History isn’t taught in Nigerian schools

History is not taught in Nigerian schools.

One of the best ways to determine the state of a nation is to inspect the schools. Just pick any school – primary or secondary – with a sizeable number of students. Observe the student-teacher dynamics, the cliques that form among staff and students, the school’s assessment and reward system, and the curriculum. Then you will know all there is to know about the country that school is in.

History isn’t taught in schools, meaning that our nation doesn’t care about the past. For a people who profess so much respect for ancestors and elders, this is shocking. We cannot begin to dream of a better Nigeria unless we know where we are coming from. Unless we learn from the past, we will never develop. We will simply keep achieving variations of underdeveloped structures and mindsets – not progress.

Children don’t know their heritage, so the country’s future is in soup. They only know about American presidents and King Henry VIII’s wives from cartoons and television shows. They know nothing of our powerful precolonial kingdoms and empires, the great kings and queens, what the Benin bronzes and Nok terracotta sculptures are, the animals that once roamed Nigeria that have left their traces in ancient artwork, and nsibidi and how the easterners communicated before the British imposed their culture on us.

Our museums are empty and desolate because there is no curiosity. I used to get annoyed whenever I visited the Things-Stolen-From-Other-People Museum in London because those artefacts are ours. They were unfairly taken from us and the British have innocent blood on their greedy hands. However, now that I am back in Nigeria and I see the grotesque lack of regard for our heritage, I think those artworks might as well stay where they are in the UK; where they are treasured and appreciated; where people value every curve and symbol, oohing and aahing at them in amazement.

We destroy historical sites and buildings because we do not see their value. Buildings I grew up with are no more. Mud houses, Portuguese structures, colonial architecture are being torn down to make way for shopping malls and overbuilt houses, magnanimous shows of wealth and prestige. We pay millions of naira every year to go around London and see their old buildings and monuments. Yet, we are destroying ours.

If we knew our past, perhaps we would treasure its footprints. We need to put history back on the menu in schools. We cannot progress until we lay in our minds the foundation that is history, standing on the shoulders of giants.

 

Image|Sacred Forest, Osogbo|Source: Jeremy Weate, Flickr

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Attempted rape is not a big deal

While discussing the ‘Nigeria sex scandal’ in America, a viewer called in to a talk show to offer his intelligent perspective. Through the line, he said, “Attempted rape is not a big deal”, defending the acts of our perverse leaders. So, sexual harassment or molestation is alright as long as actual sex does not occur? I would like to believe that this is just one man’s opinion in the vast sea of Nigerians, but the longer I stay here, the less convinced I am of this belief. His comments capture a common mentality: Nothing is ever particularly bad; it can be overlooked until it’s the worst possible scenario. This applies to everything from leaking roofs to potholed roads to sexual abuse.

My dears, I have decided to stop saying anything bad about our leaders. An ideal government represents the interests and the mentalities of its people; and that is what we have in Nigeria. If the people think giving bribes or chancing others is not a big deal, well, so does the government. If grabbing someone and touching them inappropriately is nothing to us, our leaders agree with you. We are one and the same.

The Gender and Equal Opportunities bill was thrown out of senate earlier this year and a cry of uproar was heard from some educated circles, but I am realising that the honest truth is that many Nigerian men were against the bill. They seem to believe that our cultures and religions permit them to do whatever they like to women because men are the head of households. And many women subscribe to this theory too*. So, the decision of the Nigerian Senate truly represented the interests of the majority.

I know I talk a lot about gender and abuse, but it is so in my face. Just as the issue of gun violence is unavoidable in America, the violence and injustice against women bites hard and pervades one’s sight in Nigeria. I am a woman which makes people take me less seriously – “She’s one of those crazy, deluded feminists” – when I speak of these things but I am not going to shut up.

Recently, a lawmaker told his female colleague that he will beat her up and impregnate her and he will get away with it. Since January, there have been countless cases of men killing their wives in their own homes – and those are only the ones that manage to make it to the news. Children like Ese Oruru continue to be abducted and impregnated – and not by Boko Haram.

