Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Queer Things about the Women in Our Lives

I had the extraordinary privilege of growing up with girls the first two-dozen years of my life. I’d count myself (un)lucky having only girls as siblings – absolutely no brother! There were days I really wished I had one. Nonetheless, most times I never felt the absence of one, considering the characters I have as sisters – I call them the sweetest thingies in the world. There was never a dull moment.

I must not fail to mention the peculiarities I had living with ladies through out my teenage and young adult lives. Growing up, one of such has to do with my identity. If I were to be differentiated from colleagues bearing same name with me, I was without a second thought referred to as “Wale Obirin” (the female Wale) – explained by the fact I had a feminine disposition rubbed off on me, as a dint of growing up with ladies!

I left home to be on my own in my early twenties and when fate thought I’d enough of half a decade of self-government, I was convicted and sentenced to a life term of living with another woman (as a matter of fact, now increased to two)!

I’m not a chauvinist and this is not to tell you about my Ms. Fortunes, but to narrate things I still don’t understand about these peculiar people after my almost 30-year “professional” experience of living with them. Though not weighty, these witty, trifling behaviours are still beyond my understanding. Whether you have them as mothers, sisters, wives, relatives, friends, colleagues or whatever, you’ll agree that the under listed mannerisms are queer in no particular order. Thanks to contributors who shared their experiences:

a. I’ve always appreciated braids on ladies. The beauty of this exclusive coiffure when shrewdly crafted ceases not to turn my head yet against its volition. But, you may want to enquire: “What’s queer about braids?” To all sincere intent and purpose, there’s nothing curious about this hairdo but what gravels me is seeing ladies leaving a couple of loose braid strands across their face awkwardly obstructing their line of sight. They occasionally toss these aside. Why can’t the freakin' braids be packed in a lot?!

b. I’m not a shoe freak perhaps that’s why possessing more than a dozen pair of shoes all at one time, bewilders me. I discovered some men folks are likewise infected with this bug. What on earth is an individual doing with this number of footwear?! Most of them are worn occasionally – probably once in a year, after which they are no longer fashionable – while others end up being relics or mementos.

c. Have you ever peeked into a lady’s wardrobe? Most of the “wearables” look fit for folks a decade younger than their owners. It’s often implausible how they manage to put on these outfits. Remember White Chicks – when detectives Kevin and Marcus went shopping, disguising as Brittany and Tiffany.

d. Our ladies sudden switch (when the occasion demands) to the posh or impeccable (in local parlance called “forming”) is mind-blowing!

e. Now hold your breath (or sight) for this: Having a mirror behind the sunshade flap on the passenger side must be a criterion for choosing and purchasing a car! That’s how I spell Q-U-E-E-R.

f. Why do the women in our lives think a man who decidedly stays at home is akin to a complete handyman (plumber, electrician, gardener, carpenter, garbage man, driver, gateman and all – the fullworks, I must say). Someone should know I’m not complaining, just enquiring.

g. What’s that thing that infuriates women when one fails to follow the tenets of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner? Are you obliged to always show up at the table even when there’s no abdominal space to tuck meals in? More questions than answers.

h. A brain teaser: No matter how much more you earn than them, they end up having more than you do.

i. Another one that will boggle me forever: You take a strong stand concerning an issue. You promise ‘self even if Hitler bellows from h*ll or Mother Theresa sheds tears from Abraham’s bosom you ain’t gonna shift an inch. Nonetheless, the women in our lives find their way around, above, under or through this stance and our deportment falls like a pack of cards or melts like peanut butter by the hearth. Who if truth be told is indeed the weaker sex?

j. Whenever you do their bidding you’re a darling or a perfect gentleman. As a matter of fact, Denzel Washington is just trailing. However, when you don’t: You don’t know how to treat a lady!

k. When you have them as colleagues, they’re keen to show you “what a man can do, a woman can do battering.” Oops! I mean “better”.

l. A couple of times, I’ve tried to keep up with the Cadavers Kardashians, discovering why TV remotes grow wings (to reappear much later) when soaps like Paloma, Demented Desperate Housewives, Second Chance et al were aired. Each time, my eyes increased in weight and changed colour (means drooped with sleep).

m. In the bid of trying to impress (or avoiding to disappoint) the women in our lives, we end up accomplishing all but what we set out doing, even at our risk. I know a friend who almost electrocuted himself while trying to help a next door female neighbour who asked for his unknown slapdash assistance – the poor guy didn’t know jack about electricity and he never wanted to disappoint his housemate.

I guess I’ve to stop here for now.

Excuse me ladies, is it safe for me to come home?

