Ahead of Disruption, Inclusion is Africa’s Clarion Call

At the beginning of the technology wave in Africa (read Nigeria), many founders romanticized the word disruption. To many, it was all about changing the way we did things. If you have suffered many of the challenges that often pose before the regular Nigerian, you will want to change things too. No wonder Muhammadu Buhari’s successful campaign in 2015 resonated well with many Nigerians. Change is a great thing especially in a society where things do not work and systems fail citizens.  

In 2017, while I tried my feet in the education market, I soon realized that while classes needed to improve, millions of people did not even have access to quality education at all. This meant millions of students had needed help, while we were instead focusing on the small market where we were finding it difficult to sell our software. What was also true was that, even though we had a great differentiation from the alternatives, the end results were pretty much similar. The competition, despite our differentiation, was already there and we only hoped our differentiation would give us that extra leap. Perhaps, we would have pulled our weight if we stayed, but the numbers were glaring. Much more people could not access the service we wanted to provide. We might have had to sit in a small market for a long time.

Millions of people do not have access to electricity; millions do not have access to quality health; millions have no access to quality education, market, credit, health insurance, water, good housing, sanitation and clean energy and so on. This means millions and millions of Nigerians and Africans are unable to even access basic needs and would jump at solutions that make all these easy and less costly. Having more and more entrepreneurs and businesses develop solutions that improve access to basic needs using scalable technologies, that ensure they can reach and sustain the provision of their services and products to millions of Nigerians, is the clarion call. This is how we can improve millions of lives faster and raise our standard of living.  

Thus, the big focus of technology in Africa should be inclusion. How do we bring improved services closer to people who do not have them at all? Technologies like the internet, artificial intelligence, cloud computer, USSD services are scalable infrastructure to drive widespread inclusion.  

The just concluded election is another reason why we have to take inclusion seriously. Thousands of people had meaningful conversations on ‘elite’ platforms like Twitter or in small elite/intellectual gatherings. People in the “third” force, who whether by lack of financial power or political structure restricted their conversations and campaigns to small “intellectual” groups, somewhat believed they stood a chance. Expectedly, the millions of people who would also vote but were not included in these conversations in meaningful ways, eventually decided the future of the country, most often to the lamentations of the “intellectual” group.

Inclusion remains a big challenge in Africa and needs to be taken with more urgency. While people need improved services, many do not even have any service at all. Simply producing services for a few people, might be rewarding, but is also not enough for the African entrepreneur. While we start from small beginnings, our focus should be on providing our services at scale, as this not only eventually drops costs, it also ensures more people who may not have access to these services at all get to enjoy them.    

What is true is that it is usually difficult to serve excluded markets. Take banks, for instance. More than half of Nigerians are excluded from banking services. That’s over 100 million people. With all the resources banks have, it just makes sense to want to expand their pie into the largely untapped market. The only reasons they would not have done so are that it is extremely difficult and uneconomical to do. This is where financial entrepreneurs come in. Their work is to de-risk the market and create solutions that can expand this pie. It is the same for every other sector too. Education entrepreneurs have to answer the question, how can we make quality education more accessible to more people? Art entrepreneurs have to answer the question, how can we improve access to market for more creative people? And it goes on and on. That is how we get into untapped markets which is like most of the African market.  

While disruption is awesome, we must do more to get people who are excluded from key services into the net. This way, we will truly contribute to the widespread development of the African continent.

Habeeb X
Wandering Wonderer.

Sàngó- The Love Story

 

His spirit was never to be seen again, nor his speech heard nor his perfumed red and white robes perceived. His feat of temper had met his death or dearth because some believed he did not die. Some did but most did not believe that he had twisted a rope, like the braids on his head, around his own neck and taken his own life. Many would later feel the rage that had consumed him and his magnificent palace. Many would come to hear of the spirited King who spat fire and sent thunderbolts on errands. Many would sit to listen to the story of the King who married three river goddesses and was entangled in his love web. Many would come to read of the third king of Oyo who won his wars between his lips. And there will be those who will bow at his feet and worship with fear, the god of thunder, Sàngó!

 The bata drummer hit his drum. The flutist played and swung his head from left to right. The earth was blanketed and the seeds of stars spotted and sparkled in the dusked sky. Baba Agba coughed a little and Tiwalade turned the kerosene lantern a little lower. Its smoke rose against the full moon and fireflies danced around the yellow light.

“E ku Agba” the voices of the seventeen youngsters echoed together and travelled right into the bushes that rose into a dark forest. Baba Agba sighed.

Maybe the spirit of Sàngó loitered where the children sat or in the nearby bushes as his story was told. His story of un-dyed love for Oya, the goddess of whirlwind- their love story that quaked the hearts of men and tendered his own vulnerable temper. Some said Oya was the concubine; others believed that it was Osun, the river goddess of Osogbo- the Yoruba Aphrodite. Whichever it was, Oba, his first wife, was the outcast of his love story; his errant wife who cooked him a soup of her own ear, in a bid to wrestle his heart back. Heartbroken by him, Oba stormed out of her hut and spiralled into the ground and her blood flowed in the land as a river of vengeance for lovelorn hearts.

Beyond Sàngó’s fierceness was a fickle heart steeped in love in the eyes of Oya so much that she made his braids and he kept his special power with her. Between his fire spat were tender words for the Nupe woman who transfigured into a deer at will and explored the green forest with her hoofs. More, Oya could command the rain to fall at will, and formed a formidable bond with Sàngó, who bent thunders in his will. The love between the two superpowers was bound to be extraordinary. And it drove Osun and Oba into relentless jealousy.

“And so till today,” Baba Agba said, “Osun and Oba still engage in a duel even after they had become rivers because Oba blamed Osun for her marriage woes. Osun had tricked Oba to sacrifice her left ear to win back Sango’s heart. Instead, that made Sàngó drive her out of his palace.”

