On Olusegun Adeniyi’s book on forced migration: From Africa’s frying pan to Europe’s fire

You should get a copy of Olusegun Adeniyi’s new book, From Frying Pan to Fire: How African migrants risk everything in their futile search for a better life in Europe and read it. from-frying-pan-to-fire-870x870

There are many reasons why you should read the book: It is a well-researched book on a crisis; the references alone are worth the price of the book.The chapter on the exodus of young men and women from Edo State is the most comprehensive and thoughtful treatise I have read since I have been studying the catastrophe. Scholars would be pleased by how Adeniyi meticulously compiled sources for his study. Impressive. Adeniyi is on to something. Nigeria is proxy for the ongoing massive gentrification of much of sub Saharan Africa as her citizens, young and old, rich and poor scheme ways of escaping the hell that her rulers age enabling intellectuals have built after colonialism.

The thesis is quite simple and perversely elegant: The middle and upper class flee in airplanes and the poor escape through mean deserts and seas to Europe and North America. It is a humanitarian crisis of overwhelming proportions. It needs to be addressed in words and actions.Indeed there was a time when it was unspeakable to leave Nigeria’s shores for anything other than recreation. You left only to get an education, you know you were returning home to a warm welcome and a place in the sun.  Chinua Achebe’s books chronicled the sojourn evocatively.

Today, Nigeria is in a sad place. There is no reason why Nigerian youths should be in Libya or Italy enduring horrendous conditions just to make it to economic nirvana. Nigeria was a rich country, but her wealth has been systematically looted by rulers and civil servants. It is estimated that of $600 billion generated by oil revenue, at least $400 billion has been looted by an army of thug-rulers, civil servants and conniving intellectuals and writers who pen the talking points justifying the mayhem that is Nigeria.Illegal-Immigrants

Since 1999, democracy has been a farce with rulers and intellectuals engaged in a looting spree to rob Nigerians of their future. Most institutions (education, health, safety and security) are broken relics from the colonial era that have trapped the poor in squalor and despair. Corruption, incompetence, and a broken education system have combined to make life hell for the average Nigerian who is not connected to the halls of power and influence. Graduates from mostly decrepit universities roam the streets in search of work. They see utopia elsewhere.

It is in this context that the book perhaps needs a sequel. It is interesting that the conversations in the book are among the middle class, in a few cases, some of the contributors are arguably complicit in the hellish situation that has forced young Nigerians to flee to Europe.The book fails in that regard, the question should be: Why are things the way they are? The book seems almost unwilling to plumb the depths of the issues.

It is not a perfect book. There are two parts to it; the first part is heavily research-based and thoughtful. The second part is a narrative of Adeniyi’s brother’s harrowing journeys to North Africa sand Europe in the nineties. It comes across as mere reportage, and poorly done. The editing is not top-notch but that is to be expected from Nigerian publishing. Would I read it again? Absolutely. I would like a digital copy with hot links to all the references. That would be awesome. But then it wouldn’t be a book anymore, would it?

So, what do I really think of the emptying of Nigeria by those who are strong or wealthy enough to leave? I say, go for it. You don’t have to brave mean seas and deserts to leave Nigeria. Even Ghana next door is a better alternative than today’s Nigeria. I have lived in the Diaspora for almost four decades. Many times, I think, I should never have come to America; exile is a kind of death. However, I am glad my kids were born here. If you have kids, it makes sense to give them an education that today’s Nigeria will surely deny them. That kind of death is worth it.

Let me tell you what Adeniyi’s book will not tell you. Nigeria is not worth dying for. If you can afford it, and you are still young and full of energy, leave, just leave, in the name of your children. Please don’t argue with me, take an inventory of all your over-paid and overrated politicians, professors, intellectuals and writers, do a survey of where their spouses and children are, they are all here with me. Your leaders agree with Donald Trump through their own actions that Nigeria is not good enough for anyone, they are only there for the money.

Don’t be stupid, young ones, if you do not have the gumption to take back your future from those who do not believe in you and your progress, leave, just leave. This life is short. I have said my own.

What are you reading?

Beyond Mr. Trump’s Africa: An opportunity to truly engage Africa

Trump insulting us. Europe sending us away. Israel chasing us out. The Arabs enslaving us. Shame, you black African leaders for making us a laughing stock. Rich natural resources, corruptly rich leaders, poor masses. We may not be a shithole but a hellhole we certainly live in.

  • Fofana @umarufofana, January 13, 2017 tweet


There is no sugar-coating it, President Donald Trump’s contemptuous “shithole” comments about Haiti and Black African nations were reprehensible and racist. His outburst was yet another reminder that the occupant of the White House is poorly read, ignorant of historical context and mighty proud of it. These are embarrassing times for America. As an American and a Nigerian, my despair rose several octaves in the knowledge that we have a president who through his actions and utterances truly believes that people like me are inferior to his race. Since coming to this country from Nigeria in 1982 to attend graduate school at OLEMISS, Mississippi. the subject of racism has always been a constant companion in my personal and professional life, but in retrospect, the racist indignities I have suffered in almost four decades of living in America have paled in comparison to the new bold ways with which people who look like me are accosted with physical and psychological violence under the leadership of Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump may have gone too far this time. But has he?

Let’s be clear: The notion that immigrants from Africa and Haiti are the dregs of the offering before America is not supported by the data and the facts. America is a great place precisely because we are here. America’s schools are populated by African immigrants with a deserved reputation for academic achievement and a crushing work ethic – from kindergarten to the highest rung of tertiary education. There is the joke that if they were all to leave, America’s test scores would drop precipitously. We are not leaving, it is just a joke, we are here to stay. We are America’s doctors, engineers, scientists, educators and computer programmers. As we speak the gentrification of America’s business landscape continues with immigrants changing the narrative from blue suits and corporations to immigrant-run small businesses that fuel the tax base with muscle and vigor. By the way, let me remind Mr. Trump that Mr. Barack Hussein Obama, his predecessor, one of the most successful American presidents in modern times, is the offspring of a Kenyan father. This is not just about academic excellence being the yardstick for measuring the worth of immigrants of color. In America, educational institutions are retooling their curriculum to emphasize a college and career focus, partly inspired by what immigrants do as artisans, plumbers, handymen, cleaners, cabdrivers, hairdressers and small businesses. In 21st century America, business is no longer clothed just in blue suits, we turn your lights on in the morning and turn them off at night and pay a lot of taxes in the process. We deserve a lot of respect from you, Mr. President.

