Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day in Lagos

A man sleeps in the doorway of a shop; policemen patrol the yaba area; 2 Northerners find simple pleasure in posing for a Christmas day picture.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Girl Whisperer

as published by the Sunday Guardian

of December 21, 2008

Zero Tolerance

I’m not certain about the feelings the Governor of Lagos State evokes in the average law-breaker (which used to include half of the citizens of the state). Prior to him, most things went, most laws could be manipulated, could be side-stepped. If you felt like using the Marina as a toilet in broad daylight, in full view of all the expatriates and potential foreign holiday makers we keep trying to make tourists, you could. It was a captivating scenario to behold each morning. Row upon row of men, crouched low and engaged in their morning toilet, cigarette dangling from one corner of the month, rumpled newspaper in hand doubling as a fly-whisk and as toilet paper, but all that has come to an end now. He’s grown flowers there and his commissioner for tourism has placed a large boat at the end of the Marina, which they say is a hotel and restaurant. All of a sudden, there’s a man with an army on the streets, pulling down illegal structures, arresting people for driving down the wrong end of one-way streets, a ‘minor’ offence in previous times and horror of horrors, these law enforcement agents are asking for proof of tax payment. Yes, his internal revenue officials now roam the streets. There are residents of the state who are afraid if they go home for their holidays, they won’t be able to come back because Raji Fashola’s men will be stationed at the borders asking for tax returns. Just as an aside, that’s can’t happen, particularly in a state governed by a lawyer turned politician because there would be fewer acts more xenophobic in the history of Nigeria. Still, those who are afraid won’t be reading this newspaper. However, his ‘armoured’ vehicles proclaim the legend, ‘Zero Tolerance’ and it appears he is determined not to tolerate the nonsense that once reigned supreme in this city.

Personally, I am awed by the determination of this man and even though I am one of the ‘law breakers’ he has forcefully converted (I own a 750 cc Suzuki motorcycle, which you know as ‘Power Bike’ in lay terms), he has forced me to obtain a ‘rider’s card’, some form of licence with a personal registration number that permits me to ride a motorcycle and a ‘road worthiness certificate’ to prove my motorcycle is not a heap of scrap held together by wire. Which brings me to ‘Fashola’s army’ that’s in charge of enforcing these laws. The guys who issued the licence on Lagos Island are okay, but those he has put on the streets to enforce the possession of these things are some of the most clueless people on the face of the planet. They ask for the strangest things, hackney permits, local government stickers on private bikes, just the same way the maniacs from the local government offices used to try to ‘arrest’ you for changing lanes in traffic. I was chased once while I rode down a quiet road by a rabid man in a fluorescent green bib with painted-on words I didn’t bother to try to read, his only identification as a ‘government’ official. Hazy offences, manic enforcers; great laws, disturbed enforcers. The governor needs to add more enlightened men to the ranks of his enforcers.

Zero tolerance- Could you run a relationship with a partner that way? Give no room for mistakes, for errors in judgement? You catch her giving an admiring look to a sculpted guy whose muscles ripple under his shirt and you’re forced to unobtrusively try to hold in your own stomach. Upon your return home, you announce to her, ‘It’s all over. I saw the look that you gave him’. Zero Tolerance. You see she holds your good-looking, rich new friend’s hand for too long after a hand shake and you fiercely whisper into her ear even before the party’s over that it’s not going to continue between you two, because you can’t take her lascivious ways. Zero Tolerance. It’s a good thing relationships aren’t like the government’s laws. If they were, there’d be none left standing. The only way a government can get its business right is to be determined to enforce its laws at whatever cost. Pull down illegally constructed houses (Remember El-Rufai in Abuja), arrest military personnel that beat up a young female for not getting out of the way of their screaming cars on time, and apprehend army officers driving down the wrong end of a one-way street. I saw a picture of Fashola lecturing a sheepish-looking soldier once who had decided to take a shortcut because he was one of the untouchables. Yeah, maybe you could do that before the entrance of Fash The Cash as governor. Fashola’s busy repairing Lagos and he’s raising the money to do so anyhow he can. So all those who used to think obeying laws was only for when holidaying in the cities of Europe should be afraid. Be very afraid.

On the other hand, a personal relationship cannot survive on Zero Tolerance.

