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BLIND BUT NOT BOUND

In INTERVIEW on January 9, 2014 at 8:00 am

Solomon Elusoji writes about a physically challenged journalist with a life-long dream of going back to the university to teach Mass Communication. He recently made history to become the first blind journalist to win the highly coveted Nigerian Media Merit Award, in the category of the most innovative reporter of the year

When Gbenga Ogundare lost his sight in 2009, many would have thought that was the end of him. But three years later, he has proven that physical handicap is not necessarily a limitation in maximising one’s potentials. Recently, he was awarded the Nigerian Merit Award, sponsored by Etisalat, in the category of The Most Innovative Reporter of the year.

Asked about his winning streaks, Ogundare shrugs: “The same way an average journalist who is worth his salt win awards was the way I won mine. Firstly, you must have done something that is submitted as an entry to the body organising the award.

“The story that won me the award was about how young Nigerians have been coping with poverty. In this case, you go to an eatery in the guise of wanting to buy something and then you go to their restroom and write on the walls things like ‘are you looking for hot sex?’ or ‘are you looking for a babe or a sugar mummy or daddy’. Then you leave your number there. So, over time, since 2007, I started gathering the information from walls of restrooms across Lagos, Oyo and Ogun states.

“After compiling those information, I now began to call the numbers I got and eventually I did the story. Initially it was titled ‘How Nigerians Cope with Poverty’, then later I changed it to ‘Coping the Hard and Dangerous Way’. It was that particular story that attracted the panel of the Nigerian Merit Award, and they thought they should give it the Etisalat prize of the Most Innovative Reporter of the Year.”

At his office somewhere in Ikeja, Ogundare is seen working on his Laptop. His fingers move with sharp reflexes across the keyboard. His back is hunched. The computer keeps voicing out the commands entered into it. He is writing, and at the same time editing stories for compilation.

Despite without his sight, Ogundare does not see anything difficult in his job. He says: “Editing is not a difficult job if you know what you are in for in the first place. When you came in, you saw me writing and editing at the same time. The truth is that I have been a journalist for over a decade. I didn’t start as a blind reporter. I started as a sighted reporter. Between the time I started and the time I lost my sight, I had been able to foreground myself in my profession so well that even when I lost my sight, it was not a difficult thing for me to still carry on as a writer, a journalist, and above all, as an editor.

“What it only requires of me is that I use a laptop (just like every other person) but my own talks to me. You can hear it. When I am writing or editing, my Laptop is there to guide me. I go out if I need to cross-check facts or investigate anything. If it would require that I see that thing, I would take a reporter along with me, so that he or she can be my eyes. The reporter describes to me what he or she sees. The other aspect which deals with delivering the narrative falls on me. And after writing, I edit. The rule of concord is what any sophomore communication student should know, talk less of someone who has worked in the field for ten years as a reporter and editor. So, it is not in any way difficult.

However he says one challenge he has on the job is that people sometimes want to take advantage of him because he cannot see. “The challenge is the normal challenge that any physically challenged person in any part of the world would face: Abuse. People want to take advantage of you. That is what an average disabled person face. People want to abuse you, they want to disrespect you and say all manner of things because they feel that you should not exist at all, especially of you are competing with them. They feel threatened. How can a blind person be editing?

“People don’t appreciate that your physical challenges does not necessarily have to bring you down, and that you can still do wonderfully well in whatever career you choose. Apart from that, people rarely want to believe you. When you tell them that I can do this or that job, they always have second thoughts about your capability to deliver.”

Ogundare believes that the physically handicapped have been neglected by the government. He wants the Disabled Welfare Bill to be passed. He remarks: “Remember when the president was going to run for election in 2011, the women folks in Nigeria came up with the fact that they have been unequally represented in government. And at the end of the day, when President Goodluck Jonathan came into power, he was quick to appoint a sizeable number of women into his cabinet. I think that the first thing that any sensible government should do for the population of disabled persons in Nigeria is to pass the Disabled Welfare Bill pending before it, so that physically challenged persons in Nigeria would now have a document to demand for their rights, particularly rights of inclusion. They would be able to ask for economic security, political inclusion.

“If you look at statistics, physically challenged persons hardly vote in Nigeria because there is no concerted effort by the government to include them in the process. And this is what we keep talking about. The bill should be passed.”

Also, he talks about his own aspirations. “Personally, what I want, apart from knowing that there is a law that I can run to if my rights are breached, is a chance to teach. I have always liked teaching Mass Communication at a university or polytechnic. I like to teach budding journalists how to write, how to do what I am doing that have won me a lot of awards. So, my most immediate need is getting a scholarship or fellowship that would enable me do an academic masters and a PhD, so that if I decide journalism and teach budding journalists what I have learnt practically on the field.”

