Moments from my Growing Years (1)


“You will kill me today”, I cried as I continued to slap the hands of a boy who wouldn’t stop beating me. I was in JS1 and he was in my class too. He was at least 3years older and much bigger. I was a typical smallie in secondary school which meant everyone was much bigger than I was. And there I was, caught in a case of beat-me-I-beat-you.

I’ll get back to this incident in a bit.

One of the things I learnt in various literature classes is that a writer is an embodiment of experiences and his society; all of which must come to bear on his writing. I hated Shakespeare. He wasn’t an easy read especially as G.C.E/WAEC made him a mandatory one. My first meeting with Shakespeare was in SS2 when I was studying for G.C.E. Before that, I had an almost non-existent relationship with Literature. Although I had spent the last 2 years in Arts class, we didn’t have a Literature teacher. So imagine being thrust with a book written in 15th century English. Oh my God! I struggled. Then I took that G.C.E, the first of 3 I’d eventually write. We were to discuss a scene from Merchant of Venice. How do I explain something I didn’t understand? Needless to say, I failed that paper overwhelmingly.

I have been in a lot of literature classes since then. Not enough, but a lot. I realized early enough that characters are not that different from real life. Their choices are influenced by the culture, society and age they live. In one word, nurture.

The experiences that shaped me happened mostly in Secondary school and University. I attended a notorious secondary school in Lagos state – Trinity Secondary School, Olodi-Apapa. At the time, it was a government school acquired from the Mission. I was one of the smallest and youngest in class. We had lots of teachers but the classes were overcrowded. We students didn’t make things easy either. We were noisy, we were loud. We were easily distracted. We fought at the slightest opportunity. So when teachers came to class, it was either to give notes to the class captain who then proceeded to copy to the board for the rest of us or to give tests.

The school was all shades of trouble waiting to happen. But the real trouble began in 2003 when the government decided to return all Mission schools back to the Mission (I hope I’m right with the year). My school was one of those. School fees were introduced. That alone reduced the class by more than half as most couldn’t afford it. Teachers left, the school could no longer pay them. We were left with mostly mediocre teachers who didn’t care whether we got educated so long as they were paid. In essence, teachers left faster than you could say Dele and there were months we didn’t have subject teachers.

But let me go back to that JS1 experience at the beginning of this story. We’d had a test that day, just before break and I had covered my book to discourage anyone from spying. This boy was sitting right behind me and kept stretching his neck to see. After the test and during break, he asked why I covered my book since he was openly copying from me. As a smallie in a class of bullies, my mouth did most of the fighting where my hands couldn’t. I insulted the boy and told him I would go report. Biggest mistake ever! The boy beat me blue black, and when I reported , the teacher simply said “Ah, it’s Sadiq! You too should have shown him your work now. Abi what’s there?” My tears would not end. I cried and cried. As I was later to find out, Sadiq was one of those boys who got away with anything because his school father was one of those who terrorized the school. The teacher did not want to be attacked.

I cried all the way home. My dad asked what happened and I told him I was beaten. The minute I said the boy was my classmate, my father said, “Your classmate beat you and you came crying home? You better go back tomorrow and beat him too.” To my father, the boy’s age and size didn’t matter. The fact was the boy was my classmate. So I went to school the next day, ready to “beat my own back” but knowing fully well that I would get even worse beating.

When Sadiq came to class, I went to him and slapped him. Everyone looked at me with probably one thought running through their mind: “this girl wants to die”. Sadiq beat me again. Then I beat him in return. It became a case of beat-me-I-beat-you. By this time, everyone in class was waiting to see what would happen next. My tears were a waterfall and I couldn’t even see amidst it all. I only knew I had to keep beating in the direction of my last slap. Sadiq kept beating me and saying “I’ll kill this girl. Somebody hold her o” but I didn’t stop. No matter how much beating I got in return, I kept beating back. Then Sadiq got tired and stopped but my hands were in automatic mode and I wouldn’t stop. That was when the Principal came in: to see what was causing the noise coming from JS1B. We both got punished but Sadiq got the bigger one for “spying” and then bullying. Sadiq left in JS3 when school fees were introduced.

However I learnt two crucial lessons that day. One, no matter how hard life gets, no matter how huge that problem, a win is just around the corner. Two, only after you’ve fought for yourself will anyone else fight for you – if they will fight for you at all.

PS: Till date, I still don’t know how to report anyone. You won’t even hear Taiwo reported me to so and so. Once beaten… or in my case, twice beaten.

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Stop It! Writing Is Not “Ordinary”


Today, I’m addressing this issue of Nigerians who disregard writers or writing generally because they see it as something anybody can do. Nigerians need to start respecting creative people especially writers. I know many don’t see writing as a prestigious career but if you love television, movies, music and gaming, then you need to shift your thinking about writing. Programmes are created by writers. The movies you love so much were first, stories on paper. That show you can’t get enough of on TV, were written by guess who – writers. Jenifa’s Diary has a script. The Wedding Party which everyone loved in Nigerian cinemas has a script. Big Bang Theory was scripted. Titanic was scripted too – all by writers. Also, each of these movies and TV material have made and are still making millions of Naira and/or Dollars from sales and rights.

Now let me give you a typical example of my day as a writer in Nigeria.

Client: I need a blogpost on so so so.
Me: It’s 30k o. When do you need it?
Client: 30k ke? For ordinary blogpost?

