The Anatomy of an Unsolved Crime

December 16, 2015

I was standing at the top of the stairs, leaning against the stair rail when I heard it. It was breaking glass … it went on and on, perhaps for a minute or two … it sounded like breaking glass falling on marble. I now had two choices. I could go back to the bed where my phones lay, or come downstairs and confront the intruder. To pick my phone, I would have to be real quiet getting to it and calling 999. In my small house, I’d certainly be heard. But to confront the intruder? Surely that was suicide if I had no weapon and no sight. I was still pondering these when I woke up.

 

In truth, there were many differences between the dream and the events of a few days before. I was lying in bed, lazily drifting off to sleep. It was after midnight, so it would have been Saturday morning, 17 January 2015. I heard a ‘woooosh’ sound, as though something had dropped from some height onto my living room floor. My bedroom is above my living room. I was too sleepy to get up to investigate and to my mind, it couldn’t be anything major anyway. I’d completely forgotten the incident when I woke up in the morning, but when I went downstairs, there was something crunchy underfoot. It didn’t take long to establish it was glass, but where had it come from. And then I saw a stone at the foot of my settee. And why, when the central heating had kicked in, was the living room so cold?

 

This was obviously beyond me, so I made two calls. One was to a Nigerian couple who lived two doors away, Michael and Gbemi; the other was to Brian. Brian is my go-to person for anything from reading mail to fixing my printer. If he can’t find an immediate answer, he’ll always think of an alternative while working out the solution. But he’s more than that, he’s a rock, a solid friend. If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone in church. He was round, in as long as it would take to sprint from his house. My neighbours were here too. I can still hear Gbemi’s voice as she approached the house. I knew there was trouble because she was just going “oh no! Oh no!”

 

It was only after my initial observers had described the scene and explained which window had been damaged that I called the police; they said they’d show up about lunchtime.   I knew from all the crime stories I’d read and watched that I shouldn’t disturb the scene of the crime. This worried Brian who wondered how I’d survive till the police came; I simply retired upstairs to wait..

 

I had called the police before and thought I knew what would happen. They usually came in pairs, but to my shock, only one gentleman visited me this time. He said there was no need for a scene of crimes investigation because the stone that hit my window was thrown with such force that it had broken in two. According to him, as it was a stone, they couldn’t get any fingerprint or other evidence. anyway.

 

Now, you probably don’t know this and I shouldn’t be saying it loud; but when I don’t like what I’m hearing, I argue and fight back. This time, I was so desperate that I even played the blind man card. I told him that in my view, this had to have some foreknowledge, as most people here actually know where I live. On several occasions, I’d be walking and someone would stop me, perhaps asking if he could help me cross the road or something. Then he’d say “I know you, you’re the one who lives …”. And he’d be right! I’m recognizable as one of only two black visually impaired people in this town. I told him that in my view, this could be either a hate crime or a crime against a vulnerable person.

 

I fought hard because all the time, there was a picture in my mind. Just three days earlier, on Wednesday 14th, I’d had a really long day. I’d gone to London on a very early train and had returned just in time to head for church and worship group. When I finally got home, at just before 10 PM, I was so tired that I just sat on the settee till I woke up at about 1 O’clock. What if that had been the night he’d struck? The sound would have been much clearer then, I’d have been directly facing that window. The stone might even have struck me on its way down to rest on the carpet. And if the guy had realised he’d startled me awake, his reaction would have been either fight or flight. and if as I suspected, he knew I couldn’t see him, would he have fled? Or fought? And if he had other stones with him?

 

But my policeman wasn’t budging on this one. He made only one concession, that he would ask for increased patrols around my house and that when doing their rounds, some police people would call on me to reassure me. I did get a crime report number, but I’m afraid that was the last time I saw any police man or woman. I cannot confirm that patrols were increased because nobody came to reassure me on the point.

 

So now I know, if a stone is thrown through my window, no need to keep away from the scene of crime, as the police can do nothing to trace the criminal. I could go about my life, which I did by calling my friends to help me clean up. Two sisters, Ola and Yinka, came from the other side of town and joined Michael and Gbemi. When she’s not cleaning vandalised houses, Yinka is a network administrator. She agreed with my brother who moonlights as my long distance security adviser, that I need some surveillance equipment, cameras, CCTVs, etc. She was so disgusted that she took photos before the clean up began.

 

Later on, Ola’s husband, Ayo came around to board up the window as a temporary measure. He showed me the torn curtain, and suggested that the guy with the stone might alsohave wanted to get into the house. Apparently, he’d tried to use the curtain to hold the window, near the break, to see if he could get to the latch and open it. And I didn’t think there was anything to worry about when I heard the sound?

