Random Bits on The Recent Past, Transient Present and Neighbouring Future

Hi Blogville Folks,

Compliments of the Season!

It’s been a while. And I know it. In less than 16 days from now, we’d be thanking God for seeing us through this year (2010) and taking into another year (2011). At the end of these past 12 months, like they do in ‘those Nollywood’ movies, we’d say “To God Be The Glory.” (By the way I recently read something funny on FairyGodSister’s blog about someone’s musing on that particular phrase. You gotta read that post for the full gist!)

Photo credit: lagosbusinesses.blogspot.com

Okay, back to this post, I intend to write randomly here as there are several things on my mind and I hope that this weekend gives me the privilege of finally writing them down. Earlier on in the year I wrote a rather blunt piece about ‘Fake Beggars in Lagos’ (I’m often the peacemaker trying to view issues from almost all angles, but I just had to write it that way!). It was first published on CP-Africa.com, then here on this blog. A writer for PM News quoted me in another piece he wrote. Then some weeks ago I read an article on YNaija.com where the author was on the rather calm side. Anyways, last Friday on my way from Opebi to Palmgrove, it was some minutes past 6PM and as the bus I had boarded moved past Leventis Bus-Stop to join the slow traffic ahead, we approached the Maryland Bus-Stop. Suddenly, there was a mild commotion. Everybody on the bus turned their heads in the same direction (some degrees North-West) and I followed suit. There in full glare was a guy, apparently in his middle thirties, a mallam, running fast with so much fright written across his forehead-thanks to the language of creases, like death had suddenly appeared to him, club in hand, in the physical! Though he seemed to have a slight limp, he actually ran with full speed like the average physically fit human being. We all continued to wonder; some people even thought he was a thief being chased. Anyways, when we got to the bus stop we understood better!

Guess what? There in the tight grip of two mobile policemen was another man, a mallam too. One of the policemen was also holding a crooked walking stick as they both dragged the man across the road towards a parked police van. Now, I’m sure you have the full gist. The ‘Fashola Police’ had come to pick up the (fake) beggars who had always pretended to be handicapped all the while milking the sympathetic populace with falsehood! Really, imagine seeing someone you’ve given 100 box (Naira) several times in the past because he had feigned physical handicap and you had believed too, suddenly taking his stick, standing up and walking, even running away! (Not that Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.)

So why have I not been posting these days? Have I even been writing anything? Yes, I’ve been writing, but not necessarily for this blog. The last few weeks have been rather hectic. There was the Sable Literary Magazine Call for Submissions which I endeavoured to obey. It’s amazing how deadlines could stimulate one to finish projects. I was able to ‘complete’ and touch-up a short story I had started writing several months back! Now, while I am hoping to get that story accepted by the Sable Editor, I’m trying to complete another one for Christmas (I got the idea for this one, too, a few months back). There’s also an essay contest that closes next Monday. It’s high time I tidied up my research and typed away at the keyboard. Now, there are a few contests ahead and I hope to tap into them as stimulants for bigger writing exploits. Then, there have been a number of interviews planned and executed, and a few more before the year runs out while there’ll definitely be loads of them in the first quarter of 2011 by the grace of God.

Photo credit: dukemagazine.duke.edu

In the coming year, I hope to have a more structured plan for (frequency of) posts on this space. Perhaps, two or three posts per week – time will tell. But be assured that I’m all for quality posts and will be raising the bar in the New Year. There’ll be tons of reading and writing to do outside of this space, but I’ll endeavour to always put a link here to my works as they begin to appear across the internet. In planning for the New Year, I believe it would be a lot better if we did the whole thing in time. Glory Edozien, Features Editor, BellaNaija.com, made a post two days ago which is in tandem with what I had been thinking about concluding reflections and detailed plans for the new year at least a week before the end of the year. You often find out that evaluating the outgoing year and planning extensively for the new may be hurriedly done if postponed till the very end of the outgoing year or the beginning of the new. Wisdom is profitable to direct.

On highlights on where I’ve been in the past two weeks: penultimate weekend I was at the Farafina Book Review (Terra Kulture) as well as Myne Whitman’s Raffle Draw (Palms Shopping Mall). Two days ago, I attended the British Council’s Dare to Dream Conference which I would score 9/10 (in fact, I recorded audio from all the sessions I attended). Next weekend looks like when you’d probably see more gists on those events, but (who knows?), the posts may come earlier than you expect! So, don’t forget to do your evaluation(s), assessment(s) and planning in good time before the year ends. Good luck with that!