So what happened to Sàngó and Oya?” Adeolu asked. The brightness of his face matched his eagerness.  The other children looked on from the mat that they sat. Adeolu had been their mouthpiece.

Baba Agba adjusted himself on the carved wooden stool that he sat on and evoked a thunderous sneeze.

“Patience! My son, patience!”   Baba Agba remarked and then continued.

“Sàngó let down his guard for Oya and once, while he struggled to maintain his control of his kingdom, went into a feud with two of his generals. In anger, he stormed out of the palace that day, when he found that Oya had poorly kept his thunderbolt talisman. He was not to be seen again. Some believed that he had hanged himself on the hills of Koso. Others argued that he did not and said Oba Koso (meaning that The King did not hang himself). Meanwhile, Oya returned to Nupe land after the death of Sàngó and transformed into a flowing river-the River Niger. This led to the popular saying

Oya wole N’ira (Oya entered the ground at Ira)

Sàngó wole ni Koso (Sàngó entered the ground at Koso)

The children chanted the two verses after him and clapped between.

“That is where my story ends!” Baba Agba, the storyteller said and took a bite at his bitter kola. His grey haired head was covered by his abeti aja cap whose branches covered his ears.

“So children, what did you learn from this story?”

Habeeb X
Wandering Wonderer

Possible Impossible Ratio: Role Models and Mentors as Tools for Human and Societal Development

Warning: This article was written by a wanderer. Expect digressions. Danke Sehr. 

Two boys grew up in different neighbourhoods. Let’s call one Bayo and the other Shola. Bayo grew up in a rural-urban community in the heart of Ibadan. His mother and father are separated and he now lives with his grandma. Both his parents barely support his education and have instead pursued new lives with their new partners far away from him. Incidentally, most of his friends are from similarly unstable homes. Based on this experience, he has built his view of his expectations and responsibilities should he get married or hooked up with anyone. He has also built his view of his responsibilities to his child, should he have one. In school, he has cultivated a few friends, a good number who are also like him and have little exposure beyond their immediate communities. Their first role models, their parents, have not exactly provided an enviable way to live a happy and responsible life. However, since that is all some of them know and see around them, they will eventually grow to be like them. Another set of role models they will often find, are the ones who have managed to be financially successful in their communities, who drive the best cars and have the best apartments. More often than not, these are often people who have cut it through consistent dirty dealings. They are usually dropouts as well. As Bayo grows, he knows only this kind of life and his view on how to become a better version of his current state is directly motivated by the experiences and exposure that his community affords him. Unfortunately, his school is also not well equipped to help him see different kinds of lives or possibilities that he could compare with these. Unless through some miraculous intervention, Bayo will end up just like his father, or other people that he feels have led comparably better lives, whatever that means. What is dangerous is not that Bayo has limited options, it is that he does not believe he could be anymore than those things.

Unlike Bayo, Shola comes from a wealthy family. His parents are separated too, but he attends one of the best schools in Lagos. He has several friends who come from both stable and unstable homes and has the luxury to choose the kind of home he would like to have. In school, he has access to a good library and internet. The school also organizes tours to a number of countries and also to different companies so Shola and other students can meet successful people across different backgrounds. He is able to talk with different people from different walks of life about their lives and careers. Shola has tons of ideas on how he could live his life and what he needs to do to build that kind of life and reach great heights. He does not have to settle, because the people around him, as well as his school, have empowered his view of the world by bringing him closer to more that is possible. They have let him know that his options are unlimited and he only needed to choose.       

It is easy to overlook the importance of mentors and role models when you have visionary and excellent people as colleagues, friends, family members, partners or close associates. In one way or another, these people serve as the compass through which you navigate your life. The truth is that we are often limited in our view of the world until someone points out even more possible things. Before we get new knowledge, it often almost appears that nothing exists outside the things we know. While we know we don’t know everything, we don’t know what we don’t know. That limits the kinds of initiatives we can take. However, once we know what we don’t know, it is often easier to find and know those things.

The electromagnetic spectrum is a great example of how we can be limited by the things we know. Within the electromagnetic spectrum, visible light is the only radiation that is seen by the human eye. Therefore, for a long time, it was thought to be the only type of light (or radiation) that existed. It was not until 1800, that William Herschel discovered the infrared while conducting a thermal experiment in a laboratory. He even termed it “the light that cannot be seen”. The following year, another scientist, Johann Ritter, discovered the Ultraviolet Light also known as the invisible light induced by chemical reactions. And on it went till all members of the current electromagnetic spectrum were discovered using one technique or the other. In the electromagnetic spectrum, visible light represents just a small fragment of the range of frequencies radiation travels. One of the lovely discovery was definitely the microwave. I still marvel at the possibility of the microwave oven heating my food while the container remains at its normal temperature. I’m usually like wow, what sorcery! Yet, it is important to look back and dwell in the knowledge that if there had not been any advancement in science, it may have been the only kind of radiation men knew, and perhaps the only kind of radiation he thought existed. The most important thing is that he would have also lived his life based on the truth that that was the only kind of radiation that existed. We would have lived without the microwave and we would have lived fine. Fine, but limited.

 

A Simple Analogy: A World Of Worlds

Imagine this; next to football with 4 billion followers is cricket with 2.5 billion fans. Yet most fans of football cannot mention one famous cricket player which would be an easy and obvious guess for a person who follows cricket. There are people who know nobody in these two sports. This means that the things that constitute the realities of a person who follows cricket are different from that of a person who follows football. Thus the social laws which are deemed impossible to live without may just be non-existent in the other person’s life. Think about that.

While many of us, especially geeks, have entertained the idea of the multiverse, we should also realize that in our world, we have several worlds, all of which work in tandem with one another and also in isolation. The world of a young boy living in Oja Oba, Ibadan who goes to a public school not too far away from home, consists of peculiar characters, pains, joys, role models, possibilities and demands is different from that of a young boy in Lekki who goes to a very private school also close to his home, has unlimited access to the internet, loves baseball and travels at will. The world of a boy who lives on water in Makoko, Lagos, is different from the world of the Fulani boy roving the Northern hinterlands. A person is limited to the possibilities of his own world.