The terrorists aren’t just some masked men with machine guns in the North East. They are your friends, relatives, schoolteachers, colleagues, next-door neighbours, and religious leaders. They are people we smile and greet everyday. They are people we live with. We’ve got so used to their remarks and ‘slips’ of the hand that we are accepting this as normal. That’s just the way men are.  Females have caring motherly instincts while males are strong and sexually charged. That’s why someone can dare to open his mouth and say, “Attempted rape is not a big deal”.

 

*Just a question: Is it really sexism if women agree with it?

 

Image|Source: Bella Naija

Why I don’t believe in beating children

I cannot claim to be an authority on parenting as I am not a parent myself, but I was once a child with parents and school teachers who beat. So I have more than enough authority to speak on corporal punishment, at least from the point of view of a Nigerian child.

I have heard people say that they beat so that children will behave and be better humans when they grow up. Then those children grow up to beat their own children and on and on it goes. We’ve been beating children for millennia, please show me the better humanity. Continue reading “Why I don’t believe in beating children”

Black is ugly

I was born with the wrong skin colour, I would think to myself.

When I was little, I would spend minutes – hours – staring at my skin trying to understand why I’m black; this strange unnatural colour. I didn’t understand how God could have made such a tragic mistake, how He could let His manufacturing angels clothe a white girl in a black frock, and a very black one indeed. They couldn’t even make me fair-skinned! They really messed up.

When I had my many engrossing daydreams, I never saw myself as black. I was always Mediterranean white with gloriously straight blonde hair but still with my dark brown eyes. And then, when I noticed that my imaginary self was not me, I would try my best, I willed myself to change her into a very dark black girl with stubborn woolly hair; but then the daydream would not be the same anymore. It’s ruined and I’m back to the real world. It doesn’t matter what I was dreaming about. As soon as I became aware that my head had painted a picture of a white me (it did go unnoticed most of the time), that would be the end of it.

“My dear don’t bleach”, I was constantly told by people who obviously ‘toned’ their skin to remove ‘dark blemishes’ and had no intention of stopping. I never knew if it was sincerity or sarcasm. “Duduyemi, black beauty”, my friends and relatives would call out in jest as they stare at my blackness. Many of them knew I hated it, but that made the jest a lot sweeter. However, even in the midst of a growing inferiority complex, I would still thank heavens that I’m not like those blacker than black Sudanese people I saw on cable. They reach the ultimate level of blackness.

At a very young age, I was made to understand how the world works: white chocolate is supreme, milk chocolate is satisfactorily delicious, and dark chocolate is bitter and uninviting. I also realised that racism isn’t solely an oyinbo issue but that we ‘blacks’ – well, Nigerians – discriminate against ourselves. This has nothing to do with tribes or ethnic groups. Wherever you’re from, no matter your ancestry, the lighter the better. Watching TV and seeing that the few black people on the screen were mostly Beyonce fair and more successful than the Kelly Rowland darker ones didn’t help at all, especially since I am way blacker than Kelly.

Then there are pictures; I just never show up in them. All you see is a row of large teeth surrounded by smiling white or fair-skinned people – even with flash. I hated – and still hate – having to deal with the embarrassed smile of friends in the UK telling me that I am not showing.

With these observations, I came to the conclusion that black is indeed ugly, unwanted and embarrassing.

[PS: Older me couldn’t care less about skin. However, I still don’t like taking loads of photos but not because of colour]

 

A similar post written by a guest blogger: I Am Not A Colour

The Troubled Heartbeats of Lagos

“Those of us who live in Lagos are just killing ourselves little by little; and we don’t even know it”, a family friend says often.  “Me, I’m packing my things and leaving this place. I’m leaving you people with your wahala”.  He speaks in Yoruba with an almost comical expression on his face but uses figures of speech that hold a tinge of what I sense to be regret, making his words bite deeper and run truer.

Of course, he is right.  Growing up, the life expectancy for the average Lagosian was somewhere between 40 and 50 years.  As a child, I was traumatised at the prospect of having just 40 years to live; however, one does grow accustomed to the presence of death at an early age here.  A friend, acquaintance or schoolteacher was always dying from some mysterious illness which was almost always stress related.  There were tales of people being found dead in their conference hotel rooms or collapsing suddenly to their graves. The life expectancy has increased slightly in recent years, probably due to more regular check-ups, but not much has changed in our pitiful lifestyle.

