The Audacity of Hope: A Lesson from the Chinese Bamboo Tree

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I recently came across the story of the Chinese bamboo tree and from it I learned lessons in perseverance, hard work, hope and patience. I hope you too learn a thing or two from it.

The Chinese bamboo tree, when planted, requires the care of the farmer and the help of the elements to help it grow. The farmer nourishes the plant by providing it with water and fertilizer. He does this for the first year but nothing happens; he sees no growth to show that the plant is receiving the nutrition provided it. The farmer continues to toil. The story is no different in the second and third year but the farmer keeps toiling away because he knows that it is the bamboo tree. Finally between the fourth and fifth year, when the bamboo decides to sprout, in as little as six week, it grows as high as eighty feet.

This story shows us man’s capability to persevere when he is certain that there is light at the end of the tunnel; it shows how we persist in face of trials that we encounter along the way when we are certain that after the rain, there will be sunshine. That is why a medical student stays in school for eight years – he knows that the higher salaries he will earn during his career will more than compensate for the extra four years he spent in school more than his peers. Hope is the reason a parent raises a child, wipes his nose and butts for the first few years of life, guides him through life and gives him a proper education. Parents know that some day, the child ends up doing for them those things they once did for him. Parents know that children, for want of a better word, end up parenting their parents. In the face of hope, there is no limit to what we can achieve. But what happens in those cases when there seems to be no guarantee that we will get what we want from our hard work? What happens when you are establishing a new business and you read depressing statistics of the number of businesses that fail within the first five years. What if a farmer who doesn’t know about the bamboo tree’s characteristic delayed growth plants it in the hope that it will sprout within the first year and it doesn’t? Will the farmer be patient enough to keep watering and fertilizing a seeming barren tree.

It has been my experience that most of life is like that; that the positive little things we do everyday, however insignificant, come in handy later in life. I read somewhere that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Founder, attributes part of his success to some class he voluntarily took outside his regular coursework in college. In my own case, though I have yet to get where I will like to be in my career, I have a personal experience that taught me that all the little things we do prepare us for challenges ahead. As a law student in a Nigerian university, I studied my course work but also found time to read foreign non-fiction and also legal thrillers including most of John Grisham’s. It was from these books that I got acquainted with words like deposition and jury, etc. – words I didn’t learn in law school because they had no relevance in Nigeria’s legal system. I was so familiar with the American legal system that when I did not want to disclose an information to a friend, I would jokingly say that I was pleading the Fifth (amendment), US’ equivalent to Section 35(2) of the Nigerian constitution on the right to remain silent following an arrest or detention. At the time, reading foreign legal works seemed like a waste of time since the laws in most countries differed from the ones in Nigeria. Years later, I found myself in a position where I had to write a foreign bar exam. Though God was the most significant factor in my passing the exam, I also believe that having read Grisham and other foreign authors helped me a lot. For instance, one of the questions on the foreign bar exam was on the 4th amendment right on searches and seizures. A driver’s car had been searched by the police following a sobriety test. I wonder how I would have appreciated the question if I didn’t understand what sobriety test was given that in Nigeria we don’t have- or don’t enforce – laws against driving under the influence. Could I have appropriately analyzed whether the subsequent search was made after a lawful legal arrest and detntion?

Sometimes in life, we feel like we are stuck in a rut; that we are doing the same boring thing day in, day out, without much hope for change or progress. But I want to remind you of the trite saying that no knowledge – and positive act – is a waste. There is the university student who, having learned to make braids while at home, used her skills to make extra money while in school; there is the landlord whose experience working at a hardware store at a younger age made him familiar with tools that when he bought his own property, he fixed things himself in the house and saved money that would otherwise go to plumbers and handymen. I also once read about a couple whose career both had something to do with taking care of handicapped children and who when they eventually had a handicapped child, were better parents because of their experience from work.

Patience and hope can make us persist even when our inclination is to quit. When we have the audacity, the boldness and the courage given by hope, we position ourselves to accomplish things beyond ourselves. It is discouraging to send out hundreds of job applications without getting a reply, but if you consider that it takes just one positive response to get you employed, you will persist. Through the highs and lows of marriage, if you remind yourself of what a couple who have been together for decades said, ‘that is at the end of our lives, not the beginning of our marriage, that we realize we married our soul mates’, then you will have the patience to weather life’s storm together with your partner. And amidst the drudgery of your day job, if you remember that it pays the bill and prepares you for higher positions, you will be a happier and more productive employee.

So let’s cheerfully do all the positive things required of us from our jobs, families etc. They may appear worthless at this time but in the end we will realize that it was all worth it. The only reason the bamboo tree is able to grow so high is that for those four years, it laid a solid foundation on the ground that is able to carry its enormous weight in later years. Now, you wouldn’t want a success that doesn’t have adequate foundation, would you? So let’s toil, let’s do all the seeming mundane routines life requires of us. Soon enough, we will be unto something as gigantic as the Chinese bamboo tree. Let us have the audacity to hope. Let’s not quit because it may just be the moment before our bamboo sprouts.

A Different Perspective on Nepotism

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In 2008, after I learnt that I had been posted to Katsina State for my National Youth Service, I got in contact with a former classmate from Abuja Law School who was a Northerner. He assured me that he had connections in Katsina and that he would see to it that my primary assignment would be with the coveted Ministry of Justice. I did eventually serve at the Ministry of Justice in Katsina and I had a good year (will blog about my Katsina experience in another post). Though I cannot say with certainty how much influence my former classmate had on my getting the position, the point is that when he offered to help, I didn’t balk at the idea or mention how wrong it was that I would be favored over others.