Till we meet again, very soon…

Warmest regards,

The Lagos Boy
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PS: Michelle’s poems made it into the 4th Edition of Sentinel Nigeria, an Online Magazine of Contemporary Nigerian Writing. Read the two brilliant pieces here!

Nigeria’s Sosoliso Plane Crash 2005: Remembering ‘the 60 Angels’ and Others

By Gbenga Awomodu

Photo credit: CP-Africa.com

Yesterday, as I strolled out of the office premises onto the streets, my nasal cavity contracted a bit. The crisp dry smell of harmattan was back in the air. I felt the cold sensation the Christmas season often brings along from Santa’s home land. Xmas, for me, often comes with mixed feelings. Forty five months of the last five years have been spent as an undergraduate and most times at this season of the year, I just found myself in some lonesome emotional state. Often times, I would be back at home, where I hardly socialize. School always gave the opportunity to mingle and become so emotionally attached to friends, especially those met in school.

So, yesterday evening, I began to feel that sensation coming back, except that I’ll be having a lot to sort out during the forthcoming holiday period, so I should not really be that bothered. Anyways, yesterday I remembered what happened exactly five years ago, today! I had just finished attending the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA 2005) in Abuja, where I had represented Action Health Incorporated, a NGO I had worked with earlier in the year. I was to resume at the University the following month. There were two other young people on the team (Chidinma and Christopher), as well as some senior programme officers from the organisation. It had been a wonderful experience despite the thick fog associated with harmattan in the beautiful capital city.

That Saturday morning, December 10, 2005, we made our way into the local Wing of the Abuja International Airport, checked in our luggage and were soon waiting for the boarding announcement for our Chachangi Airlines flight back to Lagos. At the departure lounge, I fed my eyes with the goings-on even as I had a chat with the Chidinma and Chris. The lounge was very busy today, every seat is filled up and you could her most travelers having a gist. Particularly fascinating was the assembly of school children who were waiting for the flight to their respective destinations. Their uniforms were unique and I didn’t have the faintest idea what school they were from and I guess I was also too shy to ask.

The girls specially caught my attention – they were gorgeously dressed in their school uniforms (gowns) which had been tailored in such a skillful way I had never seen before. Each girl looked fabulous and smart in what looked like customized attire for each one of them. Many of them were bespectacled and I remember the one who was resting on another whilst reading from a book, perhaps one of those exotic novels she had bought on her last holiday trip abroad (just my imagination). Even a look at the boys too left me convinced they were a different breed. I could tell these kids were the bookworms, not even with the way they walked and the aura surrounding them.

After about two hours of waiting, it was time to leave. I could tell that most of them were Port Harcourt bound because, only a few of them left with us to board the Chachangi flight to Lagos. There had been an announcement about a plane to Port Harcourt soon to land and I assumed most of my new ‘friends’ were P/H-bound.

Photo credit: news.bbc.co.uk

The flight to Lagos was a little bumpy and I had some discomfort, but I could not put my finger to the source of that disturbance I sensed in my spirit. Maybe it was my stuffy nose, a result of moving around in the hazy Abuja weather for ten good days. So I thought. Even ‘portable’ Chidinma (a colleague and friend) who had thrown up on our flight to Abuja looked calmer and did not have to repeat her show of fright for height, like she almost did with elevators and soon avoided using them as much as possible throughout our stay in Abuja. (She later told me she felt strangely too, and had premonition something was about to happen). The pilot reassured us that all would be well despite the not-too-friendly weather condition that early afternoon. (I would rank it second only to the bumpiest of flights I have ever had, one from Maiduguri to Abuja in June 2007.) Less than two hours later I was home.

Surprisingly, when I got home, there was power supply; so after blowing as much of the Abuja trash from my nostrils and all, I settled on Grandma’s bed to watch the TV. Less than an hour into my relaxation, watching Channels Television, I saw a tiny strip of information. It was a News Alert about the Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 scheduled between the Nigerian cities of Abuja (ABV) and Port Harcourt (PHC). At about 14:08 local time (13:08 UTC) on 10 December 2005, Flight 1145 from Abuja crash-landed on the runway at the Port Harcourt International Airport. The plane, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 with 110 people onboard, burst into flames.