Mr. Trump’s foreign policy towards Africa is largely transactional and fueled by skepticism. Our people in Nigeria say it is what is in your mind when you are sober that comes out when you are drunk. Sadly, Mr. Trump is the inebriated voice of many in America who see Africa as a deficit, a continent of disease and near savages with nothing to offer the world. Indeed, it is the case that Mr. Trump’s “shithole” outburst is a virulently malignant form of the benign neglect that Africa has suffered and continues to suffer in conventional narratives in the West and in foreign policy. American foreign policy in the past decade and a half has been inchoate at best, inarticulate. Since President George W. Bush’s investment in confronting the AIDS crisis in Africa, America’s body language has given the impression that Africa is a lost cause to be humored and neglected by the rest of the world. President Barrack Hussein Obama’s policy Africa was embarrassingly inchoate, it was as if Africa was an afterthought. America has been happy to absorb those who can afford to leave Africa’s shores, mostly the cognitive elite, who have proven more than capable of making America a better place than they met it, through hard work. You will find African scientists for instance in the top echelons of America’s scientific community, making substantive contributions to innovative research, you will find her writers competing for and winning literature’s top prizes and engaging America in debates on social issues of the day (race, feminism, gender issues, etc.), for fame and for fortune.

With respect to Africa’s challenges, though, what is the truth? The voices of Africa that the world sees are decidedly middle class (well-fed African writers and thinkers funded by the deep pockets of the West’s progressive liberal left) and although they purport to represent Africa, they mostly speak from a perspective that does not necessarily represent the reality on the ground in Africa. There is the Diaspora narrative and there is the home reality. The tensions between these two perspectives have played out on social media with young Africans at home in Africa largely acknowledging that Trump is speaking the truth while Diaspora voices have been busily sharing photos of high rises in Africa and their many degrees as proof that Trump is being racist. Trump may have inadvertently escalated a seething class war among Africans.

The open secret though is that even as Africans excel abroad, their home countries are honestly troubled. Using Nigeria as an example, a Marshall Plan or a hard reset is urgently needed to correct course and set many of these nations on the right path that will earn them the respect that their own citizens have garnered for themselves abroad, as individuals, never mind Trump. This reality is easily measured from the bipolar reaction that greeted Trump’s comments on social media, a loud rancorous space that is fast replacing orthodox African literature as the place to go to gauge the feelings of the true voices on the ground in Africa. While an overwhelming majority in the Diaspora (mostly middle-class and well-off) condemned Trump’s comment as racist, many young Africans at home shrugged it off as merely the truth of their existence. Dispossessed and angry African youths are clapping back at their oppressors – on social media. Between Africa’s political and intellectual elite and Donald Trump, the long-suffering masses carry truth-placards trumpeting their reality. Indeed, African leaders who dared to write on social media to complain about Trump’s conduct were ridiculed as hypocrites, effete and corrupt leaders who exposed Africa to Trump’s racism. The African Union’s statement demanding an apology from Trump was roundly ridiculed on Twitter. Many Western observers, especially those on the political left who wrote against Trump were surprised by the push-back on Twitter by enraged African youths who felt it was hard time someone told the world the truth about Africa.

Nigeria is a perfect example of the kind of horrid governance that many in the West are too polite to complain about in the presence of civilized company. Corruption is rife despite the high hopes that the ascension of Mr. Muhammadu Buhari would improve the situation, and extra-judicial killings are common place, with no one held accountable. In 2015, 347 Nigerian Shiites were slaughtered (these are official estimates, it is said that the death toll was closer to 1,000) for stopping the convoy of the country’s chief of army staff. Recently, almost 80 Nigerians were killed by marauding Fulani herdsmen, many of them children, their throats slit. Many Nigerian youths are openly braving roiling seas, mean mountains, slavery and the possibility of death to escape Nigeria’s economic hell and make it to Europe. Many institutions of governance remain moribund, its educational system is in shambles and law and order are out of reach for the common man. When all these are combined with a high rate of unemployment, there is trouble brewing, as manifested in the angry expressions of support on Twitter for Trump’s statements. The world should pay attention.

In a January 13, 2018 Facebook posting, the writer Karen Attiah exhorted people to invest in a historical context in creating a counter narrative to Trump’s bigotry, saying: “I think this is an opportunity to read, study and share the histories of our countries. To delve into the stories written, movies made, and art created by people from the called global south. To read about the pre-colonial empires from India to Persia to Ghana. Read Frantz Fanon. Learn about Patrice Lumumba. Meditate on Audre Lorde. Kwame Nkrumah. Watch Ousmane Sembene.” It is a thoughtful, dignified and appropriate approach to the violence unleashed on an entire continent and Haiti by Mr. Trump.  In Trump’s behavior, I also do see an opportunity beyond the rage, to reflect on roles and responsibilities and structural ways to help a continent in crisis. Many times, liberal orthodoxy is in the way of honestly addressing Africa’s challenges. Too often, the West, especially Western liberals have tended to look away from the misdeeds of African rulers and their intellectuals (the new enablers of corrupt politicians) and persist in pointing only to the ravages of colonialism and racism for what ails Africa. As a related aside, the purveyors of what the Western world calls “African literature” are becoming part of the problem that is Africa, proving to be a powerful conservative bloc that sleeps with corrupt and murderous politicians in dark bloody places, and come dawn write haunting songs of sorrow for consumption by a gullible West. Even at their most benign, they will not publicly address the huge dysfunctions in the societies they fled from (it ruins their brand) but they will write dark novels like  Mujila Fiston Mwanza’s Tram 83, which reads like a drunken cross between the racist or condescending thoughts of VS Naipaul and Joseph Conrad. Using Nigeria as a sordid example, many African writers have become just as corrupt as the politicians they write about in their beautiful books.

There is that, but when you look at the Congo left behind after Mobutu Sese Seko’s misrule, when you look at the situation in today’s Nigeria, where it is estimated that of approximately 600 billion dollars earned in crude oil revenue since independence, 400 billion dollars have been looted outright, it becomes increasingly difficult and ridiculous to excuse Africans from complicity in the mess that is today’s Africa. The poor in South Africa continue to toil under conditions that are quite frankly comparable to what obtained in apartheid South Africa, they can barely tell the difference under black rule. In a perverse sense, this is a great opportunity for Africa’s political and intellectual leaders to reject Trump’s racist narrative through honest visionary hard work of nation building. For this is not who we are. We are better than what Mr. Trump sees, no thanks to our corrupt rulers and their intellectual enablers.  Many of the rulers that are called “statesmen” are executioners of the dreams of young Africans. Between Donald Trump’s Africa and our Africa, the truth seethes. The illegal routes to Europe and the rest of the West are littered with the dead bodies of young Africans who preferred certain death to life without purpose and hope back home. How can the West help African nations? For one thing, they should help by staring at these rulers in the face and helping Africans to hold them accountable. As Sisonge Msimangu points out, it is not enough to trot out images of high rises in Africa and cute pictures of over-achieving Africans in the Diaspora to counter Mr. Trump’s narrative. Mr. Trump’s racist rants provide an opportunity for Western liberals and indeed all thought leaders to deploy a new mindset that forces African leaders and intellectuals to accept some responsibility for their horrid actions in Africa. Trump is a racist but, sadly, there is some truth to his bluster.