Still on the issue of his desire to further his education, Ogundare notes that lack of financial resources is the only stumbling block before him. He explains: “Coping with blindness is very expensive in terms of medicals and your own welfare. By the time you take care of the medicals, and a bit of your own welfare, you realise that you are left with little or nothing to want to do some other things that you would have loved to do, for example: applying for a masters degree in the university. I have an HND in Mass Communication, and the dichotomy in Nigeria is such that an HND student cannot do an academic masters.

“The only university that would allow you do an academic masters in Nigeria is the Pan-African University. And if you are going to go there, you are going to spend about 1.8 million naira. And that means doing a PhD would be much more expensive. That kind of fund is beyond me. I have also tried to apply at the University of Ibadan, but you would need about 350,000 naira to be able to cope with your tuition and materials. And don’t forget that journalism is not a lucrative profession. So, with the little that you earn, ad with all the gamut of demands before you, you find out that you are not able to certain things you would have liked to do. Even still, I have tried to do my masters three times, but had to jettison it because the fund is not just there.”

Ogundare’s blindness is as a result of Glaucoma. Glaucoma is a devastating disease condition of the eyes that inflicts the victims with irreversible blindness. In other words, when the victim loses his sight to glaucoma, he cannot regain it, medically. However, according to Ogundare, there a tree of hope is sprouting.

He says: “Recently, because I have been talking with doctors abroad, I learnt that there is hope for nerve regeneration. The reason why blindness as a result of glaucoma is irreversible is because it does irreversible damages to the retina glandular cells and that is the organ that is responsible for carrying visual information through the optic nerve to the brain. And because they are nerves, they cannot be regenerated. But now, there is hope of regeneration or actual replacement of the optic nerve. That means, for people like me, we can still see if one has the money to go for the treatment. There is hope. And also, every positive person should not overlook the fact that there could be a divine healing for him or her.”

Notwithstanding his blindness, Ogundare is a very busy man. “At the moment I live alone. Usually, I sleep around 1am every day, and I wake up by 6am. By then, I would begin with combing through all manner of news sites to get informed and update myself about the events of the day, locally and internationally. I would comb through Nigerian and foreign radio stations, then I go online and read stories. I normally do that for two hours after my prayer, before I have my bath and come back again to monitor events on radio.

“Don’t forget I am blind, so I don’t watch the television, it watches me. After then I come to the office and meet with my reporters. We discuss story ideas and progress of ongoing stories. We talk, argue, and agree on particular perspectives. I monitor them, don’t forget I am the editor of the magazine. If they are not in the office, I have to keep tabs on wherever they are. I would to that till about 8pm, pack my machine, leave for home, find something to eat and rest before I begin my work. Usually, I take a lot of work home because I have to constantly update them. Then I sleep by 1am again,” he enthuses.

For someone who has had little time to adjust to blindness, Ogundare’s attitude towards life is phenomenal. He laughs when people ask him how he maintains such high spirits. “Except if one is going to commit suicide or do something unthinkable to himself, your attitudinal disposition towards your condition must be positive. It is by so doing that you encourage yourself,” He says.

“Don’t forget that I mentioned that people around you discourage you. People desert you immediately they know your condition. The first thing that I experienced when I lost my sight was that people that thought I was useless; that I cannot be of any use again. As a result, some of my friends and people deserted me. The only thing that can really bolster my confidence is to remain positive and hopeful that despite my condition, I can do anything and everything through Christ who strengthens me.”

Written by Solomon Elusoji, on the Features Desk of ThisDay Newspaper, Nigeria

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THE BLIND NIGERIAN WHO EDITS A NATIONAL MAGAZINE

In INTERVIEW on September 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm

He’s blind. He isn’t a beggar. He reads and edits works of other people. Who is he? Find out…

Gbenga Ogundare is Deputy Editor and Head of Development/Human Rights and Politics desk for National Standard Magazine in Lagos, Nigeria. He has a decade of robust experience that cuts across both Journalism and Development advocacy, having worked as a researcher, reporter, editor, creative writer, human rights activist, campaigner, and public affairs analyst.

He was  a Transparency Specialist at the Independent Advocacy Project (IAP), a leading good governance agency in Lagos.

As Head of Programmes/Editor, Governance Today, he coordinated IAP’s Anti-Corruption projects on the use of the media to promote transparency and accountability in the governance processes in Nigeria.

He also served as Project Director in the Cost of Democracy Project, COD. The project which was supported by the National Endowment for Democracy [NED] highlights the pervasive role of corruption in governance by underlying the real cost of democracy in Nigeria.

In addition, he had once served as Project Director in the Promoting Accountability and Transparency in the management of funds for HIV/AIDS [PATH] project. Investigations revealed that a huge percentage of funds allocated to fight HIV is being misappropriated at various levels and this programme examines the sources of ‘leakages’, its working with relevant governmental and non-governmental establishments to improve transparency and accountability in this sector.

Gbenga Ogundare is blind and is a co-founder of Disabled Rights Advocacy and Accountability Group [DRAAG], a development agency which promotes respect for the rights and inclusion of physically challenged persons in decision-making as well as removing opaqueness from the processes of government in Nigeria.

