Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lagos, The African Way of Civilisation By Ren Wan

[MING]: After two years in and out of the third largest city in the world, Rem Koolhaas called the Nigerian wen something ‘at the forefront of a globalising modernity’: “Lagos is not catching up with us. Rather, we may be catching up with Lagos.” Constantly on its insane evolution hoping to strike off the notorious reputation as one of the least liveable city, Lagos itself is a soiled, earthly dream chaser; and Ren Wan witnessed from it Civilisation in the African Way.

I regretted right at the moment as I got the visa after a gasping interrogation at the embassy. Pole-apart from what I had expected, that embassy visits were nothing more than form-filling and queues, this time to the Nigerian one ironically offered more. I got stone-cold questions, hostile attitudes, though I had every (bizarre) required documents stated on the embassy website, including an “invitation letter” signed by my Nigerian contact.

The tiny glass at the counter divided me and the well- attired gentleman with the resemblance of Nelson Mandela, who threw to me what an FBI officer would smear over a drug dealer’s face. From my actual identity to my purpose of visit to my ‘potential conspiracy’… every razor sharp question cracked from his black lips made me feel like a prisoner without cuffs, or a smuggler who tried to get into the American border. “Good People. Great Country” This tagline on a poster at the door came into my sight as a wry joke.

“You will see why he has that attitude.” said a British- Indian merchant who was there to collect his visa, because few Chinese girls go to the country alone who aren’t going to meet her Nigerian lover. It was going to be his third visit to Lagos this year. I revealed the purpose of my visit, as a desperate attempt to relieve my pre-travel paranoia. “Good luck, and it is indeed a place for a good story.” The statement was supported by another guy present, a native Nigerian who came to extend his visa in Hong Kong. He was a young black guy in his late twenties, who happily showed me a picture of his Chinese wife and his kids. Lagos is a metropolis, I felt pride between his words, everyone in Nigeria wants to be in the past two years. And his statement was not without supporters.

As the most populous city in Nigeria, Lagos was indeed a name often seen on international press in the recent years. “A global city” was a united answer I had heard. It was a time right after the bomb attack in Abuja, people said the capital was no comparison to this “merely less-developed” megacity. They called it an economic centre of the largest country in West Africa, a cultural hub with great lifestyle despite the notorious title as the world’s third least liveable city by the Economist Intelligence Unit. It is the future
Hong Kong of Africa, Onno Ruhl, country head for the World Bank said to TIME last year. But I did not see any similarities (or potential ones) with my homeland. I saw a bizarre sovereignty of African civilisation.

Africa takes centre stage

It was scientifically proven that humankind evolved from black skin; which means black is the origin to all skin colours the civilised world represents to date. That means the black clan gave birth to all fruits civilisation has given us – from the art of fine dining to state-of- the-art technologies. While we from this part of the world are blessed with surplus of materials far beyond satisfaction of our basic necessity, this vast piece of land was once victimised under absurd Slavism, and is still the last runner on the racecourse of civilisation. But like a famous African proverb said, until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story; the face of Africa only has a western narrative.

At a seminar stage, Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan journalist, once called for a new look at Africa. “Africa has immense opportunities that never navigate through the web of despair and helplessness that the Western media largely presents to its audience,” he said with determination. “As a consequence, the Western view of Africa’s economic dilemma is framed wrongly. The wrong framing is a product of thinking that Africa is a place of despair.” Truism stays with him. G.W. Fredrich Hegel, 18th century German philosopher, once declared with ignorant arrogance that Africa was not part of world history because the black had no individuality. Google stories on African and one will find besides wild getaways the missing of basic sanitation infrastructures, bony hands begging for succor, Somali pirates, kidnaps of Westerners, brutal and helpless scenes from Congo and Blood Diamond.

But as the continent, blessed with abundant natural resources and enviable landscapes, slowly gets rid of the third world status – only 33 remain the least developed category to date; we have seen on the global stage inspirers and change-makers from the ‘wild land’. In 2007, TED organised an Africa-themed event with insightful talks by such significant figures as William Kamkwamba, who invented a windmill to generate electricity for his poor community at the age of 14. Seyi Oyseola built a solar-powered mobile hospital. Last year, we applauded to three African Nobel laureates. In an Africa-themed exhibition at Kiasma in Finland, photographer Baudouin Mouanda tastefully captured African chic. This part of the world actually rocks.