Friday, September 19, 2008

It is Not in the Name!

A name connotes or expresses directly the identity of a person (or group of persons), place, event or being (inanimate or living). In certain climes and sects, a name goes beyond being a mere tag or nomenclature. Within most traditional African enclaves, the name an individual bears reflects either the circumstances of birth or a desired future. Moreover, in religious circles it is believed names do influence the fate of bearers – bearing an “unfortunate” name may compel the life events of an individual to be full of miseries and failures. Conversely, an auspicious name may from onset guarantee fortune for its bearer.

In contemporary times, names are still devised for identification purposes. In particular, organisations or groups of people are named in such a way to depict the purpose or activities of same. Howbeit, within corporate enterprises, while names may continue to remind stakeholders of or guide towards organisational goals, the role of leadership, content and character cannot be overlooked. Put differently, while the name of an organisation may spell its purpose, it is the people and not the name that drive the establishment to its destination of accomplishment or otherwise, failure.

Many Nigerian enterprises, particularly organs of government have experienced various (re)naming ceremonies christened “restructuring”, all at no small costs. Regrettably, such changes in names have only brought more miseries, wasted resources, misplaced priorities and loss of focus to such organisations.

The first villain on this list is the present Nigeria energy parastatal – the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). From the Electricity Cooperation of Nigeria (ECN) of the early 1960s to the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) of the mid 1960s, the PHCN (birthed in 2005) has served every other purpose but producing electricity. In point of fact, in recent times it seems PHCN is in the business of generating, transmitting and distributing darkness in “kilodark-hour” – a situation that has turned the Nigerian landscape into a dingy, sinister jungle with dispelled sparkles of light (made possible by generators) when viewed aerially at nighttimes. Aside the enormous bills incurred on fuel consumption to power their generators, neighbourhoods and homes have to cope with the additional agony of noise and fouled air. Many businesses are crippled or at the brink of closing down due to attendant high costs of generating their own electricity.

PHCN staff’s inclination to work and mind frame beg for reason – a rationale to confirm the rot in the system is actually people-oriented. Until the issues of leadership, content and character are addressed, billions of naira meant to revamp the energy sector will ceaselessly go down the drain – or more appropriately put, the pockets of some heartless felons.

Another malefactor on the list is the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). It was once proposed to change the name to The Nigeria Police (TNP). What this security arm of government needs is not a name change but a lineament alteration. The core and fabric of our police force reek of endemic corruption. It also appears this sleaze is uncontrollably contagious. The system has a knack for attracting the most uncultured, aggressive and otiose individuals from the society and if and when it fails to find one, it transforms the unspoiled to septic and the adept to effete. A modification of name and/or uniform guarantees little or no improvement of our police force. Rather, a comprehensive system overhauling is expedient which entails scrutinising the character and substance of personnel being recruited while doing away with the fetid.

The Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) was created by the Babangida military government in July 1992 “to increase the government’s involvement in ameliorating the environmental and ecological degradation of these communities as a result of the exploration and exploitation of crude oil.”

However, according to Cyril Obi “OMPADEC, like earlier official policies towards the Niger delta, was a gesture of tokenism. It ended up as a conduit pipe for the federalist bourgeoisie and its oil minority allies, and portrayed a grand strategy of destabilising the oil producing communities of the delta through divide and rule tactics. Worse, the limited contributions that OMPADEC could have made were hampered by institutional instability and crisis. OMPADEC’s first chief executive was removed from office after numerous petitions and allegations of corruption, and he fled abroad shortly after.”

Sadly, the story has not been different even with a transformation into the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2000 by the Obasanjo administration – the more things change, the more they remain the same. Instead of developing the oil-rich Niger-Delta, the NDDC has only succeeded in stupendously enriching a few individuals particularly the commission’s executives. Recently, the NDDC chairman was arrested for paying half a billion naira to a sorcerer, to carry out unthinkable things!

On the continental stage, the name-change syndrome fails not to play. Established in 2002, the African Union (AU) was formed as a successor to the amalgamated Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and African Economic Community (AEC) both established in the early 60s and 80s, respectively. It would be expected the AU will truly unite its integral country members, while they enjoy gains of their union like their European counterparts on the platform of the European Union (EU). On the contrary, most African nations have only experienced resentment and hostility within territories and across borders.