He has researched and written extensively on social justice for women and vulnerable groups, access to justice, transparency in HIV/AIDs funding as well as political and economic corruption and its linkages with poverty.

We Must Kill The Monster Preventing Constant Power Supply – Hon. Hosea Agboola

In INTERVIEW on March 17, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Jonathan and Akala Are the Best Candidates – Hosea Agboola

 

Having spent the last fifteen years politicking at the state level, Agboola Hosea Ayodele, the two-time Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters, has decided to raise the bar by contesting for the Oyo North Senatorial District, under the umbrella of PDP. While talking with Bayo Akinloye he severally referred to Governor Christopher Alao-Akala as the best thing that has ever happened to Oyo state. He also feels President Goodluck Jonathan remains the peak of the pack. Excerpts:

Do you think INEC is serious about conducting credible elections come April?

Should we not expect a credible election this year? At the present, we cannot condemn Jega, the INEC chairman. We may not have a perfect election but we are urging everyone to shun violence during the elections. Nigeria is still developing. We are not there yet. The changes we so desired take time. Let us watch how things will turn out.

 

 

What do you expect from the electorate?

For my supporters, I will say come April 2011, I urge them to be very vigilant both at the polling and collating centres. And to the electorate, I will encourage you all to come out en masse and cast your votes for Governor Alao Akala. He has done so well for Oyo state. I think for that reason he surely deserves a second term in office. He is an achiever. Forget about what people are saying that Oyo state people do not re-elect their governors. Do you know why? The reason is that those past governors failed to perform well and impress the people. But, Governor Akala has achieved a lot for this state. I will advise people of Oyo state to re-elect him.

 

 

What role is money playing in all this?

Talking about money, I must admit that money plays a lot of vital roles in politics. That is incontrovertible. But, at the same time, when you have money and you apply your money at the eleventh hour in politics you will have yourself to blame – you will lose. If you have money and you must spend it to play politics, spend it at the beginning. Use your money to serve the people when you are not looking for anything. For, if you use your money only when you are aspiring for office, be sure you will lose, not only the money, but also the position you have aspired for. Therefore, use your money from the very beginning to make it useful for you later on.

 

 

People say if you’re relying on money, you must have a chest of charms.

You mean supernatural backing. There is only one Almighty God. People may use diabolical means to gain power in politics; I only rely on God’s backing. I believe in the Alpha and Omega. I do not put my trust in such so-called diabolical or supernatural power. I only need God to survive and play politics.

 

 

What will be your priorities in the senate?

It will be to ensure that power supply becomes regular and the power agency is properly regulated. With the dismal power generation and supply in Nigeria today, a lot has been lost. Many businesses that have great prospects to grow the nation’s economy and give employments to thousands of our jobless youths and adults are fast closing shops. The fact is, with the existence of constant power generation and supply there will be gainful employment for many. Existing companies can expand and new companies will spring up. Many business interests will not be thinking of relocating to other West African countries because our electricity supply is epileptic.

You can be sure my people in my constituency will fully benefit from this. The second is establishing a federal institution in my constituency. More so, if not for Governor Akala, who is repairing federal roads in my area, all federal roads are unmotorable. I will do my best to ensure that all federal roads projects there are fully executed.

 

 

Having served between 2003 and 2010 as a commissioner, what are your achievements?

Without sounding immodest, I have achieved a lot. Admittedly, during Ladoja’s administration we could not achieve much. That is part of leadership challenge I was talking about. But during this present administration, we have many good results to show. Let me start by telling you that Governor Christopher Alao Akala is a listening man. This is because if you have an idea, he will listen to you. He will argue with you. At the end of the day if you are able to prove your point, he will agree with you. And that is why this government under the leadership of Otunba Akala has been able to achieve a lot of things.

Under my watch, the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters had recorded considerable successes. In terms of giving the Obas high esteem. Then, when it comes to good roads, building of primary schools, markets in the wards. We also purchased cars for the Obas, drilling machines, ambulances and other things.

 

 

 

Can you also highlight your challenges in politics?

You see, the challenges can simply be categorized into two: leadership challenge and you have the followership challenge. In terms of followership challenge, those who follow me sometimes tend to behave otherwise; I mean, contrary to my wish or view. In that kind of situation it can be a real challenge to get them back on your track. It takes time to pacify them. It takes time to advise them – and eventually steer towards your own direction and destination, again.

Also, on the part of leadership, crisis can emerge. There can be crucial disagreements amongst leaders. That kind of situation can tear a party down. For instance, in a government cabinet, there are occasions when you have an idea; the other person also has an idea that is different from yours. If care is not taken this various views can degenerate into internal wrangling. So, at times you just find it difficult to manage those opposing ideas.

