a cisgendered Nigerian male
I have a sister, two nieces and was raised by a strong independent mother. But when a conductor shoves me out the back door of a bus at 20mph, I am reminded that this patriarchy isn’t all rosy for the patriarchs either.
The bus conductor was shoving me out the back door with a gentle push. “Se bi okunrin {do it like a man},” he bellowed again, increasing the force of his palm against my back.
His driver was slowing down, but he wanted me to get off fast. That way his driver wouldn’t have to stop at the bus station. Although it didn’t make sense for him to hurry along, Lagos BRT buses have inherited this infernal predisposition from the Danfos - their black-stripes-bearing yellow-coloured commuter cousins.
I stood rooted to my spot watching buildings sweep past. 
Jumping off wasn’t a problem for me. I have perfected the art over these many years in Lagos; hang out the door with your side parallel to it, lean back like you wanted to sit on the road, then drop quickly while pulling your weight to the rear of the vehicle. The forward motion of the vehicle levels with your counter backward motion such that you don’t end up head-first into the ground. It’s a tricky rendition of Newton’s third law of motion, I think.
Back to the back door. 
I stood rooted to my spot. Not because I was afraid to jump down a BRT bus moving at 20mph, but because this conductor - with his toxic armpits and dirty boxers - was questioning my masculinity. Because I wasn’t as eager to jump off a bus as fast as he’d like, I was somehow less than a man. 
I wondered for a few foolish seconds if I should ask if he understood the sexist implications of his comment and action (of course, don’t forget he was shoving me off a bus.)
But because the feminism/patriarchy/gender roles topic is not one in which I’m well versed, I stayed quiet.
Moreover, a bus conductor listening to a righteous rant about his sexist comments - directed at a cisgendered Nigerian male - would have taken an enormous cake. It was not going to happen. And I was left nursing my stupefied silence.
On the one hand, his comment says “You are a man, do this already,” and on the other, it says implicitly; “Women can’t do this. They are fragile.” 
A good friend and employee of the month, David, wrote recently about how gender roles spill carelessly into our conversations. In his piece, “Na woman dey drive,” he sent light aspersions towards “men” (I imagine) who chalk up bad driving from women to the fact that “they are female.” Not because they had bad instructors. Not because they are good citizens trying to keep the traffic laws. But simply because “they are women.” 
David is right, gender roles (what he calls patriarchy) are systemic, and women often get the short end of the stick. And that sucks. 
What we don’t often mention, though, is what expectations this patriarchy make of men.  In a system where women are considered weak, but also to be cared for, while also chanting impassioned feminist calls-to-arms, what does patriarchy expect of the men?
I have a few from my few short years of being a man. 
You see, the system wants me to put the needs of the lady before mine. It tells me “be a gentleman” when I try to look out for myself. “Ladies first,” it adds for effect. 
The system would frown at me if I wanted to go dutch on a first date. It tells me with the now-familiar righteous indignation, “be a gentleman, pay the doggone bill.” 
The system expects me to give up my seat for the lady on the BRT and shoots me dirty looks when I don’t.
The system wants me to get the door for the woman. Pull out her seat and pay for the meal.
The system wants me to come around the back to get the car door for the lady. (While she sits smug and comfy in the passenger seat)
I don’t oft hear women carp about these perks of “just being a woman.”
We don’t oft talk about how the system segments men into categories. Aggressive. Dangerous. Brash. Harsh. What Chimamanda “incredible hair” Adichie might call “the single story of men.”
The police will stop my three other friends and me (all boys) if we drove past a check point. They consider us a threat so they stop and search. 
The system doesn’t want my friend to talk about how an Aunt molested him at age 12. It doesn’t fit the narrative of the weak, helpless female. 
The system tells me to “be a man” when a loved one dies, and I couldn’t hold back the water works.
The system doesn’t believe my friend when he tells it he was raped at 16. It tells him it’s impossible. 
The system holds its purses closer when I walk into a room. 
The system wants me to work weekend because, well, I am a man. 
Yes, at the root of all this is a system that thinks women are weak. Too weak to rob or wreck havoc on a neighborhood. Too weak to be overworked. And that’s twisted. 
I don’t discount all that women have been through to achieve the level of equality we now take for granted. I have a sister, two nieces and was raised by a strong independent mother. But when a conductor shoves me out the back door of a bus at 20mph, I am reminded that this patriarchy isn’t all rosy for the patriarchs either.
In a follow-up rant-ticle, I will write about “my brand of feminism.”