Many of us complain about nepotism (and corruption) in Nigeria – nepotism being ‘the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs’. But how many of us protest against it when we or our loved ones are the beneficiaries? A few months ago, a dear friend told me of her experience during an interview in Abuja for a federal government job. Of the five candidates selected from her state for the interview – and there may have been hundreds of applicants – one was the governor’s daughter and two were related to the State Commissioner whose ministry was the same as the federal government one that was employing. She didn’t tell me who the other two were but I had no doubt that they were also related to some politicians. Sincerely, I was excited for my friend because she is brilliant and hardworking and I believe she can competently discharge the duties attached to the position. Also, after we graduated from law school, the three people from my class who I learnt got federal government jobs all had someone in Abuja. Two were nephews of a former minister, one had an aunt who occupied a very top position in one of the ministries. Again, I was happy for them. And I deem them competent. Passing the law school exam is sufficient proof of their skills. What is more, one of my former classmates is now, I understand, a personal assistant to his Commissioner uncle.

Nepotism is also prevalent in the private sector. I once got a job interview with Globacom. For the second stage, the interviewer was the CEO’s daughter, Bella Adenuga. Apparently, she occupies a high position in her father’s company. I don’t know if she has a background in human resources but she came across as confident and I believe she knew what she was doing.

In the United States, nepotism goes by a different name, an embellishment, – networking. When you are looking for a job here, the most common question you get is, ‘Have you tried networking?’. I visited a Nigerian family recently, and one of the host’s children (by the way, she mentioned that villages in Nigeria are getting noisier and more polluted with each visit she makes to Nigeria) advising me to network more told a story of how her younger sister, an attorney, got her new job. According to her, her sister (let’s call her Ola) had applied for job with a firm and was told, ‘Sorry, we do not have any position for you at this time’. However, after Ola made a phone call to her former classmate who knew somebody, she got a call from the same company saying that a position had suddenly opened up, and just like that, Ola got the job.

Even with laws put in place to ensure that all applicants applying for a job get equal consideration, public service in the United States is still characterized by nepotism and favoritism. The only difference is that it is more subtle than in Nigeria where it is perpetrated brazenly. In March this year, one of the biggest cities in United states had to review their hiring procedure when more than 30% of those hired in a department, the department’s first hiring in five years, were family members of the department current employees. As civilized as the United States it, it has seen the emergence of many political dynasties. Of the twenty years between 1989 and 2009, the United States was ruled by a father and son for a total of twelve years. There’s also the Clinton dynasty. Not to mention that during John F. Kennedy’s tenure as the president of the United president, he appointed his bother, Robert Kennedy, as the United States Attorney General.

To be sure, there are ethical concerns about nepotism especially in public offices. Besides depriving equally and sometimes more talented applicants of jobs, the beneficiaries of nepotism may not be competent to perform the duties required for the job. And since they know they cannot be easily removed because of their connections, many of them fear no consequences for their performance and are slack on the job. On the other hand, it is argued that nepotism promotes trust and reduces backbiting as one works with people they understand better and who have their interest at heart. It is also argued that having known the relative or friend prior, a person making the hiring decision is in a better position to judge whether they can do the duty unlike making a decision to hire a complete stranger based on a thirty-minute interview. Either way, nepotism is something we will always have to deal with as even the most advanced of societies have yet to get rid of it.

So for those of us who have an obscure surname or do not know somebody that knows somebody, let’s take it in stride when we miss opportunities because of favoritism. After all, we all benefit from it at some point. If we keep quiet when it favours us, then we definitely have no moral standing to speak up when it works against us. And if you consider that the word Nepotism has its origin from a practice that was common in the Catholic church where popes appointed their nephews as cardinals – a practice that has since been abolished – you may judge less and who knows, even decide to network. I do hope though that when you find yourself in a position to hire, you will make fair hiring decisions thereby taking humanity one step closer to its quest for an ideal world.

The Hesitant Haggler

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Egoamaka didn’t like haggling. Once Egoamaka got to Main Market and settled on a shop and the trader to patronize, she immediately bonded with the seller, confiding in him that she wanted a product with a superior quality. And once the seller reassured her ‘M ga-eme gi ofuma‘, I will do you well, Egoamaka felt she was stuck with him. She considered it would amount to betrayal to go elsewhere to haggle, to shop around. And once her new-found trader-confidant alluded to the cost price, how much he bought his wares, Egoamaka was conscientious to not offer a price below that. She would only ask for a price that would accommodate the cost price and give a reasonable profit margin to the trader. It always astounded her each time she went to market with Aunty Ijeoma that Aunty Ijeoma cared little whether a seller would make a profit from a sell made to her. For a merchandise a seller told them was for one thousand five hundred naira, Aunty Ijeoma would unabashedly inquire of the trader: ‘I na-erekwa two hundred naira‘? would ask the merchant if he would sell for two hundred naira, about one-seventh of what the merchant asked for. At first, Egoamaka used to think that Aunty Ijeoma had no conscience, was inconsiderate to make such ridiculous offers, but once, after a trader who initially look offended at such meager offer eventually sold to Aunty Ijeoma at the price she asked for, Egoamaka wondered if it was the seller who had no conscience as to ask for an unconscionable price for something he was willing to sell for much less without as much as a smidgen of guilt. Egoamake wondered how many weak hagglers he had cheated.