My being in politics has been a challenging and rewarding experience. I have gained a lot; especially in terms of exposure to the world. People like me have had the privilege of contributing positively to the development of the people. Today, I have been able to do more than I might have done in my private capacity. That is why I have been in politics since 1986 – 15 years.

 

 

 

Unlike some PDP-controlled states where parallel primaries were held, Oyo state PDP had just one. What happened?

You know this is the first time we are going to practise internal democracy in Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Everyone in the party was allowed to participate on a level playing field. It is such that those who lost in the primaries realized that they were not hard-working enough. They knew and they would have to work much harder next time. That is why those who participated in the last primaries and later lost out are not complaining. They are rallying round the winners by remaining with the PDP party. This is a great sign of support and loyalty to the ruling party.

 

 

How can government resolve frequent face-off with labour unions?

So far, so good, President Goodluck is trying; he is trying a lot to the best of my knowledge. For now, he is the best candidate; unless someone comes out to outperform him.

Those who have been agitating for increase in salaries are right. Also, the federal government’s response to that is really commendable. None the less, let me say that to forestall this incessant demand and agitation for salary increment, the federal government must provide stable power supply. There is no two way to it. We must kill the monster preventing our having constant electricity.

 

“THERE’S CABAL IN NIGERIA COPYRIGHT ADMINISTRATION”

In INTERVIEW on November 2, 2010 at 3:02 pm

‘There is a cabal in copyright administration’

Born 23rd of March, 1960…Patrick Doyle is a delight to talk to. In this interview with the trio of Gbenga Ogundare, Bayo Akinloye and Segun Elijah, Patrick takes on various issues that border on the laughable to the disheartening. Enjoy the reading…

Q.     How is life at 50?

You know, I turned fifty just about two months ago, so as a new  entrant into the club I am still getting used to it; I am still suffering from the hang-over of being in my forties but may be when I am two years into it then I will b e able to answer that question.

Q. What were your most memorable moments?

Well, it is difficult to pick out one or two episodes but I think memorably, I started my career as a broadcaster in 1980 that is almost exactly thirty years ago and I guess that will count as a memorable event and in the lat thirty years I have had several high points. I have had the pleasure of being involved in many landmark events in the broadcasting industry. As an independent producer I think I did the first specialized business programme on Nigerian television called Real Estate This Week – that would be around 1990. I am not sure of any other independent producer that did any other specialized business TV programme at the time. And that would be a high point. Another highpoint is that I was the first person to produce a television soap opera, Jaded Options that was independently produced and syndicated on Nigerian television. Even at that time Wale Adenuga called me for advice on how to go about syndicating his drama series at the time. That would have been Papa Ajasco. These are high points and I am grateful to God that I had the pleasure of being a part of this historic moment. Also I had the pleasure of producing a couple of movies. One of which was the critically acclaimed The Gardener. So I have had my fair share of the high points in my career.

Q. What are your challenges?

I don’t recall challenges. I don’t countenance negative things when a challenge comes I surmount it immediately and I forget it. But it will be a lie if I tell you that there have been no challenges; but whatsoever things are good and are of good report those are the things I think about. Once a challenge is surmounted it belongs to the past – old things have passed away and I am looking forward to new things. I also look forward to new challenges because they will surely come but the minute they are surmounted I confine them to the dust-bin of history

Q. Any regret in life or being a broadcaster?

I am a natural communicator; if I am not doing what I am doing right now I don’t know what I will be doing. So with that quitting has never been an option. Then nothing has been so unpleasant that will make me quit – it’s what I like doing, so quitting doesn’t even arise. Of course, I have had my fair share of tragedy but some of them are obvious and had been in the public domain. So if I tell you I don’t want to countenance it it’s as if I am being an escapist – obviously, I have had the unfortunate incident of my first wife passing on as a result of sickle cell anemia; recently as last year, my teenage son passed on too. So those are the low points I will acknowledge have happened. Even after I acknowledged that they had happened I still say that all in all it is well. Since I was twenty years old I have been a broadcaster that means my entire adult life I have been doing one thing so there is nothing I can compare it with. I don’t know any other life – if at the end of the day I tell you that even with tragedy it is well then it can be the only one I enjoy doing. It has been wonderful and I like the fact that I have earned the respect of my peers even of my juniors in the profession; with that I am grateful that I am regarded with respect. That is the most important thing to me

Q.  Do you think Nollywood as an industry has evolved?

It is still evolving. It is still in a state of evolution but people have this knack of getting carried away. It is not yet uhuru for Nollywood – there is still a long way to go but the ride has been very exhilarating no doubt. Because starting from having no industry to having one that has the highest number of volumes is a big achievement. Now that that has been achieved I think attention should be paid to quality of the movies that have been released – not just technical quality, but in the way the stories are told and the types of stories that are told. On one hand, I think Nollywood has brought Nigeria a lot of acclaims and on the other hand, it has brought notoriety by virtue of some of the films that we have been making. I know that Nigerians are very creative; they are very resilient and in due course the right people who know how to tell the right stories will come and find their space in the film-making industry.

