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.


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.


September 26, 1990

September 27, 2012

It was also a Wednesday, and it was the 26th of September.  Most people celebrate 5th, 10th, 20th, even 21st anniversaries; today, I’m celebrating same day/date. 

In 1990, on Wednesday 26 September, I woke up, packed, went to Lagos and boarded a BA flight to London Gatwick (it was Gatwick those days, it’s Heathrow now) arriving at about 6 AM on Thursday morning.  On the Wednesday, I’d made a hectic dash through Lagos, saying goodbye to my friends.  In the UK, I took the Gatwick express to Victoria, paid a short visit to the Royal National Institute for the Blind, (It’s now Royal National Institute of Blind People and the London offices have moved from Great Portland Street to Judd Street) and boarded a train from Euston station to Lancaster.  I’d thought I’d be in Lancaster for about a year, but that was 22 years ago, and several houses, two degrees and several courses later, I’m still here.

But much has changed, apart from the obvious that I’ve grown older.  I was thinking about it, while thanking God this morning.  The first major change was that in December, Mrs Thatcher ceased being prime minister.  I remember speaking to a friend then.  She gave me an idea of the significance of the event when she said that any child who was born as Mrs Thatcher took office would by then have been in secondary school.  Amazing!  Unmatched since.  In January of the next year, the Baltic states began their independence struggle from the Soviet Union, and by summer 1991, the USSR was succeeded by the Russian Federation and all the other constituent states.

I’d come to study for a masters in international relations and strategic studies.  In a purely academic sense, one could say I benefitted from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, in that it gave me my dissertation topic and Ph.D research interest.  But the world has now moved on from Iraq, what with Neighbouring Syria and Iran seizing the limelight.

There have been other changes too, in domestic life in the UK.  Perhaps these are not as noticed by most UK citizens who were born here, and had no reference point to judge the changes.  Let’s not focus on the less tangible ones, those are probably based on opinion and are therefore controversial.  Let’s try the ones we can observe.  My first train journey from Euston to Lancaster took exactly 3 hours and 1 minute, from 11:25 AM to 2:26 PM.  By the middle of the 90s, the journey was closer to 3 hours and 30 minutes.  Now, it’s 2 hours and 30, thanks to the high speed railtracks, new rolling stock and all the things that government praises privatisation for.  However, if I recall, with my young person’s railcard, the ticket cost £23.75; with the same card, it’s now £55.20.  The cost of stamps has also gone up, creeping from 21p (I think) to 60p (I think, since I don’t post many letters these days).

Fortunately, not all prices have gone up.  In those days, there was only one way to call Nigeria, using BT.  The competitor, Mercury wouldn’t let you call Nigeria.  I thought the service was cheaper, so I bought a Mercury phone card and went to a Mercury phone booth, but couldn’t get through.  So I called their operator and they said I couldn’t make the call.  They didn’t even offer  me a refund, even though I didn’t need the card for anything else.  There was no Mercury phone booth in Lancaster university.  But I digress.  The BT call cost £1.14 during off peak times and £1.34 a minute during peak periods.  Now, I can call Nigeria for 1p a minute (to the few landlines) and 5p to a Nigerian mobile, if I use the right phone card or get one of the few sim cards designed for international phone calls.

Things have changed in Nigeria too.  The roads are much worse than when I left, and that’s not just my imagination.  The currency has undergone an interesting transformation.  When I left Nigeria, £1 cost 18 naira.  When I got back in December 1991, it had become £1 to N25; but after the events of June 12 1993, £1 started to fetch N250.  I remember coming to Nigeria in November 1993 for my dad’s 60th birthday.  My brother talked about N1000 and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Just 3 years earlier, that would have been unheard of for someone of his age.  Yet, everyone was talking like that.

In 1990, I came on a British Council scholarship.  I think most Nigerians who studied in Lancaster were on one scholarship or another.  There were probably about 10 of us.  Now, there are loads more Nigerians, and they’re coming with their own or their parents’ money.  There are probably 50 Nigerians now in Lancaster uni, but universities like Coventry, Portsmouth and several of the London ones  boast hundreds.  More than that, the only other Nigerians outside campus were doctors … not anymore.  In Lancaster, there are workers of all categories; some stayed over from studying at the uni, others moved from London, or even straight from Nigeria.

I’m struggling to remember the shy young man who stepped off the aircraft at Gatwick.  What would he be thinking?  I’d been to London before, but never ventured beyond the London underground routes.  I can only remember shops and hotels from pre1990 days.  Not anymore.  I know London well, even though I live in Lancaster.  In fact, I’ll be there again this weekend for the national day of prayer.  I’ve met so many friends in the UK now, I think I’m a little more confident about the country than when I first came here.  I’ve done wonderful things I never thought I’d do, skiing, abseiling, even train travel. 

 

I still remember my first experience of cross country travel in 1990.  I was travelling with a gentleman from the British Council who was there to ensure I was safely delivered to the disability officer of the uni.  The Lancaster university disability official took me to my room, showed me round and asked if I needed something.  So we went to the shops and I asked for toothpaste.  She started to read; first the list of toothpastes, then the various types, anti tartar, whitening, etc.  At the end of the process, I was as confused as when she started.   

I could keep writing, but I want to send this off before midnight.  I’m boarding the plane now, being assisted to a seat by the air hostess.  I’ve said my goodbyes and I’m wondering how I will manage on my first trip abroad without my parents.  I was about to hit 23 years.  Now, travelling alone is the only way I do it.

Thank you Lord for everything, for the transformation of the past 22 years.  Thank you for what you’ve taught me, how you’ve protected me and … just for everything. 