When the salesperson was a friend or an acquaintance, haggling was even more challenging for Egoamaka. As a child, she wondered why her father paid uncle Ndudi, who deals on china wares, for the china plates her father bought from Uncle Ndudi’s shop. She wondered why Uncle Ndudi wouldn’t give them to her father, his only brother, without charging anything. As an adult, Egoamaka hadn’t mastered the subtlety required to haggle with a loved one without coming off as being mistrustful of them. Once, Egoamaka had gone to Styled Shoes, a shop owned by Uju’s mum – Uju, her childhood friend. Egoamaka had started to haggle with Uju for a lower price for a shoe but once Uju said: ‘Mmadu o na-egbu onye o ga-eso eli?’, does one kill someone whose funeral he would attend?, alluding to their longtime friendship and how it was unlikely that she, Uju, would take undue addvantage of her, Egoamaka had paid hastily without as much as another word even though she wasn’t sure she liked the shoe.

Egoamaka continued to be a hesitant haggler. Then something happened. She had gone to Main Market with her friend Ebere, who was preparing for her traditional wedding. Ebere was worse at haggling than Egoamaka. Ebere had paid seven thousand naira for a hand bag, and just before they left Main Market, they casually entered another shop where they saw a similar bag hanging in different colours. After a little haggling, the seller was willing to sell the bag to them for Two thousand two hundred naira. Egoamaka discreetly compared the label and the texture with the one they had bought and they were exactly the same. Distraught, they left the second shop hoping to return to buy from it after returning the one they previously bought. But when they went back to the former seller, he paid little attention to them. He was on to the next customer, sweet-talking her to get as much money as she was willing to part with, without any regard to the value of the products he sold. It wasn’t until Ebere gave him a surreptitious glance threatening to disclose his unfair business practice to the new customer that he took them aside and agreed to give them a discount, a refund for two thousand naira. He said it was the best he could do: that he could not take back the bag; that he didn’t take returns. He pointed to a sign on the well that read: We Sell the Best for the Cheapest price. It was only after Egoamaka got closer to the sign and squinted that she saw the fine print inconspicuously written on the notice: No Refund After Purchse. Ebere didn’t get a bargain but Egoamaka learnt a valuable lesson.

After Egoamaka started applying the tips she learnt from Aunty Ijeoma including hagging harder; not commending a product however she liked it or the seller would know she was hooked on the product and would be reluctant to sell at a lower price; and not buying from stores with too much frills like air condition and tiled floors (as a buyer indirectly pays for them too), she started to get on the wrong side of storekeepers. Once, she went into a store that had price tags on the products ( a rarity in Main Market) and haggled so hard that the attendant rudely told her to leave the store so that she could attend to ‘serious’ customers. Egoamaka wondered why the price on the tags were so sacrosanct and inflexible: weren’t they put there by the traders?

Egoamaka also learnt to avoid ‘hustlers’. Usually traders who had lost their capital because fire gutted their shops and wares or because they were robbed on their way to get stock from Lagos, they stayed in a friend’s shop to help out and they made money to rebuild their businesses by going to another shop to get a product for a customer when the shop they were attached to didn’t carry the product. But often, the hustlers lied to the unsuspecting customer. They would claim they had it in stock but at a warehouse and would have the customer sit down and wait for them with a bottle of malt bought by the hustler who was sure he would recoup his money by selling the product with enough profit to make up for his ‘investment’. But Egomaka knew better, once a product wasn’t displayed in the store and warehouse was mentioned, Egoamaka was quick to leave the shop before a bottle of malt was opened for her to guilt her into waiting. And once she left, she often found the product at a shop nearby. Egoamaka sometimes felt sorry for the hustlers. Because they did not have insurance, they had to start their business all over again when they were hit by a misfortune. Egoamaka wondered why she didn’t see fire engines anymore to fight those fires often rumoured to have been started by arsonists who use the opportunity provided by the chaos in a burning market to loot stores. When she was younger, she usually woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of the fire engines, ‘popi popi’, and she would overhear her parents say in muted voices, ‘Main Market is on fire’. And the following morning, she would hear of people whose shops and wares couldn’t be saved because the fire truck didn’t have enough water to fight the flames. But Egoamaka didn’t see or hear fire engines anymore in Onitsha. She often wondered what happened to them.

Though Egoamaka found haggling tiring, she was happy with the small victories she won. Once she learnt that her friend, Nkem, had bought a suit similar to the one she had for twice the amount she paid for hers. Nkem had bought hers at a high-end store. Egoamaka didn’t gloat over her improved haggling skill. Instead she told Nkem that perhaps hers was of a superior quality, hence the higher price. But she knew Nkem’s wasn’t superior. She knew they were by the same manufacturer. She knew Nkem had paid more because the store she bought from had beautiful lights and a tiled floor.

Egoamaka was glad she had mastered the art of haggling. And when she was tempted to go back to her old ways because of an irritated and impatient seller who mentioned she was being cheap, she reminded herself that a penny saved is a penny earned, and she haggled even harder.

PS: See the prequel ‘Home Service’ here

Linda Ikeji’s New 24m Car: An Inspiration and Evidence of the Growing Nigerian Middle Class

Popular Nigerian political blogger, Omojuwa, wrote of his first encounter with former president, Olusegun Obasanjo. According to him, Obasanjo had given a speech in a foreign country and during the question-and-answer session, Omojuwa, characteristically, stood up to ask him questions that implied that he, Obasanjo, was part of the Nigerian problem. As expected,Obasanjo defended himself and talked about how the economy improved during his regime. After the event however, Obasanjo, in a private conversation, inquired of Omojuwa who he was and who he was working for. Obasanjo was sure he had been sent by one of his political opponents and detractors. When Omojuwa told him that he worked for himself, Obasanjo asked what his profession was and when he said “Blogging”, Obasanjo told him that blogging wasn’t a profession. Well, we now know he was wrong.