Thoughts on reactions to my essay on Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83

Since publication of my essay on Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s book, Tram 83 (here), I have read some interesting feedback, most recently from Richard Oduor Oduku and Zukiswa Wanner . I thank them for engaging me respectfully, and found many of the numerous comments on their wall enlightening, entertaining even. A few thoughts:

1. My essay isn’t so much about Tram 83, but about the politics and power of narrative and how we conduct business. It’s an old debate!🚶🏿Sounds harsh, but after reading Tram 83, I wonder if the narrative that passes for “African literature” in the West helps or hurts “Africa.”

2. Many African writers of stature have attained fame and decent living from attaching themselves to the title “African writer.” Prizes, grants, fellowships, conferences are devoted to “African writing” and these things are heavily subscribed to by the same African writers who now chafe at the term. You can’t have it both ways. If you have allowed yourself to be defined (and limited) by a term, the reader should be forgiven for looking at you through that lens. You can’t be posing as a Western-sponsored African writer, and when asked questions you drop the tag, “African.” As I have said repeatedly in the past, the perks aren’t free! 😐

3. The reader as a consumer has every right to be prescriptive in terms of what he/she wants. You don’t have to cater to the consumer, it’s all right, this consumer can always go elsewhere, there is plenty supply out there, most of the good stuff is actually free. It works both ways; the writer should never feel any obligation to satisfy any readership. There are tons of readers out there, find your audience.

4. There is no true fiction; our people say that it is what is in your heart when you are sober that comes out of your mouth when you are drunk! Let it not be said that African fiction as we know it today is the last refuge of scoundrels and cowards. If you come to my home and my ancestral land and you insult me, my loved ones and everything that I stand for in the name of fiction, I have every right to do the same to you in the name of fiction.

5. If it looks like I am harping on and on about the same things, it is because to be quite honest, much of orthodox African fiction as we see in books is prescriptive (yes, that word) mostly timid, lacking innovation, its creativity stifled by the work of Western editors and gatekeepers whose first allegiance is to a paying reading [Western] audience. African readership is hardly part of the equation. What is the purpose of the writing anyway? It does not educate, it does not entertain, it does not improve upon the silence. What are you doing?

6. What gets lost in translation is important. The unintended consequence might come across as utter disrespect. Remember, the act of telling our stories in English, and then on paper, is in itself two levels of translation. We are built in the oral tradition. Moving from French to English is this at least three layers of translation. A lot gets lost in translation. When the narrator in Tram 83 seems to mock a people whose cuisine is “dog cutlets and grilled rat” it is impossible to see them as human beings worth engaging in on a respectful level. It is your language, you already have power over the narrative, if I told you that your foie gras is obtained from doing savage things to the liver of a cute bird (the lovely goose) I am communicating to you that I don’t take you seriously. You are savages. Where I come from we don’t eat sautéed termites, we eat irikhun. If you do not understand why this is so offensive to the reader, then we are on different planets.

7. Again, the translation in Tram 83 did nothing for me, with all due respect. I read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in English, it was as if I was speaking Igbo, I read Camara Laye’s African Child in English and it was as if he was reading to me in his language. Do the people really eat “grilled rat”? Is that what they see on their plates?

8. Another point that I need to bring home: We may be mistaking Diaspora [African] writing for African writing. In the 21st century, in the age of social media, who are these voices? And yes, they are considered “African” voices. If you don’t agree with me, you are disagreeing with Alain Mabanckou and Ato Quayson, read their words. You are the ones setting people up for what they are not.

9. Excuse me if I am not impressed: At least in the case of Nigeria, the most benign of African writers engage in navel gazing and satisfying middle class pursuits of Western readers and merely document Africa’s social issues to line their pockets. The rest are in cahoots with ruler-thieves.

10. And please don’t tell me that activism is not their responsibility; they are in the West, happily attending protest marches against dictators like Trump, as they should, and driving debates on racism, gender identity, etc, etc.

11. I think you all should read Amatesiro Dore’s essay; it focuses on the binary of Diaspora v indigenous writer, who gets to be acknowledged and what this all means. http://www.thescoopng.com/2015/01/28/amatesiro-ede-nigeria-produced-writer-worth-reading-since-1960/

12. For me as a reader, this is all academic, I could tell you that we need new writing; we don’t, I am on the Internet and on social media, enjoying the best narrative coming out of Africa in decades. There is little translation and most of the writers are readers who don’t know that they are writers, lol.

13. In the 21st century, it is inappropriate to judge the work of a writer based solely on their published works. It especially does young African writers a disservice, the vast bulk of their work is digital. These books that you all crow over are important but they are like less than 0.1 percent of their output. Why do you insist on judging them by books alone? I won’t, I don’t have to.

14. Ultimately, Mujila’s narrator in Tram 83 may be right: “There are cities which don’t need literature: they are literature. They file past, chest thrust out, head on their shoulders. They are proud and full of confidence despite the garbage bags they cart around.

15. Dear African writer in the Diaspora, what is your mission? Africa is a basket case. We know that! In the 21st century, does the reader really need a book of fiction to see that much of Africa is a basket case? We know that! It is all over YouTube! We do not need you telling us ad nauseam, we certainly do not need you exaggerating Africa’s already dire condition for the West’s reading pleasure.

16. The charge that I am a “critic” is one I am too lazy to disown. I am a reader who writes. I buy most of my books with my own money, I am not affiliated with anyone and I say what I have to say in my own space. What you do with it is your own wahala. I have written creative non-fiction and published them in reputable journals and as part of books, so this is not about me. I am not necessarily reviewing books, I am using the books that I read to continue a long-running dialogue about us and how we allow others to see us. It is complicated, I guess. Bottom line: The writer should simply write and the reader should simply read. Everything else is drama. LOL!

Molon Labe. I have said my own. Oya come and beat me! 😎

My father’s cupboard

My father had a cupboard of books. It was probably our most prized possession, even as he was “transferred” by the Nigerian police from Nigeria’s nook to cranny, he and I always made sure that the cupboard of books had an exalted place in the “transfer” lorry that took us to our new home in the barracks. 
In that cupboard, Professor Chinua Achebe’s books were exalted guests. I traveled the world through the books in that cupboard. My father’s cupboard was magical, no matter how many times I visited it, there was always a book I had never read. In Ruskin Bond’s Room on the Roof, I traveled to India, in Richmal Crompton’s Williams series, I saw little boys that looked like me in far away Britain.
 About my father, I am not sure my dad ever read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I know he read No Longer at Ease and A Man of the People. In those days, we had one of those standing mirrors that were in every Nigerian “parlour.” My father, who had secretly dreamt of going “overseas” to get “the golden fleece”, would stand before the mirror, twirl his Honda motorcycle keys around his fingers and go, “How’s the car behaving?” a way of greeting by the new African elites in Achebe’s book, No Longer at Ease, those mimic-white folks who came back home in those huge ships. My dad envied them, no end and he never tired of telling me that he would have been one of them if I had not come along. 