Global city in a great country?Autumn heat was still steaming the city airport. Black gentlemen, looking spick and span in his suits, effortlessly made his way through the crowd of puzzled foreign visitors into a rusty yellow cab and disappeared into the vast megacity. Welcome to Lagos, the Centre of Excellence – the stately neon light box was losing its glow to the everyday blackouts. Nothing but the word ‘chaos’ was valid.
Those close to the authority fashioned diplomatic affability to just-landed Chinese investors, humbled themselves to push their guests’ luggage through the Customs counters, and happily received monetary rewards from the yellow hands. By exchanging merely basic hellos and all that jazz, policemen outside the airport helped your vehicle stop for a few bucks in return.“This is the way how things work here,” William Lui, a food factory owner from Hong Kong, whom I luckily ran into at the airport, said as he settled me in his car. Lui after that offered me his transportation throughout my stay, because cab drivers might take ‘white people’ – it was a black or white world, no yellow – to shaded alleys and rob them. Not only ‘white people’, my local photographer assured me. He wouldn’t ask for directions at night as well. Besides the local market cramped with cars and pedestrians, shops and restaurants had armed guards stationed at the gate. There was no such thing as ‘window shopping’ and ‘menu checking’. Furious traffic jam happened every morning and evening and it is almost a daily routine to be stuck in the middle of the chaos of roads and have your itinerary naturally cancelled. One night I was forced to cancel my dinner appointment because I stayed on the roads for four hours. What Fela Kuti, Nigeria’s national pride and music mogul from Lagos, once sang in ‘Go Slow’ in 1972 – Lorry dey for your front // Tipa dey for your back // Motorcycle dey for your left o // Taxi-moto dey for your right // Helicopter dey fly fly for your top o – is still the best depiction of its everyday cityscape.

More. One step on Bar Beach, the city’s beautiful white sand public beach, and you would be asked to pay, whilst many others set their own stalls on sand as bars and restaurants. The “magnificent architectural masterpiece” Lagosians prided themselves on, is the National Theatre with a musty odour. The city’s biggest shopping mall is the size of our community centre. Hawker stalls creeping along roads did not really expect customers. Recent news in Daily Times Nigeria mentioned a study that revealed 22% of Lagos drivers tested positive to drugs like cocaine and marijuana. And this is what they called a great country and a global city.

Lagosians, souls of the city

Temitayo, a young Nigerian writer in her mid- twenties, showed me her article about her homeland, ‘The Lagos Devil, she called it. It reminds me of a woman in labour, groaning and screaming curses at her husband and the gods that made the seed fertile. She wrote with paradoxical affection. Love, anxiety, anger, and fear all rolled in one ball, I feel for Lagos, but, unlike the pregnant woman who delivers a child; I don’t know what Lagos will bring forth!

With a majority of the cityscape barred behind guarded high walls, roads became the only mirror of the city, its people – and they call themselves Lagosians – its only soul. Despite the broken roads, incomplete infrastructures, and the everyday blackouts, Lagos nurtures the most notable spirits humanity would celebrate. Enthusiasm has its best glow under the silver sky of the fuel-clogged city. Without much left by their ancestors, a local journalist friend Jennifer Ehidiamen told me, Lagos is up to the making of the young generations. “Those before you must have worked really hard to make sure your generation enjoy a good country. That is what most Nigerians are doing,” she said. “Most young Nigerians are working hard and dreaming more, so that the next generation will not go through the same hardship. So it is like a seed one generation sow for the next to reap and nurture for posterity. If old generations in Nigeria had kept this in perspective, we would have been spoilt too.”

Positivity does rule this place. The ‘World’s Happiest Place’ sign soaring at the airport, as a Guardian journalist once recalled, may have its point. An international survey revealed that Nigeria’s positivity index was 70, whilst UK had a tragic -44.

Will Anderson, who did a documentary on Lagos, said Lagosians never see themselves as victims; they are tireless aspirers. Hawkers wandering around the streets may not have good business, but they were rewarded with laughter and chats with neighbours. A young gentleman who arranged my interview with a governor, owned an I.T company, while he was actively developing the emerging movie scene of Nigeria. We call it Nollywood, he said and immediately jumped to ask about the popularity of websites like YouTube in China. I marvelled at his packed schedule and the speed of his tapping on his Blackberry. “Because the city has high unemployment and bad traffic, going freelance is a mainstream,” he said. “You find entrepreneur on every street.”

Children whose family could not afford their education were satisfied with fierce football games on abandoned space with bare feet. Learning that I was from Asia, one kid came to me and asked with excitement how much more advanced China is than Nigeria. My answer might be a disappointment, yet he said with pride: we are almost there.While signs of a developed place in our world are about infrastructures, destination landmarks and civil services; the way Lagos defines civilisation is hedonism and naively bold visions. Like what Nigerian scholar Michael Eucheruo wrote in his book Victorian Lagos, this is an out-and-out international city like Amsterdam and Paris. Albeit the shortage of infrastructure, Lagos is thriving as a cultural and economic hub in West Africa. The tireless operation of the oil mine right next to the city’s main bridge strikes as a hope for future. Like Rem Koolhaas said in 2005 in Lagos Wide and Close, this place does not reflect despair, it is in fact where the civilisation heads to – the aspiration to build a better place.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Slum2School Volunteer Shares Experience

Volunteerism and philanthropy is one of the 21st century global strategies to solve problems around the United Nations Post-2015 Millennium Development Goals. At a time when the quest for youth development and the need for leadership is at its peak, being a volunteer for developmental projects provide the unique learning experience and grooming ground for personal growth and making social impact. It is my chief recommendation for students’ co-curricular activities as well as a platform for professionals to position themselves as socially responsible individuals. From my experience, volunteering was the biggest step I took to getting closer to my personal aspirations in life, and it has been the most fulfilling and rewarding impact and contribution I have made in my society.

