fiction, Inspiration

Roundabout

mini-roundabout-sign

Pastor Thomas Olaide looked over his sermon one last time as the worship team was on the penultimate song. He never did this, he believed in preachers fully engaged during all aspects of worship but today was different. He wasn’t prepared, neither was he ready to preach but he had to. It had been a busy fortnight for the man of God.

Last weekend, he was somewhere on the tiny island of Seychelles preaching for a dear friend. It was beautiful but tiring with 2 sermons each day for a five-day conference. Then there was another conference where he spoke for two days in South Africa; while in Durban, he got an invite to attend the grand opening of a new auditorium from a colleague who had planted a church in Accra, he travelled to celebrate God’s goodness and stayed an extra three days to rest and finish the final chapters of a book that was four months late. Pastor Thomas was back in Lagos Saturday morning and was still tired, only grateful to be reunited with his wife and four children. He did not want to do a Sunday sermon.

“C’mon Pastor, you have to finish the ‘Love your Neighbour’ series. It’s been great for the audience even outside of church, massive podcast downloads and great TV ratings. This last sermon would be great content.” One of his associates counseled. His publicist thought the same. A Christian television network executive in the US sent the church office an email after he had seen a sermon from the series and wanted to find out if Destiny Encounter, his television programme could feature on their network, the ‘Love Your Neighbour’ series would be the flagship.

Pastor Thomas agreed to preach the final sermon of the series that Sunday. Glory Tabernacle was one of Lagos’ rising churches with a network of church plants in growing suburbs and a main sanctuary in Idimu, one of the outskirts of the city, which technically made the popularity of the church both divine and dramatic at the same time.

Pastor Olaide chose to preach at the first service of Glory Tabernacle Lekki , the latest church plant of the ministry. He knew that even though this particular church recorded two thousand in the main service, less than a thousand people usually showed up for the 7am service. He would use the service to ‘warm up’ then preach at the main service, the version which would be suitable for TV and online streaming.

The church, although just a tent, was very beautiful to behold. With at least 20 years of ministry experience, the Lekki church plant was very carefully planned. Everyone knew that the Lekki church was the future headquarters of the church even though the leadership had not announced such plans. They did not quench the rumours either.

The worship leader reeled song after song, and the work force was well dressed. A protocol officer led Pastor Laide from his vehicle which had stopped right in front of the auditorium.

“Eagle is entering the auditorium now, do we have a clear for the pulpit? 7 minutes…? No way….tell the worship team it’s a wrap…Thank you….over and out….” The tall protocol officer spoke into a microphone attached to an ear-piece, he was damn serious. Pastor Olaide was pleased, he loved the excellent and dutiful approach with which these ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ approached serving at Glory Tabernacle.

They arrived inside the auditorium from the side to settle in the reserved seating area for ministers . The interior was well decorated with state-of-the-art sitting and lighting. The video screens across the auditorium and the top-notch worship band looked sweet with their well-laundered suits and ties. They wrapped up singing way-maker with the congregation and once the the song was over, everyone applauded. In a split second, a man went to the pulpit.

“It’s so great to have pastor worshipping with us in this service. Ladies and Gentlemen, Please put your hands together and give a ‘Glory Tabernacle Lekki church’ welcome to our father in The Lord, Pastor Thomas Olaide…” Minister Malvin Okon’s baritone voice jolted Pastor Laide to reality, as he quickly grabbed his tablet and walked to the pulpit.

He silently looked over the crowd of four-hundred once there and another thunderous round of applause followed. Many stood to their feet to give a standing ovation.

“Isn’t Jesus good?” He loved that as an ice-breaker especially when he said it with that signature smile of his that had graced programme flyers, newspapers and social media pages.

“Let us pray….Father we come to a moment of your word….” Gbam! Gbam!! There was a loud noise and a few murmurs, they appeared to be coming from outside. “….we pray that you open this word………..” the noise was louder this time. There was an explosion and screams filled the air.

In less than 30 seconds, there was pandemonium in the auditorium. A protocol tried to shield Pastor Laide but a gunshot hit the man in the chest and he fell lifeless right at the pastor’s feet.

The pastor could not believe what was happening. “What’s going on?” He shouted looking in the direction of Minister Okon, and as Okon tried to respond he was hit. Now the screams were deafening as a stampede was now in the auditorium, ushers ran alongside the congregation, and for the first time the small size of the doors were a problem as everyone fought for the door. Others aimed for the windows, chairs were being broken and people were stepping on each other.

He could hardly believe his eyes. Fear gripped him as he managed to begin speaking in tongues. Should he run? Lanre his Personal Assistant of five years was coming in his direction. Pastor Olaide shouted: “Lanre stay where you are…..Don’t come just stay…………”

Lanre couldn’t understand the gestures from Pastor Olaide. As he got closer, he was hit in the neck. And he fell writhing in pain.

The screams were loud and the pandemonium became a stampede. Fear gripped the heart of many including Pastor Olaide’s as men dressed in black tee-shirts over combat trousers and boots entered the auditorium from different entrances. They used their guns to hit the congregants who were trying to escape and many ran back into the auditorium. They hushed the people by shooting sporadically into the air to command attention, then a man who appeared to be the leader ordered everyone to lie down on the floor.

A bigger man with an AK-47 strapped to his chest and shades across his eyes emerged. The room was now quiet except for a few sobs which were quite audible.