My dad loved A Man of the People and on some evenings over a glass of beer, he would yell, ‘Chief Nanga, MP!” and he and I would practically fall on the ground laughing at the antics of that corrupt politician. There were other books that my father loved, I remember pretty much all the books of the African Writers Series that Achebe helped to birth. My father loved TM Aluko’s books, especially One Man One Wife, a book my dad liked to quote loudly within earshot of our mother. He chafed at monogamy and he endured it, with a few missteps. His pet name for our mother Izuma was Ailegwale, that is, the only course, no appetizer, no dessert! 
I will always remember Achebe because his books were one reason I bonded with my dad, a complex but loving man. I inherited my dad’s passions, a lot of them demons, his love for beautiful people, good music, words, a good bottle, and books. Achebe saved my dad and me with the power of words. He was a giant, powerful eagle perched at the head of a pack of thinkers and doers who insisted on telling us our stories, at a time when that was what you had to do to entertain children and their parents. I lost a father in Achebe, this man who made my father play with me.

Dear African writer in the Diaspora: What is your mission?

Dear African writer in the Diaspora, what is your mission? Africa is a basket case. We know that! In the 21st century, does the reader really need a book of fiction to see that much of Africa is a basket case? We know that! It is all over YouTube! We do not need you telling us ad nauseam, we certainly do not need you exaggerating Africa’s already dire condition for the West’s reading pleasure. Yes, it is only the West that reads you. These books are for the benefit of the West, those that read in Africa do not have access to much of these books. What is your mission?
What is the purpose of literature anyway? How is it that there is a narrowness of range and depth in the literature that we read of in your books? Is this really the sum of our experience? I speak for myself as a reader, I do not need happy stories, no, I need narrative that is not contrived by Diaspora writers who hardly go home to visit. The reader knows. 

There is also this thing called credibility; when your books are “launched” by criminal leaders, when your “conferences” are sponsored by thug leaders, when your imaginary associations are funded from government funds inserted into the budget in the dead of night, when criminal rulers spend one million American dollars for your two-hour dinners, when you are the hand behind the twitter handle of common ruler-thieves you can’t come to me and read me a book of deprivation and injustice and not expect me to laugh in your face. 

How many of you “writers” have lifted a voice to complain about the massacres in Nigeria, the looting, even Chibok? How many of you have asked where Dr. Stella Nyanzi is? That vile dictator Museveni has locked up Dr. Nyanzi because she accused his wife of having two buttocks! What are you doing? You are writing cute things for the white man, giving his children awesome lectures when you are not protesting Trump or racism in the West. Nonsense! 

Abeg, continue to write your lived experience o, na who hold you? We are simply saying we don’t want to read it. We are not saying we are happy, we are simply saying we are not happy with your bullshit, LOL! Want to know why Linda Ikeji and BBN are more influential than Adichie? It is called a failure of leadership… y’all be writing poverty porn o, which one concern me?

Many times, fiction is the last refuge of the coward. What the hell is art? I say to you, if someone comes to your home, slaps you, calls your lover ugly and defecates on your floor and say it is art, slap him, call his lover ugly and go defecate on his floor and call it art also. Joyce Cary, Joseph Conrad, VS Naipaul, these writers told you, your people have no civilization, there are no thinkers where you come from and you are all sub humans and in school you were told this is art, this is fiction, and you took exams where you had to answer yes to the question: “Are Africans sub-human?” If you said, “No, we are human beings”, you failed. Now, the offspring of Africa are back in the garb of racists and jerks telling you the same thing about your women, about your humanity, about your civilization, and because you have no self-esteem, you are calling those who define and defile you artists. Clap for yourselves.

Who are these people anyway? They are the children of looters who built those disused Concorde runways rotting in the jungles of the beautiful Congo, they are the children of those who looted Africa dry and built libraries as monuments to their perfidy. Their children are back from learning French and Spanish and in fake accents they are calling the abused names that should be reserved for their own parents. I say, sell your silly little books to the West, we don’t want them. 

And I say to you, words are powerful, if you do not listen closely to the politics of your storyteller you will be a slave. I have said my own. You are all full of it. Your books are worthless. I have said it, Oya comman beat me!🏃🏿 

Nigeria: The way we are

There is a reason why many people like me have lost interest in commenting on Nigerian politics. What seems abnormal to me is really the new normal. Nigeria is what it is and there is this sense that I am crying louder than the bereaved. Our dysfunction is now deeply dyed into our cultural fabric. People have basically decoupled themselves from nationhood and community and are now looking out for themselves. It is so blatant. When I speak with people at home, no matter how you steer them into politics, they don’t seem interested. They seem focused on the self – by all means necessary. They just want to “hammer.” It is what it is. 
Why are we like this? Why are things the way they are? There is really no shame, no sense of self-reflection, words trump deeds and style is the all important victor over substance. There is no leadership, to be honest, and I am not just talking about political leadership. We are all the same in the communal hypocrisy and greed. I think about how public intellectuals are struggling to normalize, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, SLS, the Emir of Kano, Mr. Glib, Mr. Do what I say, a note what I do, and I remember, they normalized Buhari, they normalized Amaechi, they normalized El-Rufai, they normalized Obasanjo. Their job as intellectuals is to make you forget. #AnimalFarm. If you are a thief and a thug and you are generous to them, you can murder hundreds, you can steal billions, you can be incompetent and you will be fine. You will not be a distressed character in their insincere books and essays. 
You must not separate the messenger from the message; when you do you decouple them from their sins. These people have ruined our country. How can we soon forget SLS’s misdeeds? No, he is a charming soul, he says all the right things, and if he likes you, he will be your Robin Hood. He loves public intellectuals. This is my larger point: There is no hope for Nigeria. I do not see any progress through my generation or the generation coming after. Indeed the generation coming after promises to be much worse judging by their antics on social media. They are training you to be unthinking dolts. Do not ask questions, they say, this is church!

There is no hope. If you doubt me, do a survey of where our leaders and their families go to for education, health, vacations, good living. Not in Nigeria. Buhari’s dying veins are hooked to the laboratory machines of the secret agencies of the West. Imagine that, after billions of Naira budgeted for a medical clinic our president had to go abroad to the West to attend to his health. The CIA knows everything about his blood cells. We don’t. Go figure. Nigeria is not a country. 

For what will happen to much of Africa, look to where your leaders are. At some point we will have to tell ourselves the truth. Let’s all agree with our bumbling, thieving rulers and their intellectual enablers: We cannot govern ourselves. Today, we are in denial about that truth. We will admit this soon and outsource governance to WalMart and McDonalds. They will save our people just as the cell phone saved my mother from my father’s patriarchy and Nigeria’s incompetence. Walmart will sell us Do-It-Yourself governance kits. If you don’t have credit, you die… 

Okey Ndibe’s America: Joyous tales, mistaken identities, crumbling walls and new worlds

Swaddled in the warm folds of this hotel room in Denver, Colorado, battling sleep, I am comforted by the one remaining unread essay in Okey Ndibe’s lovely collection of essay-memoirs, Never Look an American in the Eye: Flying Turtles, Colonial Ghosts, and the Making of a Nigerian American. The flight to Denver from home was four hours; a lovely nap, an adorable Mennonite couple and the book were my companions. Ndibe’s book entertained me in the impatiently long spaces between me asking the couple totally ignorant questions about their lives. I mistook them for the Amish I had seen on television and in our local Dutch market, I gushed over them like Donald Trump meeting Ben Carson for the first time and I told them how much I love the Amish and I go to their markets to buy the best barbecued chicken and crunchy corn nuts, and wondered if they now ride cars, etc.. Lovely couple, they endured my cultural incompetence with uncommon dignity and stoicism.