The Nigeria blogging community was agog two days ago when Linda Ikeji(popular celebrity blogger) posted a picture of herself and her newly acquired 2014 Ranger Rover Sport which she bought for twenty four million naira. While some wondered what purpose she intended to serve by showcasing the latest addition to her cars, I mostly worried about her safety as she also, in the same blog, showed her other two cars. But Linda is a savvy businesswoman. She knew that the post would draw traffic to her site and it did. She posted the post at past 12 in the morning, a time when most Nigerians were asleep. Because of the time difference between Nigeria and here, I guess I was among the first to see it as there were no comments when I read it. By the time I checked back again, there were more than three thousand comments on that one post. If there were that many comments, you can imagine how many people viewed the blog and how much money it translates to for the blogger. As for me, once she doesn’t cause harm to another with her posts, I don’t mind.

I had wanted to write a blog about how the Nigerian economy is improving and how there seems to be more opportunities for young Nigerians. When Linda’s story broke, I thought it would set the tone for a blog on the subject. Everyday, I hear stories of Nigerians finding opportunities where none existed before now. The other day, I learnt that one of my classmates in the university is now a magistrate, and another I called to console on her dad’s death told me she is now with a State ministry of justice. And thanks to Facebook, I see that several of my classmates are doing well in private practice and some are in the employ of the Federal Government of Nigeria. Actually, the opportunities for Nigerian graduates has increased tremendously in the last decade since the consolidation of the banking sector and entrance of telecommunication giants like MTN and Globacom in the Nigerian economy. I personally know many people who are employed in those two sectors. And I am very optimistic that with the privatization of the power sector in Nigeria, many more opportunities will open up. The impressive growth of the Nigerian economy has also been noticed by the international community prompting more multinational companies including Walmart and Shoprite to invest more in Nigeria.

Because Nigeria is a hugely untapped market, unlike other developed countries where there is stiff competition for the attention of consumers from several corporations, practically every business has the potential to grow in Nigeria. As such, anyone in Nigeria who is willing to think outside the box can arguably make it easier there than elsewhere. I read somewhere that 90% percent of children born today will, when they grow up, have an occupation that do not exist as of today. And I can see why. Take the internet for instance which hasn’t been around for more than thirty years, think of how many occupations, including blogging, that are made possible by it. Just by blogging, Linda Ikeji, Sisi Yemmie and Omojuwa have become household names because they found their respective niche as a celebrity blogger, a lifestyle blogger and a political blogger. I also read of a seventeen-year old Nigerian who makes more than $3000 a month by blogging about how to become a successful blogger. Of course there are so many ways to make money but this is just an example. I also know a young lady who is successfully running online retail and wholesale businesses that guarantee delivery in all the thirty-six states. That is how to stand out from the crowd.

In Linda’s controversial post, she also wrote about hard work and the need to not give up. According to her, she had previously dabbled into some other jobs including modelling and writing before she got her breakthrough as a blogger. But unfortunately, many youths in Nigeria believe they cannot make it in Nigeria, that they must leave our shores before they can become successful. As we have seen, that is not true. It is not easy anywhere, not in the United states, not in the United Kingdom. It takes determination to make it anywhere. There are only a few Nigerians in the United States who can afford a brand new 2014 Range Rover Sport or who can afford the luxury vacations most Nigeria’s middle class enjoy. So for those looking to flee Nigeria, just know that what you are looking for in Sokoto (state), may well be in the pocket of your sokoto(jumper trouser). We can only succeed if we learn to make lemonade from whatever lemon life gives us.

PS: I don’t blog because I intend to be the next Linda. She has really worked hard for many years and is reaping the fruits of her labor. For me, the fulfillment I get from blogging comes from the occasional call or email I get from someone I have never met requesting for more information on something I blogged about. If my blog helps somebody in some way, I am really content. Of course that doesn’t mean that I am averse to opportunities.

Home Service

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The year she finished secondary school, while she waited for her WAEC and Jamb results, Egoamaka had to live with her parents for one year; a year that had her feeling nostalgic about the boarding house life she had enjoyed for six years but didn’t wish to relive; a year that had her yearning to get admitted to the university so that she could experience firsthand the stories she heard about life in the university. Leaving for university would grant her independence, freedom to do whatever she wanted. But for this one year, Egoamaka had to stay at Onitsha to do her ‘Home service’. Home service, as she and her elder sisters nicknamed the one year that would have her cooking, washing clothes, and doing all the mundane domestic chores she had somehow managed to avoid when she lived in the boarding house in her secondary school, Akwaete High School. In particular, this Home service year, she would learn to pound fufu even though she thought that the chore was absolutely unnecessary. Garri was a good substitute and was much easier to prepare. She already knew that when she got married, she would never buy fufu, what with its foul smell and all the sweat that drops into the mortar from the brow of whoever was doing the energy-sapping chore of pounding the meal. To that end, she had decided that when it was time, she was going marry a man who didn’t mind the difference between garri and fufu, a man who wouldn’t say that fufu was more enjoyable because a ball of fufu was smoother and therefore moves down the throat more easily.