“Pastor Thomas Laide…..it’s good to see you…in the flesh!!! You look shorter than on television!” The man laughed at his own joke. His domineering figure was intimidating, as he moved, Pastor Laide saw a knife in his waist and his blood went cold.

The pastor cringed and then gathered all the courage left in him. “What do you want?”

“I came to worship. Surely the house of God is open to everyone. Sinners and saints….Isn’t that what you guys preach?”

“Not after you’ve shot and killed people, scared others and disturbed the peace and sanity of this church.”

The big man sat on a chair on the first row, and was quiet for a moment. “Well Jesus is the prince of peace…isn’t he? And surely he has all the power…so how could we hijack the peace? Yes we hijacked the liturgy but not the peace. C’mon Pastor….let’s have church….preach your sermon…Don’t be shy.” The dry laugh was annoying.

All across the auditorium were men with guns at different places, and Pastor Laide had not been this terrified in a very long time. God what’s going on? Surely the one who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps?

His eyes met with that of a heavily pregnant woman in a corner sobbing uncontrollably. There was a little child close to the pregnant woman holding his mother tight. Immediately he was heartbroken even further. “I’ll preach…but you’ve got to let the people go….”

“Let the people go?! Am I Pharaoh? Well it won’t be church anymore if all the people left. Aren’t you a mega-church pastor? You speak to at least 25,000 each week…..so why do you want an empty church?”

“Well where there are two or three gathered in God’s name, he is there…” Pastor Thomas Laide replied. Where was the courage coming from?

“Oh fair enough I will let some people go halfway through your sermon.”

Pastor Thomas Laide knew that if he was going to make it alive he had no option but to play along. His shirt was soaked with sweat from fear-laden perspiration. What would he preach? He wondered. Once finally on the stage he put his hand on the pulpit he had begun to preach from about forty minutes ago.

He opened his notebook and wondered what he would say or what was most appropriate for the ‘occasion’.

“Look man of God we haven’t got all day….Preach something.” The big man jeered.

Pastor Thomas closed his eyes for a second and opened them. And he knew that he was about to preach the hardest sermon in his twenty-something years in ministry.

“Lord give your servant utterance and open this word to us in these moments in Jesus’ name.”

A loud “amen” rang from the front row and from other parts from the auditorium, there were a few chuckles too from the men-in-black.

“Romans 3:23 All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God! People of God, this won’t be a long sermon but an appealing one: you must be born again! Every man, woman, boy, girl…everyone born of Adam is a sinner! 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that all born of Adam will die, but all in Christ will be made alive. Judgment is coming upon this world, everything in this world will pass away one day but only one thing can save – salvation in Jesus Christ. Acts chapter number four and verse twelve tells us that salvation is found in no one else and there is no name given to us under heaven by which we must be saved apart from the name of Jesus….”

“STOP!!!!!!” the big man shouted! The auditorium went immediately silent! “Bravo! That’s impressive…” He now applauded sarcastically as he rose up from his seat and now paced back and forth in the space between the altar and the first row. “I wish you preach these kind of sermons more often….but you don’t….you’ll never try this.” The big man’s voice was now quieter and softer as though he were making an appeal.

“……Thank you but can we at least finish the sermon?….You asked me to preach because you want to hear God’s word, don’t you?……..” The pastor said hoping to be obliged.

“Finish so that what will happen? So you give an altar call and the message will so touch us that my men and me will come before this altar kneel and cry and say the prayer? Then right after we will surrender our guns and the police will take us away?” The big man laughed aloud….his men joined. “Not today…that’s not going to happen. Save this one for your crusades…if you ever do them cos pastors like you are too ‘cool’ to do such things. There’s no money there so you don’t do that.”

“God calls us to go everywhere with the gospel.” The pastor shot back.

“Well you have churches in Lagos and South Africa, there’s a Port Harcourt church and a growing congregation in Abuja….you have presence in four places….is that how far the gospel goes?”

“I serve where I have been graciously planted.”

“Oh is that right? It seems to me that your church is located in very economically viable places positioned to meet a certain class of people who can sustain your idea of church both sociologically and financially.”

The sobs from the congregation left was now thinning out as the two men faced each other. Pastor Thomas wondered what this was about, it was the farthest thing from a robbery, neither was it an assassination. The leader seemed in no hurry to rob, kill or maim, it was as though the conversation they were now having was important.

“Well Mister…..you are entitled to your opinion.”

“My opinion….is correct and you know it pastor. Just look at you and your prosperity messages, the prophetic declarations you offer in a cozy atmosphere…..the words of wisdom and motivation which your members cling on to for their dear lives…..is there any life in these things?”

“I beg your pardon, I preach the gospel! The gospel is my message…..” It was now the pastor’s turn to raise his voice!

“What gospel? The gospel of increase without compassion, financial gain over integrity, the ‘blessing’ over unrighteous living….motivation and false hope…….? Sir your gospel is a fraud. This is a very diluted version of Christianity….”

One of the gunmen rushed quickly to tell the big man something in his ears. He nodded and responded quietly with a whisper. Pastor Olaide wondered what the man’s problem was. However, for the first time in a long time, something in his heart resonated with the attacker’s perspective. Had he been wrong all along?

“As we were saying pastor….”

“Jesus is my message. What I preach is all in here.” Pastor Thomas lifted a copy of The Bible for emphasis.

“…If you say so pastor….if you say so…But I am here because I am hurting….” He paused weighing his next words carefully. “………….You had an opportunity to change my life and all this dead and injured people would have been unharmed, but you did not….I wish you did…” his voice began to break, yet it was emphatic, anger-laden, and loud.

