Friday, September 08, 2006


The following transcript is part of a journal of notes and thoughts that I kept during a 6 week stay in Nigeria during the winter of 2003. This was the first time I had been to Nigeria since I left the country for the United Kingdom in December 1989. I had not planned to keep a diary of sorts as I was still recovering from the shock of finding out my mother had secretly bought my plane tickets without consulting me!

Throughout the 7 hour flight I honestly did not know what to feel or how I would react to the environment, but as soon as I stepped off the plane and tasted the humid, Nigerian evening air, all the childhood memories which I had repressed to the basement of my mind came flooding back. I was home...

I decided then that I had to keep a 'record' of my experiences in this foreign 'home' as I didn't know when I would be coming back.

I made entries into the journal every morning as the Holy Spirit led me, writing about things I had seen or experienced the day before. I tried to be as nonjudgmental as possible, only writing my feelings.

Some might find certain issues covered in the transcript as sacred, or might disagree vehemently with my views, which I totally respect. It is my great wish and hope that by opening the doors to our problems and having honest discussions about the plight of our nation, we will find a way to create a better future, if not for ourselves, then for the generations to follow.


‘To dream is not to think about ones own wellbeing, but about the future needs of a nation of people’

The overwhelming feeling that hit me (I didn’t ‘feel’ it as much as it ‘hit’ me) was that of sadness. A choking sadness that went straight to my inner being. It wasn’t a sadness of pity for the poor, underprivileged people slugging it on the streets for their daily bread- that would have been patronising. Nor was it a sadness generated by a sense of guilt on my part that I had been fortunate to be living ‘the good life’ in England for the past decade and a half- that would have been insulting. It was a sadness fuelled by the enormous potential Nigeria has. All around me, amid the decay and poverty, I saw potential. The potential of a great nation with a fruitful future. Where there was child labour, I saw the potential for development and training into what could be the makings of a thriving skilled labour workforce, the backbone of any industrious country. Where there was corruption, I saw the workings of intelligent minds, whom if given the chance, would be an asset to any industry, be it energy, engineering or telecommunications. I was saddened because although I saw the potential of a great nation, we are far away, generations, light years even, from that reality;

‘The workers are many, but the harvest is few’.

The labour workforce is ready and willing, but there is no industry. Nigeria is touted as one of the leading countries in Africa, a country with presence. But I think this is because of the resources and size of Nigeria’s labour force rather than what she has done with it. Nigeria should be so much more than that. She could be one of the leading countries in the world. This is what I felt. Nigeria has the natural resources, she has the willing labour force and she has the status of being a significant country in her continent. Nigeria is seen as the leader in Africa. The one to take to lead the way. When Nigeria moves, other countries should follow. But what is the problem? What is holding Nigeria back from making that leap and becoming a developed country?

We’d flown in the night before on Virgin Airways flight number 623 from London Gatwick to Port Harcourt. I quite enjoyed the flight- it had the luxury of in flight movies- but I noticed that a majority of my fellow passengers had quite a different experience to mine, particularly the elderly. They complained about the service given to them by the ‘white’ stewards on board. Their main cause for concern being that considering the price they paid for their flight tickets, they were still being treated as second-class or ‘black’ citizens. Up until then, I remember being pleasantly surprised by the quality of the whole trip. For me, the fact that a foreign airline was flying to a Nigerian airport other than the people’s capital, Lagos or the political capital Abuja was a positive sign. A sign that Nigeria still had something to offer. Of course there was the usual mayhem during departure and arrival, but that is part and parcel of being a Nigerian and what good is a nation without its culture? Germans are boring, the British conservative, Americans are capitalists, the Japanese are industrious and Nigerians are charismatic. I remember the mass crowd camped outside the airport waiting for their loved ones to emerge from the arrivals lounge. That some had been waiting for five hours was of no consequence. Nothing was going to stop them from uttering that heart-warming phrase that is indicative of every Nigerian, ‘You’re welcome’. Young, old, friend or foe, it was the same phrase: ‘You’re welcome’. And in the midst of the lost luggage and visa/immigration problems, I was home, and I thanked God for it.

The next morning- my first in Nigeria after fourteen years- I saw the good, the bad and the ugly of the nation all tossed into one mixture. So intertwined that if you weren’t sensitive to it, you’d miss altogether, pass it on as what made up the culture of the people, the nation. See, Nigerians are traders by nature. Like so many developing countries in Africa, Asia, and South America, we were blessed with silks and spices, iron ore, gold, diamonds in abundance. What we didn’t have, we traded for what we had, and what we didn’t need, we didn’t want. That was the way of life and by all accounts, it was a good life. Trade used to be for the benefit of the tribe, the society, the people. Now trade is more commonly linked with money. Money has its links with the emergence of capitalism, and capitalism (to capitalise) is grounded on the principals of individualism. Amongst all the systems of administrations of the world, capitalism is the most individualistic minded. Now, I’m not saying that I laud this ism over that ism, or any other ism. I don’t have the qualifications for that. All I’m pointing to is the fact that when the individual’s needs take precedence over the needs of the group, there is stagnation. Especially in a country like Nigeria whose value systems are based on the tight knit community.