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Crush Reckoning

I had forgotten she was once a crush till I saw her that Christmas evening. 
Old crushes were meant to look like a bad dream having snapped out of your obsession for so long. It was different with her.
She was as beautiful as that first day I saw her in Sunday school. I'm not sure. It must have been Sunday school where her mom taught us bible stories. She attended the private school where richer families sent their kids.
She had a simple scarf on, tied loosely.
Flashes of memory flooded my consciousness like water through a broken dam. Few seconds before, I didn’t even remember she was on that notorious list of girls I kissed in my fantasies. Now there I was, recalling the day mother needed a volunteer to take festival meat to the Johnsons.
I had volunteered. A little eager now, I remember. They lived on the other end town. I remember walking into their house and forgetting I was there to deliver a festival meat. She must have known I was in love. For she also stopped in her tracks. I’m unsure if we knew what love was. But she knew I felt something our young minds couldn’t give a name. Something beautiful and bright fluttered in our stomachs. But we didn’t know they were butterflies.
She stood across the hall in her onesie, fresh out of the bath. She was the most beautiful girl to walk the face of the earth right then. Later in the day, she would wear the special festival dress all mothers made for their boys and girls.
It was hard to say “good morning.” I was stuck. And my saliva was drying in my mouth. Her dad - who played the big wooden piano for the church - finally stepped out from a side room. He saw the tray on my outstretched hands and got the signal.
“Mummy told you to bring this to us?” he asked. He collected the tray without waiting for an answer and removed the raw meat. “Tell her 'thank you' for me,” he said stuffing some money into my hand along with the now empty tray.
I wasn’t sure what happened next. Perhaps I went across the hall, stood closer and asked her to be my wife. I wasn’t sure how that would have gone down. Of course, I was too weak at the knees to find out. I’m surprised I remember these. He went back to his little electric piano, I think, and fingered the opening chords of a hymn.
Old crushes were meant to look like a bad dream having snapped out of the fantasy for so long. It was different with her. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Cloudy with a Chance of Freewill Gifts