I indicated interest in being a Slum2School Volunteer in 2012 after Otto Orondaam’s speech about the Founding and future of the NGO at Lagos NYSC Passing out ceremony. It was a unique opportunity to direct my energy and time towards such a developmental and youth driven initiative. S2S was just a few months old at the time, but I had no doubt about her prospect for growth and impact, based on all volunteers’ commitment.

Conspicuously, since that period, Slum-to-School Africa has provided educational scholarships for over 650 underprivileged children and renovated two rural schools. We have also organized over 20 community programmes.

My first task was to commit my time like every other volunteer even though we received no monetary reward. Our passion did and still supersedes the thirst for compensation for all the time we spend. This was for me the true meaning of volunteering - following through a course until the end, without any iota of doubt that time and energy spent is helping to positively impact other people’s lives. A cause larger than oneself.

I volunteered with the primary aim of just helping and contributing to an urgent cause, unknown to me at the time, the benefits that came with being a volunteer. I was an undergraduate struggling with the scarcity of time and commitment to my grades; it was very tempting to attribute volunteering to a waste of time. The challenges however brought along so many learning opportunities I would perhaps never have gained otherwise. Working under pressure to meet deadlines and time management was a skill I am grateful to have acquired through volunteering. A skill applicable to my career till date, which I believe is same for most volunteers. We had to be spontaneous, think on our feet, always finding ways to meet up with impromptu meetings and tasks.

Volunteering for Slum2School improved my problem solving skills. I was delighted to join the crop of young leaders who rather than complain, found ways to make things work. This made me become more compassionate and more optimistic than ever before, even though the intensity of the problems we face were and are still very glaring to us.

My most memorable volunteer experience in August 2013 also was a test of my resolve. Being one of the 17 volunteers that travelled on water for about two hours to get to a rural community on the outskirts of Lagos and walking in swamps for another 45 minutes to get to another community, hitherto, was a challenge I would have deemed unfit to be part of. The drive and passion to provide educational opportunities to remote areas superseded our own personal comforts. I built skills around organizing, logistics, coordinating and in fact learning to live and work with different people in a condition that really demanded the highest level of people skills.

As a member of the sales team for Slum2School, selling the idea of the project improved my sales and networking skills. From a pool of 1,300 applicants from 190 countries, I was one of the 40 youths selected to present various developmental projects they were working on. This was a unique global opportunity and it was highly fulfilling that all our volunteer works were being recognized and appreciated globally. The One Young World Summit in South Africa was attended by global leaders like Kofi Annan, Winnie Mandela, Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington and many others. It was an amazing feeling to realise that amongst the countless projects in 190 countries, Slum 2 School was recognised to be one of the best.

Africa CEO of Standard Chartered Bank was impressed by my speech and our work at S2S. She invited me to share our ideas with a dozen global CEOs, resulting to a donation and increasing our NGOs monetary value. I also got the unique opportunity to meet Aliko Dangote, the richest and most influential black, through the contacts I made on this platform.

Volunteering for Slum 2 School therefore gave me the unique opportunity to be a global advocate for education. An achievement that may not come around if one remained in their comfort zones. Recruiters and various institutions are becoming more attracted to youths who have volunteered and made a lot of positive impacts around the world. With rising global challenges, problems and opportunities, the importance and necessity of volunteerism to make social impact can never be overemphasised. It is indeed an antidote to many global problems such as lack of access to education which Slum 2 School volunteers have been tenaciously working to provide across board. I believe very strongly that anyone seeking to be part of this global change makers has definitely chosen to make one of the toughest and best choices.

Best wishes to every present and potential young leader.


Admin's note: Will you like to volunteer with Slum2School? Then visit: http://slumtoschool.org for more information!

Recommended Reading: Half a Loaf & a Bakery: Learning by Doing Before Graduation- FREE DOWNLOAD- scribd.com/doc/210221423/Half-A-Loaf-A-Bakery-by-Jennifer-Ehidiamen-and-Funso-Bukoye

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Video: Life stories of out-of-school adolescent girls in Nigeria’s poor communities

‎"Journalism is a powerful tool that empowers individuals, builds stronger local communities and elevates global awareness."

Action Health Incorporated (@actionhealthinc) has released three short films in the ‘Keeping The Promise Series’-- ‘Girls Are Us’, ‘Slipping Through the Crack’ and ‘Make Every Girl Count’- that project the true life stories of out-of-school adolescent girls in Nigeria’s poor communities.

The films are based on findings of the AHI study to explore and document the realities, needs and concerns of out-of-school adolescent girls in Lagos slums.

You can watch the films by following these hyperlinks on YouTube:

Girls Are Us:


Slipping Through The Crack:


Make Every Girl Count:


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