Each person will require help to know what is possible in other worlds. While we may never be able to understand what is going on in every possible world, it is good that we have the liberty to reach worlds that are important to our progress so we are not limited in our potentials. One of the best ways to enter a new world is through another person who lives that world. Close interactions and sometimes brief chats can be all we need to launch the expansion of our views of what is possible and what we can aspire to be.

We Need Other People’s Lenses to Have A Better View of the World

People get exposure in different ways. Some through books, some through travel, others through consistent interaction with people who have made significant progress or failures in their lives. The more exposure one has, the higher the likelihood of making life and career decisions that are more fulfilling and liberating.

The kind of exposure a person has also affects the things the person considers possible or impossible. Most times, the difference between those who are successful at maximizing their potentials and those who are not, asides tenacious execution, is simply that those who are successful have a wider range of the things they consider possible; which enables them shoot for them. I call this the Possible Impossible Ratio.

The Possible Impossible Ratio is a subjective analysis of what a person believes he/she is capable of doing to the things he/she believes is impossible or almost impossible to do. Note that this is an analysis directed at one’s self. It does not affect what you think others are capable of doing because in the end, you are not them.  

It is hackneyed advice that one should believe one can achieve the seemingly impossible (anything) e.g. landing on the moon, scoring maximum marks in UTME, becoming a billionaire, breaking a world record and so on. Yet this is usually relative. What we often overlook is that impossibilities are at different stretches for different people. Two young people may be starting their careers as designers in a small firm. One dreams and believes he can eventually become a top designer with billions in revenue, while the other believes what is possible is that he reaches the top of their current firm and earn millions in salaries. The latter may even be aware of the former’s goals, but he just believes that they are far-fetched. It is possible that the latter, after believing that he can do it, achieves his goal, while the former doesn’t. What is also true is that the latter will not reach the heights of the former, because you cannot hit what you don’t aim for, and what you aim for is in the boundaries of what you think is possible (even if it appeared impossible at that time). Keep in mind that every rule comes with exceptions.

Therefore, one of the best ways to help Bayo and expand Bayo’s view of the world is to bring him in close interaction with people who live different lives, especially ones which he can aspire to have. These people are role models and mentors. Creating this close interaction means that Bayo can begin to use his drive to seek something greater and better than what he has experienced and what his local community has provided as the best. In addition, he can start to seek information, that these people do not provide him, on his own because he has been shown how unlimited he can be; his ship has been set to sail. This way, Bayo’s Possible Impossible Ratio would have significantly improved.

An expected result is that he approaches his obstacles, with much more resolve, because he now has bigger things to pursue. This does not mean Bayo does not need quality education in a good school, it means pending the time he gets that, he will make the most of what he has, and will stop at nothing to get to where he believes is now possible.

 

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This article provides some foundation to one of my experiments in improving the quality of education delivered in Nigeria. There are millions of young people like Bayo who would do better with their lives if you help them widen their horizons. And doing so is not more difficult than getting some hundreds of thousands of people to spend time with Bayo and his mates at their convenience to share their experiences, insights and thoughts on important things. The outcome is much more than helping Bayo build a better career, it is also to help him become a responsible citizen who makes informed life choices. We may also help Bayo learn critical 21st-century soft skills that put more power in his hands.  This activity also happen in isolated and often discontinued situations. The question is if we can deliver this more sustainably and at scale. 

I have begun talking to some principals in public schools about this. So far, 23 public school principals in Ibadan have indicated interest and put in their contacts to be part of this program. I am hoping to get more before I move to the next stage which is talking to people who want to share their time with young students at their convenient time, as well as completing the design for how this would work effectively and at scale (since this already happens effectively in isolated events). I hope to share my progress as I move forward. 

 

Habeeb X

Wandering Wanderer.

(Please share if you enjoyed reading this)

  

 

 

An Introduction To My Theory On Modular Education

Modularity in education started to gain prominence as online learning increasingly became widely accepted. Top Universities around the world began to pay attention to the effect online learning had on their school system and how they may take advantage of online learning to continue to stay ahead in delivering quality education. In 2014, MIT President Rafael Reif even released a letter to initiate and concretize the university’s efforts at taking advantage of the transformation that may affect schools and the structures of their curriculums. Some of the results of their foray are MIT courses on EdX and MITX.

The advancement of technology continues to open up new possibilities as well as enable our old dreams. Long ago, people who wished to learn spent  years with wise men. As technology improved, people could travel to places where such instruction could be delivered in a shorter period. As the world moved forward, universities were equipped to provide many courses within four years. These days, there is more control over what you can learn as there are now multiple options to fill knowledge gaps and advance one’s career.

As the world adopts new models of learning, we continue to have challenges with our education in Nigeria, especially at the universities. Investment in education is abysmal, universities are poorly run and most of all, learners who attend Nigerian universities often rue the time wasted and wish they have better opportunities to gain quality learning. This is however not peculiar to Nigeria.   

The Status Quo

Universities are designed to deliver the complete package required to earn a degree. Therefore, a university needs to have it all for whichever course for which they are accredited. In addition to this, when students enrol for a course, they are required to complete all the credits considered necessary to earn the degree for that particular course.

A school should facilitate learning. Schools in developed countries have found ways to ensure that they offer the best environment and resources required for students who enrol for their courses to acquire knowledge in their fields. Therefore, the need to explore new options to complement their learning is less dire. Instead, students are examining flexibility within their courses- hoping to burrow more into the learning modules they need while spending less time on knowledge they consider extraneous.

This is not the case around here in Nigeria. Universities simply do not have the right structures to deliver quality learning. For several courses, students do not have access to the right resources, teaching or support required to excel in those fields. Often, students work hard to finish top of their classes, hoping to eventually gain admissions to schools outside the country to provide them with quality learning and assuage their lost years.      