You cannot have a relationship in which you are not bending to accommodate your partner. Note that the operative word is ‘bend’ not ‘break’. Human beings differ, one from another, and the one sure thing in life is that your partner will err. You will consider some acts by your ‘dream partner’ as unacceptable and worthy of a relationship review, but you must think again. If you wanted to date the perfect person, you should have made a clone of yourself... or married your sister.

Now you see where I’m going. Sometimes, our rigidity does not allow us fully appreciate the beauty others can add to our lives. If we only give room for the fallibility of human nature, many relationships would be better. It’s often wiser to have done your ‘screening’ of your potential partner well before the relationship starts, and not halfway into the affair when your change to a sudden zero tolerance stance is inexplicable.

Remember, a personal relation is different from that of a government and its recalcitrant citizens. Love really does conquer all. Amor Vincit Omar.


I drove into the Redemption Camp today, almost a decade after the last time I was there. The changes were enormous, sprawling edifices everywhere and accommodation for church workers and apparently any others the authorities see fit.

The planning is impressive and shows foresight. And it creates the impression of a city within a city, a place with its own government, far away from the anarchy that sweeps across urban centres like Lagos from time to time.

These houses among others, caught my attention but there were many other well-constructed places that weren't as expansive.

Outside the green house which reportedly is the accommodation of the General Over-seer, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, but which is still uninhabited, I noticed a female who appeared deep in prayer or meditation. As I drove back fifteen minutes later, she was still there, still concentrating, lips moving just outside the deserted house and it crossed my mind she was trying to reach her Creator in some way and felt that would be a good place to meet with Him.

And I remembered a story I heard thirteen years ago, of a woman who desperately wanted a baby, and wrote a letter to God. She didn't post it, but waited for a programme she knew Adeboye would attend and then slipped the letter under the door. Her theory- God would be where Adeboye was. Apparently, the letter was delivered because she was reported to have had the baby.

My name is laspapi and I make bold to say there are a number of 'church' leaders I contend are frauds. But I believe Enoch Adejare Adeboye even though I am not a member of his church. And this country would be a better place if there were more like him.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Took photos with my phone as I drove down to the office. Top pic shows the only structure left on the formerly crowded and claustrophobic space that once housed the Tejuosho market at Yaba. The 'Iyaloja' or female head of the traders stakes her claim on the new edifice she believes will rise up there again.

Pic 2 is a driving school's vehicle in the Casino Cinema, Yaba, area. Some of the vehicles used for potential drivers are really no different from this forgotten heap.

Pic 3- an alternative means of travel on the busy streets of Lagos. Laspapi owns a bicycle and motorcycle too.

Pic 4- a new approach to advertising Church programmes. This pedestrian acts as a living billboard as hundreds of his church members probably do. I wondered at perspectives and backgrounds as I studied him. I know I would never wear this to advertise a church. But why not? My education? My station in life?

Pic 5- A plastic skeleton on the Ojuelegba road tells of what awaits in its owner's shop.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Girl Whisperer

as published by the Sunday Guardian

of December 14

Memories of another Day

I’m sitting up in bed, lap-top open, half-watching the muted television screen showing the Sky News broadcast and my all-time favourite news caster, Eamonn Holmes,a man who seems to exude pleasantness even though I have never met him outside a television tube. Today, my thoughts drift into the distant past and how things used to be. The greatest relationships were those that had no intimacy issues, no sexual undertones, and half of the satisfaction was just being able to say with pride that a certain person was your beau.

I spent a lot of my holidays in the staff quarters of the University of Lagos when I was in my pre and early teen s and so became friends with a lot of the kids growing up there at that time. I also seemed to have massive crushes on all those lovely story-book girls that lived there, and today a smile crosses my lips as my thoughts dwell on each one.

There was Ekaetté who stayed next door to our relatives there and was my first ‘girlfriend’. The manner of our ‘love’ for this then-twelve year old was such that I would get full like a person who’d just had a large meal just from watching her walk past. There were the sisters, Yemi and lola (Yemi, I hear, lives somewhere on the island now) Yinka, Mopé who became an engineer and the lovely iféchukwu and her equally beautiful sisters. Iféchukwu’s father would answer the phone in a deep bass voice, announcing his surname in two syllables. It took a secure youth not to hang up the phone after that voice. There were the sisters, Bunmi and Taiwo, Bunmi is a corporate big-shot now according to the newspapers, the snazzy Uzo who didn’t really stay on campus but was a great friend of those who did, and Tola, the student of Queen’s College who was my ‘school mother’. I thought Tola was the most beautiful school-mother in existence. I wonder where she is now and what she’s doing.