 

I have moved on since that day. So many personal triumphs and some difficulties. I thank God for so much in 2015. The rest of the world has moved on too. Other crimes have been committed, even our church was broken into. And there have been floods, wars, terrorism; yesterday, as my sister celebrated her birthday, three people were climbing onto a rocket and heading for the international space station. In the light of all this, the incident was just another unsolved crime; after all, nobody got physically hurt and nothing was taken. The house was cleaned free of charge, it was probably tidier than the night before. All it cost was fixing the glass that was broken.

 

Even though I’ve moved on too (I haven’t had that dream since) I remember the day because tomorrow, it would be exactly 11 months since I woke up to crunching glass on my carpet floor. As I’ve already written here, the police seem to have forgotten the incident; but that’s because it didn’t personally affect them, they don’t see it from my perspective. You see, I know just how vulnerable I am. Most people say how wonderful it is that I’m always on the move; London today, Manchester tomorrow, the States, Nigeria, everywhere. But nobody knows of the times when people have walked up to me and shouted right in front of me to see if I’d flinch. About 20 years ago, some children were throwing stones at me; when I didn’t respond, one got so angry that he (or she, let’s not be sexist here) picked up several stones and flung them at me. In one sense, you could say this was just the sinister end of bullying the vulnerable. But it could be worse than that; it could have developed into a real attempt to exploit the vulnerable for advantage. I know there are limited resources, but I was still left asking myself exactly what would make the police take my case seriously.

 

Again, I must point out that this is really about me, just one person among 6 billion. So maybe I should say I learned something really wonderful. I learned about people caring for one another, naturally and without fuss. While taking the photos, Yinka was evidently upset, but we were laughing through it. Ola saw this as an excellent opportunity to upbraid me for my untidiness and introduce some form of order into my living room. On the next Tuesday morning, I was in church for GUGU (grown ups and growing ups).   I sometimes play nursery rhymes when I’m in town. Several of the parents had walked past my house, further confirmation that many know where I live. All were concerned to see that I was fine. In the end, for just one person out of 6 billion, how much does it matter what the police do or do not, when there are people who love and care so much? Thank you all, thank God for you.

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vote a president that supports the rights of 25 million Nigerians

March 25, 2015

Here is the reproduction of a message I received. Please contact info@equalrightsnigeria.org.uk for more information.
Of the estimated 170 million Nigerians, the most educated guess is that
about 25.5 million people have one disability or other. This is a
staggering population, which matches that of several African countries put
together. But that is not surprising, giving the size of the country,
poor state of healthcare and other facilities and growing insurgency in
several parts of the country. What is most disconcerting is the attitude
of the presidency to the plight of such a large population.

Organisations representing people with disabilities have constantly
campaigned to have legislation to protect the rights of this large number
of people. In fact, three times, the Disability Rights bill has been
passed by the National Assembly, in 2003, 2010, and 2014. This means that
2 of the 3 presidents since 1999 have had the chance to put their assent
to this bill (President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, President Goodluck
Jonathan in 2010 and 2014). Sadly, none of them have, but more worryingly,
none has given any reason why. It is as if 25.5 million people are so
insignificant that our presidents cannot be bothered to even explain why
their rights are not important. All we have ever wanted through the bill
is:
1.Guarantee that people with disabilities have equal rights to jobs,
voting, education and other amenities which others take for granted;
2.Ensure that governments and citizens recognize and respect disabled
people;
3.Give disabled people the confidence to participate in national and
community life;
4.Allow Nigeria to stand tall among other nations who have already
adopted these provisions and to nationalise its international
obligations entered into when it signed the United Nations Convention on
Rights of Disabled People (UNCRDP) and the Marakesh Treaty.

Let us try to put this in perspective:
The population of disabled people represents nearly 15 % of Nigerians!
Disability is not indiscriminate, especially with growing insurgency and
poor facilities; it can strike anyone at any time, regardless of status,
tribe, effort or faith (Bible characters such as Jacob, Samson and Paul
were disabled)!
Some disabled people do not admit to their disability for many reasons,
but it does not mean they can live fully independent lives; some have
very poor vision, serious back strain or even arthritis which makes
movement difficult, but is not observed by others!
In Nigeria, you cannot discriminate against a person on grounds of
tribe, gender or religion, but there must be several tribes with less
than 25.5 million people!
As individuals, Nigerians are known to be very compassionate people, but
our president has not displayed a similar attitude!
In other parts of the world, people with disabilities are making great
contributions to their country in sports, music, politics, science and
technology, etc, but not in Nigeria where they either do not have the
rights to enable them do so or are prevented by structural problems with
this bill could have addressed!
Disabled people are actually frustrated by all the skills and talents
hidden inside them which they want to bring out for the national good!
The rest of the world has now recognized that if one part of the body is
impaired, the rest can function very well indeed, and encouraging this
functionality can bring great good to the disabled person, their
community and even the world at large!