I was not exactly enthusiastic about attending any university when  I completed my secondary school education. However, as it became necessary to apply to one, I chose Mechanical Engineering at the University of Ibadan for which I was admitted on merit. While our first year was spent relearning some of the courses we took in secondary school such as Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics, I began to become disillusioned with the course in my second year. At this time, I had started to discover the shortcomings of the Mechanical Engineering department. My modest expectations further nose-dived, along with it my confidence in the system. What was unfortunate at this point was that to get university credits and move on to the next level, I had to dedicate my time to the course and fulfil my requirements. I had no obvious choice.

If I decided to take extra classes, I would still have had to go through my original classes, which seemed pointless since I was convinced they added little to me. I imagined a future where you could take classes from any accredited place and pile it up to get a degree. That would mean I had the ability to take courses I considered relevant and in line with the requirement to practice in my field of choice from anywhere and eventually get a degree that certifies my mastery. At that time, it was difficult to see how it could work. Most Nigerian universities in the country were just as poor as my university, while online learning was still in its early days (and data costs made them a high road to learning). However, this remained an important question on my mind as I decided to dedicate myself to seeking solutions to the problem of poor quality of education in Nigeria.

Unbundling Our Classes: Specialization and Accreditation

After several years in the education sector where I have worked in for-profit and non-profit organizations, I may have found some headway in my model of modular education. This will involve unbundling our classes into modular units, encouraging the creation of specialized accredited institutions and creating a unification model to aggregate learnings across different specialized institutions.

The case study is that a person who wants to learn Mechanical Engineering, can obtain the requirements needed for a Mechanical Engineering degree, and apply to learn in not one institution, but across several specialized institutions and all the credits the person obtained from these institutions can be unified into a degree by a single unifying institution. So instead of applying to just the University of Ibadan and be restricted to taking all my courses there, I may take courses in one private institute that offers Thermodynamics, another institute that specializes in Mechanics of Machines, another institute that specializes in Engineering Design and yet another private institute that specializes in Fluid Mechanics. When I may have passed the requirements in these different specialized accredited institutions, I may have the University of Ibadan as my unifying institution to award me a certificate in Mechanical Engineering if it deemed me qualified.  

For this to happen, we must have unbundled our classes and split them into modular units that allow institutes to spring up and focus on a string of topics as their specialization. Specialization is the huge catalyst to modularity. As modular education requires decentralization of whole courses into separate semi-independent modules, what would make that work even better is to have the specialization of institutions. This would result in private persons setting up learning facilities that concentrate on a string of related topics. Thus, people can take different modules at different institutions and pile them together to get a degree. It will also lead to more diversity in degrees on offer.

Modularity will lead to shared investment in education. Instead of having to set up a whole institution, an education investor can set up a facility focused on Fluid Mechanics and provide facilities required for the qualitative and quantitative delivery of the course. This means investment in labs and libraries as well as other support required to best teach Fluid Mechanics. Thus, anyone who requires to take Fluid Mechanics as an essential part of their learning, can apply to study in this facility and once successfully completed, the person may add credits obtained from this facility to his list of completed required courses as the person pursues a mastery in Mechanical Engineering.

Specialization gives another critical edge in that it is much easier to set up a small specialized institute than it is to set up a university with all its facilities, thus inspiring more private investment. This becomes even more important due to the poor investment the educator sector currently suffers.    

Universities may still retain their abilities to award degrees. They may decide to set up examinations to assess the learning provided in these private academic institutes and award the right grades to students who wish to earn their certificates. There may also be new private institutions that serve to unify credits awarded across these decentralized academic/training institutes into a degree. This may require that they work closely with these academic institutes. These new institutions may either set up assessments to help award the right honours to learners or trust the grades the accredited private institutions provide.  

The benefits of small specialized institutes are the same as the benefits of other kinds of specialization; setting the stage for the development of high levels of competence, a concentration of equipment, and efficiency. The result is instead of average poorly run generalist facilities all over the country, we have specialized world-class ones.

It is Never the Smooth Ride It Promises to Be

Some educational facilities are costlier to set up than others. One obstacle to my theory on modularity is the question of how much I can guarantee the supply of students to these facilities to ensure their commercial viability. Ultimately, private investment in education will only be encouraged if it at least produces a modest return on investment. I cannot say I have figured how this may work commercially, but I know that such investment in education cannot be driven only by the drive to make money. Due to the shortage of skills and the yearning to provide quality education in Africa, early lukewarm commercial activity will eventually be compensated.

Cost of learning can also be high at the start as each institute strives to recover their investment while maintaining the quality of their facilities. However, this will eventually drop as technology provides more support to learning and more people throng into these facilities for a scoop of good education. New education financing models may also spring up to support this diversified learning approach.

The Undeniable Positive

Instead of trying to build a university that is good with too many things, small institutes can now focus on being the best in a particular subject area. Compare this to hospitals. Hospitals focused on cancer are likely to have the better resources to tackle cancer than hospitals that provide every kind of treatment.

This new approach also lowers the barrier to investment in education. Rather than struggle to build a university, investors can now set up smaller units that can deliver quality learning and research in key academic areas. Accreditation will also be easier to attain.  

The Big Picture  

Modularity in education allows for flexibility. More, it improves the options that a student has to complete his or her education. For examples, although most of my classmates enrolled for Mechanical Engineering, most of us sought different specializations. Some wanted aeronautical engineering, some wanted structural engineering, some sought specialization in automobile engineering or industrial design, some wanted robotics and automation, and so on.  Universities often struggle with meeting these demands. With modularity, learners can access several quality options of completing their degrees in specializations of their choices.

Modularity enables complex systems to be broken into better managed and better maintained autonomous units. As we come to the complete grasp of modular education, we will start to enjoy a more diverse approach to learning both offline and online as learners can now truly fulfil their personal learning requirements.  

