Wednesday, 28 August 2013

30 @ 30: the top 10 places that have shaped my life in 30 years – by Michael Taiwo

Introduction to the Top Ten Places I remember the most
There is nothing magical about the places I have been. I remember them because they were locations where my view of humanity rose via the interactions I had with people or places where I had a new epiphany or made contact with my spirit. Some of the places may have been renamed, some may not even exist anymore, some may be shadows of their former selves but that is all beside the point. The memories created here will stay with me forever.

Food Canteen, Offa
This was a micro business my mum started to make ends meet. It was a road-side shed that catered to students of the Polytechnic institute in the area. It was never destined to be a commercial success. It was bogged down by bad lease terms and erratic sales from the start. Yet, it was the perfect crucible to learn entrepreneurship. When I look at how my sisters’ businesses are flourishing today I have no doubt it is because of the (sometimes painful) lessons we learnt together while trying to salvage a failing family business at a young age.

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School Chapel, Offa
This is a surprise entry for me. But the more I look back, the more I realize that the only sane moments for me in secondary school (middle school plus high school) were the times I was in the chapel. In the classroom, I was a nuisance. Outside of it, I was on the move to the next prank. But put me in the chapel and a very different – better – side of me showed up. Here, I met some friends I still keep to this day. There were times I even went there by myself simply to pray and meditate. That was an uncommon practice for me then but somehow I found it is the master-key.

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Assurance Villa, Offa
I had an unusual high school experience. My family relocated in my penultimate year in high school leaving me to live by myself. I quickly found myself a two-bedroom rat-hole to accommodate my growing library and friends. All my friends lived either in the boarding house or with their parents, so even though I lived in a shanty they were always there because it offered unrestricted freedom and they could do as they wished away from the prying eyes of authorities or parents. We soon nicknamed my shack “Assurance Villa” because it sounded cool to us and because it was the one place in the world where we were sure we were in complete control. You can have a paradisiac experience in a run-down hut; it all depends on who you are with. That is what Assurance Villa taught me.

Room 353, Awo Hall, Ife
Room 353 was like Assurance Villa without the carefreeness. It was the room I stayed in for four academic sessions. In that time, I must have had dozens of roommates (I define “roommates” loosely in this instance). The most memorable of these were Ugochukwu Onyeonoro, Kolawole Ayinuola, Akintoye Oyekunle, Bible ID, Baba Law, etc. I owe these guys a lot. This was a community in every sense of the word. I knew they were always watching my back as I watched theirs. I cannot recollect any single time in those years we had a bitter argument; it’s surreal. I have met too many guys (and girls) in my life to think the current crop of leaders we have running Nigeria is the best we can produce. No, a thousand times no. Inhabitants of Room 353 remind me that leaders with a passion for the future are in our midst.

Jesus Power House (JPH), Ife
Members of Student Christian Movement (SCM) were like family to me. JPH is SCM’s main office so you can say JPH was my “family house.” SCMers were fond of hanging out in JPH and SCM had no shortage of talents. What this means is that by chilling in JPH, you got a bump in your intelligence as you listened to different opinions and viewpoints. The discussions ranged from the cerebral to the ridiculous but they almost always had a take-home point. The abundance of talent and generosity of spirit also meant you could walk into JPH at any time and find a solution to your problems. The problem could be physical e.g. “I’m hungry, who has gari?,” or intellectual “I need help, who understands Laplace Transforms?” or spiritual “I’m struggling, who can pray with me?” Whatever it was, the family was there to help. My memories of JPH will always stay with me.

Sports Complex, Ife
It was a complex built for school athletes to hone their sport skills. It had a full size soccer field, cricket field, a couple of lawn tennis courts, basketball court, etc. But it was known for the religious activities – both corporate and private that went on there. In and around the fields and courts at any time of the day or night you could find students praying, casting out devils, preaching, you name it, provided no school organized competition or training was going on. After all, physical exercise profiteth a little. I had many experiences, made many friends and won many battles in the significant amount of time I spent in the Sports Complex.