Those were the glory days of love, friendship totally without guile and lacking any ulterior motives. For me, those friendships were genuine as were the professions of ‘love’. When I consider the subterfuge and manipulations of ‘grown-up’ love, the plotting and subversions, I long for the days when the grass smelt green and your friend really was one in word and in deed. Now, as in all other areas of life, these kids are scattered across many continents, some bracing for the harmattan winds, and others against the bitter cold of winter. Adulthood is funny, the time when you can make rational decisions for yourself, and more importantly, stand by those decisions. The environments we often create as a result of our adult decisions however are often ones that leave us in the bleak states we are forced to inhabit, states where we are forced to endure a lack of genuine love and friendship. Maybe it really is true then, that everything we needed to learn, we learnt in kindergarten. I cannot call to mind many friendships that are truer than those I found in my teens. It may be that the template is one that is developed at a very young age and as we grow older, our newer experiences make us forget we once knew the magic formula. Now I remember John Borough’s verse- ‘To his sorrow he learnt this truth, you may return to the place of your birth, you cannot return to your youth’.

I recall the problems that video cassette recorders caused by coming in two forms, VHS and Betamax tapes, and how VHS gradually won the war, bit by bit, step by step. And now with a wry smile, I remember that even these are long gone, assigned to the dusty heap of obsolete inventions, replaced by the DVD, and there is now an entire generation that never experienced the VHS.

In the corridors of my mind, I walk across the grassy lawns of the road that was known as Eni Njoku and then renamed Oritshejolomi Thomas. I stroll down the lonely, tree-lined roads that lead past the house of the quiet Orode, and come across that beautiful child known as Tayo, Yinka’s sister. There are many memories on these roads as I walk; the winged termites that would fly against the golden street lamps that illuminated the night streets, the click-clacking of the legs of crabs on tarmac as they came out of the marshy woods and marched down to some nameless destination. I remember watching the James Bond movie, ‘Diamonds are forever’ in the quiet, dark theatres of the University, and the long walk with my cousins back to their home.

One of the greatest things parents can do for their children is to help them have great childhoods through keeping friends that are true. As children, there was little or no wickedness in the things we spoke about and did. Sometimes in my mind now, when I come in contact with road rage, malice, rumour-mongering or some other form of ‘adulthood’, I make myself immune to these external onslaught by creating a shield that is woven out of memory. I remember the times we would sit by the lagoon and look out at the placid waters, and talk and make plans for a future we believed would be ours for the taking. I remember the comic books, ‘Buster’ and ‘Battle’ and ‘Crunch’, ‘Roy of the Rovers’, ‘Tiger’ and ‘2000AD’, and I know I will never stop smiling. Adults must never taint the lives of children by intruding in this period of development, where character is forged.

I may never be able to return, physically, to those great days, but I can sit and reflect and muse on the beauty of days long gone, and promise myself, that my children will have at least as much beauty as I found in my childhood and much more, if the Lord allows.

The Girl Whisperer

as published by the Sunday Guardian

of December 7, 2008

The Bluffer’s Guide to Romance

Years ago, I came across a series of books on bluffing. There were titles like ‘Bluff your way through journalism’, ‘...through literature’, ‘...through publishing’ and a few others. It struck me then, how many people go through many aspects of life, bluffing and calling bluffs. There are many synonyms for the word, ‘bluff’. They include ‘trick’, ‘con’, ‘fake it’, ‘deceive’, ‘lie’, and ‘pass off’. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll use ‘pass off’ as our alternative to bluffing.

In the Whisperer’s ‘days of thunder’, he pursued a female we’ll call ‘Short Wave’ or SW. He would drive across half the country if she beckoned, totally devoted to all her whims and caprices. This devotion on the Whisperer’s part brought about a remarkable turn of events. SW, the object of the Whisperer’s undivided attention, wasn’t particularly grateful for all the devotion. Time after time, she showed how little weight she attached to the affection she received. Once, after a particularly blatant show of disrespect by SW in which she had been asking after another man she admired in the presence of this writer who-was-not-yet-a-Whisperer, SW turned to him and said, ‘Women don’t like men who are too enthusiastic’. And thus, a phenomenon was born. There is nothing wrong with loving a man or a woman to the death, the problem is ensuring that love and affection is not taken for granted. Thereafter, the Whisperer, a quick learner even then, learnt a life-saving skill and SW learnt from the Whisperer she wasn’t a living goddess after all.