Egoamaka and her sisters often joked that Home Service was a parody of the National Youth Service Corps, a program of the Federal Government of Nigeria that mandates young university graduates to work in public service in return for a monthly stipend. Though no stipends were paid for Home service, Egoamaka appreciated that the one year helped her improve her culinary skills and gave her privilege to travel with her parents to their village, Nnoka, on weekends. Traveling to the village gave her an advantage over her siblings because she got to know some of her distant relatives who she would otherwise never know existed. It always fascinated Egoamaka that everybody in Nnoka seemed to be related somehow. Whenever they met someone in Nnoka, usually at a funeral, St Thomas’ church or Orie market, her mother would say something along the lines of ‘Egoamaka, bia, o kwa ichetera Liyoonadi (Leonard), a na-alu nwanne nna ya, Mgbokwo, n’obi anyi’ , inquiring if Egoamaka remembered the stranger, Leonard, and explaining that Leonard’s aunt, Mgbokwo, was married to one of their kinsmen. Despite her mother alluding that Egoamaka had met the stranger before then, Egoamaka was always sure she hadn’t but would tell her mum that she recognized the stranger, to save herself from embarrassment. It amazed her that her mother always took time to introduce her, sometimes, to people she was sure she would never see again.

For the most part, Egoamaka, enjoyed the one year she spent at home as it gave her time to bond with her parents, including being told by her mum when there wasn’t enough ‘ogiri’ (a foul smelling pasty spice made from fermenting a local seed)in the ‘ora’ soup she made. But there were things Egoamaka didn’t enjoy about Home Service. None of them, however, paralleled going to Main Market at the behest of her elder cousin, Ijeoma, who lived with them. A once popular international market, Main Market had become a shadow of its old self. Once, Egoamaka wore flip-flops to Main Market during rainy season but came back home barefoot. Between stretching her hands sideways to maintain her balance as she gently lifted her flip-flops from the sticky mud at the market, and trying to avoid a cyclist honking directly behind her, she had lost her stance and the footwear gave way forcing her to carry them in her hands. The shoe repairer she met insisted she had to pay fifteeen naira to get them fixed and she didn’t have that much on her. But it wasn’t the mud or the rude cyclists that Egoamaka worried about. Egoamaka didn’t mind either that each time she went to buy vegetables at Freezone (so called because the market women at that section of the market sell in an open space and do not have permanent spaces), she had to buy a plastic bag or bring one from home or she would have to go home with her ugu leaves uncovered. Egoamaka loathed that the market women who sold fresh produce apportioned the often damaged wares in small mounds, mixing wholesome ones with pitiable ones, and wouldn’t allow her to pick only the fresh ones from each portion even when she was willing to pay more. They wouldn’t even let her touch them lest she left them in a more damaged state. She didn’t blame them. That was how they bought them from the local farmers who insisted they buy them in baskets the farmers had already packed, often with the bad ones hidden beneath the good ones.

Egoamaka had also noticed that the florescent lights at the stores where laces were sold made the materials look more beautiful than they actually were. That was no problem for her either. She had learnt to step away from the humming generators and persuasive traders to go outside, to the irritation and discomfort of the lace sellers who worry that other desperate traders will try to entice her once she stepped outside the shop, where she can use natural light to truly assess what she was buying. As inconvenient as all these were, they weren’t the reason Egoamka hated going to market for Aunty Ijeoma. What she hated was that each time she got back from the market, Aunty Ijeoma would ask her: “Ikwegharikwara onu?’, Hope you shopped around. And often, Egoamaka didn’t.

PS: The sequel ‘The Hesitant Haggler’ is coming soon.

TMZ and Beyonce, Rice, Elevator Videos.

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TV programs such as TMZ Live that focus on celebrity gossips are popular because they satisfy our curiosity to know what happens in the lives of the stars we see on TV. However, if we take a while to consider what value, if any, they add to our lives, we may watch them less often. TMZ, (an acronym for Thirty Mile Zone which refers to the thirty-mile radius in Los Angeles where many studios are located), a news outlet founded in 2005, is known for breaking big celebrity news. It is credited with breaking the news of Michael Jackson’s death in 2009 hours before the more conservative and traditional news networks did. TMZ has established itself as the go-to company for all news concerning celebrities. The problem however is that lately TMZ seems to focus more on the bad than the good.

Within the last year, TMZ published incriminatory video or audio recordings of Lamar Odom, Donald Sterling and just some days ago, Ray Rice, and as a result, a marriage ended, an NBA franchisee lost his team and an NFL player lost his career respectively. TMZ also released an elevator video recording showing Jay-Z being hit by Solange, his sister-in-law and that led to months of speculation that Jay-Z’s marriage with Beyonce was over. While these are newsworthy events, it’s worrisome that in each of these cases, some privacy was violated. These celebrities were caught in their worst moments in places they had reasonable expectation of privacy, yet they have been subjected to public ridicule and criticized by some of us who may be worse than they are but are lucky to not have had our dirty laundry aired. However, given how much money that is increasingly being paid to sellouts who release these videos, everybody is a potential victim. While publishing these stories often start conversations on certain social issues including racism, domestic abuse and fidelity in marriage, it is doubtful social change is TMZ’s motive for publishing these stories. Otherwise, what purpose did publishing the Solange-Jay-Z video serve? And after Rice had been suspended for two games and the issue of domestic violence addressed, even if inadequately, why did TMZ publish a video they knew was going to cause harm to even the victim?

We have all had moments, however fleeting, in our lives that if made public, we would not be proud of. How many of us, even though we know the proper place to break the wind is in the restroom, have done it when alone in a closed room in the hope that the air clears before somebody else walks in? Don’t we all have our dirty laundry? Ray Rice’s wife Instagram post following the publication of the video articulated the point eloquently. She wrote: “I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it’s reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that the media and unwanted options from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass of for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow and show the world what real love is…!” Her post goes to show that news outlets, like TMZ who allow ratings, traffic and fame, rather than conscience, to dictate their business practices harm people and families and so shouldn’t be promoted.