Wow!!! I was shocked! That was the closest I had been to a plane crash. As the evening sung its dirge into the early night, I got more details. This unfortunate incident had taken the lives of so many Nigerian children, so many adults, all over 100 – less than two months after a plane crashed in Lisa village and another one crashed somewhere around Kaduna. Pastor (Mrs.) Bimbo Odukoya, a popular pastor at the Fountain of Life Church in Ilupeju whose assertive messages had impacted so many lives, bringing joy into otherwise broken homes and hope to the ‘hopeless’ in matters of the heart, had also been on that plane! She had reportedly suffered serious burns and eventually died. And the school children I saw earlier? Sixty one (61) of them from the Loyola Jesuit College (LJC), Abuja had been on board too! Sixty (60) of them lost their lives, leaving only one (1) survivor! Many passengers survived the initial impact but died in the resulting fire. Port Harcourt Airport had only one fire truck and no ambulances.

Photo Credit: CP-Africa.com

Some reporters in the Nigerian press referred to the school children as some of Nigeria’s best brains. I totally I agree! I have met a few of them and I do not need to be told by anyone else. Olufunke Faweya (a former head girl of the school whom I had met earlier that year) and Nmachi Jidenma (whom I met about three years after the incident), the founder of Celebrating Progress Africa, who has just been nominated for the Best Use of Advocacy at The Future Awards, Nigeria’s most respected Youth Awards, are living testimony of the caliber of products the LJC, Abuja, builds every year.

In retrospect, many questions come to mind about what should have been and what would have been today if those kids and the other passengers on that aircraft were still alive today, but I believe most people have considered them too; so I’m not going to bore you with that. I plead that we all resolve to lead purposeful lives and make the best of today, because we hardly have any control over what would come the next day: leaders in highly exalted positions whose decisions affect the populace in no small ways; followers who should look inwards and become proactive rather than just wait for the government and ‘our leaders’ to do the right things. I’ll leave you with the song presented last Sunday (5 December 2010) by the LJC choir. It was composed by Kechi Okwuchi, the only LJC survivor of that plane crash whose name was the 81st on the official manifest.

A tribute to the Angels
By Kechi Okwuchi (survivor of the Sosoliso Plane Crash)
It seems like yesterday
Full of excitement
We chatted non-stop
All the way to the plane
It seems like yesterday
We made plans, discarded them
Made new ones
Our future bright
It seems like yesterday
When we dropped out of the sky
To noise, to pain, to…silence
To glory
It seems like yesterday
That God had different plans
To take us to greater heights
A future not foreseen
On angels’ wings we flew
Racing past the clouds
Racing up to glory
Enveloped by His Grace
Though not with you in glory
I am a part of you
Left behind to continue the legacy
Left to run the race
As long as there is breathe in me
Dearest 60, you are not forgotten
Through the pain of yesterday
A million tomorrows are born.
© Kechi Okwuchi

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Loyola Jesuit College recently launched a book about the incident. You can access more information here on CP-Africa.com.

UNILAG Memoirs: Hurried Exit from King Jaja Hall

By Gbenga Awomodu

King Jaja Hall, University of Lagos

Many will never forget in a hurry how we were sent packing from Jaja Hall of the University of Lagos. At the end of previous sessions, when we were not in our final year, it was not unusual to see students depart from school as soon as they were done with exams. Suddenly, loneliness descended on some of us like cold water on a cold winter night! Though I love some quiet and do a lot of serious thinking during quiet times like in the middle of the night when everyone is sleep or during the weekends when most people have gone home, I begin to feel like going home too, as soon as school becomes deserted after the session. I just botch initial plans to stay back in school to relax.

This year, things were quite different. Suddenly, final year students did not want to go home and bid Jaja Hall bye so soon! We had barely finished our final exams and many still had Final Year Research Project to submit. Many had Class Dinner and similar events to attend later in the week, a few days after the completion of exams. Everyone just wanted to stay, relax and enjoy some extra time after exams. But a rude shock hung in the air. The school authorities had ordered that students vacate the hostels on Sunday, September 19, 2010. Later it was extended to Tuesday, September 21, 2010. But some students still had papers that same day. Despite pleas and consultations with even the Dean of Student Affairs, there was no going back. Not even the final year students were given any preference in this matter.