People, as a rule, rarely appreciate what is given to them on a platter and what they do not have to fight or pay a price for. Free tickets to shows are not as well appreciated as tickets paid for. A person who rarely falls ill (the Whisperer is in this category) does not appreciate good health as much as a person who wears the smell of hospital disinfectant like some others do perfume. The person who stays slim no matter what she eats, never fully understanding the joys of this as much as she who has to fight for every kilogram she sheds.

The people you meet on the romantic level and often, in other spheres of life are in some way playing a game with you. If you’re one of those who take life as a tragedy, here’s where your ears begin to emit smoke. But a game it is, no matter how you look at it. The would-be employer who tells you you’re free to answer your ringing phone in a job interview, the boss who wants to see how you react under pressure by not reining in a rude subordinate.

At every point in your life, there are bluffers all around you. The vendor at the market who gives a fantastic price for the product you so desperately need. Your need must never be apparent. And as in all cases of calling a bluff, you must be able to walk away no matter how painful it might be for you.

In romance and love scenarios, there are few people who totally appreciate partners who are so dedicated to them or seem to have no lives outside their partners. You must love your partner, it is true, but you must never forsake building your own life and improving on the things that make you whole, because of another. You, as a person, must be as totally free of hang-ups as much as possible so you can be of benefit to others. ‘He completes me’ is not the stuff of enduring romance.

The Bluffer is the person you meet, who is totally smitten by you upon the first meeting but refuses to show anything. You might be allowed to see a bit of it, but that will just be enough to show the promise of what lies beneath, not reveal that person as one capable of becoming a blubbering idiot because you are in the same room. Bluffers win all the time in issues of romance. When the Whisperer was taking a Masters degree at the University of Lagos, a beautiful undergraduate he had long admired and whom we shall call ‘Thanks-giver’ walked up to him and in the middle of the conversation, uttered the legend, ‘I have no boyfriend’. This was as direct as anything the Whisperer had ever heard. Yet even with the direct admission and ‘green light’ as the more pedestrian like to call it, there was nothing cloying about the Thanks-giver. She was as bright as she was beautiful and she never gave room for her feelings to be abused. You must have the ability to walk away from a bluffer. Not walking away for five or ten days, but walking away for all time if you recognise your feelings are being abused.

The Whisperer totally appreciates Aesop’s fable about the fox that couldn’t reach the delicious-looking grapes on a tree and decided they had to be sour. You must be able to call a bluff, wearing the look of a player in a game of poker. Like the song goes, you must ‘know when to walk away, know when to run’. Or when to hide your thoughts. The Whisperer bought a generator off a very beautiful young woman on Victoria Island very recently, neither having met or spoken before the actual purchase. The first impression was one of startling good looks and he looked at her well (the female form is of great interest to the Whisperer), head to toe, eyebrows to forearms to calves. And then the hood came over the eyes. It must always be standard operating procedure, to bluff, or call one.

Bluffers go far, and you will too, if you don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Girl Whisperer

as published by the Sunday Guardian

of Nov 30, 2008

The Time Machine

Music is the closest thing we have to time travel. Sometimes, as we walk down a quiet road and hear the soft strains of a song we once knew, we are transported to another dimension, visible to those around us, but mind, heart, spirit are gone elsewhere, to the place where we first heard that song or where it first made its impact.

For me, there are many; there’s the Boys II Men song, ‘End of the Road’, which transports me back to the end of my youth service year in Akwa Ibom State and the young nice girl, Victoria, I knew there. Daughter of a Minister (of the gospel, in this case), she was a delightful person to be friends with. ‘End Of The Road’ was a song played at the farewell party organized for our set of Corp members that were finally leaving the state, a song that played as I danced with Victoria, leaving the world behind.

Oleta Adams’ ‘Get here if you can’ provides one of my saddest memories. It is that of the girl who had to leave me, when she relocated to another continent many years ago. Gabrielle’s ‘Dreams’ reminds me of the same girl, it was a song she loved very much and more than a decade after, I would still rather not listen to these two songs.