Moreover, I have always found it awkward watching TMZ founder (whose name I won’t mention), a former attorney in his sixties, dish graphic gossips, on national TV, of young celebrities who could pass for his grandchildren. I also found while writing this article that TMZ also played a role in 2009 in exposing Tiger Wood’s infidelity. How do people whose day job is digging dirt on celebrities to find news that can lead to demise of marriages and careers sleep at night? Could the pressure on celebrities to be perfect be the reason Hollywood has a high suicide rate?

If we, as a society, agree that there is something wrong about a news agency focusing only in reporting the ills and mistakes of others, then there are things we can do to thwart the success of their business venture. We can start by boycotting their TV shows and websites so as to tank their business. Second, people who take advantage of their job positions to release videos of patrons visiting their employers’ businesses should be adequately punished, not rewarded. That is the only way to deter employees from violating their employers’ privacy policies. For example, the hotel staff who released the Solange-Jayz video was reportedly merely fired from his job whereas TMZ paid him $250,000 for leaking the video. Obviously, he gained more than he lost. If he were prosecuted however, it would deter future sellouts since whatever money they are paid for violating the trust reposed on them would be expended in legal fees for their defense.

On a personal note, I like to keep in mind what someone always tells me, that ‘Influence doesn’t ring a bell’. Watching TMZ, one would think that every celebrity cheats on their spouse or drives under the influence since those are the sort of things they get to report. And by watching it, one feeds one’s senses with negativities which imperceptibly reduces one’s moral standards. But the truth is that many of these celebrities are good role models, responsible family men and women who deeply care about others and are often committed to several charities. I recommend we patronize news agencies who focus on and extol these virtues because they somehow make us conform our behaviors to high moral standards.

Finally, let me make it clear that I do not support the vices the celebrities in this post were caught in, not racism, and definitely, not solanging (am verbing now). And in this age, if one doesn’t conform one’s conduct to acceptable moral standards, for its sake or for religious conviction, then they should for this reason-there aren’t just human eyes and ears watching, there are now digital ones. Yes, it doesn’t matter if the said conduct is done in the dark or even in Vegas where they claim that everything that happens there stays there.

PS: On feeding the senses with things that are edifying, I find that listening to christian songs while in the car calms my nerves while tragic news about Ebola, ISIS and Boko Haram, only frays them. For those in the LA area, I highly recommend 95.9FM The Fish.

Forget Tradition, Women in Nigeria Can Now Inherit From Their Fathers

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I often joke that while most Nigerian men do all in their power to have male children who will carry on the family name when they are gone, most times, what they leave when they die are sons who care little about maintaining their fathers’ legacy except the ones that come with the wealth left behind. With a recent Supreme Court decision however, I am afraid family bickering and fighting over a deceased person’s estate is going to get uglier and more intense as estate distribution meetings are now going to have even more unwelcome guests.

Before now, most customs in Nigeria exclude women from inheriting their fathers’ property. But even when the family treasure is left for the male children alone to share, the distribution is often characterized by acrimony between the first son who feels entitled to get a large disproportionate part of the estate and the younger brothers who are left discontent. Once, my former law firm had a client whose elder brother had sold all the shares (stocks) their father left behind and was also managing and collecting rents from their father’s property in the city without any accounting to his younger brother whatsoever. Our client sued to get an order of the court to have the real property sold so that he could get his share from the proceeds of the sale. During a ruling in her chambers declining jurisdiction based on territorial grounds, the female (and gorgeous) Judge raised two oft-ignored moral questions. First she asked, why should first sons feel entitled to a greater share of their father’s wealth because of a position they occupy by a mere accident of birth? Second, why do men always focus selfishly on what they will get from their father’s estate without any thoughts on what they may give their sisters? I guess you are thinking, ‘It’s the tradition’.

Well, women now have rights to inherit from their fathers according to a recent Supreme Court decision. (Although Mojekwu v Mojekwu (1997) tangentially touched on the discriminatory practice against women in Igbo inheritance culture, it wasn’t directly on point as the main issue in the case was the constitutionality of oliekpe custom and necessity of nrachi ceremony in Nnewi before a female child who had no brothers could inherit from her father). In Ukeke v Ukeje, however, the Supreme Court in April this year categorically ruled that female children have as much right as their brothers to partake in the distribution of their father’s estate. The Supreme court ruled unanimously that the custom that excludes women from inheriting from their father was unconstitutional and so cannot stand.

It was interesting to see online comments following an article reporting the decision. One person was sure the Justices must have been under the influence of alcohol when they made the decision. Another wondered why the judges considered themselves wiser than their forefathers who established the tradition. And yet another opined that the new law will encourage women to have children out of wedlock and will only increase the divorce rate as women who are now financially dependent on and therefore submissive to their husbands will become more assertive as they will have financial means to sustain themselves without their husbands. Others further argued that it will be unfair to have women inherit from their fathers and their husbands as well. I will not refute any of these arguments. They came from men.

While I do not by posting this article intend to stir the pot by advocating a movement to enlighten women on their new rights, there are two situations where I would love to see women assert their inheritance rights. First is where without getting a share from their fathers’ wealth, they would be left with no reliable means of sustenance. And second, when sisters who do not have interest in asserting their inheritance rights cannot get their brothers to share the family wealth in harmony. In the latter case, I will like to see women teach their feuding brothers a lesson in contentment by conspiring (good-humouredly of course) and indicating their interest to share in their fathers’ wealth. Surely, if the family wealth isn’t enough for say, two brothers, it would definitely be sufficient when their six sisters assert their rights to partake in the distribution. It will then be fun to watch the two warring brothers band together to fight off their sisters.