Jaja boys are notorious for many things, but one stands out of the pack. They love to yell “Go Away!” Whether it’s a bevy of beautiful ladies (or chicks, as they are popularly called) passing by the hostel, someone making incoherent or semi-coherent announcements via the epileptic Jaja Hall public address system which had been bedeviled by perennial ‘sour throat’, or the hall mistress making announcements and reeling out rules, warnings or general codes of conduct, Jaja boys do not hesitate to scream “Go Awaaay!!!!” on the top of their voice, from the fourth floor down to the ground floor. Even as the hall mistress (a.k.a Mummy Jaja) kept reminding everyone to start packing their luggage and prepare to go home, the ‘troublesome’ tenants replied by telling her to “go away”. This dragged on and she threatened to stick to her plans. But no one really took her seriously, except for the ‘chicken-hearted’ chaps in lower levels, especially Year 2, who started moving out of the Hall in droves.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 came and Mummy Jaja made her good her promise to evict the now unwelcome residents. Though she had managed to evict most people, some drama ensued towards the end of the day. From about noon, as occupants entered the Hall, they were constantly reminded that this was the final day and that they should go to their rooms, pack their belongings and sign out of the residence for the session. Many final year students, who had ‘plans’, remained adamant; they just kept going in and out of the hostel like they still planned to stay till the end of the year! As evening fell upon us, the energetic Mummy Jaja refused to bulge. She remained at the gate and with the aid of her male administrative staff held students in the hostel hostage. The only condition for leaving the hostel was that you packed your things and sign out. Power supply was deliberately cut from the student rooms, especially on the A-Wing. This was meant to frustrate all of the remaining students out. But, many of them still told the hostel authorities to “go away!”

That night was the Lagos Varsity Christian Union’s end-of-session Praise Night, so I tidied up, took the few things I needed, hoping to evacuate the hall finally the next morning. I would later hear of the additional drama that played out till late in the night. In fact, I was told that the students even had to go see the Dean of Student Affairs that night. After so much noise, pleading and whatever, light was restored to the student rooms and everyone was mandated to leave the hostel the following morning before 9AM.

Anyways, Praise Night was awesome and we danced away our sorrow at the Chapel. When I returned to the hostel on in the morning of Wednesday, September 22, 2010, I knew there was no time for sleep. I emptied my locker, made a call home, and by 9AM, my belongings were home, ahead of me. I would not be able to visit the Lagoon Front every morning like I had planned. Jaja Hall wasn’t the neatest, but it was a very good escape from the colossally unkempt hostels at New Hall. Now, that’d be for another post!

About 40 Degrees South-East of Lagos

Hi friends,

I’ve only made a post this week, but would have loved to have several posts up already this week. Been a little out of touch. After several hours on the road yesterday and going through seven different states, I finally found myself approximately 40 degrees South East of Lagos. Not that I lost my way though. I’m in the Oil & Gas capital of Nigeria for the first time in my life!

The internet is one of the very first set of things I’ve missed; not even food can top the list! :) I finally found a somewhat reliable cybercafe after over two hours of serious search today, but the news is, the next two days will be hectic! I’m here till the end of the week for a conference, then after that, I must get that modem!!! Really, your modem is your best bet if you are an internet ‘fan-addict‘ (or is it fanatic?) like me. Browsing is somewhat cheap at this cafe and I find it funny the way the attendant collects her 100 box immediately you start to browse; like some of those Nigerian policemen at the many checkpoints along our express roads in Nigeria and many junctions in Lagos. In fact, immediately I exhausted my first hour, she was right beside me with palm open, arm outstretched and fingers tapped.

I must now hurry up for the traffic jam and craze I left in Lagos has caught up with me like nemesis! And you know what? Bikes are not allowed here!!! I entered this city on a holiday when most of the roads were free, but Aba Road, Port Harcourt now reminds me of the regular, heat-inducing hold-ups just before Ikeja, on Victoria Island and many other suburbs in Lagos.

Anyways, while I am away, I think you’ll find many of the old posts very useful and interesting. I get to read them myself sometimes and really believe there’s been so much inspiration in the past. Hopefully, I’ll get two more posts up before the week runs out.

Cheers!

Your Lagos Boy.

Photo credit: johnnygreig.photoshelter.com