There’s the Jim Reeves song, ‘ This world is not my home’, which reminds me of my father on quiet Saturday mornings as I grew up, as I’m sure it reminds half the world of theirs, and ‘The Jamaican Farewell’ which recalls my sister, Bande when I was still a teenager and how she would painstakingly go over every line so I could get it right.

There’s ‘walk on by’ by Dionne Warwick, an all time favourite because it reminds me of one of the most beautiful spirits I ever met, Kemi; truly a sad song, but there was nothing sad about her. I first heard the song at her home and would request for it each time I visited. Years later, I would watch a programme that would declare it the ultimate heart-break song.

Then there is Shaggy’s ‘Angel’, a song that never fails to transport me to Gypsy Hill, home of my friend and brother, Edmund, who stood by me many years ago as a stranger in a strange land.

Today, I am transported back to my first day at the university because I remember two songs, Whitney Houston’s ‘All at once’ and ‘Saving all my Love for you’. It was October, I’d been admitted to study law and resumption was meant to be the next day but I couldn’t wait any longer and boarded transportation from Lagos to ‘Great Ifè’. It was night when I got there and a fellow I met at the disembarkation point in the school informed me that ‘Angola Hall’, home to new students, wouldn’t be open till the next day. He as well as his classmates had to be in school because of their practical classes. This fourth-year student of Agricultural Science, whose name or face I can no longer recall, led me with my large suitcase through the grassy fields of the sports centre, down and out of a little valley that separated Adekunlé Fajuyi Hall from the sports centre, and to the room he and his other colleagues had been stationed in. I wondered at the marvellous architecture as we trudged on, for indeed, Great Ifè is a beautiful school. As we walked past a few people playing and watching a table tennis game, a short lad broke away and danced around me, laughing at the fact that I was new in school. It was good, clean fun and even though I was very self-conscious, I was glad I was a student of the school. I never let a year go past after that, without ambushing self-conscious new students and making fun of them. Rites of passage.

That night, I sat in the midst of my new friends, all fourth-year students and watched quietly as they went about their businesses. After a while, I stepped out onto the corridor to stretch my legs and looked up to see Bomá Iruenè, my childhood friend and next door neighbour at my father’s, walking towards me. It was wonderful to see a familiar face in such unfamiliar surroundings. He, now a 2nd year student of International relations, told me he and another childhood friend of ours, Dokun , a 2nd year Political Science student, had ‘occupied’ an empty room (student patois for breaking into a room)and would be there until they could sort out their accommodation for the new year. Along came Dokun and we laughed and talked. We hadn’t seen each other in two to three years before that but we were not strangers. I thanked the fellows that had saved me at the bus-stop and given me the free use of their room and then followed Dokun and Bomá out. They showed me the school and then we went for a meal. Those who knew the ‘new bukateria’ where one could easily get food in those days would know how thickly over-grown the bushes that surrounded it could be after the long holidays. We got lost somewhere in the dark bushes that looked like a horror-movie set; big, burly Dokun shouting, ‘Don’t panic, don’t panic’ at Bomá and then himself, taking off like a hunted buck. We finally made it back to civilization, laughing at ourselves.

That night, as I lay in the dark room on the bed Dokun and Bomá had found for me, I listened to the sounds of the school, other people murmuring as they in turn prepared to lie down, listened to the rhythmic breathing of Dokun and Boma now long asleep and heard the voice of Whitney Houston from the music box in the room, sing quietly the songs, ‘All at once’ and ‘Saving all my love’. It was a new phase in my life, a new beginning, and my first day at University, an end to so many worries, and my heart was full. I still sit quietly when I hear these songs, taken back in time to that new beginning.

I wish you new beginnings that will lift you to higher and safer ground. And I wish you songs that will bring to mind many happy times, and loving people to share those happy times with.

presents live on stage,

Wole Soyinka’s

Death and The King’s Horseman

Every Sunday in December 2008

Written by Wole Soyinka
Directed by Wole Oguntokun

Venue- Terra Kulture, Tiamiyu Savage St, Victoria Island
Time- 3pm and 6pm
Tickets – N2000

Produced By Wole Oguntokun

A Terra Kulture and Jason Media Production

For Tickets and Enquiries, please call 0702 836 7228, 0808 123 9477 or e-mail