What makes modularity work is a strong unification process that ensures all the pieces once separated can be effectively combined for their intended purpose. The ability to integrate these independent modules of a person’s learning journey to provide a requisite degree or certification.   

Modularity also speeds up changes. When there are new developments in academic fields, it will be easier to effect these changes across several small units than cumbersome departments in universities.   

Not entirely new; Not entirely old  

We already have glimpses of specialization and decentralization in education. There are several institutes with focused research and learning in specific fields. What is not common is the structure to allows a learner to take courses across different institutes and combine them to get a degree.

Progress with online learning is also offering possibilities of modular education. In fact, online learning has shown the greatest promise in this area. My new theory suggests a structure to accommodate these possibilities and offer an alternative form of learning which may launch the world into another style of modern learning fostered by the advancement of technology and process innovation.

Conclusion

Creating a dynamic learning system that easily responds to change in technology is becoming more important as the world’s technological advancement keeps accelerating exponentially. Large institutions especially in the less developed countries may struggle to catch up. When given the freedom to set up new focused modular institutes, we may have better responses to technological advancement and have access to modern and updated learning spaces. There may be several challenges to the implementation of the modular education model, however, with the promise that online learning is beginning to show- affording learning across different disciplines and institutes, it may be time to consider institutionalizing the modular models across the education sector.

Habeeb Kolade

While I had no idea that today is the International Day of Education, it is great to find out and share my theory on the first International Day of Education. Everywhere in the world, there is the need to support transformative actions for inclusive, equitable and quality education for all. Quality education is required for poverty eradication, improving health outcomes, promoting gender equality, environmental sustainability and building peaceful and resilient societies. I hope this day further fosters the development of education sectors across the world.

Sorry, I’m Not Sorry

It was only yesterday that my husband died. And I don’t think it is a shame that I’m happier in his absence. Before his death, he had been in a coma for four days, clutching tightly to his life but laying very calm on the hospital bed in a way I had never seen him before.

The morning after his burial, I sat in the living room. There was a long silence in the house and every other thing asides the lights and the paintings appeared dead. I placed my glass of whisky back on the stool, pushed aside a pack of cigarette and the ashtray. Then, I strolled around the house naked and moved to let the windows open wide and welcomed the sun in our home. The light was intimate with the house in a way I had never felt it before. Its rays encircled me and I reclined in its impenitent freedom. The air in the room was electric and it swirled in a romantic dance with the music, Sia’s Reaper that played in the background.

I felt the sadness in my eyes leave quietly, like a thief escaping through the back door. There had been enough sadness in my eyes for the whole of Downtown Manhattan to share and still be left with some to give the rest of New York. I took out my journal that had become my companion for all the hard times from the bookcase, tore out the thick covers and threw it into the fireplace.

My arms went out in the air and I laughed and laughed.

Picking up my phone again, I ordered a taxi via Lyft for J F Kennedy Airport and then put my last clothes in my bag. I was going to San Diego. I continued walking around the apartment but a little quietly to avoid waking Iris up. This house, our apartment in a condo on Sullivan Street, Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan was where I had finally grown up. Its brash yet sophisticated finish felt modern and American. The home was sensual and embracing. The first time I followed Richie home, it was the dark hardwood floor and the eclectic array of paintings on the beige walls that reached me. I was not surprised. Greenwich Village was a home to a loose collection of writers, poets, musicians and artists. This home provided sensational calmness to a rather rapid Manhattan life.

I was a student at the New York University majoring in English, Dramatic Literature when I met him at a basketball match at Madison Square Garden. I had followed Cheng, my neighbour at Third Avenue North, to see a game after he had persuaded me. Richie’s physique made his towering height admirable. It had started over a bottle of coke. Cheng was lost in the game while I only smiled and played with my phone.”

“You don’t watch basketball, do you?” I smiled sheepishly, although also bothered that I was not making enough effort to look like I was interested in the game. I didn’t really know which team was playing. I was only trying to return a favour to Cheng who had followed me to see a performance at the theatre.”

“But it’s great you agreed to follow your Chinese boyfriend to the game. That’s pretty cool you know. I saw you two walk in.”

I wanted to tell him Cheng was not my boyfriend, but instead, I told him my name.

“My name is Kemi.”

He smiled “Nigerian?”

“Yaas!”

“I’m Richie. Nigerian.”

The way he said Nigerian, it was like he knew the consequence. New York University had the highest amount of international students in the country and this meant that mixing up could be fun, but one was very likely to drift towards one’s cultural circles wherever one could find them. There, I won’t have to explain everything I considered normal. I could also get to celebrate very wildly as I loved it, and might get invited for more fun parties in African-American owambes- parties with the careful mix of glamour and conservativeness. I could also get to see Adigun with his suit and abeti-aja. He sometimes went to the extent of drawing himself tribal marks. He called it the African tattoo, though he thought it could have been lent some artistry rather than being just straight parallel lines.

I easily warmed into Richie and soon we were sharing coffee at Madman Expresso. I loved their cinnamon cappuccino and doughnuts and he would always take Italian espresso. Sometimes we settled for listening to street musicians at the Washington Square Park. Slowly, and as much as we didn’t want to admit, we were seeing ourselves more often than not and began to really care about each other.

—————————————————–

I discovered myself in this house- that is how I had chosen to describe every lesson that I learnt here. The first time his hand clapped against my cheeks, I called Aunty Gbemi and told her Richie beat me. She was surprised. But she told me to keep calm, that every marriage had its own problems; that I should forgive him and act like nothing happened. She said she would call him to warn him. How dare he touch my baby! She screamed before she hung up.

When we danced through the streets of New York, Aunty Gbemi was the first to know about it. She was quite excited about it.