848 Storer Avenue, Fayetteville, US
The biggest change I had to contend with on moving to the States was living alone. All the places I had lived in before were always packed, crowded even, and I loved them. The first time I moved into my studio apartment, I wasn’t sure I could cope alone. There was just so much space! I thought of how about eight people could have easily lived in the space reserved for one. I later adjusted to the new normal and in the process discovered that I actually liked it. I had a handful of friends that made life beautiful but, number wise, it was still nothing compared to my previous life. It was at 848 Storer Avenue that I discovered that I very much enjoyed spending time with me. I always knew I loved hanging out with people but I never knew I equally loved hanging out with myself until I had to. I can now say like Paul, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”

2214 Bell Engineering Center, Fayetteville, US
Bell 2214 was both my office and my lab during grad school. This was where I EARNED my PhD…through sweat and tears and serendipity. I was fortunate to have a boss that didn’t care if I came at 9am and left at 5pm; all he wanted was regular updates that showed I was making progress. Because I knew I could always leave the office if I wanted to, I became more productive anytime I was in it. I wasn’t killing time, I was investing it. I spent more nights than days in my office-lab because I am more functional at nights. It was at Bell 2214 that I would learn that there is nothing that cannot be overcome through sheer persistence and a stubborn will.

Journey to Nowhere, US
In the last few years, I picked up a new habit. Whenever I need to clear my head, I get into my car and drive off with no destination in mind. Sometimes I have a friend hop in with me but most times I go solo. It is a very therapeutic thing to do: discovering new landmarks while chewing over an idea or deliberating on a response to an event all at 70 mph. I cannot get lost because I am going nowhere to begin with. When I feel I have reached closure on the issue at hand, I return home. I call this mobile place my Journey to Nowhere .

 Lagos, Nigeria

I lived in Lagos from right after college till I left Nigeria. Lagos is the soul of Nigeria; its 20 million inhabitants are more than 1/8th of Nigeria’s population. Nigeria is a melting pot of about 250 ethnicities and every one of them has a representation in some form, shape or fashion in Lagos. Yet, on a per capita basis, Lagos is one of the most peaceful cities in the country. Compared to a city of its size anywhere in the world, the murder rate in Lagos is astonishingly low. Lagos is by no means a perfect socio-political environment but it is the best example we have of a working ecosystem in the nation. Lagos doesn’t come close to the dream I have of Nigeria; but whenever I take off my dream glasses and put on my “as-is” (reality) glasses and look at how far Lagos has come, my hope for the entire nation swells.

First Published on the Author's Facebook Page as part of a series.

Michael Taiwo is a believer that Nigeria's best days are ahead. He is a Doctor of Engineering and currently works in the oil and gas industry.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Is there a case for a wife that was raped by her own husband? (2)

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Continued from Part One

However, she mentioned that under Nigerian law, there is no statute that makes a husband liable to punishment because he raped his wife. According to her, the law does not recognise such a claim because it presumes that when two adults take an oath of marriage, they are obligated to each other in various ways which strongly includes sexual commitment. I think this implies that when a woman declares herself bound to a man, she commits herself to a level of intimacy that includes undefined sexual relation. This also applies to the man. So, the bottom line would be that each party keep expectations that are within what they know that the other person can handle and discard selfish excesses. But this is not always the case as most couples never get to know each other fully until they have been married for tens of years.

But I still wonder what proportion of married women accounts for those that are actually safe and happy or content in marriage since they are sometimes referred to as the weaker sex. Before I did Biology in high school, I had always wondered why the cocks I saw my grandma breed often raped the hens. I actually remember stoning a couple of cocks that were caught chasing hens around in the neighbourhood until my Biology teacher treated the topic, animal sexual behaviour, in class. Then, I realised that it was called mating.