So as we prepare for elections, ask?
Is it right to disenfranchise nearly 15 % of the population of Nigeria?
Is it right for our president to consider such a large number of people
so insignificant as not to even offer a good reason why he does not
intend to sign a bill which has already been passed by the national
assembly?
What would Nigeria gain if such hidden talent and enthusiasm is released?

Please ask your candidates about their attitude to 25.5 million people,
please vote empowerment, enfranchisement, rights, growth, freedom!!!

(Please email this to people you know.)
Thank you,

Seun Peters


Strategy for Avoiding Election Violence: Delivered to Nigerian Students Society, University of Leeds on Thursday 5 February 2015

February 8, 2015

Good evening, it is such an honour to be asked to speak to such a distinguished group of students, organisers and fellow speakers.

When I was much younger, I used to listen as my dad and his friends engaged in loud conversations. As I grew older, I too began to participate in conversations with my own friends. I noticed that most of these revolved around three topics: sports,, (mostly football), everyday events and the politics and economics of Nigeria.

I also observed several other things. First, everyone is an expert. This is why I feel like a football fan speaking at a convention of fans of my favourite football team. I expect that nothing I say will be new, but it should certainly generate discussion. Secondly, all the ills we discuss – corruption, armed robbery, economic malaise and election violence – have interrelated causes. Finally, Nigerians are very passionate; indeed sometimes, passionate arguments can be interpreted by non Nigerians as aggression. There is however an important question; are we passionate about our country, our place within Nigeria, or simply our own individual interests?

Let me explain. In 2014, Nigerians celebrated the centenary of our creation. This might have confused everyone else who had joined us in celebrating the golden jubilee of our independence in 2010, but as Nigerians, we understood the significance of both. As usual, both occasions provided much room for reflection.

The fact is that Nigeria is an amalgamation of several states, some large, others very small indeed. In such small communities, it was easier for the individual to be more powerful. The influence of an individual in a community of 500, 1000 or even 10000, with limited transport links to neighbouring communities is much greater than in a country of perhaps 160 million people with reasonable transportation and communication,. However, Nigerians seem to have imported 18th and 19th century attitudes into the 21st century. Insurgency, corruption and even election violence are linked by our feeling of individual self-importance, high above the national interest. A Nigerian wants to succeed, by hook or by crook, and limited success leads to increased ambition. A policeman who holds a gun knows that this is his route to power, so does an administrator in a university who holds the key to the admission of a student. In Nigeria, the term ‘local champion’ implies that a person is too insignificant to make a difference beyond his street. This concept even works with team sports. So often, international commentators remark that our football team is full of individuals with great skill when they are on the ball. However, they cannot play as a team. The explanation is quite simple: ‘I have the ball, it’s my source of power, so I use it’.

A while back, there was the concept of the national cake, loosely interpreted as our share of the resources of the country. I once spoke to Dai Davis, a Welsh man who had worked in several community projects in the Niger Delta. He painted a picture; imagine a small cake and everyone taking huge pieces of the cake. He suggests that this is what happens in Nigeria. His argument is that all countries experience some form of corruption,but in other situations, the cake is much larger, meaning that the amount taken by the individual is less significant.

Unfortunately, we do not consider the unforeseen effects of our actions, beyond immediate satisfaction and one upmanship. In Ola Rotimi’s brilliant play, “our husband has gone mad again” the main character suggests that national cake is too soft, we should call it national chinchin. This is presumably because eating chinchin produces a satisfying crunching sound that can be heard by your neighbours. However, if you maintain your power by foul means, you also perpetuate the lowering morale and moral standards within the country. Those who put guns in the hands of others and encourage them to beat up their opponents cannot collect their weapons back. As I already said, each person wants to have an instrument of power, so what do these thugs do with the guns? People are not just violent during elections, the violent are violent all the time.

To avoid election violence, each individual must want Nigeria to work as a country. This is not a narrowly defined kind of socialism. The truth is that in all successful states, individual interest may exist, but each person knows that it is in their interest for their country to work. In the Bible, Jeremiah advises Israelites in exile to pray for the prosperity of their country of residence, because “in their prosperity lies your own prosperity”. This is sound advice, even for Nigerians living in Nigeria.

It is however not enough. Everyone must also recognize that they have a stake in the success of Nigeria. This means that Nigerians should not accept anything short of their own entitlement to good government. In a country used to casual disenfranchisement, this may be a difficult concept, but every Nigerian who allows themselves to be deprived of their rights to an accountable government is gradually eroding their duty to their own country. The same is true in cases of corruption, heavyhanded police activity and anything else that makes the individual smaller than they should be. The truth is that those who acquire power fraudulently will not think of their fellow citizens, so ultimately, voters should not in any way encourage them to gain power. Furthermore, if I have a right to be treated fairly, then I must demand that right. If I have a right to know how politicians spend my country’s money, then I must ask them. If I don’t, there are only two other choices open to me; I could join the corruption or leave the country. This was why Andrew wanted to ‘check out’ in the famous 1984 television advert.