“How so?” Pastor Thomas’ mouth suddenly went dry and a cold sweat appeared on his forehead.

The big man walked close to the altar and rested his palms on the platform once he got very close.

“I was in prison for five years. Agodi prisons in Ibadan for two then transferred to Kuje for another two and then Onitsha to serve for a year. Pastor, I saw Christians….men and women with transformed lives. I knew some of them before they had become Christians and I know they truly changed. One of them would tell me often in my local dialect “Jesus touched my life, I am brand new and now I want nothing else than to tell everyone how good this Jesus is because he can touch you too.” I heard those words every day for two years in Agodi. These men had no fine church buildings or smooth talking preachers, they had The Bible and each other and their faith was authentic. They were not perfect but their growing faith was evident…..”

The pastor nodded. “That’s good…that’s commendable. That’s the power of the gospel”

“Let. Me. Finish…….See, here’s my confusion….if those guys had the gospel and it did what it did in them and I and other inmates could see changes, how come your gospel did not bring any changes to your people so close to me?” The attacker banged his strong hands on the wooden platform but the impact was absorbed by the beautiful rug covering the wood.

“What do you mean?”

The big man laughed sarcastically and suddenly stopped. He silently swore, dropped his eyes for a second, and then lifted them, his hands gesticulating in sync to emphasize his words:

“The man who supplied me guns for my operations before I went to prison was a minister in your church. He sold guns to me and my men and he knew everything about what we did with the guns. If I remember correctly this man even gave us a tip-off on potential people and places to attack and we shared the spoils with him. Yes pastor, one of your spiritual sons…close to you!!! I’m not done. Then there was Trish my girlfriend who was faithful to your church, served as an usher in your headquarters for as long as ever. I loved Trish….for 6 months Trish lived with me. From my house, she went to your church and served your ‘God’, had your books, tapes, devotionals, stickers, paid her tithe, sowed her seeds, put money in the offering….she knew what I did yet she never confronted me, neither did she chastise me. She never shared the gospel with me….She said nothing…..If she did I would have listened, if her life was attractive I could have left it all…how does the same ‘gospel’ transform one group yet leave the other even worse off.. Trish instead was satisfied with making outrageous financial demands and reassuring me that the works of my hands were blessed because she was in my life!”

“I’m sorry for….my heart goes out to you but even when the children of God gathered to present themselves before The LORD, Satan was among them… I cannot be held responsible….”

“Oh you can pastor, you f…king can!!! You are the shepherd. You should care for the flock. People like you make me angry…you know why? Cos the gospel has a bad name with too many of your lot….”

“Shadow, make we dey go abeg….” Said the guy who had come to the big man before. Sirens could be heard faintly from a distance. The gunmen began to emerge from their various positions as each headed for the closest exit.

The big man cocked the rifle in his hand and began to shoot non-stop shooting at anything and everything in his sight as he made for a side door to his right. Screams and sights of blood did not deter him; not even Pastor Thomas’ shouts of plea could make him do otherwise.

Once he reached the door, he looked back at Pastor Thomas who was on his knees with tears in his eyes and his clothing stained with blood. The big man pointed the gun in the pastor’s direction and fired three shots, two reduced the pulpit into clutters of wood and the last hit Pastor Laide’s arm.

The gunmen disappeared.

Pastor Thomas Olaide fell to the floor in acute pain. He screamed again and again with his eyes shut. He felt sick in his stomach. He opened his eyes to look at his wounded arm….NO BLOOD….NO WOUND…NOTHING! He wondered why his arm wasn’t hurting or bleeding….!

He looked at his surroundings and noticed he was in his undergarments lying on the floor of his bedroom, the digital clock above him read 5:38. The television was semi-loud with a news bulletin being read on Channels Television. Pastor Thomas Laide sat up confused…he was so sure about what had happened a few moments before. His tears were real though and his heart was still heart broken.

He was glad it was a dream, yet he couldn’t stop sobbing!

*The above is purely a product of the writer’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, organizations or circumstances is only a coincidence and highly unintentional.

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fiction, Inspiration

Boarding Pass (3)

He has made everything beautiful in its time

Ecclesiastes 3:11a

boarding-pass

IMMESAURABLY MORE

When Demi got to Lagos, Mike was furious. “Dude it’s like you missed a penalty kick in the 89th minute of the Champions League final. How did YOU let her go? Ke tu e se je” He said. The last question in Asaba genre of the Igbo language meant how did that happen, and Mike rarely spoke his dialect except in dire circumstances.

“What was I supposed to do?” Demi responded raising his voice slightly.

Ikeja Electric restored power. The humming of a freezer in the background was a delightful soundtrack.

“What you were supposed to do? Jump on the plane. That’s why you have money. Jump on the plane or the next one. You should be in the US now tracking her down. You have money, you have a visa…” Mike reclined in a chair to calm down. Above him was a picture of himself, his wife and his daughter. Demi stared at the picture for what appeared to be eternity.

“There is a company to be run. I barely know this chick. I can’t justify jumping across the Atlantic for a girl. Yuck.” Demi was trying to sound tough.

“Can I sincerely ask you if you are crazy? Do you have mental issues, do you smoke crack in your spare time? Don’t you remotely think this chick might be THE ONE and you didn’t fight?”

“Pardon me but I am not a hopeless romantic like you. America is a faraway place….” Demi got out his phone, he could use a distraction right now.