“Kemi, you have done well. I was beginning to fear you were turning out like some of our girls here. They don’t get married… roaming the streets of America, and carrying their shoulders up. Too headstrong to keep their man and speaking American accent like they were born with it. Kemi, don’t be like them. They’d grow old and start fighting to get husband. Kemi, you know some of them even travel back to Nigeria to look for a husband. I heard one of them in the church that day; her New Year resolution was to get married. But you are wise and cultured and have been able to get the attention of a Nigerian man, a well to do one for that matter. Not those ones looking for marriage to validate their papers. You have not lost your impeccable upbringing for American swag. Nothing of that American boyfriend rubbish. Not like Tayo, she went to marry chinco’.

Aunty sounded like I was lucky to have him and was increasingly favoured to have found a Nigerian man who had the interest in marrying me. Even worse, she sounded like a husband was a heavenly gift without which a woman can be classified unfortunate. “Ha-ha! Aunty. I’d tell Tayo. She’d be furious with you!” Tayo now lived in L.A. with her husband. Her new name made me laugh- Tayo Shi Rong. I could not just pronounce it right.


“If you like, be like her. I was beginning to think you will also marry that chinco friend of yours! What is with you people and chinco. Chai! You would have killed me. How would a black Chinese look, I don’t want to imagine”.


“But the men are guilty, Aunty mi. I think many of them are scared. They can’t stand our progress. Lola has found it difficult to get a man since she started her doctorate. She once considered stopping so she could find a husband but she decided not to do so. She said she would not stop her education for some chauvinistic men of low self-esteem. Some of those men are afraid we would be costly to maintain. Aunty mi, can you imagine? It’s like they think they are coming to save us from perishing hunger. And why is the worth of a woman determined by how well she can prepare Egusi, aunty mi?”

But Aunty Gbemi had already hung up. These were the times when I really enjoyed talking to Aunty Gbemi. I quite understood what she was saying. Many Nigerian ladies in America appeared to be less humble than the Nigerian men wanted them to be. Some had very strong personalities and easily thought themselves as equal to, or higher than our men. Nigerian men don’t like it, they find it nauseating for a woman to think she was their equal. They are not courageous enough to put up with that behaviour and their ego was too much to allow them to overlook it. That is why they return home to find a real Nigerian girl, someone who is more submissive and will be saying Yessah! Yessah! up and down- someone that has not known any man. Someone who will worship them, sprinkle their ego with fertilizer and offer sexual rendezvous at their behest. So I did not pity Chikwendu, when his village wife dumped him in America and disappeared with another man after getting her American papers.

Some of those men were also just looking for European women to marry so they could be legal occupants of the country. Because of this and other things, there were a lot of Nigerian women in US who could not find a husband from Nigeria. Some like Tayo had resorted to marrying Asians, Arabs or Jews or anybody who do not find them arrogant, non-submissive, disrespectful, argumentative or unfaithful.

————————————————————-

Aunty Gbemi was my late father’s sister. Ever since he died, she had not left my side. She catered for most of my needs and still acted like we were friends. She was very humorous, although superstitious. She had only returned to Lagos a few times.

“I warned your father! He was fraternizing too much with those people. I told him to stay here in America and enjoy his life. He can at best create a foundation and send them money. He wanted to go and do politics in Nigeria. I heard it with my ears. They said he cannot use American money to come and intimidate them.”

My father died in a plane crash with mum when he began to intensify his political ambitions. He had told me; it is good to return home to help them with what you’ve learnt. But since he died, Aunty Gbemi had restricted my travel to Nigeria to just two times. She told me, don’t force change on people who don’t want it, and that she cared too much for me to be killed by one woman’s red-taped padlock and key like she watches in Yoruba movies on Youtube. She had taken ownership of my care and I too found a companion in her. 

So when I told her that Richie beat me for the first time. She was really furious. She called Richie as promised. But then, I had to beg Richie later on, after he accused me of bringing a third party to our home affairs.

I did not want to appear like what he and many other men perceived Nigerian women living in America. So I listened to his bitter words and said nothing except sorry. I was sorry for everything. And there, the list of things I was sorry for grew. I was sorry for not cleaning up his mess too quickly. I was sorry for eating less and looking like I was underfed. I was sorry he was disinterested in the new painting he paid a lot of money for. I was sorry I gave birth to our baby daughter, Iris, especially when companies began downsizing and cutting salaries. I was sorry Iris ate too much. I was sorry she cried at night. I was sorry I was too tired cleaning the house and taking care of Iris I was not ready for sex when he wanted it. I was sorry when he raped me and was even more sorry that he had to do so. I was sorry for looking less beautiful in all of these. I was sorry I cried too loudly when he hit him. I was sorry I asked if I could go back to school and looked like I wanted to run away. I was sorry I asked him if he still loved me anymore. I panicked when I hear his steps in the hallway. I knew I was losing my mind.

And when he talked to his mother, she said she warned him. That she had already told him to come and pick up a real Nigerian girl. When I tried to tell Richie that I was doing all my best to make him happy. He would laugh hysterically.

My journal became a close companion. It was a gift from Cheng during our wedding. I wrote very boldly, HE BEAT ME, I’M HELPLESS on the first page. And it led the series of writing in that book. It was the only thing I spoke to after I stopped telling Aunty Gbemi about the things he did to me.

Her replies had become hackneyed.

“I’m really sorry. I would call him. I will pray for you two, Kemi. Richie is not that kind of man. It’s the devil. But you can’t let the devil win. Kemi, we have to keep praying. We must not let the devil win. Were ni Richie o… but the devil will not win. You have a child now, Kemi. If not for anything else, you should stay for the child, it is bad for a child to grow up in a broken home. Kemi we have to pray and be patient.”

The last time Richie hit me, his eyes were fierce and he looked like he would murder me if he had the chance. I had told him he needed to spend more time at home, for his family, that he spent too much time outside the house and was beginning to take too much alcohol. He got angry. But this time, I was not willing to say sorry. He was infuriated. The argument heated up and he hit me again. I stood there without moving. It was different for him. I would normally fall and weep and beg him. And he would continue to hit me very hard. I’d lay on the cold floor and later crawl into the bed.