The strategy proposed is not governmental, it is individual. It seems to me that our idealism deserts us after our education. In the 1970s and 1980s, student union leaders would bring Nigeria to a standstill, demanding better standards from their government. Where are they now? I was priviledged to spend some time working with Mrs Hirat Aderinsola Balogun, about the time she served in the panel considering the eligibility of first and second republic politicians to participate in future civilian governments. I remember speaking to several friends, who were of the view that the same old politicians would come back to rule the country in the same old way. Several of those politicians are gone now; but in the end, we don’t need a change in generations, we need a change in attitudes.

This is why I’m so honoured to be speaking to you. I hope, fervently pray that you will be those who will bring the new attitude, strike the right balance between self intereste and national success. I pray that you will be the ones who, with a different perspective will change Nigeria into a country where election violence will be a thing of the past.


Being interviewed by Aloted

December 7, 2011

I have a good friend, Victoria Oruwari, who is visually impaired. She is very unhappy about an interview that was posted in a Lagos newspaper, which portrayed her in a light she didn’t really like. What can she do? Especially as she typed her name in Google recently and found that the interview had moved to 7th place on the entries under her name. It used to be in 10th place. She says it means more people are reading it.

I realise that by writing this, I may be persuading more people to read the interview, pushing it even higher up, … that is if it is true that the more people read a story, the more popular it is. However, I write this because of my perception of journalists who interview people. I look at it as a game, the journalist is trying to sell a newspaper and the interviewee is trying to sell his/her image. Sometimes, (but very rarely) their interests coincide, but only sometimes. I haven’t seen a newspaper hurt by an interview, except in the libel courts. But I have heard of many complaining interviewees.

I suppose Itoo have suffered a little in this game. On 15 May, 1987, a Nigerian newspaper published an interview with 5 visually impaired students of the University of Lagos. I was one of the interviewees; I remember wondering how all 5 of us said the same things, yet the newspaper managed to find a different angle for each of us. I was portrayed as the cultured one, dressed in branded clothes. I recall that one of the most importantthings I said from the angle of the interviewee was that I had a girlfriend. Another friend of mine was portrayed as the troublemaker and his observations on the inaccessible entrance to Mariere hall was prominent. I too had noted this point, but my own observations received less coverage.

I don’t know how this interview affected the sales of the Sunday Concord, but it had two effects on the visually impaired community of Unilag. First, we were all called to meet some senior officials of the university and warned not to bring the name of the university into disrepute. The open ditch outside the entrance to Mariere hall remained till I left, I still encountered it while visiting some friends in the mid1990s.

On a positive note, a lecturer set up a fund which procured equipment for some visually impaired students. Professor Abiola Ojo died suddenly a few years ago, and I wrote a short post about his good works. https://notion.wordpress.com/2009/01/17/104/

I write all this because I’ve been interviewed again. Actually, this was very different. You can read all about it at http://alotedbabe.blogspot.com and this time, I hope you enjoy it. Aloted has done what all journalists should do, put down word for word what the interviewee has said. That way, she doesn’t get accused of manipulating my words. Of course, it helps that she’s a really good friend and wouldn’t want to distort anything I say, just to achieve increased readership of her blog. To tell the truth, she made no claims of being a journalist, which is a good thing. For that reason, if you don’t like the piece, blame me, I confess they’re all my words, except for the questions and the title.

I’m not sure this was planned, but Aloted’s blogpost came out a day before the international day for disabled people. In your own way, you increased awareness of disability, thanks Aloted.

But even with full responsibility, do I feel better about the interview? First, I feel really humbled and honoured that Aloted (and now her readers who have commented on the story) think I have something to say. At the same time, I’m not really sure I said it as well as I should. Maybe I sounded like one of those pompous ones who think they have a philosophy to spread. Maybe I went on for much too long (like I’m doing now). Maybe a more critical reader than myself would come up with some analysis that doesn’t put me in such a good light after all.

First confession, Although I agreed readily to the interview, I sat on it for a while. I suppose I was a little ambivalent, but here’s the second confession, having answered the questions, I’m curious for reaction.

For all that she’s not a professional journalist, Aloted asks searching questions. She made me really consider what I was saying. Maybe this is the way a real professional should go about it, put the actual views of the interviewee. I still don’t want to give the wrong impression about myself. Maybe responding to interview questions is like dressing up. You know when you’re leaving the house that people are looking at you. You may want to create the impression of a sharp dresser, a cool dude, an area boy or just your ordinary inconspicuous citizen. Whatever you put on, you do it consciously, or at least subconsciously, second guessing what the man on the street is seeing.