“…..nowhere is that far, wasn’t it Westlife who said something about swimming across a river just to climb a thousand walls?”

Demi shot him a glance, stood up and once he was at the door he said disgustedly: “Did you just quote Westlife? Good evening?”

Mike stood rooted to the spot wandering what he had just said.

Like twenty seconds later, Demi resurfaced: “Yeah dude, that’s how stunned and rooted to the spot I was when Shade left me. I feel your pain.”

Six Months Later

Monday was Demi’s longest day of the week as interim CEO. The Board had agreed to appoint him CEO on an interim basis. The canceled wedding was proof that he had indeed made an attempt to meet the requirement to become CEO, or so they thought. His father had stepped down on medical grounds, and these days with more chemotherapy, although he felt better, he preferred to focus on his health than the business. Thus Demilade was in full control and under pressure to perform.

Meeting after meeting made Demi tired. He had yet another one before closing at 8:30pm. He was glad when he got a call from his Operations Manager canceling the meeting. Just as he exited the building, his phone rang.

“Hello?” He tried to sound alive. Leaders are supposed to be alert at all times. “Hello?”

“Hi CEO or shall I say interim CEO?” He knew the voice.

“Shade?”  Demi sat on the curb outside ‘Cobblers R Us’ unconsciously and the security men surrounded him in a rush to check if everything was alright.

“There you go. How are you?” She sounded excited, sweet and alive.

“I am fine thanks. I just sat on the curb, I am shocked.” The security men helped him to his feet, his driver ran to grab his things. He signaled for him to just bring the car.

“I knew you would be, I hoped I would get through to you. “

“For heaven’s sake where have you been? Your dad is the only way I know you are alive. That’s not good.” Now it was raining just like it had been on the night she left and he could close his eyes and just almost touch her again.

“Well someone asked me to get a job. I was busy doing just that.” She chuckled.

“About that…what I was trying to say was….” He scratched his head, and his driver wondered who it was that made his boss appear so ordinary.

“….You don’t have to explain Demi! I was just joking. Plus it was great advice. I have a job with a medical research firm in Maryland.” Shade was excited.

Wow there goes my dream of ever getting her back. “Congrats. I am happy for you.” He managed. Lord save me from lying.

“Thanks. Plus one more thing. I sort out started checking out church when I returned. Last Sunday I made a decision to be a Christian….”

“You are joking right?! Don’t play with stuff like that.” Demi protested, his heart beating faster than normal.

“I’m not. Check out my last post on Instagram, there’s a picture of me and my testimony.”

Demi grabbed a tablet and swiped as fast as possible. And He saw it.

“Oh God, you’re not joking. You aren’t joking. This is amazing!” His grin was as wide as ever.

“I said to update you about my situation. Thanks Demi.”  He didn’t want her to go.

“Um…You skype right? I’m home in thirty minutes tops.”

“Not while I’m at work. Maybe later. But I’m sure you’ll be well asleep by then. We are six hours apart remember?”

Homecoming

From thereon, Demilade looked for meetings that would take him to the United States. None came. The closest was three months away. He couldn’t wait. He took an early vacation.

A day before his trip, he got a call: “Demi, I’m coming back home.”

He was in the middle of some handover meetings with senior management. He wouldn’t have taken the call, but rules are often bended when people fall in love.

“Coming back home where?”  Nigeria was never home to her, at least that she said again and again. Demi’s question was valid.

“Nigeria! My company is launching out to Africa, and they want three of us to oversee the launch. I’m doing West and Central Africa, it would be a lot of trips, but I work from Lagos, my office would be there.” Shade said in such a hurried manner, she was running out of breath.

There was silence. Demi sank into the leather swiveling chair unable to say anything, too stunned. “Demi, you there?”

“I’m here. I’m too stunned. This is too good to be true.” He said almost whispering. She could only laugh. The day was brighter from thereon.

****************************

A week after the call, Demi was at the airport. Her plane had touched down. It was raining in Lagos as it had been all week. He adjusted himself for the umpteenth time.

Once she appeared from the door marked ‘Arrivals’, he was sure he had been smitten. She was as beautiful as ever. She was cautious herself. Nobody knew what to say.

When she was finally before him, he wanted to tell her a thousand things but only this one came out: “Did all your bags come?” That wasn’t what I meant to say, That’s not what I should have said.

She nodded. And they couldn’t resist the urge to go into each other’s arms. He lifted her up, well made a shallow attempt to, and she screamed.

Once in the car, Demi started the engine but he didn’t move. Then he stopped the engine and got something out of his jacket. “Last time, it was our parent’s idea. This time, can it be ours? Will you marry me?”

She looked at him. “ Gee,It’s been a long flight. If I say yes, would you drive me to my Dad’s and let me be?” Demi nodded like a child.

“Ofcourse yes. That’s the major reason why I convinced them to launch in Africa genius.” She replied with fatigue in her voice.

Demilade was elated. Shade was tired yet excited.

“Bae, I guess your dad still has the invitation cards for last year’s canceled wedding, could we perhaps just use a biro to change the date?”

She shot him the ‘You are joking, right’ glance. “Is the economy that bad?!”

He winked at her.

 

 

 

 

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Inspiration, Leadership, Nigeria

November 2012: Let Americans Decide, Nigerians Just Observe

My first encounter with a US election was very early in my teenage years. With a blue Walkman player (in the days before ipods and mp3s) I had discovered the Voice of America on short wave, and it was thoroughly fascinating that issues and happenings from faraway were now in my ears as real as someone standing next to me speaking to me.