What will be your blueprint for a perfect Nigerian movie industry?

I am very quick to tell people that the movie industry is not my primary constituency but I know many people within that industry who are very knowledgeable, very competent to screen a progressive motion picture industry that will meet world standard. And I will mention the people I am talking about; people like Tunde Kelani, Tade Ogidan should be listened to; people like Kingsley Ogoro and Amaka Igwe. They should listen to these people and allow them take positions of leadership and guide this industry to the proverbial Promise Land. That’s my admonition to those in Nollywood. Because like I said, it is not my primary constituency, I have practised in that area and that’s a thing I have done so creditably. I was told that my film was very well received – that is The Gardener. Even the other one I did call All about Hell, I am glad for that but that does not make me an expert in that industry. I concede competence to those people whose names I have mentioned and I think the wider industry should respect them.

How will you describe the wrangling in Nollywood by its key players and what future is there for the industry?

A. I don’t even countenance the rubbish going on. Every thing has a time and a season. When the time comes for them to come together and do what they ought to do – they would do. It is not the factionalization that you are talking about. It might surprise to know that many of the people you think are players are not really players in the strict sense of the word. There is a Yoruba phrase that adequately describes the lot of the so-called players. The film industry to them is ise a sare wo – the loose translation means ‘a profession that one just runs into’; so a lot of these people you are talking about are not players in the strict sense of the word. Maybe you want to call them hustlers or politicians, that will suit them better but when the real players get together there will be no time for all this nonsense that they are doing, and I see that there is a small groundswell taking place and shortly I think that we will begin to see a change in the way the movie industry is administered.

Q. What is stalling the fight against piracy?

A.  I have a little insight into copyright administration, and this piracy issues. And from what I know there is a cabal that is out to control the copyright administration not because they have any good intention for the owner of the content but they see it as a proposition where they want to make money. Everywhere in the world copyright is held like something of cooperative where stakeholders concede there right to a body that administers proceeds from their intellectual property. It is not a for-profit organization; it is a cooperative where all the stakeholders share. Of course, some stakeholders sell more and they will receive more but they concede the administration of collecting their entitlement for the intellectual property to a body. What has happened is that there is a war between two bodies who want to collect on behalf of stakeholders – one of these bodies has no interest of the stakeholders at heart. It just sees it as a business and the other one talks about it as a cooperative and a grand alliance of stakeholders from the musician to the marketing arm and they have formed a body. So you can know that it is a serious body and that is called COSON, the copyrights society of Nigeria. And there is another one that acts as a limited liability company claiming it is monopoly to have just one body. It argues that there must be freedom to compete. You don’t compete in a cooperative environment. It is this body that is running collection of intellectual property entitlement like a business and putting in a lot of confusion. They are behind the crisis at the AGF, PMAN and they are behind the crisis of association of movie producers. They have been behind all the crises that have bedeviled the creative industry for the last fifteen years and they have not let up. So that is what the problem is. They have been charged to court severally for criminally operating as the collecting society.

How have Nigeria’s broadcasting stations fared?

Nigeria is a country of extreme paradox, I say this poetically, we have the worst television and radio station in the world in Nigeria and we have best radio and television station in Nigeria so it is a world of paradox. Many of the broadcast media in Nigeria did a lot to be desired. One thing about broadcasting in Nigeria is that an average Nigerian will look up to them for information – even to the point of pronunciation. But if you go by what comes out of some of these stations and you copy it you will effectively be a functional illiterate. Then again, we have some stations in Nigeria that are exceptionally good. They have broken the mould. For example, Channels television – by John Momoh – an excellent broadcast institution. There is a new TV station that just came up this month, NN24. Its production values and editorial philosophy are world-class. It is run by a very young Nigerian called Anthony Dara – he is in his 30’s. As I said Nigeria is a country of paradox, we have the best and the worst. But let us hope that the rest of the broadcast media that are lagging behind take an example from the excellent media I have just mentioned. There are many others which are good. I chose those two because they are considered to be really up there. NN24 has 21st century technology that is totally digital. When you are watching the station you will think you are watching CNN and that is how good they are and John Momoh’s broadcasters are world-class by all standards.

Q   What is responsible?