Finally, the disunity in many families can be avoided if parents make wills in their lifetime. I know a man who had nine sons. I believe the only reason he is resting in peace, and in heaven I hope, is that he shared his property before he died.

So what do you think? Should women assert their rights to inherit from their parents?

Small Acts of Kindness, Life-Changing Results

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It was 1974. Muhammad Yunus (Ammad)was teaching Economics in a University in Bangladesh. At the time, the country was in the middle of a terrible famine. Though he taught the elegant principles of Economics to his students, the reality of people living in destitution outside the campus perturbed him. Ammad reasoned that he could apply what he knew to alleviate penury among the villagers. One day, he met a woman who made bamboo stools. While talking with her, Ammad learnt that despite her hard work, the woman only made two cents a day. She explained that because she didn’t have money to buy the bamboo to make the stools, she borrowed money from a trader on the condition that she must sell the finished product, her stool, to the trader alone and for a price the trader decided. So while the woman could sell the stool for between 20 to 25 cents, she got paid only two cents. She was enslaved to her lender trader. Prompted by his discovery, Ammad conducted more research and found about forty-two people in the village who were in similar dilemma as the woman. Ammad got the shock of his life when he summed up all the money the forty-two people needed and it came up to a mere twenty-seven dollars. He made the money available to them and told them it was a loan to be paid back anytime they could; that in the meantime they should use the money to buy the materials they needed and sell their products to whomever would pay them the most money. To his surprise, each of the artisans repaid him. He took the idea to the local banks and encouraged them to extend credit to poor people in the other villages. The banks obstinately declined; poor people have no collateral and thus are not creditworthy, they said. Ammad persisted and the bank only agreed to give out the loans when he personally guaranteed the debts. When he tired of fighting with the banks to get them to lend to more people, Ammad started a bank, Grameen bank. Today, Grameen Bank has a staff of more than 24,703 employees; 2,468 branches; more than 96% recovery rate despite the fact that it loans money without collateral to impoverished villagers, 96%of whom are women. The bank has also won a Nobel Peace Prize, and of the total equity of the bank, the borrowers own 94%, and the remaining 6% is owned by the Bangladesh government.

You are probably thinking, ‘That was 1974 in Bangladesh. Surely, I don’t know anyone who needs so little money to make a living’. But as I will illustrate with some examples, you will be amazed at how many people around us need as little as five thousand naira to literally change their lives.

Prisoners Freed

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It is a sad fact that the way the criminal justice system is structured disproportionately disadvantages the poor. Anyone who can afford a good attorney can often buy himself out of a legal problem. From my experience, more than 90% of people who end up in prison are poor. First, poverty drives them to commit certain crimes the affluent cannot even be tempted to commit. Second, when granted bail or fined, many of the poor cannot afford to pay the money required to gain their freedom. And most importantly, many indigent accused persons cannot afford to pay for the services of good attorneys.

So when I was doing my National Youth Service in Katsina State, there were many people behind bars because they couldn’t pay fines imposed by the court as punishment for their crimes. In some cases, the fines were as little as three thousand naira. I remember a particular inmate whose offense was stealing a goat. The then first lady of Katsina State, wife of Governor Shehu Shema, took the initiative to pay off the fines and have the poor detainees returned to their families. That was about five years ago. While writing this post, I read that last month, the FCT minister granted pardon to about twenty nine inmates in Nigeria who were unable to pay their fines. Again, some of the fines were as low as three thousand naira and the offenses were minor including fighting and hawking. Given that the inmates do not pose danger to the society, one cannot fault the gesture by the minister. There are many more of these people in different state and federal prisons in Nigeria as there are also many people detained in public hospitals because they are unable to pay their hospital bills. I have heard of philanthropic citizens who visit hospitals and request for and take care of bills of people they do not know.

A Widow Helped
Also, Someone ( I will call her Ngozi) once told me of her encounter with one of her distant relatives, Ekene, who lived in the same town as she did but who she rarely saw. By the time she was in her mid-twenties, Ngozi, privileged to have got a university education, already had a good paying job in Nigeria. On the other hand, Ekene barely got a senior secondary school certificate; had lost her husband and returned to her parents with the only child she had while married to her husband. Ekene had started a petty trade to support herself and her young daughter. One day, Ngozi ran into Ekene at the church. It is true that sometimes, it doesn’t rain but pours; Ekene informed Ngozi that she had been robbed and that she had lost all the money she used to run her business. Ngozi casually inquired how much was in question and was shocked to realize that it was only eight thousand naira. She sent the money to Ekene the following day. You can imagine all the difference that made to this poor widow. Similarly, I have another friend who once expressed her shock to me when she met a woman in her village who had four kids to support by herself but who had less than five hundred naira of her own.

Good Samaritans Abound
Everyday, I am amazed at how kind people are, how despite their own penury, many go out of their way to help others. I know a teenager who paid his struggling neighbor’s school fees from the pocket money his parents gave him. Once, I was touched when I casually saw a long list of people someone had written of people he would give money on a particular Christmas. The donations weren’t in the millions or even tens of thousands but given how many people people he remembered, I am sure it would mean a lot to some, if not all, of the people on the list.