Recently, I watched the video report of a field broadcast journalist who had interviewed the general public, including some married men in Lagos city, to know their views on the subject of forced sex within marriage. According to the visual record, people have different beliefs about sex in marriage. When asked what would happen if his wife denied him sex, a Yoruba man with three tribal marks on both cheeks replied that he would force her and have his way sexually. That’s a dangerous man. A second man, whose accent sounded Igbo, said that his wife is his property and he can do whatever he likes with her. That guy probably paid a fortune as dowry. A religious leader then commented that it was wrong for a man to force his wife into sexual relations when she is not in the emotional state or health condition to have it. Another religious leader of a different faith commented that a woman is meant to be subject to her husband. He said that she is supposed to be willing and available when her husband demands for sex. As such, the question of rape cannot arise. He further stated that once a woman has commenced menstruation, she is believed to be ready for marriage.

I guess that explains why some of my bold Hausa schoolmates were already married and wearing wedding rings when we were in primary five.

Truly, it is impossible to consider the act of rape as love-making when even the dictionary defines it as the act of using force to have sexual intercourse with somebody. Yet, it is also true, as has been confirmed by every Nigerian lawyer that was consulted, that under the Nigerian law, a man who signs a marriage contract with his woman is free to have sexual relations with her and cannot be accused of raping her because they are legally bound to have sex and no specific definitions are attached.

I think there are two sides to this issue. One seems favourable and the other appears otherwise. On one side, Nigerian marriages tend to endure in the face of diverse human imperfections and this helps to keep more families together. Unlike developed countries where provisions have been made based on human rights to check inconvenient experiences in marriage, Nigeria has several women who are sticking it out in very imperfect marriages with the solemn hope that things would change because their religions and society provide such hope. This position regularly holds when the woman’s life is not at risk. On the other side, it appears that more women than can boldly step out to be counted are involved in marital relationships that allow something such as rape and they cannot get to punish their husbands for it. These women usually stay in marriage because of their children, our culture in Nigeria and the inherent ability of an average Nigeria to endure tough times.

Is there a case for a wife that was raped by her own husband? (1)

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Once upon a time, a young unmarried couple lived in a makeshift bungalow behind one of my relative’s one-storey apartment. The gentle-looking male cohabitant bore a Yoruba name while the fair bosomy lady was later declared to me as a Calabar woman by our nosy domestic assistant. At that time, I was squatting in a room that stood adjacent to the zenith of the fence separating both compounds.

Since my room was architecturally positioned to poke its nose near the roof of the young couple’s wooden cottage, my ears were sometimes put in the midst of their verbal conflicts. This usually happened on evenings when PHCN interrupted power supply and our residential generator was yet to come on. Ordinarily, I had no intentions of listening to any of the loud conversations flying past my window pane from the next yard. In fact, their words were nothing less than persistent distractions that profusely begged for the attention of every eavesdropper.

But my options were limited by two things. First was the absence of power supply that could provide illumination and artificial ventilation. Second was the presence of biting insects that would attack me if I chose the option of visiting the quiet garden downstairs. The gloominess of the room was caused by the shades from nearby trees and the generator was not going to be switched on until enough persons needed it. So, I just had to work upon the desk in my room and mentally manage the noises that were intruding my privacy from outdoors. Besides, I would merely be enjoying the common benefits of nature if allowed to keep the widest window in my room open and its curtains unfolded.

One day, I was pulled into another of the couple’s conversations while working on my laptop. Usually, it was an outspoken fuss from the lady about other persons that formed the basis of their rambling talk. But this time, the story was different. It was not about their neighbours. It was not about their landlord. It was about themselves. From the discussion, the guy already knew that his lady cohabitant was sleeping around with other men within the estate and beyond. The young man that was attending to domestic work in our duplex apartment had mentioned this to me before and I had decided to be extremely careful whenever our paths crossed in the neighbourhood. I was surprised to know that sometimes, the young man would even offer the lady (with her own consent) to other men for sexual relations in exchange for favours and two of them still cohabited. It was an excellent instance of symbiosis.