That was election 2000, George W. Bush vs Al Gore. Eight years later, I was an intern in arguably one of Nigeria’s finest multinational Accounting & Business Advisory firms. It was my first real exposure to the corporate world, the corner office and office bureaucracies. It was spiced by meeting lovely ambitious people, young and old, intellectual discussions over lunch over sumptuous meals and appetizing deserts.

The topic most often up for discussion was Barack Obama vs Hillary Clinton. Clearly CNN on the plasma TV in the dining room fuelled the debate. It was exciting, educative and strange at the same time watching staff argue over the black candidate or the female candidate. Their knowledge of issues in the United States were deeply rooted in either an educational background in the States or Canada, a living experience of some sort in the US, a passport stamped over and over with a United States Visa, or hours spent watching CNN and reading Time Magazine.

It felt strange though as I couldn’t understand how an election in another country could resonate in many ways in Lagos, Nigeria even almost leading to factions existing in the firm. For some reason, I don’t remember Nigerian issues debated over lunch. I do remember vividly however, Nigeria being a butt joke for not winning a Gold medal at the Beijing Olympics despite carrying a plane load of athletes, however ONE man, an American, Michael Phelps had won eight gold medals, or so the joke went.

Looking back now, I do understand. I am now older, and I have seen enough to realise that Nigeria’s urban culture thrives on a sort of escapism. We are too ashamed to confront the realities before us, so we escape with our minds to ‘foreign issues’ and every four years when the US elections come around, we become Republican or Democrat. We hold our own small debates with our ‘elite’ friends over a drink, in office hallways, and even in church.

Anand Giridharadas wrote about this in his The New York Times article of October 08, 2011 titled: ‘In Lagos, Putting The Frills Before The Basics’, saying: “The prosperous have their ways around these burdens. Today they are as much a part of a global conversation as a Nigerian one, thanks to their technologies. The pockmarked, flooded roads beneath their feet toss them up and down inside their cars, but on their phones and iPads they can be somewhere else. The Lagos elite, I found, have more interest in, and knowledge about, the latest twists and turns of the U.S. presidential race than many Americans. One way to escape the afflictions of your own place is to preoccupy yourself with another’s.”

We all agree that US Election 08 was historical, with a worldwide effect. A Black man, Senator Barack Obama became President Barack Obama. I still remember being roused from sleep by boys screaming: ‘Obama! Obama!! Obama!!!’ around the University hall of residence, as they made a mad rush to the common room to watch the highlights on CNN. I was too tired to join as I had stayed up following the numbers on the Internet until I finally gave up and retired to bed.

This time in 2012, I have begun to follow the elections again but this time, my mind switches back to Nigeria with each thought. Last week as I watched a bit of the Republican Conventions, I wondered if the politicians in Nigeria watched this sort of thing. The organization was superb, keynote speakers were lined up to endorse Governor Mitt Romney. The speakers addressed ISSUES not PERSONALITIES. No foul words were used, intellectual arguments were put forward in an orderly manner and even the Obama campaign team know that they have to address certain issues, reassure Americans or get voted out.

Have we all noticed that no one is talking about rigging? That every address by everyone who has spoken at the Republican or Democratic Convention primarily addressed ISSUES?

I am especially impressed at the number of debates that go on before the election itself. Governor Romney debated severally with other candidates before he was nominated on issues around the economy, Defence Budgets, Tax matters, the Stock Markets, Job Creation, Health Care Issues and more. Nigerians do candidates within PDP or ACN have debates before their primaries?

Now you would also observe that both national conventions were attended by everyday people and not only rich politicians. The average American has a political allegiance rooted many times in family values, and upbringing. A huge percentage of Americans are Republican or Democrats, and take these loyalties seriously. How many ordinary Nigerians are devoted PDP, ACN or ANPP members? Aren’t our party meetings dominated by money sharing schemes, and dirty talk? Party meetings have few intellectuals and more touts and so what do we expect?

Nigeria needs to observe and learn from the US in this context. The average Nigerian is illiterate on issues surrounding governance in this nation and so it is easy for politicians to manipulate the populace. The common assumption that a government is bad, and only in power to steal, has made us as a people unwilling to hold leadership at any level accountable. If you disagree with me, I challenge you to tell me the name of your Local Government chairman, your State and Federal constituency ward of the place you reside in and your representatives at both levels. Many of us don’t know and this is where it begins.

The US is certainly not perfect, neither is the on-going Election perfect, however Nigeria has a lot to learn. Let Nigerians leave the debates to the Americans, let us only observe, learn the lessons and then we can debate Nigerian issues and hold our government accountable.

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Inspiration

Roses, Chocolates & A Bottle of Wine

It’s Valentine’s Day again. That special time of the year where love is emphasized and red is the theme colour. No it doesn’t beat Christmas but it’s just a unique celebration (as all others in their own right).

There is the rush of valentine cards and gifts, probably a date or two. You must understand the adrenalin rush inside of you whether you are a giver, receiver or both in this context. The expectation and the endless wait to receive what you’ve been given or the reaction you’d get when the other person receives yours could be an ingredient for hypertension (no I don’t know anyone who died of valentine hypertension, not yet.)

Valentine is a good time to promote businesses: 50% off on items in the big stores – the shoprites, Game, Silverbirds and park n shops of this world would have an offer or a promo running. Even the Iya Basira food canteens are not left out these days: “just buy rice and stew, we go give you meat or se na pomo you want?” the woman would say.