3 prominent images registered in my mind that morning. They were (not in any order): Street traders, petrol stations, and churches. They were everywhere. Street traders hugging every street and main road with a semblance of slow moving traffic. Petrol stations lined up on every motorway, in some cases three or four in a row. And churches littered, literally, everywhere else. A five minute drive down one road, I counted more churches than residential homes. All these had positive and negative aspects. On the positive, they were good, industrious ideas. But the negatives far outweighed any positives. These ideas were individually minded, with the sole goal of making money. I will try to explain further on this, but first I need to give an insight to the value of money to the Nigerian people:

Every Nigerian is undergoing one project or another. The value of these projects are not measured by their importance or worth, but rather how much profit you can make from it in the shortest space of time. This is not a criticism, just a statement of fact. For instance, it seems that there’s a surge in the property market especially in the southern Delta region which is experiencing regenerative growth due to the arrival of foreign companies with invested interests in Nigeria’s oil. With the emergence of this property market, we see a rise in property agents. We see individuals with no prior education, qualification or training in the field who basically operate on word of mouth. And it goes like this: an agent finds someone to buy your house and you give him a percentage of the price. Sounds simple, and it is, this formula is widely adopted around the world. But this is where things get complicated: agents can now hire ‘sub-agents’ to spread this news, making his job easier but also reducing his cut percentage as there are more agents involved. You could find yourself in a situation where the buyer has an agent looking for a property and the seller has 2 or 3 agents trying to sell his property, all of them vying for the spoils.

One lesser note -but one which I think just as effectively touches on Nigerians’ value of money- journeys are measured by their fare and not by distance or even the duration of the journey. But this might have more to do with the precious nature of currency than any common desire for wealth.

Child Labour
The issue of child labour in Nigeria, and indeed Africa as a whole is an issue that needs to be treaded carefully and with great attention. There are two ways of explaining what I saw on the streets and I believe that these points of view are distinctive in their own right. The problem arises when each viewpoint is taken exclusively without any regard of the other.

I strongly believe that the term ‘child labour’ represents different meanings in the ‘developed world’ and ‘developing world’. Most people tend to look at it from a European/ Western point of view, which is understandable; after all it offers better human rights for children. But this view can be misconstrued if implied in Africa without any prior knowledge of background ie family history, tradition etc. The west and Africa are two different worlds, with cultures as far apart as, their GDPs per se. Europe has come a long way to where it presently finds itself. Our infrastructure is in decay. We have no water, electricity.

Homelessness is widespread among the majority. The children have to eat. It is that simple. It is not like the African parents are chilling in their comfy living rooms, furnished with Ikea sofas, living it up while their poor children slave their guts out on the streets. Africa is living in an age where the family has to work hard all day, everyday to put food on the table for the next day, and the next, and so on. The children work because there is no other alternative. Dad is out all day working as an ‘okada’ man (motorbike taxi) earning the equivalent of £5 a day. Mum is sweating all day in the heat in the market, trying to sell the fruit & veg she got up at four in the morning to buy from the wholesalers and any second hand items she is lucky to get her hands on. If she makes as much as dad, Christmas has come early for her. The children are at home. There is no money to send them to school or buy them clothes, just to feed them. To make ends meet the family needs extra funds. And that is the other way child labour can be view. As a way of making the family system in the townships and villages of Africa work. A necessity for the survival of the most valuable of all systems, the family. Of course there are circumstances where people have taken advantage of this and abused the system to the point of slavery (Victoria Climbe and other cases to name but a few), but these problems are generic problems endemic in the rest of the world and not exclusively to Africa. It is sad, and yes it is child labour. But simply putting a stop to it will not solve one thing. It will rather make things worse. The problem lies much deeper within.


The fever that is religion grips no other country in Africa as it does Nigeria. Nigeria arguably boasts the highest percentage of population affiliated with one religion or the other. But there is an unsettling wave spreading across the country. Everywhere you look there are references to religion. Religious leaders are portrayed in the same vein as pop stars. They have their own spots on TV. They write, direct and feature in their own music videos. To put it another way, being a religious leader is a key to wealth and prosperity. It is the fashionable thing to do, the dish of the day. Religion in Nigeria is a business idea. God is being sold out, held to ransom and used for man’s business gains.