I don’t think it’s supersensitive or vain to wonder what you’re thinking after you’ve read Aloted’s piece. If I didn’t say it very well there, here’s all I really wanted to communicate. I’m visually impaired, but I have faith and hope. There’s a lot to learn about visual impairment, but there’s also a lot for visually impaired people to learn about sighted people. Understanding each other is the key to all the improvements we desire. I want to, and I can live a full life, and I’d love you all to join me in it. I know there’s much more, because each person is so multidimensional, a few words can’t do sufficient justice. So perhaps I shouldn’t bother trying to explain myself to you, I just can’t manage it after all. But if you don’t think it strange, let me know what you think of the interview.

God bless.


10 Years Ago

September 11, 2011

Today is another of those days when people are asking, “where were you this time, 10 years ago”. There are so many programmes, so many memories, so many stories. I suppose if I add another one, nobody would bother to read it, especially if they’ve read so many other more dramatic ones.

It seems to me that there are three kinds of connections to 9 11. There were those who were tragically caught up in the event, either because they were in the aircraft, or in the buildings. Those who are in that category can only tell us what happened if they survived it. Others were caught up in the aftermath, either as decision makers, rescue workers, or even as travellers. The third group comprises everyone else, those who were at work, were at home, were at play, were doing something when … “the latest from New York is that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Centre …” and suddenly, they all knew that things would never be the same again.

at 11:40 AM, I was in an aeroplane, taking off from Heathrow airport to visit my sister in Washington. With me was her 5 year old daughter; I was looking forward to a 2 week holiday to celebrate my recent doctorate, she was looking forward to being spoiled. Our expected arrival time in DC was 3 PM local time, but by 11:40 (DC time) I knew we weren’t going there.

I would have remembered the flight anyway, because the captain was one of the friendliest I’ve ever met. As we prepared for takeoff, he told us we were gong past the specially designated area for Concorde, which was undergoing tests after one of them had crashed. The final decision on its fate hadn’t been taken then. I thought “what a friendly guy”. Then we took off. It was a Boeing 767, and it was one of the smoothest takeoffs I’ve ever experienced. Indeed, the landing was smooth too, and takeoff and landing 2 days later. I think it must be a 767 thing, because the next time I travelled in one it was just the same.

Then our friendly captain informed us that we were going to have to make an emergency landing. You can imagine the thoughts that went through my head before he told us that he had very little information, but the US airspace was closed. Closed? Why? We didn’t know, not even when we landed in a usually empty airstrip in Newfoundland, I think it was called Stevensville. We sat in the aircraft We sat in the aircraft, being fed information by the captain, until about 7 AM the next morning, UK time. I hadn’t changed my watch settings yet, but I believe Newfoundland is 3 and a half hours behind UK time. And as we got more information, I had to explain to a 5 year old that some very bad people had done something really bad and that meant we couldn’t yet see her mommy.

I was glad to get off that aircraft, even though the security was tight at this unknown airstrip. I think they kept us waiting while they assembled the people who would process us in. It wasn’t only that it was cramped, it was also that I, the great follower of news stories was, for once, almost completely in the dark. In that confined space, rumours were flowing; Someone even said that nuclear war was under consideration. Maybe everyone else was in the dark too, but how was I to know. I had access to one of those expensive aircraft phones, the one you had to pay using a credit/debit card. I kept trying to ring my sister in DC and failing. It was only about half an hour before we disembarked that it occurred to me that the US was probably the most difficult place to reach. So I rang a friend in London and finally got information about what had happened, what governments and people were saying, and crucially, who had contacted my sister.

Eventually, we got off, were met by the Canadian Red Cross, were bused to a little town called Cornerbrook. The Canadian government and people were just wonderful. We stayed in some hotel and were given full access to the telephone to ring our families. We could watch television and actually find out what happened. A lovely lady from social services, who acted as a volunteer, took my niece and I out to buy some clothes, as ours were still in the plane. Her dad came along too, she even brought her boyfriend to meet us. On the morning of the 13th, we returned to London, despite my loud protests. I knew the captain was right, security meant we couldn’t go to the States, but I wasn’t thinking rationally. I just wanted it to be over and for life to continue. I wanted to relax again. Besides, my 5 year old niece had heard enough about bad people and wanted to be with her mum. The good captain came to me in the middle of the return flight and spoke to me and my niece. It was a calmer talk, because I was resigned to returning to London. BA took us to a hotel, and eventually, on the 15th, we were headed back to Washington.

My thanks goes to you (Cornerbrook residents) forever. Maybe I’ll come visit, a proper visit this time, not one forced on us by “very bad people” who wouldn’t let my niece see her mother.