He continued to hit me. I called him a coward who could only beat a woman. When he hit me again, I hit him back. He was shocked. I felt his ego take a brutal battering. He ran towards the kitchen but as he approached the kitchen, he slipped and hit his head on the floor. He let out a huge cry.

I thought of different things as I stood there. I could reach for the sauce pan, hit him on his head and beat him with all my strength. I could gorge his eyes out and stab him. But I sat down there and watched him suffer. A few hours later, I called an ambulance to come to pick him after he had passed out. He would never return home again.

———————————————————————

The music stopped playing.

I called Aunty Gbemi that I was going to San Diego for a getaway.

“Kemi, what are you going to do in San Diego. Your husband just died. You should mourn him. Ma so mi lenu, omo yii. What are you turning into…”

I left the receiver on the table while she talked, picked up Iris from her carrier and walked out of the house with all sense of victory and like a bird set free. I felt the warmth of the sunshine cuddle my skin, took a deep breath and approached the car that waited for me.

‘Hi, I’m Alfred.’

I smiled and replied with all ecstasy.

‘Nice to meet you, Alfred. Please take me to the airport’.

 

Habeeb X

 

Something Resembling Progress

One of the most fascinating things for creative people is to see their thoughts morph into indelible art. Making things gives creative people joy. Building platforms where such joys are shared has been inspiring.

The birth of Agbowó (Agbowo.org) came at a time when we needed to answer questions around continuity. We had just successfully released the UITES WRITE Anthology Volume 1. The anthology was featured in national publications and received about a thousand downloads. In the stead to produce an excellent anthology, we (Dolapo Amusat and I) had built a team that could deliver. And sure the team did. As the dust settled, we fiddled with the idea of a second anthology and more, addressing a wider audience beyond students of the University of Ibadan.

The first UITES WRITE team. 

We came up with Agbowó. It was clearly ambiguous when looked at in context. It could easily have been named after the neighbourhood outside the University of Ibadan. We had even prepared a slogan to announce the end of UITES WRITE and the birth of this new organization through an announcement titled “We’re moving to Agbowó”. While that was a possible clue to our name, Agbowó actually referred to us being collectors of things of value- as we believed that art is of immense value. And that it was similar to the neighbourhood opposite the University of Ibadan was merely a happy coincidence.

Initial logo
Final Logo

Instead, we decided to run the two initiatives under a new body called Bamboo. Agbowó will gradually become an art company, while UITES WRITE remained the school-based initiative providing a platform for students to express their creativity. Moyo Orimoloye became the head of Agbowó while Kelechi Ogueji and Kunle Adebajo led UITESWRITE, while I worked closely with the two teams as a co-founder and member of the team. We all worked remotely and have had no physical meeting since that time. While we require little time commitment from the team members, members have been committed with the time they have had to offer and this has been what has driven our continuity. So far, we have tried as much as possible to ensure that those who are part of our team are people who care about the things we care about and more importantly can commit to doing the things we care about doing. In this, we have been careful not to compromise.

We are a team of people who love the arts and want to work together to provide platforms to support people who create art. The vision at Agbowó is to be the leading company that provides global access to creative Africans. Behind this vision is the belief that creative people can make great art that fulfils them and be greatly rewarded. They should not have to choose between these two. For this, we are taking our steps to build platforms that support our vision.

Agbowo X 

We have built an online art journal that has featured creative works from about 4 countries in Africa. We continue to publish literary works every month on our online journal. On August 4, 2018, we launched Agbowó X, our first digital magazine which was downloaded by about 1000 people in the first month. 

We are still at the periphery of our journey to be where we hope to be. What we know is that we are constantly evolving, constantly trying to be better for ourselves and the people we serve- creative Africans. Working with several constraints including a very limited budget, we are building processes that ensure we are efficient in delivering our work. We are doing this slowly, steadily and assuredly.

When we made the move to acquire ArtsnChill, it was a result of our testament to create platforms for African artists. ArtsnChill’s team would bolster our team to create offline events as we make our move to increase our impact. We carefully hope that this bet brings us closer to our goals. I cannot wait to see our plans come to life.

UITES WRITE

I am happy that we did not have to end UITES WRITE. Although, if there is any concrete reason for us to do so in future, we would not hesitate. Again, the truth is I will be happy to have this for as long as a 100 years.

UITES WRITE started after a series of BBM voicenotes between Dolapo and I in 2015 after I had proposed that we run an anthology on the back of a collection of poems that Dolapo had tried to do but which did not work out. I was in Umuahia and Dolapo was completing his university degree program. We did not meet until a few days before the launch of the anthology on August 13, 2016.   

On Monday, 24th December 2018, we announced our new leaders at UITES WRITE as we move to publish the fourth volume of the UITES WRITE anthology. For three years now, we have produced an anthology each year. The first was an anthology of poems, released in 2016, the second was an anthology of stories, released in early 2017 while our third was released in September 2018. With the new team, we can confidently look forward to another anthology in 2019 and maybe more. You can download all the anthologies at www.uiteswrite.org.

Over these years, we have got several commendations on our work especially from the literary veterans who have graced our pages while writing our foreword or introduction. Some of them are;

“If their names are not familiar now, it is because they are the future that has been birthed, wrapped in the shawls of verdant promise.”

Adam Abubakar Ibrahim
Winner, NLNG Prize for Literature
BBC African Performance Prize

“…this is a production of students of the university who are done waiting for the world to look exactly as they want it to be. Instead, they set out to create it with their own hands.”  

Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún
(Winner, Premio Ostana Special Prize for Mother Tongue Literature)

“It feels like a breath of fresh air to have an initiative like this coming from a generation that some critics fear are too loud to appreciate quiet.”

Dr. Olayinka Egbokhare
Author, Dazzling Mirage

“Nothing prepared me for the pleasure, surpriseand significance of the short stories in this anthology. Not a few of them are bleak, taking a negative view of life. Some are satirical. But all, with the accompanying poems, make up the facets of a shining gem.”  