Lately, indigenous South Africans took to the streets destroying properties and taking lives of fellow African non-indigenes in bestial, despicable manner, claiming the foreigners were denying them scarce job opportunities. The situation remains a template for most African sub-regions. Furthermore, most African nations have only known tyrannical rule and despotic forms of government. With Muammar al-Gaddafi holding sway for absolutism in the north; the Eyadémas, representing the league of monocrats in the west; Mwai Kibaki sitting tight in a so-called power-sharing deal in the east and the octogenarian, shogunal Robert Gabriel Mugabe in the south; one wonders what name change has to do with regional unity and delivery of the dividends of good governance to people.

Actualising genuine, tangible and constructive changes must be premised only on structural revolution which addresses leadership, content and character – in essence, the human element. Without these, the status quo can only get sorrier no matter the brand of risible, splendiferous names organisations bear.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Tribute to Professor M.O. Ogedengbe

At one time or the other, we meet individuals whose relationship with us indelibly impacts our lives. One of such is Professor Martins Olusola Ogedengbe. A civil engineering professor of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Prof. (as he is popularly referred to) comes across as a personality with a docile demeanour. However, on closer association one would come to discover a man of strong will and seasoned character that never condones indolence and anything short of excellence. This stance almost always places him on controversial spots.

A man of witty, philosophical and insightful words, Ogedengbe never hesitates to smack an individual with his opinion often times, sarcastic while his facial expression might suggest otherwise. One of such occasions presented itself when he gave us an assignment after his first lecture during our penultimate year. I can remember clearly the comments he minuted on our various assignment papers. The research-based homework had to deal with writing about water-borne diseases and stuffs like that. Without much ado, I laid hands on a medical textbook and I plagiarised almost a couple of chapters like no man’s business – after all, what does a freaking engineering undergraduate know about coli forms, bacteria and viruses.

On receipt, our various papers were painted red with his interesting comments leaving all of us with points closer to 1 than 10. After reading through my “well-researched” paper, I think Prof. was overwhelmed with my over-dubbed argots. Sardonically, he queried:

“Can you explain all these jargons to Grandma in Yoruba (my native language)?”

His comments on Bolaji’s papers still remain a reference for most of us till today. A very intelligent chap though, BJ (nickname) never completed his assignments until a couple of hours to submission. Moreover, his works reeked with disjointed words or sentences and avoidable errors. Prof. summarily commented:

“The wife of a careless man is almost a widow!”

Today, Bolaji is married and we’re earnestly praying…

Ofuya (another brilliant but otiose colleague) was never on time either for submission of homeworks or lectures i.e. if he ever showed up! Our man Fusqo (nickname) deemed it fit to submit his first assignment a couple of days after the deadline and of course you can trust Ogedengbe – he succinctly concluded:

“People like Ofuya will never get the job.”

Interestingly, a couple of weeks ago Ofuya was one of the groom’s men for a friend’s wedding. As the procession commenced, Ofuya was nowhere to be found. He was called on phone and responded he was just around the corner. Ofuya wasn’t sitting in the pew until the tail end of the more than 2-hour church service! Talking about how people change (or do they remain the same?) more than seven years after graduation!

Ogedengbe does not tolerate remissness or any semblance of it. On a particular occasion, Paul (our class rep) and I accosted Prof. in his office requesting for an extension of deadline with regards to the submission of a term paper due to the prevailing conditions on campus (there was no electricity and water). Ogedengbe was appalled that a few considered “responsible” students could make such a request. He lamented:

“If gold would rust, what would iron do?”

He made us to understand that:

“Work will always fill the time allotted to it.”

No matter how short or long the deadline is, the Ofuyas of this world will never meet up. Thence, he lectured us on how to forge ahead in life in spite of adverse conditions. For the next couple of hours we stood sweating in the non-air-conditioned office, with forced rapt attention listening to the issues he was battling with – being a widower, his ill-health, unaccomplished goals – as he intermittently illustrated on the chalk board in his office, trying to drive home his point. For the most part, we remembered more the pains in our legs while standing than Prof.’s golden advice. Moreover, we didn’t get any deadline extension – instead, Paul and I were denied some two hours we could have ploughed into working on the paper.

Incidentally, Paul’s and Bolaji’s final year theses were supervised by Prof. I guess the twosome will not forget this life-changing ordeal – not in a hurry.

Prof. Ogedengbe is often misjudged by colleagues and his students. He comes to many as sadistic and often times unwavering. As a result, Ogedengbe is in many individuals’ not too white books. Howbeit, this is an extremely scrupulous man – he will never excuse the undotted i’s or the t’s that miss their crossings; not the Ogedengbe I know. He inexorably emphasises the need for an individual to demonstrate the three “I’s”: Industry, Initiative and Intelligence. Prof. has an overwhelming sense of profundity, aptness, organisation and orderliness. I consider him to be one of the “last of the academic Mohicans” – a rare breed of intellectuals already facing extinction. Particularly, his technical writing skill is impeccable.