You eat your breakfast in 4.30am traffic and buy your dinner in the 8pm go-slow.  Heaven forbid there’s a fuel scarcity or you’d have to use your lunch hour to queue at a petrol station.  Officially, you don’t work on weekends but you somehow make it back to the office most Saturdays.  The company is laying people off so you just have to be there.  Infidelity is inevitable as you spend your days with the same people from early morning to night.  You communicate with your spouse more on Whatsapp than proper face to face conversations while that person next to you at work – whom you initially thought was ugly – is looking more and more divine every day.

When you finally get home, all you want to do is sleep but that’s when the worries begin: no electricity, no water, the removal of fuel subsidy, the tomato shortage, the price of rice, the price of bread, the dollar rate, the flood from yesterday’s rain that affected your car, the landlord who just gave you a week’s notice so you now have to look for a new flat in this extortionate Lagos market… .  The list goes on.

The chronic anger – you don’t know where it’s coming from yet it’s always there.  You are depressed and you can’t talk to anyone about it.  You try to push down your fatigue and cover it up with Vaseline, perfume and that glorious Nigerian smile.  Don’t let anyone see through you and if they do, just say: “It is well. God is in control”.

You never stop dreaming of moving to another state but your greedy hunger for fast money, good internet and great Chinese food holds you.  Yet, just last week, a colleague fell asleep in his car and never woke up and your boss had a heart attack two months ago; but you say, “That is not my portion in the name of Jesus”.  You know your blood pressure is high and that diabetes is slowly creeping in from the over-sweetened morning coffee you drink to wake up after only a few hours of sleep and all the bottles of Coca Cola and packets of biscuits you consume per day for a sugar boost when you’re feeling tired at work.  Still, you carry on as is because “that’s Lagos life for you”.

 

Image|Source: Mysha Islam, Flickr

Why Shouldn’t I Rob You?

When I heard the news of the Abuja stampede two years ago, I just couldn’t picture what could possess people to run into a stadium, trample and kill their fellow human beings. Could such desperation for work exist that would lead to death?  When away from home one has the tendency to disconnect and soak into a life free from the customary traumatic worry that consumes the average Nigerian; but now I understand that there is a literal death race to employment in the country.

Being a recent graduate in Nigeria is one of the worst curses anyone could bestow on a person.   Most people spend at least four years of their lives (if they are lucky to have a strike-free study) working, scraping the bottom of the barrel for their fees, and licking whatever flavour is left to get what little they can to eat and survive.  Then they graduate from university with much glee and relief only to discover that the real world is just as bleak.

Imagine going through all that to realise that your labours were worthless and you can only find a N15,000 (£52) per month cleaning job, or you have to concede to selling mobile recharge cards for a living.  Once, I spotted a man dressed in suit and tie in a 30⁰C morning sun, looking desperate as he held up a ‘home lesson’ sign to passing cars.

The unemployed are left to drift from one family member to another for food and shelter.  In fact, many jobseekers have dependents that need to be roofed, fed, clothed and sent to school.  They also have to care for aged parents and grandparents that haven’t been paid their pensions in years.  In a family-focussed society, a person’s joblessness affects the livelihood of so many other individuals.  How is one not supposed to go crazy?

The frustration sinks even deeper when one sees how their fellow Nigerians spend money as if it’s air.  When they observe our leaders – the ones that should be looking out for them – frolicking corrupt millions and getting away with it, or when they see someone flying an entire wedding party to Dubai, many starving jobseekers cannot help but wonder:

“Why shouldn’t I rob you?  Why shouldn’t I reach into your Range Rover and grab your purse when you wind down to buy plantain chips in traffic?  You spend more money than I have in my account on your child’s primary school class party for goodness’ sake!  In fact, why shouldn’t I kidnap you?  At least from your ransom I would be able to feed my family and pay rent for a year or two, start a business and still have more than enough to spare”.

Abeg, do not despise the thief who steals to satisfy his hunger.

This supposedly budding country is bursting at its seams with unemployment.  There’s so much to be done.  Yet, the ogas on top prefer to don their agbadas, parade their corrupt potbellies from one party to another and continue to live in an angry, frustrated country.

 

Image | Abuja jobseekers stampede at a recruitment test | Source: BBC

Striving for Simplicity in a Flamboyant Society

I fell in love with simplicity some years back.  I was drawn to the idea of having no attachment to a place and people’s opinions.  I started working towards this fuss-free life in everything from interior décor to travel luggage to celebrations.  Achieving this from the opposite end of the spectrum has been a tortoise paced process.