Shebi it’s “just” a blog-post

Or another example. Let’s call this person Mr. T.

Mr. T: Taiwo I need your help. I’m doing a documentary on markets in Nigeria. I want to submit the documentary video for an International prize. So I need like a script, well-researched o.
Me: Eh ehn! Your fee is so-so amount!
Mr. T: Ah ahn! Taiwo, can’t you do it for free? You’re my person o.
Me: Sir, will I get credit as the writer if you win?
Mr. T: Taiwo, why are you talking like this?

Bottom line, no one wants to pay a writer because “what’s there? Ordinary writing? Everybody can write na”.

Everybody can write. Anybody can copy. Anybody can take somebody else’s note, and write it down in theirs. But not everybody can create a story or write content from scratch on a blank paper. Not everybody can create something from nothing. Not everybody can write out the stories in their heads and make you look forward to more. Not everybody can write a blogpost that is so good, people who read it, and go out to buy the product or service. That is what makes a writer different.

Whatever is written is original content from the writer, it is a product. The writing process is service. So when you contract a writer for content, what you get is product and service. Why then will you say “ordinary writing” or cheapen a writer’s efforts by offering insulting fee for content that will be of economic value to you? How would you feel if as an accountant someone tells you what you do is “ordinary” audit? Would you go to MTN or Airtel asking them to give you free data? Shebi, “what’s there? Is it not to just go on Instagram and like pictures? And maybe Google stuff?” So why can’t Nigerians respect writing and the creative industry? I’ve seen writing job adverts in the Obodo Oyibo offering $2000 a month meanwhile over here to pay a token to a writer “dey hard us” because it’s “ordinary” writing.

This “ordinary” writing has taken a lot of sacrifices, a lot of schooling, years of training, and lots of practise, money and time investment as well as constant development to be this good and for me to remain passionate about it. It is a tad insulting to generalize it as “ordinary”. I may not have a sealed package to show for it but every story or content I put out or work on is a product. Respect the work. Respect writers. Pay our due without cheapening our effort or our work. If you want free ideas or content, do it yourself.

Thoughts on a Random Day


It’s Friday and there’s a party about to start. Drinks are showing up. Small chops are making mouths do the Skelewu. soon, feet will join the movement. You see It’s TGIF somewhere in the city of Lagos. but before i go join the party…

 

Dear Reader,
The gods of writing must be having the time of their life right now as they imagine the many stories that could win literary prizes if only someone will write about current happenings in Nigeria. In the same vein, these gods must be having a good laugh at the situation called Nigeria. Allow me to explain.
Until some days ago, I’ve been away from here. It’s hard putting aside the worrying state of things to put thoughts to text. In my defense, i want to say that the Muses deserted me but that is not what happened. “What happened?” You ask. The only answer: Nigeria. Well to be fair, Nigeria has always happened but recently, more often than not. Nigeria is renowned for its corrupt abilities and fraudulent nature. Cameron gave it a fancy name: fantastic corruption.

 

However lately, Nigeria has found more ways than one to remain the topic of the day internationally: the conspiracy called Chibok girls, the desperation called Niger Delta Avengers, the disaster called Nomadic farmers, the rising despair called saving the economy, The southward turn of the naira, the growing fear called depleting oil and the sad situation called job cuts and rising unemployment.

 

When you grow up in a country like Nigeria you come to expect anything.No matter how depressing the news, life goes on. You thrive on the belief that where life exists, hope abounds. You expect nothing from the government but understand that when your tide turns, the government expects everything from you. So you get used to the negativity and make jokes about it until then. So like most Nigerians out there, i take bad news like one would buy roasted corn at a street corner- in stride after only a slight pause or shake of the head. But in all the years of my existence, all twenty-five of them precisely, nothing came close to breaking me than accumulated events of the past few weeks. There was the fuel price hike, thousands of job cuts across the country, the back and forth in government (too many propagandas and too many of those who take a knife to Nigeria like it’s their family inheritance.)

 

There was a time when it-is-well was the statement that marked the end of every complaint but these days even that is no longer enough. To agree with Igoni Barrett, each of us has become Ministers in our own right- Ministers of power, works and housing, defence, youth development, education and so on. we provide these things ourselves.

 

Lately, many of my friends are leaving the country. Some for study, some for work but in retrospect, for many of them it looks like a permanent move. Of course, I’m happy they can leave this despair called Nigeria behind but I’m sad at the avoidable circumstances that prompted their decisions. Nigeria is a country that beats hope out of you no matter how much you try not to let it. Weeks ago, I found myself looking out too. I find I want to take a break from all the depressing news surrounding Nigeria especially as the Naira keeps doing a Hopfrog against other currencies. And when I think “Oh, that’s typical Nigeria”, this time it lacks the conviction with which I used to voice those words.

 

Therefore I came back here to the one place where I can write out my thoughts without losing them. When I first started this blog, the idea was to give relevance and meanings to the regular, the everyday. Now as much as I cannot term every post on here an everyday kind of story, I find that you relate to some of the stories and give feedback albeit privately. Perhaps this is not your typical everyday situation, it is slowly becoming mine.
Right now, I write not as one hiding behind the fictive creation of a story nor behind the condensed words of poetry. Here I write as one who needs to be reminded, why I should continue to love Nigeria despite all its madness.