“Wetin happen?”

“Today na Valentine, abi you no know?” she would reply with a smile. Now you know why she would still be in business come next year: cheap customer service!

If you’re driving today, get ready to be stopped by the men in black, yes the neighborhood friendly men of the Nigerian Police Force.

“Oga mi, happy Val.” The officer would begin go through your vehicle interior with prying eyes.

“Same to you, officer.” You reply.

“You no go do Valentine’s Day for us?” He would ask with a twenty-naira smile.

As old as Valentine’s Day itself, is the timeless question of what the perfect Valentine’s Day gift is. From the basics of greeting cards, chocolate candy and flowers to consumer electronics, mobile phones and automobiles (a car) to cash, everything (well nearly) has been suggested. I did see a picture on twitter at the weekend of a black Range Rover with a red ribbon tied around it. It was cute but I can’t say if the ribbon was truly tied around it or someone’s Photoshop creation (*coughs*).

It’s never about the gift as much as it is about the motive. And sometimes a small gift well-presented beats a big gift presented with less than a thought. The Chinese have a proverb that says: The beauty of a gift is in its presentation or something along those lines.

The best Valentine’s gift (I believe) is for everyone to make an individual commitment to be a better person. You can’t be a great boyfriend or girlfriend, husband, wife, friend, brother or sister, father or mother without being a good person.

People are imperfect, and love (forget Hollywood and the Mexican telenovellas) on this side of eternity is not perfect either. However we must give our all to it. This is why a relationship with God (through Jesus Christ) is great, inspired by perfect love from a perfect God I can find strength to love in as pure a form as I submit to His Spirit to enable me to.

My perfect Valentine’s Day evening would be a first date with a really beautiful girl. I’m a sucker for a good conversation; I’m just one of those guys that thrive on talk more than anything else as a great way to bond. So an evening filled with laughter and a good talk would be great, I would come armed with flowers (Roses), chocolates and a bottle of wine.

I often joke about my Grammy Award-winning (don’t take me seriously) voice. Okay I don’t have a very awesome voice but I would love to do a Karaoke with the girl, I’m thinking Maroon 5’s Sunday Morning, Bruno Mars’ Just the Way You Are or something from Savage Garden or KC & JoJo. It would round off an unforgettable evening for me. Hmm…..

It’s Valentine’s Day, whatever you do today and however you choose to celebrate, enjoy your day.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.   

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Inspiration, Leadership

A Tale of Two buses

One of the most interesting places in the world to live is Lagos, Nigeria. It is Nigeria’s commercial capital and as one financial channel on satellite TV would put it: West Africa’s Commercial Hub.

Life in Lagos is no stroll in the park; you have to be born sharp to survive the everyday intricacies of the common man. But we can’t afford to discuss Lagos and not discuss public transportation. Every mega city has its commercial lifeline hinged on the efficiency of public transportation, every city apart from Lagos that is. I cannot really say why but something along the lines of not planning the city properly by various past governments could be blamed.

Thank God for the Bus Rapid Transport, an initiative initiated in the twilight years of Governor Ahmed Bola Tinubu but has risen on the wings of success by Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola. Every time I sit in one I enjoy sanity. Usually I like to take it from the outskirts of the city to Lagos Island and considering the distance, I do two things on the bus: relax and imagine. The relative silence allows me to do that. At least no one is preaching a half-truth gospel, or selling a drug that does everything from curing a headache to identifying your HIV status. Most thankfully, no elderly salesman is selling a quick action sexual performance enhancing mixture with tales of his own sex life, how he is fast becoming an outstanding athlete in bedmatics with a tired wife and a growing battalion of children as his medal of honour. The silence is supposedly golden until you sit with a fellow with poor telephone matters or a loud discussion is going on among some passengers.

The secret behind the success of the BRT is a completely franchised system from ticketing to employment of Bus drivers.Private enterprises run different routes, properly supervised by the government, call it a private-public partnership and you won’t be wrong.

The story of public transportation is incomplete without the ‘danfo’, those precious buses coated in yellow with a touch of black along the body symmetry. They’ve surely outlived the ‘molue’ the symbol of public transportation in Lagos in the not too distant past, but which has become very rare these days. A ‘danfo’ bus ride is anything but pleasurable, as many danfos are old with worn out engines and terrible upholstery. A vast majority of ‘danfo’ drivers and conductors have an attitude that presents a case study in terrible customer service leaving many commuters more tired and offended than before they boarded.

Today I boarded a danfo from Surulere to Ikeja, two popular suburbs in Lagos, midway into the journey the driver (who was without a conductor) began driving crazily, engaging many of us passengers in a curse-match when we cautioned him. The journey was darted with brief stints of insanity and mischief here and there including stopping to fill his radiator with water.

If you dey run, you no go drink water? If you go drink, motor sef go drink when ’im run finish.” He said justifying his latest stint of insanity.

Commuters like me have given up when it comes to the issue of Danfo buses, but the disparity between danfos and BRTs goes beyond a mere difference in service delivery or types of vehicles, it shows the difference in mentality and attitude between public and private enterprise in the Nigerian society.

In Nigeria, the word Public before anything automatically qualifies it for mediocrity, and poor treatment without a second thought. Just visit a public toilet, public school or board a public bus, you wouldn’t be shocked by how poorly maintained the facility or vehicle is. The same is the reason why many Federal and State Ministries around Nigeria are mediocre in terms of organisation, service delivery and strategic Management. Many Civil Servant arrive the office late, chit-chat away the day, deliver little and can’t stand a minute longer once it’s closing time. Who can blame them when their bosses are not any different and office equipment in many governmental organisations are out dated or non-existent altogether. We all don’t care: “This is government work, after all how much are they paying me sef?” the average civil-servant would say.