In the course of things, I stopped desiring to be fashionable – I never was any good at it anyway.  I’m happy to just be neat.  I completely abandoned the idea of makeup going everywhere au naturel even parties, interviews, weddings and graduations.

However, my quest for minimalism is yet to successfully invade my library.  I love reading.  I love the sensation of paper.  I can’t stand e-books.

Now, I am in Nigeria where simplicity is uninvited.  Nigerian society is built on the cakey foundation of ‘show’.  If you’ve got it, flaunt it and accessorise it with gold.  This tends to be viewed as a modern phenomenon, a by-product of an emerging middle-class, but a look at the 1950s-1960s pictures of Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh proves that flamboyance is not a recent development.

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Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Minister of Finance during the First Republic

Perhaps this is all a side effect of a poverty mentality mingled with colonial mentality.  We were so used to being supressed that once set free, we became like lions in a Roman amphitheatre.  Or maybe that’s just our nature.

Every aspect of Nigerian life is designed for show and our ostentation knows no bounds.  From Italian leather everything, to the luxurious SUVs and residential mammoths called homes that anyone who’s ‘made it’ just has to have, the elaborate weddings that cost millions though the couple can’t afford a place to live, the gold trips to Dubai, and the mandatory annual holiday abroad (Dubai is not overseas. It is an eastern extension of Nigeria) with the intimidating return luggage over packed with presents to give out just so people would know you went out of the country.  Show off or stop living.

Speaking to other Africans, this is the one thing Nigerians are both loved and disliked for.  “You people show off too much”, my Namibian hairdresser back in London would complain.  She was always surprised that I didn’t want small waist length plaits.  “But that’s the way Nigerians like it”, she would say.

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Ladies at a wedding

“I expected you to look more like a lady”, people tell me.  To be a lady, one adorns human hair weaves, tightens her dresses and catwalks in heels.  Most of all, her mannerism is governed by self-consciousness, an awareness that she’s on display. I’m fine with not being a lady.

Recently, I was described as being ‘simple-minded’ because I was perplexed that a particular wedding was so expensive.  I couldn’t help but revert to the dictionary definition which is also an abuse teachers love to render to their students: having or showing very little intelligence or judgement.  I began to wonder if that is how people really view me.  The brainless, naïve girl who doesn’t wear makeup and show her ‘figure 8’.

Naïve or not, as long as it remains in the eye of the beholder, I see matchless beauty in simplicity.

 

Image|Money Spraying|Source: 9jaolofofo.ng

 

Sexism: Men are Victims Too

By guest blogger,  Arinze Ude. 

Feminism is a delicate topic in Nigeria.  The movement has been bastardized and one is yet to fully grasp the agenda of Nigerian feminists.

There appears to be a conflict of interest in defining the essence of their feminist movement.  It could be that many of them are either confused or ignorant of the core values of the feminism ideology.  As stated in Unlearning Sexism, ignorance is a silent, parasitic affliction that twists and bends the lenses of one’s eyes to produce a distorted view of reality.

Today, they are pushing for gender equality; for men and women to be recognized as equal. Tomorrow, they are advocating for gender favouritism; fighting for causes that favour only women – a battle of sexes per se.

For instance, there’s always a special prize for the last woman standing at TV shows like the Gulder Ultimate Search and I have never seen any feminist stand up in its disapproval.  This makes me wonder if we inadvertently propagate gender inequality and sexism.

To be fair, sexism is not anyone’s fault.  It has become imbibed in our society.  As a result, both men and women, directly or indirectly, make sexist comments on a daily basis.

Nice guys are often ridiculed by both men and women for their niceness and lack of masculine energy to take the bull by the horn.  ‘He is not man enough’ is often the derogatory comment used to describe these guys.  And that is also sexism.

Recently, I read an article about an emotional man who often sheds tears for women whenever he is heartbroken.  As expected, the comment section was rife with sexist remarks.  Both men and women were quick to judge the man and say things like:

“How can a man be heartbroken?”

“Do you listen to RnB songs? Gangstas don’t play that shit. They listen to rap.”

“Real men aren’t emotional.”

“Only weak men cry over a lady.”