This is not to portray a picture-perfect individual as many might wont to imagine but a thoroughbred fellow who’s only in touch with his essence. After all, to err is human whenever Prof. does.

A couple of years ago, Prof. Ogedengbe sent me a mail (for whatever reasons) he titled “If Wishes Were Horses!” It spotlighted an undiscovered part of this reflective man. It reads thus:

“At this point in time, as a professor of civil engineering I sometimes wish I could spend a typical 24-hour day something as follows, I might call it an Olusola Ogedengbe Day:

Conduct usual wakeup preliminaries, have some breakfast, give lectures to one undergraduate class and one postgraduate class; perform some administrative chores plus interact with undergraduate and PG students under research supervision in office and/or in the lab; attend and participate intelligently and intellectually in a seminar in my department, in the Faculty or elsewhere in the university. This in particular will include diverse disciplines/subjects/topics: Greek Mythology, Forensic Anthropology, Evolutionary Biology; possibly hear arguments among subject experts there as to how the early Darwinian view of evolution (the steady upward march from simple to complex, with man the crowning glory) contrasts with the modern view which is proving to be a more random, haphazard affair full of dead ends and bizarre twists; or on a comparative analysis of the philosophical bases of Aristotle, and two thousand years later, Lamarck, in their belief systems reflected by postulations such as for example, that 'all relatives are related'. And so on.

Back in my Department: Visit with my PhD student and his current setup in the lab on the study of electrophoresis in the treatment of industrial wastewaters. Lunch and/or supper take their proper places.

At sundown, go out on a little exercise, walking among trees, flowers, the brooks. Back home, take a shower. Go take a lager, likely a warm one (partly diuretic, you see) and while lingering on it engage others at the OAU Ile-Ife Staff Club 'Elders Corner' in discussions (arguments, really) on random/diverse issues: UFOs, Jingoism, POWs, Banana Peel Syndrome, Mona Lisa or Van Gogh's (boring old) Chair, AWOL, Where Babies Come From, Whether We are Happier than our Forefathers. And so forth.

Back home at night, hum a few hymns from my YHB (Yoruba Hymn Book) and reflect on a few passages in the Scriptures. Time to prepare for bed. In bed, light reading, maybe some old stuff: James Hadley Chase's 'Gold Fish Have No Hiding Place', 'An Ear to the Ground', 'The Guilty are Afraid'; Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart'; Sydney Sheldon's 'If Tomorrow Comes', 'Rage of Angels'; or Wole Soyinka's 'The Man Died' ('Igilango Geesi'). In due course switch off the light and listen to the sound of silence. A brief prayer of thanksgiving to the Almighty God. For EVERYTHING. And then…That's it.

Life's Illusion Perhaps? No. Probable New Day Renaissance. In my beloved University.”

A couple of years ago, I made contact with his department to indicate my intention of carrying out a research/fieldwork using the department as a platform. I was informed Prof. had been ill and I decided to send him an SMS text since he seldom picked his calls due to his failing hearing ability. In his usual brisk and straight-from-the-shoulder manner, Prof. responded:

“Mr. Ajani, I expected your brilliant self to know I’m ill and on sabbatical. Anyway, it’s good to have you back. Looking forward to meeting you. MOO.”

During the course of the fieldwork, Prof. eventually granted me audience after a number of previously scheduled cancelled interviews. He received me with much warmth and appreciated my work. He informed me I had to shout during our discussion due to his ill-hearing. Anyone peeping through his office would have been confused seeing me sitting and shouting my lungs out, thinking Prof. and I were having a brawl while our disposition suggested otherwise.

My eyes glittered with both tears and pride listening to a man talked about his work, department and school with so much passion. My writing pad and voice recorder were busy downloading from this immense human archive. Prof. Ogedengbe was the pioneer of the 30-year-old civil engineering department – a mission that was daunting. In the face of an economic downturn that jeopardised the prospects of civil engineering in the mid 80’s (due to sky-rocketed cost of building materials) and lesser funds available to universities which successively resulted into human capital flight from the department, Ogedengbe stood by and with his brainchild.

With flourishing professional and biological offsprings that have proceeded from his loins and well-positioned on the globe, Ogedengbe is an accomplished man. ‘Kunle Ogedengbe and siblings do have a father to be proud of – so do some of us, his mentored progenies.

As he approaches three scores and ten years, and being an emeritus, what else could one wish the father of OAU’s civil engineering other than more years spiced with good health and an indescribable sense of fulfilment every achiever deserves.