So, what do I think of Ndibe’s book? Let me put it out there: Never Look an American in the Eye is a lovely book. With this book, Ndibe speaks for that generation of warriors who left their ancestral lands decades ago when the GPS was not yet a commercial retail concept. I am part of that generation, I half-joke that when we left, the airplanes had no GPS; you got in and hoped you landed in America, not Ghana. As an aside, in a real sense, this is not a book review; Never Look an American in the Eye is not a book you read for the purpose of expressing a literary opinion, it is a book you read and thoroughly enjoy. The pleasure you derive from reading it reminds you of those days when books really entertained the reader and you didn’t have to overthink stuff. I am thinking of the books of Ndibe’s generation (and mine), of Heinemann’s African Writer’s Series, and numerous other books that opened huge windows into other worlds beyond our own worlds. You should read this book, Ndibe is genetically wired to be a genuinely generous spirit, this man-child warrior who has seen quite a lot and has survived to tell some of his stories in triumph. As you read, you are taken by how Ndibe manages to make you laugh as he laughs with his America and the numerous detractors he comes across. And you fall in love with his spirit. Hard.


In Never Look an American in the Eye, Ndibe deploys an interesting and ultimately important way of writing about exile. With perhaps the exception of the late great Nnamdi Azikiwe and his autobiography My Odyssey, most African writers of Ndibe’s generation and before have been famously reticent about sharing intimate details about their stays abroad – and for good reason. Home was never far away from their minds and it just seemed that all their lives were anchored around that ultimate return home to Africa. They rarely stopped to smell the earth or marvel at the majesty of Babylon’s mountains and rivers. Exile was harsh and sometimes racism was the least of the issues these writers faced. As if racism wasn’t harrowing enough. They rarely talked about their stay in Babylon, except perhaps in biting songs of sorrow. There was John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo’s bitter angst in his book, America Their America. Wole Soyinka provided a peep into the chilly hell that was his England in that classic poem, The Telephone Conversation, and Chinua Achebe died without offering much that was intimate and personal in terms of his long stay abroad. Generations after continued in that tradition, wrapping moody book covers around serious social anxieties. The biting hilarity of Ike Oguine’s The Squatter’s Tale did not hide his rage about the America of his protagonist’s nightmares. Let me put it this way: This is the first book I have read that seriously interrogates the personal lives of Nigerian writers and thinkers as they toiled abroad as part of the working middle class. America is not all about the indignities of race, poverty and the grim romance of sleeping on heating grates in winter. It is a revealing and precious portrait about life abroad and Ndibe puts it together rather nicely.

Ndibe takes a different approach to speaking to America, the country that adopted him. This is not yet another series of supercilious lectures written with the aid of grants and cheap red wine, all supplied by adoring white folks, happy to listen to yet another whiny and weepy African writer spinning tales of privilege and entitlement. No, with courage and gentle humor, Ndibe looks at America squarely in the eye and provides her awesome feedback. Ndibe is not an ungrateful guest, but he does have a few hard truths to share. He does this politely, firmly, and with humor and uncommon intelligence. In seventeen awesome essays, Ndibe connects all the rivers that run through him and connect him to us and the world. Ndibe is a master writer and storyteller, no ifs, no buts about it. Ndibe’s power of description is all muscle. Read and laugh through the powerful anecdotes of cultural clashes that breed misunderstanding. His journey from Nigeria began in 1988 when he was recruited by the late great Chinua Achebe to go to the United States to be the editor of the now defunct African Commentary magazine. That trip set off an incredible journey of identity and ever-changing relationships that is familiar to anyone that traveled around that time and lived in the US during the 80’s and 90’s. And what a journey. In seventeen awesome essays, we learn a lot about Ndibe, Nigeria, America and everything else in between. There is identity, and there are relationships. And there is longing. Ndibe wraps everything up very nicely, and for once in a long time, the book is the perfect medium for the narratives. This is because Ndibe tells them simply and with spare carefully crafted prose. It is a series of stories that he tells Americans, and he welcomes anyone else who wants to listen, to listen, just listen. There are no gimmicks here, absolutely nothing contrived. Which is fine with this reader; sometimes a reader just wants to laugh. And Ndibe made me laugh, deep in Denver. And comforted me. Now, that takes a lot of work.

In Never Look an American in the Eye, Ndibe holds the reader spell-bound as narrates his struggles to earn a foothold in America while holding on to a fast receding past in Nigeria. As you read about his relationships with Babs Fafunwa (his late great father in-law), Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Bart Nnaji, Chudi Uwazurike, and other academics and intellectuals who helped shape his path abroad, you are in awe as you realize that you are holding an important part of history between your eyes. If that doesn’t make you fall in love with Ndibe the raconteur, read about how he met his wife, Sheri, and your heart beams with fondness. This is not just another book about race, certainly not about that dated race paradigm that is the black-white binary that you find in books written by African authors writing about exile; no, this is just about the life and living through the absurdities of it all while enjoying yourself. And this Ndibe does with sentences that curl you up in smiles

My first night in the United States brought little respite. I had endured eleven hours aboard a Nigeria Airways flight, confined in a tight seat, wedged uncomfortably between two other passengers, one a middle-aged man with a beer belly who snored as a gorilla might, the other a young woman who stayed awake for most of the trip, a curious sneer fixed on her face, as if she were at war with the world in general for subjecting her to the plight of flying economy. (p. 47)

Ndibe perfectly captures the awe and sense of wonder that his generation of travelers (mine) felt upon landing Western shores, and the haunting sense of alienation from home. It was tough without the new mirrors called the Internet, social media and smartphones. Ndibe wrote these stories for our generation so that perhaps our children may judge us with real data – and hopefully compassion. Ndibe’s stories are told daily in many homes in Babylon, and our children endure their telling and re-telling. Sometimes, as in the writer Tope Folarin’s tender and evocative musings (in the essay, The summer of ice cream), we are confronted with their effect on our children:

Occasionally on the road Dad would tell us stories about Nigeria. He made the place sound like a wonderful party that was always happening. He told us stories about each of his brothers—he has dozens, my grandfather married six women—and he wistfully spoke of the time he’d spent traveling from city to city as a semi-professional soccer player. He also told us stories about the mistakes he’d made as a younger man: the women he’d chased just because he could, the jobs he hadn’t taken seriously enough. Each story he told ended abruptly, or at least it seemed so to me. I was always waiting to hear about the day his apartment had been stormed by corrupt policemen, the time he’d been incarcerated for something he hadn’t done. I was waiting to hear that he was a refugee—back then I thought this was the only legitimate reason for leaving a place you called home. I knew nothing about ambition then, how it wakes you up and won’t let you sleep at night, how it’ll fling you across an ocean or three if you let it. I would learn soon enough.