I had to ask, why can’t a man be emotional and cry over a woman?  Is there any law out there that forbids anyone with the male genitalia from crying?  I mean, if it is therapeutic for him, he should go ahead and do the needful – there’s no shame in that.

According to Wikipedia, sexism can affect any gender but it is particularly documented as affecting only women and girls.  And this is evident in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign to rescue the 219 Chibok girls that were abducted by Boko Haram.  There’s no mention of the young boys that are also victims of such abduction or sex trafficking.

Women, not only men, perpetrate domestic and intimate partner violence, falsely accuse men of rape and other devious acts, molest/sexually harass young boys, and commit paternity fraud.  Even cancers affecting women get more attention than those affecting men.

Despite all these risks men face, support services for men are almost non-existent compared to services for women.  There are also ministries for women affairs – but none for men – in the UN and virtually all Nigerian Governments, at Federal and State Level.

As I mentioned, our society upholds sexist attitudes, directly or indirectly, through the media, culture and/or education.  Despite the patriarchal nature of our society, every child, whether male or female, is instilled with a woman’s point of view.  The boys are taught to protect and give the ladies special treatment as the head of the family whilst the girls, in total submission to men, are taught to expect preferential treatment from men.

Arinze Ude is an aspiring cancer researcher with a Master’s degree in Biomedical Science from the University of the West of England (UWE) Bristol.  He has a flair for writing and shares some of his random thoughts on his blog: http://arturozinga.com

Public Transport, A Possible Go-Slow Cure?

I am not an urban development expert but these are my thoughts after six months of enduring Lagos roads.  Note the ‘possible’ as Nigeria is so unpredictable.  Don’t be surprised if we wake up tomorrow and all traces of traffic have mysteriously disappeared for no apparent reason.  This country freaks me out that way.

Lagosians have grown accustomed to this very disheartening fact: You spend more time on the road than at your destination.  Imagine sitting through go-slow for at least three hours, enduring exhaust fumes and sweat just to get to school or work for 8am.

So far, the brilliant idea the government has come up with is to widen roads and build flyovers; but these take eternity to construct in a corrupt system.  Moreover, they are not permanent solutions in the face of an incessant migrant flow into the commercial capital.  Our government is not blessed with the gift of foresight to plan for future population growths.

In addition, new lanes do not combat bad driving and the use of distraught automobiles with inoperable footbrakes.  It may come as a surprise to some Lagosians that bad vehicles and indifference to the Highway Code cause traffic.  Think of chain reactions.

Nevertheless, good driving – though vital – still won’t be enough.

SO, COULD BETTER PUBLIC TRANSPORT RELIEVE OUR TRAFFIC WOES?

Aside from atrociously planned road networks, the main cause of go-slows is simply the number of cars on the road.  Public transport is disorganised and uncomfortable and people escape it if they can afford to.  Besides, Nigerians are ostentatious.  We want to show off our wealth.  In our culture, any respectable man must attain a job, a car and a wife – it has to be in this order.

Improved public transport would mean less cars on the road.  Instead of thirty individuals driving thirty cars, they could all ride in one vehicle.  In addition, people would be less worried about the frequent fuel scarcities as transport companies will always find petrol somehow.  Although many Nigerians really don’t care, upgrading public transport would also reduce greenhouse emissions and make Lagos more tourist friendly.

Ok. I have to be honest with you now.  I myself do not take public transport in Lagos because of the discomfort and confusion that surrounds it.

How could we make it more efficient and appealing?

Danfo_conductor
A danfo bus

1. YES, TO MORE BRT BUSES

Curtail danfo buses.  These rugged and cramped contraptions are a source of traffic in their own right.  Getting rid of these iconic Lagos fixtures would not be easy and may face sentimental opposition, but we have to stop living our lives on the road.

We need larger well-driven buses.  It is always a relief to see those stress-free, gloriously air-conditioned BRT buses whizzing up and down Western Avenue; however, there aren’t enough of them to meet our population demands and they seem to be limited to the Mainland. Give us more of them.

So maybe taking a BRT bus is still not as fancy as owning your own car.  How about economy and luxury BRT to cater for the country’s class system?

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BRT buses

2. REINVENT OKADAS

Replace those rickety things with solid motorcycles and regulate them.  Implement proper testing and licencing of uniformed drivers to make motorcycling safer.