A.  I think it is the same thing that is responsible for the unparalleled failure in NECO and WAEC experiencing two percent pass. They have institutionalized mediocrity. Merit has been sidelined in Nigeria; but that is not today’s story – that has been going on for nearly 25 years but we are just seeing this hard work of 25 years of bringing mediocrity to the fore front. Now we are seeing 1.98 percent pass in NECO; not up to two percent. That is the reason. 80%of the people we been churning out of our educational institutions in the last 15 years are illiterate. So these are the same people who work in these stations. So how can they be good? It is not their fault but the reality of the situation is that inept leadership has led to what we see today. Can they be salvaged? I hope so. I don’t know how. But I think we are blessed with visionary leaders who can find a way out of this miasma….No body is an island; no profession is an island. It is the raw materials the educational institutions have produced that find their way into banking, that find their way into law, into accountancy, into broadcasting. So, garbage in, garbage out. The broadcast industry is not responsible for that – even the schools themselves are not responsible for that. It is inept leadership, visionless leadership that we have had in the last 25 to 30 years. We have seen the result of military adventurism: the collapse of educational system. Because as it is, you would recall, at the beginning of military adventurism, as far back as the First Republic, it was the students who rose against the British defence pact and was violently protested. So the leadership has seen the educational sector and the student as san enemy who must be liquidated and neutralized and that was perfected by the administration of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. So, what we have seen here is a concerted and articulated affront on the intelligentsia by the military administration. And no doubt the Obasanjo regime did not see any reason why they should ameliorate that situation because we are ten years after the military administration. The people who failed NECO were in primary two in 1999. So we have had ten years of civilian administration that could have done something about it but failed or refused to because that did not fit in to the third-term agenda.

In essence if you are to score Nigeria’s ten years of democracy what will be your verdict?

If NECO scored 2% and they were responsible for it, I leave you to judge.

Without formal tertiary education, how did you become an erudite communicator?

I tell you that, our education started dying about 25 years ago; I left secondary school about 33 years ago. I am lucky; I am probably with the last set that left secondary school with an education. And I said this with responsibility. So I left secondary school with an education. What was just left is to read – what do they do in the university? You read. I left secondary school as a literate person and I just continue to read and better myself. And that is what is lacking today. I challenge anyone to put me to an intellectual test with anyone with PHD that has gone through Nigerian educational system I can not be dismissed because they have had to buy marks from lecturers. See, two percent passed NECO, how many of those people qualified to go into tertiary institutions? Only two percent. But you will be surprised that many more will gain admission and will turn out to be functional illiterates who will pay for marks and become worse for it. I am not their mate. I am a typical Nigerian who received a Nigerian O’ Level education in the seventies – those Nigerians are literate; more literate than your average Nigerian Masters holder of today. It’s not rocket science.

Q   Yet we find it curious that soon you will be enrolling in one of Nigeria’s tertiary institution?

A.  First I want to give an example to young people that education is important. I can teach. But because we have bastardized the paper qualification over the years, I don’t want to people to look at me and say ‘Look at Patrick, he doesn’t paper qualification – so, I don’t need it!’ It is needful; it is necessary. So I want to eliminate anyone who says ‘Patrick is my role model, he doesn’t have it, I don’t need it’. That is the simple reason….Honest to God those things are beyond my capacity. I am a broadcaster, not an educationist. I am not even an administrator. But common sense has to come to play. We will need to trace when the rot began and if we traced when the rot began, we can now say to ourselves that from 1982 everything we have done has rubbish. Go to a databank, find out all the people who are especially in the teaching profession and begin to retrain and re-certify them at government cost.  The government has a responsibility to do this. Because we live in the digital age it is possible to do it simultaneously through ICT. So that they can educate our children properly and we need to start immediately. We must do it. I must tell you, next year NECO result – except NECO wants to tell a lie – cannot be better than two percent.

Q. What’s future plan?

A. At 50, I’m not proud to say that the things that ought to be in place in     terms of legacy for my biological children are not in place. So I am going to concentrate on putting those things in place. I am talking about physical things – tangible things that a man at my age ought to have, kept aside so that on my demise…the Bible says a wise man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children; I haven’t even left for my children not to talk of my children’s children. So the next couple of years I am going to dedicate to putting things down for them. When that is done, and I hope it is done quickly – though I feel that’s kind of selfish. I hate the fact that if Nigeria was a proper country and I was doing what I am doing, I would not need to worry – those things would have come naturally. But with things now I have to stop what I’m doing, face it, and get it. Then I can go back to the issue of being more altruistic about what’s going on.

Q. Do you have a sickle foundation?

A. No. I am starting an initiative to draw attention to sickle cell; if it ends up        being a foundation, all well and good. But, it is an initiative. My late wife died of sickle. Our teenage son died of sickle cell. When lightning strikes twice in the same place you must be a foolish man not to address the issue. So I have considered it we have a problem with sickle in Nigeria and indeed, Africa. People have mystified and specialize it and therefore when they mystify it and specialize they leave it alone. But I say, let us draw attention to it. Let us look at it for what it is. It is a genetic disorder. It is pure science. When we remove the mystique around then we can find a way to deal with it objectively. My business is to demystify sickle so that resources can be placed in the hands of researchers to find a way to ameliorate the suffering that arises from the disorder.