But this particular day, I heard very strange words and moved over to the window to have a look and even wondered if I would have to alert our security guard. I guess the guy was feeling extremely horny while the lady was not in the mood at all. The guy wanted sex right away and the lady had gone to grasp a stainless knife to prove to him that it was not going to happen. The guy acted out machismo, overpowered her and they found their way into their house. For me, the theatre movie became a radio program – there were no more visuals. But I heard sounds of heavy plastics falling off, body parts hitting wooden surfaces and unintelligible ramblings that sounded offensive. Then, there was vast stillness and I returned to my work. While I believe that the lady did not file a lawsuit against the guy who was not legally recognised as her husband, I wanted to know if the question of rape could arise within an intimate relationship that is legitimate.

The next day, I asked a lawyer friend over phone if it was possible to accuse a man of ravishing his own wife. I believed that her bi-facetted status as a matured female and qualified barrister made her eligible to give an answer. So, I asked her if a woman could count an unwelcome sexual activity forced on her by her husband as a rape and whether or not one such action is punishable under the Nigerian law. She informed me that, considering the definition of rape as the use of force or lack of consent by one of the parties involved in a sexual activity that includes penetration, it is possible to say that a man raped his wife. Again, this is possible because a woman could be in a physical or mental state that rendered her unprepared for sex with her marital partner.

Read Part Two Here

Sunday, 11 August 2013

How Section 29 Subsection 4b Became the Emblem of Underage Marriage in Nigeria

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Sometime in July this year, some bizarre events were underscored by mass broadcasting on social media and citizen journalism portals. They included comments about the political saga and ensuing showdown of statesmen in Rivers State, unwarranted inter-meddling of the national and state powers that be and realisation of the allowance for underage marriage in the Nigerian constitution.

Many silent Nigerians were displeased by these events. But majority of them really unleashed their displeasure when the idea that nine to thirteen year-old girls were legally marriageable under law hit them. Though some of these people did not even understand the clause that led to the media’s original broadcast, the humane part of them joined the electronic mob of human right activists to save the future of helpless and voiceless children.

However, it was when the members of Nigeria’s house of assembly voted to amend or overlook the clause and the number of senators disapproving the underage subsection proved insufficient that the media propagated this information. A certain Nigerian Senator who took a thirteen year-old girl as his wife two years ago was said to have lobbied some other senators to vote in favour of the retainment of the clause. Though the total number of senators that were against the underage subsection was truly more than the sum of those that were for it, the overall margin was insufficient and this favoured the desire of the minority.
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When I consulted the copy of the national constitution which I purchased in 2011, I observed that the subsection concerned was left untouched even after the 2011 amendments were made. My copy of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Fundamental Rights (with 2011 Amendments) states in Chapter Three (page LL32) under section 29 that:

Notice the section 29(4b) in bold below

(1) Any citizen of Nigeria of full age who wishes to renounce his Nigerian citizenship shall make a declaration in the prescribed manner for the renunciation.

(2) The president shall cause the declaration made under subsection 1 of this section to be registered and upon such registration, the person who made the declaration shall cease to be a citizen of Nigeria.

(3) The president may withhold the registration of any declaration made under subsection 1 of this section if –

a.  the declaration is made during any war in which Nigeria is physically involved; or
b.  in his opinion, it is otherwise contrary to public policy.

(4) For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section –  

a.  “full age” means the age of eighteen years and above; 
b.  any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.

From the above, it can be deduced that a Nigerian is legally identified to be of full age when he or she clocks eighteen (18) years old. However, in the event that a female Nigerian legally becomes a wife even before she clocks eighteen years, she shall be regarded as one who is eighteen years old. The secondary and combined implication of these statements is that females aged one to seventeen years old have been exposed to the possibility of getting married even before they spend up to eighteen years (plus nine months in the womb) of existence. Though born into a country where problems currently seem more pronounced than blessings, they are vulnerable to getting legitimately espoused.