I’ve done a lot of reading about that day, mostly from the political angle. That doctorate, it was in international politics, and my area of interest was Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the UN efforts to remove them. I knew about weapons of mass destruction, if of a different type. I knew of government foreign policy, damaged national pride and all that. I’d read enough about terrorism and anti-American feelings among some elements in the Middle East and predominantly muslim world. This was terrorism, it was the use of a weapon of mass destruction, and it had the hallmarks of anti-American feeling, but in every other respect, it was unprecedented. I suspected even then that an unprecedented act was likely to lead to unprecedented reactions.

I sat on that plane, wondering what would happen. My knowledge scared me; You can’t imagine what was going through my mind. I remembered that the good thing about Canada is that it’s foreign policy stance is quieter than the States, and if there was an international explosion of violence, it was probably safe to be in Canada. But if security meant that we couldn’t ever get to DC, would I have to remain in Canada with my niece for an indefinite period? How would I manage, as a single blind man with my 5 year old niece, if things really god bad? What if the unthinkable happened, and those rumours about nuclear war were true?

When you’re in an aircraft in the middle of nowhere, with limited information, but sufficient knowledge of international relations to conjure worst case scenarios, that’s the sort of thing you think about. I think there is a time for rational thought, but that wasn’t it. And I couldn’t get over the thought that I was flying. Never mind that it was domestic flights that were hijacked. I was actually in the air, and one aircraft is as good as another for hurling at a building.

I didn’t want to write about international relations, not today. Everyone else is doing that. I wanted to write about something I really knew about. I could never tell what was happening outside the aircraft, and I’ve learned that nobody ever truely understands those high sounding things like foreign policy and strategic thinking. Too many others are involved, nobody has the full picture. Why should I speculate when I can write of what I know.

This week, it occurs to me that the American open tennis tournament is on. I tried to remember if it was on then, it’s the same city, New York, if it’s in a different location, Queens. I can’t remember, perhaps because I was too busy working on my viva, then getting ready for a holiday. But when I once again focussed on the news, I heard that the Rider Cup, which was supposed to have been held that year, (probably about that time) was cancelled. I’m trying to remember the news stories around that time. For someone so normally clued up on international relations, I can’t remember a thing. It just goes to show how some things can overshadow everything else. Come to think of it, do I still remember any of the world leaders of that time? Apart from President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, I’m not sure I remember who was in power in any of the other permanent members. Was it Shirac in France? Putin or Yeltsin in Russia? I’m sure I can’t remember who was in charge in China.

Have we learned anything in 10 years? I heard of a guy, he spoke at the memorial service this morning. He said he’d decided to be a forensic scientist after he’d lost his dad on that day. It was so moving. Then I heard that there were 3000 people being remembered as victims of those terrorist attacks. The same guy who said this on radio also said the US had lost 6000 people in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of the war on terror. The US is in a state of high security alert right now. It all happened 10 years ago, but the effects are still here, in the mourning, the foreign policy, the memories.

I can write of my apprehensions, or the shock of full realisation, long after most others had fully grasped what had happened. I can write of my friends, with total gratitude. I heard later of those who started ringing round asking each other “wasn’t Ife supposed to be travelling today?” I know of how my sister worried. As a doctor, she was on standby. But that didn’t stop her pestering everyone she could. She knew I was going to the Comfort Inn in Cornerbrook, even before I got off the plane.

And all my friends who knew how to reach my sister, they just kept calling. She thinks you’re all angels … I know better, but I haven’t felt it necessary to disabuse her. (joke). Someone rang my sister and said “if there’s any place where there’s trouble, you can be sure Ife would be there”, then realising it was the wrong thing, she added “and if anyone is going to get out, you can be sure he will”. Thanks for that vote of confidence. I wish you could have told me that when I was on the plane. I just needed to hear that everything would be all right.

I was listening to a play about the Caesars. One of the characters said that a historian wishes he was there, when the event occurred, but a wise person wishes they weren’t there at all. Strangely, I always thought of myself as the historian, the one who would grab the radio whenever there was something happening … but this time? No thanks. I spoke to my niece, she still remembers the day. She remembers the people who helped, and the fellow passengers. I didn’t tell her that passengers and aircrew told me that she was the best behaved 5 year old they’d ever met. I was so proud of her, but she’s a teenager now. She’s still the best behaved teenager I know, but I don’t have that much experience of that.

And finally. On Sunday 16 September 2001, as we prepared to go to church in Washington DC, I was doing my thing, listening to the radio. I always take a radio with me to every city and spend hours going through the stations until I pick my favourites. America is good for that, there are so many stations.

But back to my story. I heard a 5 minute monologue from a pastor. I don’t know who he is, so I can’t attribute this statement, but I’ve never forgotten it. He said “God is SAFE”. God is
Sovereign;
Actively working for the victory of good over evil
Focussing us on the truth, that we could never exist without Him;
Encouraging us in His word.

I learned something good from that terrible day.


2010 World Cup.

June 11, 2010

So, it’s finally begun. We’d been eagerly anticipating this day since South Africa was announced as the hosts of the 2010 world cup.