I was told by a friend of mine who was posted to a state in North-Central Nigeria to serve in a Local Government Secretariat during his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme that the staffs in the secretariat do not show up at work at all until payday. On payday they come, form a long line, collect their pay and bid each other farewell until another payday.

For a little over a decade, my parents lived in a rented apartment in Bariga, Lagos. It was in that apartment, I was born and raised until we moved, when I was nine years old. In the compound, was a public toilet that served a barbing saloon, a rental shop, and a store located in front of the house. I do remember my mother always quarrelling with the barber for using the toilet without taking care of it. Not that it was her business after all we had our own toilet in the flat, but the stench sometimes could be smelt in our rooms. It was often a terrible scenario of ‘the evil that men do, lives after them’. The barber was just doing what the typical Nigerian does with anything public: do your bit, take care of yourself and get out without a second thought about taking proper care of the place for the next person.

Nigerians often forget that those in government are not aliens who invaded the nation, they are products of the society, it only follows that the average Nigerian attitude is carried into governance.

Officials elected and appointed do in public office, what Nigerians do in public toilet: get in, relive yourself, wipe your butt clean and get out. The problem with our nation is not limited to those in government, it’s a collective problem of the Nigerian society in the context of attitude and societal values and no election whatsoever can change it. It’s up to a national transformation sparked by Nigerians one by one.

This is not to say that private enterprises are perfect. There are many private companies that are landmarks of corporate corruption but a limit is placed because of the compelling vision and desire not to be swept away by the competition. Corporate governance, strategic plans and industry rules well adhered to, make private enterprises what they are and the Nigerian people as staff and customers comply well. You don’t walk into a banking hall and see a teller attempting to sell puff-puff and Fanta to a manager behind a desk reading a newspaper with legs on the table. Customers are not seen crowding the teller demanding money without a line, discipline and order is glaring.

Is the solution to Nigeria’s national dilemma to privatise everything? Yes, is the answer it seems but we are quick to forget that not everything can be privatised! Can we privatise the Nigerian Police Force? I wish we could. Can the Nigerian Armed Forces be privatised? It is obvious that The Office of Governor of a certain state or The Presidency cannot be outsourced. Privatisation while commendable and an important factor in National Development is not a total solution.

If this flaw in our thinking and attitude is going to be corrected, it’s going to take collective effort. Every individual is going to have to accept that Nigeria belongs to all of us. And anything public is something belonging to all of us and must be treated responsibly, efficiently, diligently and excellently from public toilet to public office. This is the new Nigeria, we seek and no amount of occupying would take us there if we don’t decide as individuals that it is up to all of us, one by one to begin this change in thought and attitude.

When all is said and done, it’s all a tale of two buses, plying the same road transporting commuters from one destination to another but we know which bus wins with commuters every time.

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fiction, Inspiration

Grace So Amazing: (No Confidence in The Flesh II)

Pastor Shola Daramola’s blood ran cold as he heard the knock on his office door. Shola knew the knock belonged to no one else and the man behind the door was the last person he wanted to see- not at this time when he felt less than dirt, stained with the guilt of adultery.

“Please come in.” Shola managed to say. Bishop Samson Osamage walked in, shola offered him a seat and he obliged. The silence in the room was thick as Shola arranged his books on the shelf for the umpteenth time. His mentor was seated before him and Shola felt so ashamed, he couldn’t look Bishop Samson in the eye. The Bishop had been Shola’s mentor for over twenty years. Shola had received Jesus through the Zoe Church, Bishop Samson’s ministry when it had less than fifty members. Bishop Samson had received him like his own son, and when Shola resigned as an architect to go into ministry full-time, Bishop had paid every penny of Shola’s tuition at the Bible College he attended.

Suddenly Bishop spoke: “I heard. My heart bleeds Shola. What you have done is shameful. Think about the implications to your family, ministry and most importantly your relationship with God. As a father of some sort to you, this is a difficult pill to swallow for me and all of us at the church. None the less, The Lord does not condemn you and neither do I.” Bishop said. He opened the Bible in front of him speedily to a certain portion and read it: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.1

Bishop wasn’t done. “Shola, Have you confessed this sin and sought forgiveness from The Lord?” He asked looking into the younger man’s eye with intent.

“Yes sir. Even before I confessed to my wife and the pastorate.” Shola replied. Bishop Samson nodded approvingly. “Hm….so how do you feel….your heart and all?” He pressed further.

Shola was surprised. No one had asked him how he felt. Other pastors had blasted him, rebuked him and many had called him a disgrace and a disappointment. None had asked how he felt or how his family was taking it. “Even though I’ve asked for forgiveness from God, I still feel dirty. So I ask for mercy again and again. I feel like I have disappointed everyone myself included and God has this big frown on his face every time my name is mentioned, honestly.” Shola replied.

Bishop thought for a minute and said: “Nothing you can do would make God love you more and nothing you have done or would do can make him love you any less. God loves you. The guilt you feel is false, The Blood of Jesus has washed you clean and He paid in full at Calvary for our sin: past, present and future sin…..” Bishop paused a minute to catch his breath, saw what might be tears welling up in his mentee’s eyes and went to stand by him.