Ikeogu Oke
Winner of the 2017 Nigeria Prize for Literature

Our growth, at UITES WRITE and Agbowó, has been steady. Much of it has been our ability to keep going. One day, there is going to be an opportunity for a great leap. Our goal is to ensure, while consistently taking steps forward, that that opportunity finds us ready.

I look forward to the things we will do with so much excitement.


Habeeb X
Cofounder, Agbowó and UITES WRITE.

Love, when fulfilling, is a filling feeling

They say you’re not really a poet till you’ve tried your hands on some love poems. Okay, noone said that. I’m just trying to see if I could write a good one, cos you know, been a while.

Loving you is like listening to Mina, I cannot explain it but I can feel it seethe into my soul. I feel the power it lends to my passion, I can feel it rise like an airy bubble sailing in the sky, fragile but elegant in its coat of rainbow- rising and rising till it reaches its crescendo, hoping to never burst, but bursting with excitement. I can feel everything, because my heart is in my skin, and my nerves now lord my cranium. I can only feel.

Loving you is like singing after Mina, I do not understand a word I say, but I sing with all my heart and all my voice. I feel I am saying everything because that is all I want to do. I feel like telling you everything you make me feel, without shame, without the glamour, without the orchestra, without the candles in a red-lit room. 

Loving you is filling. I want to just roll on my back on a lawn and ogle at the midnight sky and give off relentless smiles because the only thing I want to feel is what I feel right now. Loving you is filling, and I feel so good I want to fly. Loving you is fulfilling. 

Habeeb X

(They say you’re not really a poet till you’ve tried your hands on some love poems. Okay, noone said that. I’m just trying to see if I could write a good one, cos you know, been a while. And I like Mina, she makes you think about love and its problems or joys.) 

Why I love The Big Bang Theory (TBBT)

the big bang theory habeeb x
The main cast of The Big Bang Theory

I did not stumble upon this sitcom. My close friends (Emmanuel and Tomi) had recommended it a number of times earlier but I was reluctant to watch it. I was reluctant to watch any long movie at all. I cannot remember when I started to watch it. However, since I started, I must have seen the episodes up to twenty times over. The Big Bang Theory is in its final season after 11 years of amazing geek comedy.

There’s so much to love about the Big Bang Theory. Starting with the cast, who seem perfectly suited for their roles, I fell in love more with the main character, Sheldon Cooper and then Penny.  These two offer the extreme of two worlds.

Sheldon Cooper is a theoretical physicist who got his first doctorate at 13 years. He has two PhDs and a Masters with an IQ of 187. The beautiful and social Penny, on the other hand, starts as a struggling actress and waitress at the Cheese Cake Factory but eventually builds a career as a pharmaceutical sales rep.

When artists exaggerate certain features, it is to highlight what we often clearly miss or overlook. Images that we see every day tend to blur and become forgotten. You know they are there, but you don’t give them much thought. It is the same with the gifts most people have. You forget how good you are, because you are used to being that good.

The Big Bang Theory brings to fore the beauty of the mundane. You find yourself giving gratitude for understanding the rather simple things while also hoping to embrace life’s complexities. With Sheldon Cooper’s intelligence comes a lack of social intelligence thereof. In most humans, social intelligence is more distributed. Thus, you find people who are adept at keeping social discourses and relationships but fall outside the small class of people called geniuses. A lot of people fall in the middle. These are the people who easily understand and appreciate the intelligence of a genius while pondering on their poor mastery of social relationship.

How can you have the ability to solve the most difficult physics problems yet you are sluggish at identifying sarcasm, or worse, people’s moods? What is rather perplexing is that many people suffer from same in different ways. When we pay more attention to ourselves, we realize how limitless and limited we are in many ways.

Penny et Sheldon Cooper HabeebX

In the genius Sheldon Cooper and the ritzy Penny, you find two people who are at the end of two important classes of intelligence. Penny’s mastery of social skills ensures she gets her way around things. Her success as a pharmaceutical sales professional where one’s ability to persuade fellow humans to one’s side is critical, speaks volume about her interpersonal skills. Her ability to also accommodate Sheldon who is a pain in every other person’s ass is another chink on her shiny armour. In the sitcom, Sheldon Cooper and Penny both journey from these different ends of intelligence as they seek to build a more balanced life. Sheldon struggles through building social relationships, while Penny struggles to understand the nuances of science and other things that call a person’s IQ to test. What you find are two people who tease and explore each other’s weaknesses and allow the audience to fully grasp the importance of both types of intelligence and how crucial they are to our existence. At certain times, Sheldon’s superior intelligence prevails when they seek to resolve a conflict. At other times, his intelligence kowtows to Penny’s superior social skills or street smartness. Both grow because of each other. 

Penny and Sheldon also sought to define their own normal. What is normal to Sheldon is different from what is normal to Penny. The repeated clash and coming together of the cultures of two souls, brought up in different backgrounds and with differing ideals, is another conflict that the sitcom tries to resolve. A resolution that is thrilling to watch and follow. 

Sheldon and Penny Habeeb X

I am usually excited to see how ‘geniuses’ deal with everyday life. How they try to balance their empirical expectations with life’s chaos. I have long realized that life is beyond just logic. It is okay not to have an explanation for everything. Not everything has an empirical basis. Sometimes, we need to have a grasp of facts to make certain decisions. Other times, we have to rely on our guts or our hearts or worse, we just wing it. Penny and Sheldon provide a mix of those two. And the lessons they share through their amazing relationship come with reeling laughter.

*I believe one of the biggest questions about the sitcom, for those who pay attention, is why Penny and Sheldon never got together despite that amazing chemistry of two people who are spectacularly different but who extremely enjoy each other’s company.

Penny hugs Sheldon HabeebX

P.S. This is the first post on my blog, but this is not the last time I will be writing about TBBT.

Habeeb X