Q. As a typical Nigerian your name is everything but Nigerian. Why?

A. Patrick Rutherford Doyle. My grandfather is an Irishman gentleman –      Patrick Joseph Doyle. He married an Itsekiri princess – Princess Kaka Egbe of Warri – and they had a son called Patrick Doyle who was my father. Does that make me a Nigerian? Oh yes! I am a Nigerian. I am more at home here. I am an Itsekiri man and my mother is from Calabar. So I call myself an Itsekiri man from Calabar.

Q. What are you looking at in the next one decade?

A. I’m hoping that I can quickly put those tangle things together in the next one year or two. What I want to do at this time is to be useful to Nigeria in a bigger capacity. I’ve been in broadcasting for 30 years and it has done me well. We have a problem in Nigeria with leadership. One of the biggest problems we have with leadership in Nigeria is that the support structure for good leadership does not exist. In fact, there are good leaders. There are people with potentials to lead us to the utopia that we all desire. I’ll name a few: Chris Okotie, Bola Tinubu, Donald Duke and Tunde Fashola. These are the people who want to be useful to Nigeria in a bigger capacity. I want to be able to work with a man with good leadership qualities in a support capacity not praise-singing. We have institutionalized sycophancy; even people with dignity don’t know when they fly into sycophancy. I feel at my age I should be able to tell a leader the truth. And I want to be financially comfortable to the point that it is not the allowance that is paid that will determine the quality of advice that I give a leader.

Q. What books have made real impact on you?

A. I’ve stopped reading. I used to read a lot before. I think the only book I read from time to time is the Bible. It is the repository of all knowledge and all wisdom.

Q. You don’t drink, you don’t smoke and you don’t go to nightclub, so how do you relax?

A. I watch television. I’m a family man; I like being with my people.

“IT’S BEEN DIFFICULT SQUATTING AT EVENTS”

In INTERVIEW on October 25, 2010 at 8:27 am

Hushed tones fall over the room as guests take their seats. Legs are crossed, red-soled stilettos bob up and down as the lighting is dimmed and all eyes focus on the only visible light.  Nigerian photographer, Tyna Ezenma, readies herself at her tripod to capture the first model to take the runway. She is at Fashion Week in New York, September 2009, and with seemingly endless energy, she invokes the ability to virtually make time stand still. Her view of the world and how photography fits into it is quite poignant.

“The awareness of the importance of photography in the African society is so disappointing. Most people here have not come to realize that photography is an Art, and that people actually studied it as a course. As a female African in a profession dominated by men, I have to work extra hard to prove myself relevant,” remarks Ezenma. Her quest for excellence in this area has certainly been worth the sacrifice.

While in South Korea, relevance was not an issue especially when she had her first photography exhibition. She was the only female and the only black person in the group; this certainly made the experience special, she admits.

“As a female it has been difficult “squatting” at some events to take photographs.”  But being a minority has its advantages. When you find unique angles with which no other photographer might have thought about, you stand out. So the obstacles can become the sole inspiration for finding one’s niche.”

And many have taken note: Several accolades including three international photography awards in the U.S. as well as published works by the International Library of Photography. While in Korea for a year, her work was featured as part of a group exhibition in Ulsan, South Korea, in November of 2007.

Who inspires Ezenma, you may ask? There are too many to note here, but celebrity photographer Matthew Jordan Smith has special meaning to her. “I love his passion and creativity for photography.”

Ezenma, in her own right, has developed a unique style that demands a double-take. She adds: “To me, photography is an art of observation, it’s about finding something interesting in ordinary things, most importantly, the way I see things. I love playing around with light. Studying light has been one of the difficult challenges I’ve faced in photography.”  A quick study of her work tells you that this challenge has become one of the special nuances of her images.

A mellow-toned voice via phone confirms Ezenma’s humble spirit.  But do not be deceived, she does not mince words when expressing herself.  This grit, however, does not turn you off – it makes you want to know her more.  Just read her blog, or check out the entries on her Facebook page.  It seems almost as personal as sitting across the kitchen table from her.

She elaborates: “My mission is to continue to grow and develop as an artist, and person, using my photography in all genres, fashion, advertising, portraiture and landscape, as a medium for inspiration and a means to understand the world. I have no desire for self-aggrandizement. If you want to know more, just ask.”

One could deduce that it takes far more than talent or just passion to make a great photographer. It is about knowing thyself and the impact one wants to make in the world. Ezenma seems to have managed to amass both.

But wait. Being a globe-trotting photographer is not the only thing on Ezenma’s ‘To-do” list. In this life everyone must discover the things he or she was placed here to do. That discovery, aside from natural abilities, can take one on an unplanned journey for self.  Adopting a baby girl and opening up a motherless babies’ home are a few of the ways Ezenma would like to give back to society.  Starting a fashion line one day is also on the list. If anyone could accomplish such tasks, it is Ezenma. Her tenacity and focus are inspiring to say the least.

What is her loftiest goal as a professional photographer? Ezenma states: “I would like to be one of the most sought after photographers in the world, and would also like to be featured on CNN “Art of Life.”