Putting an arm across Shola’s shoulders, he continued: “….this is what grace means. We do not earn grace, forgiveness or righteousness. They’ve been offered and it is our responsibility to receive them. It is clear in the scriptures: ‘Those who have RECEIEVED an abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by The One Jesus Christ.’2 It does say in another portion: ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’3 Shola, you ARE the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, it’s not about what you do, did or what you feel, you are the righteousness of God!”

“But what do I do with all the guilt and disappointment I feel?” asked Shola.
“You tell yourself what God’s word says about you. You are forgiven. Act on it, and rather than leaving your head bowed in shame, you take the forgiveness, grace and righteousness you’ve received to rebuild your family and ministry. It won’t be easy though but if God said it, then we believe it and that settles it.”  

Shola had knowledge of everything Bishop had said but only now could he embrace the heart of the matter. “I don’t know what to say Bishop. Thank you, may God bless you.” He said quietly.

“You’re welcome. I hear you’re going to Abuja for a while and I sense this is a guilt trip of some sort. Use it instead to rebuild your family, ministry and get yourself together.”  Bishop suggested.

“How?” asked Shola eager to listen to his mentor’s advice.

“I have a friend in Abuja, Thomas who had a similar personal failure very early in ministry. God restored him and today he and his wife have a ministry to counsel Pastors and couples dealing with personal failure in ministry and infidelity in marriage. I could arrange for you to meet with him. Meanwhile my wife would do all she can to convince Funke to join you in Abuja so you guys can deal with this matter quickly and be on the road to recovery before the holidays come round and the children return from school.”

Shola thanked him again and felt blessed to have such a mentor.

“Keep in touch; we’re all here for you. Most of all, remember that I love you but The Lord loves you even more.” Bishop said engaging Shola Daramola in a bear hug.

In thirty minutes, Shola was in a taxi to MMA2 enroute Abuja.

Footnotes:

1. Romans 8:1 KJV

2. Romans 5:17 NIV

3. 2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV

 


©Timothy Konyehi, Life Unscripted Services, November 2011.

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Creative Writing, fiction, Inspiration

No Confidence in The Flesh (a story).

As he packed his things, he wondered for the umpteenth time how it had happened. How could he, Pastor Shola Daramola full of grace and the power of The Holy Spirit be reduced to an object of disgrace? He couldn’t wait for the Church Board to decide anything; He had to be away for a while.

He had his ticket in his pocket, and had packed a few belongings: his computer, his Bible, a few clothes and a few books. He sat down in his chair for what would be the last time in a long while and recalled the entire incident:

The young lady was in her mid-thirties; her husband had recently left her for a younger woman. They had no children and she was confused, dejected and on the brink of suicide. Then she had come to the Zoe Church and heard him the eloquent and anointed Pastor Shola Daramola preach his message titled: “God at work: binder of broken hearts.” The lady wept her way into his office after the first service; he had listened to her and immediately felt burdened towards this daughter of Zion.

Initially He felt he should bring other pastors or one of the Senior Pastors into the matter, but a voice told him: with all your grace and anointing, why should you disturb all your busy colleagues? Just meet with her once, pray and she’ll be fine. Haba, Man of God, you can handle it!

Mrs Enitan Yusuf came very early the following day. She was in tears, no makeup but very well dressed. He counseled her and prayed assuring her it would be alright. He admonished her to get herself together meanwhile, reopen her shop and live again however difficult it looked. Enitan was grateful but still carried a gloomy face. “Nobody leaves my office gloomy.” Shola said. He told with a joke, she smiled, and then he told another, she laughed. His funny stories kept her for another hour in his office. She left smiling and they became friends.

Mrs Daramola was aware, as Enitan became a friend of the family. As she began to get her life back together, Enitan felt compelled to narrate every step of her journey to redemption to no one else but Pastor Shola and thus began a torrent of phone calls, Blackberry Chats and text messages. It was only a matter of time before they began to deviate to more personal matters.  Shola knew trouble was looming but the male sense of adventure prevailed common sense and the voice of The Holy Spirit. You can handle it, Enitan is just being nice, don’t assume nonsense.

Meanwhile Mrs Funke Daramola began to be prompted by The Holy Spirit to confront her husband about Enitan but then she thought: Shola did not become a pastor today, he’s been in ministry for the past twelve years, I love him and I trust him. I just need to pray for more grace upon his life.

Enitan recovered becoming full of life again and the friendship with Shola became very passionate with speed like a Ferrari that had lost control. One thing led to another and soon friendly visits to her house became sexual encounters, no one knew.  Shola Daramola continued his work at Zoe Church but guilt began to take hold of his heart, although he continued to minister, he often struggled from within even to pray.

“Enitan we must stop this.” Shola said to her after another meeting they had.

“Why? No one knows, no one would find out. Just act normal and everything would be okay.” She replied.

“How can we act normal? This is unfair to my wife and my ministry. We are Christians and this is so wrong.” Shola pitched back in remorse but the relationship continued another three months.

Guilt weighed on Shola’s conscience so much that it began to show even in his physical appearance and he finally confessed to his wife and the pastorate. His wife was shocked and soon moved to her sister’s; the Pastorate suspended him pending a final decision by the church board. Enitan meanwhile left without a trace when she learned Shola had confessed.

Shola wondered where he got it wrong, and the answer soon came as he remembered Philippians 3:1 and 3:

“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe…. For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have NO CONFIDENCE IN THE FLESH…..”


©Timothy Konyehi, Life Unscripted Services, November 2011.

 

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