I’ve been following reaction on the radio, on Facebook and Twitter, … and of course, on the telephone. My friends tell me, (and I’m sure they’re wrong) that I always have a phone to my ear. The anticipation is massive. I suppose it’s even greater if you’re African. After all, this is the very first tournament to be hosted in Africa. We’ve got the largest number of teams from Africa than on any previous world cup. Never mind that I once heard that it’s a 6 our flight from Lagos to Johannesburg. You could fly to Europe in that time, but South Africa is in Africa.

Gbenga Sesan, a well known IT expert and social enterprise guru in Nigeria would have addressed us at the 4th International Conference of Nigerian Students in April, but was prevented by the volcanic ash. He wrote on Twitter of how he wished that the passion for football could be replicated in development programmes. Another friend wrote on Facebook of the Tebbit Football Test, referring of course to the cricket test in the 80s. The question is, if England were to play Nigeria, who would I support, or as he put it, will I pass or fail the test?

Unfortunately Sir Norman, I’d have to confess that I might just fail the test. You see, I was born in Nigeria and stayed in that country till close to my 23rd birthday. I have only spent close to 20 years here. I have also heard that you learn the most in your first 6 years. I did all that learning in Nigeria. Who knows what team my children will support? If I have anything to do with it, they will support Nigeria too.

Please bear with me, because it’s a big problem when your team is underperforming, and the English team is doing so well. I remember the 2002 world cup in Japan and Korea. Nigeria and England met in the last game of the group stages. By then, we’d lost our first 2 and England had won their first 2. It was really only academic, but as I listened to that game on the Sunday morning, I knew that very much was hanging on the result. You see, I was getting ready to go to church, to meet all my English friends and I knew what would happen if we lost the third game.

And for once, my boys didn’t disappoint me. They drew, just because they knew what it would have meant to me. There was a massive scare when (I think it was) Scholes took that shot and it would have been a goal, but for some miraculous goalkeeping. In fact, the commentators needed a replay to confirm that the referee was right and that it was a corner kick.

So, after that, I could at least hold my head up and say we drew with England, even if we didn’t progress. And I could safely support England until they met Brazil, while dreaming of the glory days when we were 20 minutes away from beating Italy in US 1994. Italy, you would recall went onto the finals and drew with Brazil, until penalties separated them and the Latin Americans took the cup. Nigeria didn’t even qualify for 2006, but if I recall correctly, England didn’t make it to our most glorious outing in 1994.

To tell the truth, they haven’t been impressive, leading up to this world cup. I watched them at the African nations cup. I think they only played well in the first 25 minutes of the first game against Egypt. After they scored the goal, they went to sleep. Egypt beat the Eagles. When they played against the Bene Republic, I was shocked by our narrow margin of victory. We were used to destroying them, but this time … what a sobering game. When we played Zambia and drew, my heart was in my mouth throughout the penalty shoot-out, but after we won, I knew we had only one more game. Fortunately, it was the semi finals, and although we lost it, we managed to get the third place medals. Or I think we did, because I didn’t even bother listening to that game.

I hear that Nigeria drew 0 0 with Saudi Arabia in a warm up game. We used to be such flamboyant scorers, what happened? Maybe it’s a good thing that we don’t let in as many goals as we used to, but this is the world cup. Can we hold out?

I don’t have to write much about England. We all know about their successes, their stars and their injuries. Strangely, Nigeria play Argentina tomorrow and England play the United States a few hours later. A while back I heard a british footbal pundit say that England would probably meet Nigeria in the knock out stages. Nobody is saying that now. But I’m still a Nigerian supporter, with a new coach announced just 3 weeks to the tournament, a scoring record that I could probably better on my own, and the expected squabbles between players and management … even the expected calls for changes in personnel. I can see my dad sitting in front of the telly and screaming the whole house down. He’ll call me when each goal is scored and telephone companies will expect to make a lot of money off the Akintunde family in the next few weeks.

But it’s ok. After all, South Africa surprised everyone, when after playing badly in the first 20 minutes, they scored a cracking first goal and drew their first game. Radio commentators were already predicting a bad first game and tournament. So people, don’t rule Nigeria out yet. I might yet meet my friends after a Nigeria England game.


Amazing Grace

August 7, 2009

Ok, let’s do some background. I am a trustee of Sunbeams Music Trust, a really great charity. Apart from numerous other awards, two years ago, they were Northwest England’s charity of the year, and runner up in the national contest.
http://www.sunbeamsmusic.org

Sunbeams is a charity that provides ‘Music for Life’ to elderly and disabled people. Ok, they don’t call them disabled people and they don’t think of them as clients either, but let’s not quibble about words now. On Monday 7th September, they’re at St Martins In The Fields,for a lunchtime concert, and they asked if I’d play the piano. We have rehearsals in Kendal every Thursday, to finish at 6 PM. This way, I can get to the worship group meeting at King’s, which starts at 7:30.