In Never Look an American in the Eye, Ndibe stitches together a sweeping panorama of a life lived, and of a dying era, gentrified by technology and the sheer passage of time. We remember the radio, the first television, of grainy images of America’s stereotypes galloping into our consciousness through grainy images of the Cartwright brothers and Country music. From the wars of Burma and Biafra to the Cold War, Ndibe expertly connects the dots of relationships and it is lovely to read. And yes, it is lovely and sad to read of an era when books were truly wondrous things to Nigerian children, when children actually wept when as punishment for an infraction, they were denied a book. 

Armed with carefully crafted, exquisite prose, Ndibe tells a compelling set of stories, however, in all of this, what distinguishes Ndibe from many of the writers before him is his generosity of spirit and the relentless dignity with which he shares his stories of endurance, and triumph over challenges in Babylon. Please read the essay, Fitting the description, a rollicking tale about racial profiling and mistaken identity. As soon as Ndibe arrives in America, he is suspected of armed robbery in a case of mistaken identity, but in the telling of it, this gripping narrative derives its power from how Ndibe humanizes those who mistook him for a bank robber. Throughout the book, he empathizes with – and humanizes the visionaries like Achebe and Nnaji who soon had trouble keeping afloat the magazine, African Commentary – and ensuring his livelihood in America. Even as he terrorizes the reader with the pain and urgency of his predicament, he is still laughing all through it. If you simply want to laugh, if you simply want to marvel at good writing, good storytelling, white rice and goat meat stew, comfort food in your winter, this is a book you must read. Ndibe hardly overthinks issues here, he just writes and lets the reader do the overthinking. Ndibe is a powerful storyteller. But I already told you that.

The essays are a rich harvest for those who choose to reflect on how, where and why the rain beat Africans. It is hard to choose a favorite but I enjoyed English Dreams, Communist Fantasies, and American Wrestling immensely. When Ndibe says:

If the British colonial administrators, merchants, and missionaries were to have any form of communication with the native, then the two sides needed the figure of the interpreter, a veritable bridge. Interpreters played an undeniable, essential role. But they were also often characterized in a harsh light. They were deemed to occupy a position of moral dubiety and cultural ambiguity, committed neither to their English masters nor their Igbo brethren but entirely to an illicit desire for lucre. They were sometimes distrusted by the British but prized for the communication they enabled; often feared and despised by their fellow Igbo but nevertheless courted. The Igbo sometimes described an interpreter as that man who could go into the white man’s mouth and pluck words from it. (pp. 4-5)

It is hard not to reflect on how in the 21st century, precious little has changed, how much of black Africa reels still under black-on-black oppression. Are today’s Nigerian intellectuals and writers not the new interpreters, stuffing their mouths with loot even as they say all the right things? The more things change, the more things stay the same.

It is a rich book and many readers will find plenty to agree with and to quibble over. In the absence of context, some of the banter would perhaps make interesting debate material on my Facebook wall. Hear Ndibe seeming to throw red meat at the warriors of feminism, in the essay, Nigerian, Going Dutch:

Let me insert a note of cultural information. In Nigeria, when somebody invites another—or even others—to a meal, it is understood that the inviter will pick up the tab. However, it is unusual for a Nigerian woman to treat a man to a meal in a restaurant. For that matter, it is not common practice for a Nigerian woman to buy a man much of anything. (pp. 62-63)

You must read the essay, A dying father, Dreams of Burma and England. Moving was the narrative about the bond of friendship between his father Christopher Chidebe Ndibe and the English man John Tucker a lieutenant in the British army in Burma when Ndibe’s father was a noncommissioned officer with the rank of lance corporal. By the way, if you are Facebook friends with Ndibe (you should be, he is a treasure trove of living literature) you would be familiar with his running commentary on this beautiful friendship, including this November 2014 post containing pictures of him and John Tucker’s son imitating an earlier photo pose of their fathers.


In Never Look an American in the Eye, the essay that bears the title of the book, delightful turns of phrase, and impish sentences take you where you least expect. Here is one of the many hilarious descriptions of his impression upon discovering winter and America’s chill:

Years ago, when I was still in secondary school, American movies would be shown once every few months in one pastoral town or another. Wherever they came, the townsfolk—men, women, and youngsters—would gather in an open space, often a soccer field, for a night at the movies. To this day, I have never fathomed—nor have I found anybody who knows—the source of the movies. Perhaps it was the brainchild of the Central Intelligence Agency. It was in the heyday of the Cold War. What better way for the CIA to impress the heck out of us—to win the undecided hearts of Nigerians—than to show us images of the confident, swaggering, swashbuckling American. (pp. 34-35)

The essay English dreams, communist fantasies, and American wrestling is a powerful treatise on the cold war, the struggle for the countries of Africa by the superpowers, all through the eyes of a precocious boy. One realizes sadly how the structures of the time were designed to achieve a singular aim: Indoctrination.

In my secondary-school days, a kind of chewing gum was in vogue. Each pack of gum came with a small card that bore the name of an American actor. You unwrapped the gum and saw a card with the name and photo of, say, Lorne Greene or Dan Blocker. One day, I unveiled a card with the photo and name of Tony Curtis. I believe he had two guns. My parents had named me Anthony, after Saint Anthony of Padua. The moment I saw the card, I renamed myself Tony Curtis. It became my reigning name throughout my secondary-school years and gave me a newfound swagger that went with a wild, awakening interest in girls. A part of me adored the country that had sent me this new, heady, gun-flaunting name. There was a strange music to it, the same way other “American” names had captivated me and many other youngsters of my generation. Many of my secondary-school mates adopted North American names, won over by their unusual sound. One friend took Alabama, another Manitoba, yet another Lorne Greene. There was an Adam Faith and an Arizona. I was thrilled by the sound of Tennessee and Mississippi; I couldn’t wait to visit them. (pp. 13-14)

Like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books, like Achebe’s books, Ndibe’s books will find their ways into the classrooms of the West, where impressionable young people will be schooled in the ways of the world according to writers of Nigerian extraction. The irony? Nigerian children need these books more than Westerners, but they live in a world that cannot afford the voices of her writers, because there are no robust structures for sustaining reading and learning. Worse, there are voices inside Nigeria, but no one hears them. Those the world calls Nigerian writers mostly live abroad and produce what arguably diaspora writing. The writer Amatosire Dore who writes from Nigeria argues angrily that Nigeria has not produced any indigenous writer worth reading. It is a debate worth having:

“The class of Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka are British created minds. Achebe produced works in Nigeria as a paid employee of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation with a house in Ikoyi. Soyinka received pre-independence government education and his works were produced by the British pounds. Buchi Emecheta couldn’t have produced a single line of literature, in Nigeria, with five children and a missing husband. We killed Christopher Okigbo during the Civil War and successive military regimes got rid of the rest by firing squad, poverty, fake drugs, bad roads or self-imposed exile. They sentenced Soyinka to solitary confinement and crippled Achebe’s legs. Chimamanda Adichie went abroad before they could get her at Nsukka. But her generation of Nigerian writers-in-diaspora have been coming and going for several seasons like a gang of abikus. Our book pirates are sucking them dry and Nigerian publishers can’t afford to publish Ghana Must Go, Open City and other books by the class of Adichie.”