I have been blessed to have several people in my life whose kindness have touched me in some ways – and I am eternally grateful to them – so I know firsthand how a kind but seeming small gesture can make all the difference in someone’s life. One particular gesture stands out for me especially because it was small yet so big. When I was living in boarding house during my Junior Secondary, JS3, my sister Grace, who was graduating from SS3, gave me forty naira. It meant the world to me because I was broke at the time. I didn’t tell her of my paucity; she probably thought I needed the money more than she did since she was going home. But something she did randomly left an impression on me.

Kindness Goes Beyond Material Gifts
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Many of us struggle to make ends meet and so cannot afford to offer material gifts to others. With all his good intentions, the Good Samaritan in the bible couldn’t have done much if he had no money to take that wounded man to the hospital. Such people need not worry. God knows their good intentions and will bless them in due time because he knows they will use the resources well. I once read that kindness is the rent we pay for the space we occupy on earth. So in the meantime, even when we have no money, we can find other ways to be of service to others. For instance, we can all afford to be a source of encouragement and God’s voice to someone who is going through a hard time. Recently, I read about a man who after a failed business and failed marriage, decided to end his sorrow by taking his life. He wanted to break the cycle of poverty, drugs and alcohol addiction that ran in his family. He went to a bridge, ready to jump, hoping that the water below would drown his pain. As he stood on the bridge, police helicopters hovered in the air above him and TV cameras focused on him. The cops pleaded with him, courting him not to take his life. But none of what they said made any sense to him. His mind was made up. However, a few words by one of the cops eventually got through to him and caused him to retreat. The cop had said, ‘The Lord in not finished with your life yet’. A string of nine words spoken in kindness literally saved a life. And the cop was right. Years later, this man who would have taken his life without realizing his full potential went on to get a job that gave him an opportunity to mentor and work with at-risk youths in inner cities. You can imagine how much guidance he provided to these youths especially drawing from his own experience. He even took one of the youth home to foster him. The foster child and other people he mentored went on to become promising young men.

I believe that each one of you reading this have at one time or another performed some act of kindness nobody knows of. I know sometimes you wonder if it makes any difference. It does. Being charitable is like spraying seeds on a farm. Some may not make much impact. But there are some that change lives, some that will not only change a life but touch a beneficiary so much that they vow to pay it forward.

Your Life Can Be Changed Too
Though I have focused on how we can change lives by our kindness, it is also important to mention that sometimes, even when that isn’t the motivation, our lives can change too for a kindness we showed. It is safe to assume that Muhammad Yusun’s life didn’t remain the same after he decided to help others by setting up Grameen Bank. Also, there was the young girl who got her job through the help of someone she had helped while they were both students. And there was the kind woman who would later be resuscitated from a coma by a young woman she had given a stethoscope during the young woman’s graduation from medical school.

So dear friends, let’s take a closer look at the people around us and see what we have that may mean little to us but the world to them. We never know whose life could be changed.

Have you ever received a kindness that seemed small but meant a lot to you? Got a story to share? Please tell us in the comments sections. I love anecdotes and I value your contributions!

DO IT ANYWAY By Mother Teresa

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Just thought I should share this beautiful poem by mother Teresa with you.

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

We Eat More Sugar Than We Realize

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We know sugar is bad for us and most of us know to skip adding sugar cubes when we take tea and coffee. But how about the ones manufacturers add to the processed foods we eat? The daily amount of sugar intake recommended by the World Health Organization is 25g, approximately 6 cubes of sugar. A cube is equal to 4g of sugar.

Below are some processed foods and how much sugar they contain.

1. A can of soda = 10 cubes of sugar (40g)

2. A cup of orange juice = 6 cubes (24g)

3. A bottle of malt = 10 cubes (40g)

4. I tablespoon of jam = 2 cubes (8g)

5. 1.3 tablespoon of Hot chocolate (e.g milo) = 3 cubes (12g)

6. Half cup of ice cream = 5.5 cubes (22.5g)

7. 4 tablespoons of evaporated milk = 2.5 (10g)

8. 2 slices of bread = I cube (8g)

I found the information above from checking the labels on some of the foods I have at home. I also found some from the internet including Wikipedia. A good website that will help you in this regard is Sugarstacks.com. Brand variations may account for mild differences.

Now if we consider that we often reach the recommended limit by the amount of sugar we get from fruits (e.g one medium banana = 14g, one small orange = 9g, apple = 19g) and starchy foods, we will see that we have no room for sugar contained in processed foods which more often than not contain empty calories that do not provide any nutrition to the body.

I hope this helps you to take a closer look at what you and your family eat by reading the labels before you buy any food. Reading a label can help you choose one cereal over the food for the lower sugar content. Please, also pay attention to the serving size stated on the label. Wolfing down a quarter of a package of cornflakes when the recommended serving is 0ne-twelfth is tripling your sugar intake (I can’t resist the sweetness sometimes, I am a work in progress myself). If a food doesn’t have a label, you probably shouldn’t buy it as the manufacturers may be hiding something. For foods like fruits, grains etc, you can always use your phone to look for their nutrition information online to enable you make better choices.

Improving our eating habits is a gradual process. If by reading this, you at least on one occasion reach for water instead of a soda can in the fridge, then this blog will have served its purpose. I need not go into the benefits of cutting down on sugar including preventing diabetes and maintaining a healthy weight. Bottom line, cut down on processed foods and when you have to eat them, read the label to make a more informed choice.

Finally, what I said about sugar also applies to salt (and no, it is not an immunization for ebola) and fats in that they are hidden in processed foods more than we realize. For those at risk for high blood pressure and heart diseases, please do your research in that regard.