Many questions have been asked by compassionate Nigerians but just a few are reiterated here. Why should a girl that is yet to have her psyche fully developed be allowed to get married? Even if she is confirmed to be precocious, shouldn’t true religion make provision for her to clock 18 years first? Isn’t this a self-seeking basis for considering someone who has already been judged as too young to vote or be voted for as an adult? Since I am not a senator, I have no answers.

If there were no provisions for child abuse under the law, I would have considered this a tremendously immoral situation. However, I think the law has granted publicly parents more power and diminished the freedom of the girl child. In other words, whether or not the parents of a female child are in the position to make the best of decisions, they absolutely call the shots on the subject of matrimony. Therefore, the onus is now entirely on parents and guardians to protect the future of their wards and strive to give them a life that is worth living.

Friday, 9 August 2013

How to Punish a Policeman that was caught in Corruption

Yesterday, I saw some mobile policemen (MOPOLs) somewhere in Victoria Island where their job was to maintain order.  Initially, they were freely exercising their inherent ability to get mad at stubborn citizens and ensure conformance to their instructions. However, I was amazed when I saw one of them raise a long cane against a gentleman and heard him threaten to lash him. Since I am ignorant of the right of a MOPOL to act in that regard, I simply chuckled. But I wondered if he remembered that in this age of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, if by an unexpected misfortune he lashed the man and the offender fainted or died during his action, he could become a new rumour on Nairaland and even make news on CNN New York for whipping a man to death in Lagos.

We all know that nine out of every ten policeman working or pretending to be working on Nigerian streets are probably corrupt. Just last month, one trigger-happy policeman was said to have killed a nine-year-old in Ketu traffic while attempting to scare a bus driver that had refused to drop something. The young boy who was accompanying his parents to the airport received the stray bullet into his skull from within their car. Sensing danger, the black-uniformed culprits were found wanting within a few seconds.

It is therefore fortunate that a motor-traffic sergeant was recently captured on camera, reported successfully and punished for promoting bribery in Lagos city. This would caution some other policemen in their bid to exploit the same people they should be protecting

However, I am unsure of the effectiveness of the punishment given to him by the Nigerian police. I am aware that he was identified, arrested, tried and dismissed from the force within 24 Jack Bauer hours. I stand to be corrected but after discussing this issue with a friend, I think that the manner of chastisement performed is ineffective

The culprit policeman was engrafted into and trained by the Nigerian police force. He served there for twenty-one years and had attained the rank of a sergeant at the time of dismissal. Now, he has been expelled from the force after being broadcasted on TV and the internet. Unfortunately, he would have at least, a wife, some kids and other dependants. His widespread notoriety will make it almost impossible for him to gain another employment. Or who would employ a policeman that was dismissed from the force for attempting to severely exploit a fellow Nigerian?

I wonder if he has even learnt any personal lessons from this. If he has, then what is the way forward? Who will fulfil the responsibilities he was bearing before?

If he has not learnt the intended lesson or will not be able to return to honesty, wouldn’t he go and become a robber? In this wise, wouldn’t he be a threat to the man that recorded him, the entire society and even the Nigerian police force? I stand to be corrected.

I believe he could have been sustained in the force but sent to prison for a very long holiday of say, three to fours years. During this period his family should still receive his salaries, provided that his wife and children will remain bound to him. After his release, he should be checked psychologically and if he passes, he should be given reorientation and returned to the police force at a lower rank. I think that should keep his slates clean.

His experience was only unfortunate because he had encountered a very smart and daring Nigerian. There are perhaps, one thousand other policemen who are still blackmailing or exploiting Nigerians around the nation. By now, they would have learnt that it is possible to get captured and broadcasted on TV. So, Nigerians have got to become more careful and creative when getting harassed by officers of the law

It was reported that the policeman that was caught did the act alone. This is quite strange because Nigerians already know that multiple tithes accruing from these checkpoint kickbacks often travel down to some back office senior policemen. As at the day the notorious sergeant was caught and broadcasted on TV, I still saw some policemen doing their on-the-road business openly in motor-traffic. May we ask if someone is fooling somebody?