“When goats decide to write their stories and actually do so, they become writers. If Nigeria provides the facilities for a goat to write and publish stories, the goat becomes a “Nigerian Writer”. There are no “Nigerian Writers” worth reading. Read an average Nigerian newspaper, watch a typical Nollywood film, or buy a Made-in-Nigeria book that wasn’t first published in Europe or America and you’ll find “Nigerian Writers”. Ben Okri, Chimamanda Adichie, Teju Cole, Helon Habila, Sefi Atta, Chris Abani, Segun Afolabi, Chika Unigwe and other global names are not “Nigerian Writers”. They are just cultural refugees with Nigerian passports who are pampered and sustained by America and Europe. Can a country without libraries and the conditions to sustain life produce writers? If pottery was haram, would Northern Nigeria have produced Ladi Kwali? If bronze works were forbidden, will the ancient Bini Kingdom produce art?

Most of the stories in this collection happened from the late eighties to the late nineties. In sharing these stories of life in America, Ndibe acknowledges that the times are changing and in 21st century America, many old prejudices are now stale, replaced by new ones, thanks to advances in technology that have opened up the world and brought down old walls. However, in a subversive way, this collection of essays is incredibly important in charting the ongoing narrative that is called African literature since it subtly and expertly captures an era that would be alien to many in the young generation. I admire the way Ndibe uses the brilliance of his humor and intellect to tell complex stories simply and in a way that engages. Yemisi Aribisala uses a different technique to chart similar journeys, in her book of essays, Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex Nigerian Tastebuds, where she uses food as a literary substrate to capture narratives that overlap generational eras. As I shared earlier, Folarin’s essays on America provide fascinating and insightful perspectives on his immigrant father who happens to be of Ndibe’s and my generation. It would be just awesome to have these three writers on a digital platform talking about all of this and more.

Never Look an American in the Eye is an eminently readable book; Ndibe deploys one of my pet peeves to sustain his audience beyond Nigeria; he goes “universal” in helpfully explaining some indigenous Nigerian terms to the (Western) uninitiated. Akamu is a “hot porridge made from ground fermented corn”, and rice and beans becomes “a spicy black-eyed pea porridge, and white rice.” The “flying turtle” in the title is actually a Westernized version of the tortoise a lengendary character in Nigerian folklore that appears in the essay in the book, An African folktale, A Wall Street lesson, perhaps a way of making Americans connect with the tortoise and the book,. I think Ndibe should have looked his Western editors in the eye and insisted on “flying tortoise.” Techniques like this are sure to extend the debate on how far African writers should go in translating for the benefit of the other, and the pitfalls of cultural appropriation. It is a debate spurred by Chigozie Obioma reacting to feedback by African readers to his book, The Fishermen, who felt he had bent over backwards to make his book accessible to Western readers.  The writer, Socrates Mbamalu in response recently issued a robust defense of the notion of “provincialism” in writing. I agree:

Contrary to Chigozie’s statement, where he says those writers concerned with provincialism are concerned with pleasing a particular base of readers, one can equally say that those concerned with explaining local words are similarly concerned with pandering to the West and pleasing the readers from the West, otherwise why would one explain eba as a ‘yellow globular mashed potato clone made from cassava chippings’? If I used ugali instead of eba in a sentence, would it change anything? Unless, according to Chigozie, I am trying to convey a vivid sense of something. Maybe just curiosity as to what ugali is, and how ugali is different from eba, say in preparation and content. What then does the reader gain or lose in a story in being told eba is a ‘globular mashed potato clone’ if the eba itself doesn’t serve any other purpose in the story other than it being just food.

Finally,  the world outside of Nigeria will judge Okey Ndibe mostly by his books (Foreign Gods, Inc., Arrows of Rain, Writers, Writing on Conflicts and Wars in Africa, not by his prodigious output in Nigerian newspapers and online as an essayist and regular commentator on Nigerian politics and African literature.  As an aside, you should read his essay, My Biafran Eyes, an autobiographical piece on the Nigerian civil war. It is one of the most important works on that unfortunate war.  Ndibe is a mentor to many African writers, one of an army of a few older writers between Soyinka and Achebes’s generation, and the current generation of young writers, who have successfully bridged analog and digital writing, with grace and vision. Indeed, it is the case that he has suffered indignities and harassment in the hands of state security officials at the Nigerian borders on account of his political views and advocacy. Ndibe is a renaissance man worth celebrating beyond his books.


By the way, whatever happened to those audio recordings of Achebe? They would be worth a pretty mint today. What am I babbling about, you ask? You would have to buy the book. And read the essay, English dreams, communist fantasies, and American wrestling. Thank me later.

On that Buhari Media Center, paid “public intellectuals” and assorted jazz

What’s on my mind? The Buhari Media Center, the pejorative now known as the BMC. Apparently, there is a place in Abuja, Nigeria, where young men and women are assembled and for 200-250K a month they are mandated to spin the national narrative in a certain direction – to please and flatter Aso Rock. The discovery of this house of poorly educated (from their tweets and FB posts, they surely need to be in school, not “proffering solutions, lol) imitation Goebbels has created quite the furor. For good reason.

What do I think? I am not exercised by it. I do think the government of the day has every right to have a PR outfit. Indeed Buhari’s abysmal leadership performance has required a really robust professional PR team to help the populace swallow the bitter pill of disappointment that has been Aso Rock to date. The BMC is of course far from professional and effective. But that is another Facebook post. By the way, the irony and the hypocrisy are not lost on me that the government appears to be paying an army of hustlers lots of money to do what Audu Maikori got detained for: manufacturing and/or spreading fake news. Audu apologized. The others got paid.

What I have found objectionable is that those behind the BMC appear to have been paying young writers/bloggers/social media “overlords” and other assorted scumbags to appear to be objective public commentators. That toga has of course given them cover and credibility to spin the narrative and national discourse at least on social media, in the favor of their paymasters. In many instances they have engaged in Goebellsian subterfuge, bullying, blackmailing and trying to run aground people with views hostile to Aso Rock’s agenda. That is wrong. Disgusting actually. All this time, many of us had been engaging paid hacks and we did not know it. They have every right to be employed, we the public have every right to know their names and how much they are paid so that we can discount their utterances accordingly.