It just happened that yesterday, everyone was on holiday, so there was no worship group. I was asked to stay for a meal, which I gratefully accepted. Better to eat in an Italian restaurant than face my own cooking. As I wasn’t ready to go home after that, I was asked if I’d go to the rifleman with them. Apparently, one of their members was playing and it would just be good to be there. Again, I agreed.

We got there about 8 PM, and then musicians started to appear. I spoke to one of them, and he said it was an Irish music night. It reminded me of the times I used to go to such evenings at the Yorkshire House, a pub in Lancaster. It was every Monday evening, run by one Jim Mcguire. The guy’s dead now, and the evenings folded up when he went to hospital for the last time. But they were such intimate evenings that I was sure I’d love this one. It was going to be an unplugged session.

There were fiddles, banjos, guitars, flutes, and that drum, (I’m not going to spell it here). That’s what our friend was playing. And then the music started. It’s interesting, one person picks a tune and everyone just follows. And all around you you hear the different instruments. It’s a room full of music. There is great skill in this room; you hear it as the fingers fly over the fiddle strings or as you hear intricate flute playing. Or if someone picks a song, everyone sings along. It’s so beautiful, the sound of everyone singing gently in a pub.

I was one of the few non-Irish people who went to the Pan Keltic meetings on a Monday evening at the Yorkshire House. And Jimmy would always let me sing, and everyone would accompany me. Of course I had learned several Irish folk songs at this time, but I couldn’t sing one of them, so I’d pick my own songs. And they didn’t mind at all, in fact, I believe they loved it.

Annie Mawson, who runs Sunbeams Music, wanted me to sing before catching the 10:05 back to Lancaster, so I stood up and began to sing “amazing Grace”. And as I started to sing, one, then another voice joined in, one instrument, then another found the key and the room was again filled with music and singing. I would have stopped just so I could hear everyone sing, then I realised I was the one supposed to be leading this one.

The truth is, except when I’m part of the worship group in church, I still feel nervous when I sing publicly. That is, until the first note, then I get carried away. But I’ve often wondered what it is about Amazing Grace. Last year, I sang it at a wedding and was told that several people had tears in their eyes. It is such a beautiful song. Or is it the thought of a blind man singing “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see”.

Or maybe it’s something else. For me, the song talks about my past, my present and my future. It reminds me of the transformation that God’s amazing grace has made in my life. It was a transformation from darkness and despair to the revelation of His light and His guiding hand to show me the way. The song reveals how His grace first taught me to fear God, and then freed me from other fears and how His grace sees me through all manner of troubles, till I get home to God, where I’ll sing His praise forever more. It’s more than just the present; the story is not over when I find His grace. It’s a forever thing.

Everyone knows the words of Amazing grace. It’s no longer just a church song, as demonstrated yesterday when I sang it, holding a glass of wine in an Irish evening. And many know the history too; it was composed by a former slave dealer who found God in stormy seas and became a Christian. I hear John Newton even advised William Wilberforce, the great anti slavery campaigner and MP.

When I talk to people about singing or playing, I always say that you perform best if you first stop to consider what the song means to you. So, I’ve told you what the song means to me, but why does everyone know it so well. Is it just the simple melody? Maybe not. Maybe it’s how it reminds everyone of what they either have, or need. If you have the grace, you recognize it’s full impact, if you don’t, it reminds you of your need.

As I walked home from Lancaster train station, I walked past another pub, I think it was the Merchants. I could hear the sounds of an accordion (oh there was one in the Riflemans in Kendal) and I could hear folk music playing. But this time, I walked past. It was time to go home. If I’d stopped, maybe I’d have been drawn again into that intimate gathering. You see, we walk past many things in our lives. We never know what it would bring if we don’t step into the room and feel it. Maybe it’s the same with faith. People hear about it and have strange concepts of Christianity because they haven’t walked into it, settled down and absorbed it properly. Those who do have often said that they got it wrong when they viewed it from the outside. Jesus is the source of the amazing grace, and He brings it to all. Those who receive it will end up in some church when they’re alive, and in heaven for the forever experience. But the message is for all, just like the song speaks to all.

I had great conversation with the staff at Sunbeams yesterday. I remember spending great time and trying all my selling skills to tell them about Twitter. Their collectiv eyes just glazed over, they weren’t having it. But when I sang Amazing Grace, they all listened. So, if you’re in London, perhaps you’d like to hear the troupe sing on 7th September. There might be this keyboardist, who’s already been asked if he’ll sing a song, and as it’s a church, he might just sing Amazing Grace. Before then, on Thursday 3 September, in Workington, there’s this concert to prepare us for the big day. I’ll be missing worship group for this one, and I think it’s at the St John’s church at 7:30 PM.