So when asked who she would most like to photograph, Michelle Obama is Ezenma’s pick.  “She is so intelligent and beautiful.”

And as Ezenma’s craft continues to evolve and mature, the world may one day get to see just that. Tyna Ezenma lives in Lagos, Nigeria, with her husband and four little boys (Shawn, Joel, Kachi and Chinedu).

By Eboness Belin


10% OF NIGERIANS ARE HOMOSEXUAL

In INTERVIEW on October 22, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Ten Percent of Nigeria’s Population is Homosexual – Dr. Gerard

Dr. Gerard van der Weijden is the inventor of the Reading Passport (used in more than 30 countries). He used to smoke 40 cigarettes per day. He strongly feels Nigerian homosexuals should not be chased underground. Then without mincing words, he touches on marriage and being childless. What are his thoughts? In this interview with Bayo Akinloye, Gerard bares his mind on issues bordering on the personal to the professional.

What will you like Nigerian newspapers and magazines to improve on?

My work mainly consists of helping magazines and newspapers and other publications to get more readers and users. You will see, all over the world that the media do not do very well. They do not put the readers and users in the first place. They are busier with themselves and with what message and idea they want to convey than what interests the reader. But, that’s not what many readers want: pages about politicians talking about their plans, their excuses for failure, blaming other people, never saying sorry to them etc.

Unless I am wrong, that is not what the Nigerian public expects from their media. Everybody including Nigerians wants a better and happy life. The media has to be of great help by helping the public to buy the best and cheapest vegetables, to participate in traffic, so they do not get hurt, helping parents and youngsters with their education, help them. They need to help the public to check and to control the people who spend their tax money, etc.

So bottom-up approach instead of top-down approach.

Before coming to Nigeria what impression did you have about the country?

Of course, I am also guilty of thinking in cliché of what I know of Nigeria. So yes! I expected to be approached for some beautiful projects I have to invest in and expecting 300% or more return on investment – this did not happen. I did not expect to walk around on my own in the streets – I did and I enjoyed it. I expected Lagos traffic jams but not in the way I experienced it. I expected people not to be very humorous but they were. I expected Nigeria not to be careful with their cultural heritage – and I was right.

What impression do you now have about it?

A week is too short to give a well balanced viewpoint – who is interested in that anyway? One observation I can share. I experienced many Nigerians turning what I see as a problem, even a big problem into an opportunity. In a restaurant, when the order of my wife was served I had already done with mine. The waiter told me “I am very sorry sir, the kitchen could not cope but now you have the chance to co-taste the food of your wife”.

What was life like to you growing up?

Very, very normal. I was one of ten children. We always had food and a roof over our heads and clothing. And, we all could go to school and study afterwards. This is partly because my parents were very thrifty and partly because our political system provides everybody with that kind of help

Marriages are collapsing all over the world, what’s the trend like where you live?

Same here. For very many reasons many marriages break up and there are, of course, people who see this development as very positive: people who are not happy, who are very unhappy in a relationship, who are hindered by their marriage to go forward, can now more easily and with less shame get rid of this ballast.

Do you give your wife house-keeping/food allowance, as men do here in Nigeria?

My marriage is personally and legally based on equality: what is mine is yours, what is yours is mine. That means there is no giving any kind of money anyhow. My wife and I discuss how much money we can and must spend on food, housing medical and savings. Before anyone of us wants to make a big purchase – a car, a TV set, etc – that has to be discussed in advance.

Why don’t you have kids?

For the very simple medical reason: it was not possible

How does your society view childless couples?

Childless couples are not seen as a special group of people. We meet people who share with us that having no children is missing a lot of joy. And we meet people who share with us that having no children saves us a lot of worries and miseries.

What do you think about homosexuality?

Personally and constitutionally nobody should be treated differently because of his or her looks, colour, religion, profession, sex, handicap, etc; also, not because of their sexual preference.
Two adults by mutual consent must be able to form the kind of relationship they want to have. Roughly, ten percent of the population, also the population of Nigeria is homosexual: lesbian or gay. This sexual preference has to do with the genes. You are born with it, so let it be.

Also, if we exclude all the people with handicaps, other beliefs, etc., we short-change society because if we discriminate against them. They cannot put their energy in bringing Nigeria forward. But they have to use all their energy to hide and protect themselves while living a life they do not want.

Do you smoke (in Nigeria, people feel almost every European smokes)?
No not anymore, I used to smoke around 40 cigarettes per day. I tried to quit three times and the last time, 25 years ago, it worked. The amount of people in Europe smoking is all the time gradually stopping; but of course, not fast enough. Indeed that was something I expected to see in Nigeria: many drinks and many smokers, but not so! Compliment.
What do you think of the politicians?

Polticians who do what they promise and work for the people I like? How many of them are around?

What childhood experience do you cherish till now?
One action of my father. At school/parents evenings he always had only one question for that teacher: “Is my child doing his/her best?” So he did not ask about achievements.

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