In fairness, as obnoxious as they are, the members of the BMC team are tiny shrimp in the grand scheme of things. They are being paid pennies to write half-baked stuff, while “public commentators” who many Nigerians think are independent arbiters of public opinion are bleating all the way to the bank with millions of Naira. One day, the records will be released and Nigerians will gasp at the unmasking of masquerades. Many voices are being paid to do many awful things to dissenting voices. The members of the BMC is bad, but they are altar boys compared to the big guns paid to defend darkness. Many of those concerned Nigerians who write on “international newspapers” are doing what the government has paid them to write. Yup. I happen to know.

Many nations would require these paid lobbyists to register publicly as, well, lobbyists. Once identified, the public clearly knows where they are coming from. When they write op-ed pieces in the New York Times, they are required to issue a disclaimer at the end of the piece – that they are paid lobbyists of clearly identified interests. Not so our Nigerian hustlers. They do not understand the notion of conflict of interest and ethical violations. There is no motivation because they are not held accountable, the laws are not enforceable.

I was once part of an editorial board that had a top ranking aide of a governor as a sitting member. He did not understand why it was a conflict to be making “objective” comments about governmental policies of that which you serve. And virtually everyone on the Board agreed with him. Much of what we do with respect to the Nigerian project is a farce, we have pretend functions and processes and just want to look the part. We are really not that interested in ethical conduct. It doesn’t put enough food on the table.

Let me end on a positive note by thanking all those mostly young advocates who have forced the government’s feet to the fire by using technology, hard data and good old shoe leather hard work. Without them we would be held hostage by a heavily compromised media, a corrupt tribe of intellectuals and a deadly congress of baboons pretending to rule our nation. Young people are taking matters into their hands and making some progress without the help of anyone. I see how they dealt with the budget scandals, Buhari’s health issues, Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai’s attempts to gag dissent, etc and I am filled with pride. A lot more needs to be done, and things will get better. We have no choice. There may be hope after all.

Good night.

Sex, the bees and the boys…

Sex. Let’s talk about sex, you know, let’s talk about the birds and the bees. In my country, Africa, there is this lovely tradition where elderly men call young men into the family room, or sunroom or living room of their huts and over human skull cups of ice-cold beer, Malbec, or warm cognac VSOP, tell them about the birds and the bees, you know, sex.

By the way, in Africa, men do not teach girls about sex, it is taboo for real men to talk to women about those things. That is the job of women. This is a fact. Read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart please for more information about this great custom, in that great book, girls learn the truth, that babies come into this world on the strong backs of weaver birds. This is why African men flog boys who come close to their daughters. Unless they are rich. Girls must remain chaste for their weaver birds.

So this one day, my dad Papalolo talked to me about sex and got me drunk. I remember that fateful day. It was in 1980 on a cold snowy harmattan day in our village, Ewu. I was very young, I had just finished my national youth service corp program (NYSC) after graduating from the University of Benin, the Harvard of Africa, with a First Class Upper degree. I hate to brag, but I am the only one in Africa with a First Class, Upper degree. Yes o, I was always first in class! Nor be today I begin to know book!

As I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself, I walked into Papalolo’s sunroom (we have those in Africa, you know, smh!) with a copy of The Economist under one arm while texting my friend Emeka on my Samsung Galaxy 1.5 about meeting him at Shoprite down the road later. I loved hanging out with Emeka, we would hold hands like real men do, and go from store to store in our village mall dreaming about going to Dubai together and buying things we couldn’t afford! We loved Victoria’s Secrets, our village mall had one across from Radio Shack. I loved our village Radio Shack, I was always buying knick-knacks from there with my dad’s American Express card. Long story. I will tell you later.

Anyway, as I walked into the room, my dad looked up at me and he frowned, he was in a bad mood, I quickly surmised that he was missing his iPad; Obioma the tailor had taken it away for repairs, the Made in China SIM card was not working and GLO and MTN signals were being finicky. Dad did not look happy.

In those days, my dad, Papalolo loved to be on Facebook where he would spend all day “liking” inanities and typing “LOL!”on cute girls’ walls while drinking Gulder or cognac, and when he couldn’t be on Facebook or Twitter, he would become a crabby pain in the ass.

This day, I was his victim. As I walked into his sunroom, he looked up from his beer and copy of Sahara Reporters (in those days, they had print copy), peered at me through his bifocals, coughed and said, “My son, I never see you with girls! All I see you with are men and books, abi you don’t like women? Abomination! Tufiakwa!” We are not igbo, I don’t know why he was fond of bleating “Tufiakwa!” Perhaps, it was all those Achebe books he read! I told him I liked women but I didn’t know what to say to them! He said, “Ah, that’s easy, my son, whenever you see a pretty woman, tell her she’s pretty, she will smile and once you make a woman smile you are half way there! If she’s not pretty, tell her she’s pretty anyway, when she smiles she’ll be pretty!” I told him I am too shy to talk to girls. He shoved a bottle of Gulder beer in my hands, “Here, drink a beer, it will loosen your tongue and make you bold in front of women! Drink two sef!” Papalolo was right, beer loosens tongues!

Well, the other day here in America, I decided I needed to talk to our teenage son Fearless Fang about the birds and the bees, you know, sex. I would start early, no need waiting for him to graduate from the university! So, we were in the car Anikeleja cruising along the highway and I coughed and said, “Son, we have to talk about sex!” OMG!, you’d think I had shot this boy! He screamed,”OH MY GOD, DADDY!!!! THAT IS SOOOOO DISGUSTING!!! THAT IS WHAT HEALTH CLASS IS FOR!!! STOP THIS CAR RIGHT NOW!!! I AM SO CALLING SOCIAL SERVICES ON YOUR AFRICAN BLACK ASS, SMH!!! OH MY GOD, DADDY, WHY WOULD I BE DISCUSSING SEX WITH YOU, GROSS!!! YOU ARE MY DADDY! STOP THIS CAR RIGHT NOW!!! OH MY GOD, DADDY!!! WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS? I WANT MY MUMMY!!!”

I was driving at 70 miles per hour, I am telling you, that boy jumped out of the car and raced back home into the waiting arms of his mother, whimpering, “Bad daddy! Bad daddy!!!” What a wimp! At his age, I was a colonel in the Biafran army, assisting Carl Gustav Von Rosen to drop ogbunigwe bombs in the moat in Benin City.

So much for sex ed. SMH. That did not go well. Sigh. I will continue the conversation in our sunroom after Fearless Fang graduates from university. We have sunrooms in America, you know? I wonder if ML has talked to the girls about sex! I am not going there, who wan die? Besides I am a titled chief, the Ogbejele II of Esanland. It would be taboo for me to talk to our daughters about those things! I am sure ML has told them that children come from heaven on the backs of weaver birds or American storks and it is bad luck for a boy to touch them anywhere until they are thirty! Pray for me.