Or: An unplanned rant on wealthy Pastors and Churches

"So Moses sent out orders through the camp: "Men! Women! No more offerings for the building of the Sanctuary!" The people were ordered to stop bringing offerings!" - Exodus 36:6
The people gave freely to the work of the Lord. So much, the artisans had to complain of a supply glut. I desire to help those doing the Lord's work in my life have enough to work with. Lord, open my hands to give and my arms to embrace your work. Amen.
Hold Up:  I can see your face crease in that questioning way it did when Trump said: “Obama founded ISIS.” So, the real article is down below, but I needed to share the above to give context.
I join a few friends to read a passage of the bible every day and share our core lessons. On one fine day in May, we read Exodus 36: 6 and that (up there) was what I shared. But you see, I sat back down to write a long postscript that I didn’t share with anyone. Until now. So…back to scheduled programming.
I am thinking of Moses and the artisans, and what they did in that dusty strip where they had the job of building God’s Sanctuary.
There was too much material to work with. Easily, the artisans could have kept taking on gifts, accumulating them with the end-game being to appropriate the excess to themselves.
If the Exodus account is to be believed, they did otherwise. Cried out to Moses and told him to stop this rain of gifts.
By this single act, they did three things:
1: They kept the focus on the work of the Lord, not the gain in it. 
2: They kept their integrity.
3: (I'll share the third later.)
You already know where I'm headed with this. How does the 21st century Artisan (read, doer of the Lord's work, Church, Pastor, Bishop...GO?) react to events like this?
Are they primed to save themselves from the temptation of an over-generous congregation willing to gift their very means of livelihood for the work of the Lord?
I don't know what those answers are for sure. If what we see on TV and observe around town is anything to go by, the answers are:
1: A lot of them do not react with integrity.
2: And no. Most of them are not prepared to insulate themselves from the temptation. If anything, they encourage their congregants to give and give. Preferably, till they are themselves impoverished from all the giving.
What does it mean for artisans to insulate themselves from the temptation to accumulate wealth?
As an extension of what Moses and workers in Exodus did, it is to examine the problem and figure how much it would take to solve it then stick with the plan.
I like to think the Bible is clear on that one thing.
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? - Luke 14: 28.
Replace "tower" with anything churches spend their money on. 
To do this, it will take the Artisans answering questions like:
"What are we doing?"
"Where are we going?"
"How long will it take us to get there?
"How much does it all cost us?"
Answering these would help them know when to say "that'll be all for this month, thank you."
I won't doubt that our Artisans answer these four questions among many others. In the same token, I won't doubt much that they are political about that last question – “How much does it all cost?”
They relax the brackets around how much they need. Saying some pseudo-spiritual things, turning the bible on its head and taking into consideration things like Hofstadter’s Law.
“It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.” - Hofstadter’s Law
Remember that third thing I was going to tell you the single act proved? 
It is that these people know their onions. To appropriate the words of my new favorite rapper, NF the Narcissist, "these people aren’t driving around, they know where their lane is."
They understood that it was God's work and not a scheme to attain wealth. I can throw statistics around, but really, if Barthemeus were around, he'd see that the Church Industry is one of the most profitable Industries in the world right now. It's just another entrepreneurial pursuit. 
I like how this Quora user phrased the idea of religious industry in response to the question; What is the most profitable business model ever made?  
In all seriousness, I think it is religion.  What are some of the general tenets that make it so?
1. 10% tithing of your earnings going to the church. 
2. Your "workers" are generally paid subsistence wages and work 24/7 (and are more or less happy to do so).
3. You can franchise out to other countries and make modifications that work in the new cultures.
4. When your customers die, they often leave a large portion of their wealth to the church.  This may be due to honest "conversion" or because of "investments" made to help them earlier in life that result in them paying back a lifetime of accumulation.
5. Your product is the promise of great riches in an afterlife.  Zero manufacturing and distribution costs.
6. The payout doesn't have to come from your Earthly assets.
7. No lawsuits from unsatisfied customers.
All this adds up to massive accumulation of wealth that can be used for other useful projects.  As an example, during the English Reformation, Henry VIII became the head of the Church of England and appropriated all the amassed wealth.  I haven't been able to find any reliable information on assets other than land, but at that time it was estimated that they owned 25% - 30% of the land in England.  
The biggest problems right now are competition and customer acquisition (and customer skepticism). 
Maybe a little over the top, but close enough to the truth.
Some might argue; hey, but do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.
True. The Ox at the tread should not eat up the commonwealth, either. The Ox was made first to tread and not to eat. When the Ox interchanges these roles, it becomes an expensive toy. An unwieldy pet.
Some might also ask; what should Churches do when they have gifts in excess? Give it all back?
I won’t think to answer that question. Nothing is ever black and white. But here's what I know for sure; the Churches know the decent thing to do. They have chosen to do otherwise.  

Saturday, August 27, 2016

First World (III)

Travel far and watch the city
Come to life beneath you
Capture life in banal poems
Empty portraits with watery lines
Live the night in another's embrace
Or drink soda over a vile romance

Read a chapter press reset
I'll be here