3. ‘LAGOS’ MEANS ‘LAKES’

We are surrounded by so much water that we just use as a rubbish dumb.  We tend to view this water as an inconvenience that needs to be bridged over; but it has so much potential.  Boats are one the fastest ways of getting round Lagos.  More services with first-rate vessels, bulletproof health and safety procedures, and well-trained staff would attract more people to water transport.

Imagine how much smoother Monday morning rush hour would be if one just hops on a ferry across Five Cowries Creek from the Lekki Peninsula to Ikoyi.  We could even use those  canals to transport goods and not as latrines.

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Victoria Island

4. MAKE WALKING ENJOYABLE

Invest in proper sidewalks so pedestrians don’t have to battle between gutters and the road.  Put benches, shrubs and shades everywhere so people would be more willing to walk longer distances from bus stops to their destinations. Plus, this would attract tourists who just want to walk around and take pictures.

 

5. WHERE ON EARTH IS THE LIGHT RAIL? WHY IS IT TAKING SO LONG?

Well, the above questions say it all.

6. MORE PARKING SPACE PLEASE!

To anyone who needs a business idea: Build vertical parking spaces.  Target the Island event centres which are notorious for thoughtlessness with regards to parking.  When people don’t feel like driving, they could park their cars in these secure spaces and board a bus or boat.

All this is wishful thinking really.  It requires investment and certain people are making way too much money from our inconveniences to allow Lagosians to live easier lives.

 

 

It’s Official: I Am Insignificant

I must confess that when I wrote Unlearning Sexism, a tiny part of me was convinced that it was all in my head. That I was misinterpreting well-meant gestures and comments. Well, I wish those thoughts were right because the truth is far worse.

Feminists of the West, our debate here in Nigeria is not whether or not it is degrading to grow underarm hair or for a man to open a door for a woman.  We are fighting for the right to be human.

I once cited ignorance as one of the sources of sexism.  Now I add fear to that list.  Sexism is a phobia – the fear of losing power.  There is no other explanation for what happened this week in the Nigerian Senate where a gender equality bill was overwhelmingly rejected.

Many newspapers covered the story as “Senate Rejects Gender Equality in Marriage”.  The bill was actually titled, “Gender and Equal Opportunities”.   By narrowing the focus to marriage, these agencies – many of them funded by politicians – are trying to distract us from the crux of the bill and appeal to our religious sensitivities on marriage.  They cause us to be lethargic and more accepting of the dismissal.

In reality, the bill aimed to finally allow Nigerian women the basic human rights that men are so freely given, and introduce much awaited anti-discrimination laws.  It proposed equal opportunities in politics and education.  It also promoted the protection of women from the neglect of polygamous marriages and girls from child marriage.  A lot of girls are not in school because their families don’t see the point of an education as they will be married off to brutes anyway.

It advocated the right for a woman to inherit her husband’s property when he dies.  Many widows are thrown out of their own homes by their in-laws, leaving them with nothing.  They are separated from their children unless the man leaves a will saying otherwise, and more often than not, they don’t because men are immortal, aren’t they?

It was designed to protect the rights of women who have been abused.  Thirty percent of Nigerian women* are victims of domestic violence.  That’s 27 million human beings, more than the total population of Australia.  Over 25% of Nigerian girls* will be sexually abused by their 15th birthday.  Fear of discrimination, of being branded a liar, keeps these women from speaking up.

By rejecting the gender equality bill, our leaders are implying that abuse victims should just grin and bear their pain because ‘men will be men’.  It’s a man’s right to dominate and do as he pleases, as per their interpretation of the Koran and Bible.  These women are to be content as silent insignificant figures.  Nigerians have a way of becoming overly religious when it suits them.

Imagine the impact that bill would have had on Africa as a whole.  Think of how hope would have echoed to women across the continent.  Nigeria, the so-called giant, is crippled and diseased.  Its stench can be perceived from far off.

When will my country stop wallowing in stupidity?

When will the twin horses rear, raising their hooves to the heavens with dignity?

When will the eagle soar with magnificent strength?

When will progress be indeed engraved in our hearts?

 

*Wikipedia. These figures are underestimates as most cases go unreported.

Image| Source: Joachim Huber, Flickr