On one particular main street on a new, developing city in Nigeria, I counted up to 20 churches, as many churches as there were residential homes. In one street! There is a sense that as long as you have a room in your house, big enough to accommodate ten or more people, then you can start up a church. Church is seen as a business, and business is all about money, capital gains. But the church is not, and shouldn’t be, about money. Now this is not a problem in every single church in Nigeria, don’t get me wrong. There are powerful, anointed men of God who are genuine and who perform miracles and wonders and transform lives. But the grass root foundations of the church are not solid. There is no sense of a calling to serve God, or to lead and inspire people, which, I believe, is what Christianity is about. The church in Nigeria has got it all wrong. There is no emphasis to help transform the lives of the people around you: The poor and the needy, the homeless and the helpless. These are all issues that Jesus Christ focused on the most during his ministry. What the modern church is focused on is profit. Most of the leaders merely do it because it represents a source of income for them. They might do useful things with it afterwards, but they are coming from the wrong angle. The bible says to ‘seek first the kingdom of God…and all will be given to you’. Our church leaders seem to be seeking all the riches before they seek the kingdom.

Religious 419 is the order of the day. 419 (a term derived from the constitution rule invoking it) is the most common word for corruption in Nigeria. This can be any form of corruption but the wave at the moment is in the property sales industry. This is a subtle business, as most corruption is, and its characteristics are like that of a cancer. It finds it way into the system, unannounced, and slowly begins to destroy the foundations of life and, by the time it is discovered the damage it has done is irreparable, barring a total reconstruction.

The disease, which is 419, seems to be establishing its ways in the church. Not in the guise most notable with its predecessors in politics, or business, or property, or even in sport. It is done in a way that the people do not -and will not- see it, until they themselves have their eyes opened. In all the occasions I went to church, I noticed that there was a heavy emphasis on ‘praise and worship’ and ‘thanksgiving’, and not much given to ‘the word’. To explain to those not familiar with these terms: ‘praise and worship’ are a way of giving thanks to God for all He has done in our lives, whilst acknowledging that there are less fortunate people suffering in the world. ‘Thanksgiving’ is our way of putting our faith in God, submitting to His ways (even though we might not understand how/ why he does certain things) and believing in him to improve our lives. It is also a way of helping the church (God’s body) to do things in His name, to change our world for the better, to help the helpless, feed the hungry. Thanksgiving is usually done by giving money to the church and there is no rule as to what you have to give, as long as you’re giving from your heart.

‘The word’ teaches about God, inspires us, fills us with the spirit of God and the character of Jesus. Now all these are important for the church to function successfully, but I believe that ‘the word’ is the most important. Simply because if we do not know God, if we do not have total belief in him, we cannot be totally confident in praising him and giving him thanks. We would not be doing it from the heart, and that is what God is most interested in, our hearts. Giving a present to someone you like is not the same as giving to someone you love. In the churches I went to ‘praise and worship’ is always followed by ‘thanksgiving’, that is the norm for most churches. But in Nigeria, I noticed an added variety to this theme. During every song sang in praise, there was thanksgiving. Members would file in the line, dancing and praising in a designated route around the church before placing their ‘thanks’ in a box. This custom would happen about 4, maybe 5 times in a church service. Now, this being alien to me (I was more accustomed to giving thanks once maybe twice in a service) I started asking questions why. Why do you have to give 4 different offerings? Why can’t you put it all in one basket and give that? After all, its not how many times you give, it’s the fact that you give from your heart. But initially, I put my thoughts aside because it was their culture, and who was I to impose my ideals on them? Regardless of this, my mum and I decided to stick with what we were comfortable with and gave our thanks in one. So for the second, third and forth songs, we didn’t follow the line of dancers around the church. This was when I felt the conviction. I noticed that people were staring at us, obviously thinking we didn’t have any money to give. At one point, a sweet old lady offered to give my mum some money to take up to the altar. Mum politely declined. It was also at this point that I realised that something was missing from the church, and as a result the people were being led astray. There is a sense of ‘showing’ that you are giving abundantly, whether you are or not. People who didn’t have enough money to survive the next day were forced in a position to give more, and more, and more. Now I know that as Christians we have to live by faith but sometimes we can spend all our time being heavenly bound that we become earthly useless. People were being forced into a corner, in church. I could see the following situation rising up constantly with the people thinking ‘I can only afford so much, so I will divide my money by four, for each thanksgiving, but what if they decide to have more than four thanksgiving today? What do I do?’ All this before they enter the church…

Jeremiah 23: 1-4

I will send disaster upon the leaders of my people--the shepherds of my sheep--for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for," says the LORD.

This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: "Instead of leading my flock to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them.

But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from wherever I have driven them. I will bring them back into their own fold, and they will be fruitful and increase in number.

Then I will appoint responsible shepherds to care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one of them will be lost or missing," says the LORD.