 

Because, it was coming to Lancaster that shaped my faith.  I learned a lot from the first few weeks, before I made friends, when I only had my Bible for company.  I’d never had a full Bible before, but my auntie had bought the new testament on cassette (yes, cassette) as a goodbye present, and I read through it in my first few weeks in Lancaster.  God bless her.

And if you’ve read through this, I wonder what you’re thinking too.  Maybe it’s revived some memories, maybe you’re just thinking, What’s caused all this nostalgia.  I’m thanking God.


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.


Will the Real MR Dare Aeyaetam own Up?

June 24, 2011

It all started 3 years back, when I received a letter stating that a car with registration number Y567RPP, registered in his name, at my address, had been involved in a traffic offence. I rang the Met police in London and told them, first that I live in Lancaster, secondly, that I do not know of anyone with that name, and thirdly, that I live alone and it would have been unwise of anyone to issue me with a driver’s license as a person registered blind. The Met said I should forward the letter to them and they’d sort it. I’ve never heard from them since, but I got lots of other things such as unpaid debts, notices of renewal, etc.

And then, it came the turn of Newham Council. I tried the same attitude with them, and they said I should write a formal letter, I did. Next, it was Northampton County Court. That’s where most small claims are heard. I contacted them when I received a notification that judgment had been entered against this guy in my address. I told them the matter was ongoing. They asked if I was registered for electoral purposes as the sole occupant of that address, I said yes. They asked for how long, and I told them since 2004. They assured me the matter was now over.

But I knew it wasn’t, when Bailiffs wrote. I tried the same approach, but these people are more determined. They asked me to contact Newham Borough Council, and I did. Newham said I should contact Parking and Traffic Enforcement in Warrington, I did and even wrote them with all the information I had. I also contacted DVLA in Cardiff to tell them that if this guy ever renewed his license using my address, they should know he doesn’t live here. Did all that help?

Meanwhile, the bailiffs had written again, threatening to seize the car belonging to MR Aeyaetam (reference 12735463) at my address. This would have been such fun! My house is in one of those places, full of cars belonging to workers who don’t want to pay the excessive parking rates in town. Every time I step out of my frontdoor in the morning, I wish someone would tell the car owners that the front of my house belongs to me, even if I (and one guest) have my own private parking space at the rare. Bring on the bailiffs I say.

They actually came from Northampton, but of course, I don’t spend daylight hours waiting for a bailiff, so I wasn’t in. Pity. Every time I contacted them, they treated me as though there was a presumption of guilt, rather than the traditional presumption of innocence. I even sent them a second letter on 1 March 2011, this time, including a bill showing that telephone calls made at this address are made in my name. And after that, they showed up a second time, and again, I wasn’t available. How sad. I was looking forward to handing a car over to them, or having them prove that a visually impaired guy could commit a parking offence in London with a car registered in someone else’s name.

After they visited a second time, and sent nme another letter warning me that they’d be back, I’d had enough. I again sent them a letter with proof that this was indeed my house. I told them that their action was beginning to constitute harassment. I reminded them I had given them my email address and told them that I only read Braille and emails. I believe they got the message, because since 20 April, they haven’t written or called. Or perhaps on a third visit when I wasn’t around, they decided I was avoiding them and seized a car belonging to an innocent person.

I suppose it’s asking too much to expect an apology via email, or at the very least, an acknowledgement of my letter and the return of my telephone bills. One day, even bailiffs might learn about customer service. In these days when there’s such noise about identity fraud, I would have thought that such people might note that not everyone is a criminal.

As for you, mr Dare Aeyaetam, (or whatever your name is) I pray that you are eventually prosecuted for overspeeding in the jurisdiction of Newham Borough Council. If that happens, I hope they also prosecute you for stealing my address, but giving that neither the Met, Newham Council, Parking and Traffic Enforcement, DVLA, Northampton Court, or even our dear Equita Certificated bailiffs of Northampton have ever acknowledged my letters, perhaps you might just get away. How sad.

You would have noticed of course that I have made it a habit of opening mails addressed to you, I am really sorry. I always give all letters to sighted helpers, presuming that they belong to me. I should take note that your ghost resides at my address, but if it does, why don’t you ask it to come read the mails and sort this bother out. Perhaps it can take responsibility for your action, or is it as dishonest as you are?


It’s on now: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

December 11, 2010

The first run of any play always gives the producer the chance to see how it actually works in public performance. On Thursday, Whirlwind Theatre staged the first night of “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” at the Storeys in Lancaster. On that day, we were still waiting for some of the props we needed. They’d been held up by the very bad weather of the past weeks. We’d only had limited use of the staging area on Tuesday and Wednesday and had to work around school times. An several children had never actually acted publicly before. Whirlwindtakes children from 6 years, and I know there were 6 and 7 year olds in the production.

But you wouldn’t have known all that,watching them. I thought some might be nervous, but as I watchd them, my heart was filled with such pride. We’d worked with them for over 18 months on this one, and now, here they were, coming on stage and loving it. In my last report, I’d said how we only rehearsed once a week, rather than the 3 week intensive rehearsals of previous shows.

Yesterday’s showing was even better. If you’re in Lancaster, you can still watch the performance this afternoon at 2 and this evening at 6.30. But you need to visit the Whirlwind theatre website http://www.whirlwindtheatre.org.uk
to book tickets. You’ll see an amazing array of masks, including that of Aslan, the beavers, grumpskins and lots of others.

It’s a great show, but for those who have been doing this every Saturday since the middle of last year, its just special. And if you’ve been working with Whirlwind for that many years, well, what can I say? I’ve watched children grow to be great actors and great people. We even have our own in-house jokes now.

The witch (who thinks she’s queen of Narnia) is now fondly known as the qwitch. I can’t even remember who coined the name, we all just call her qwitch now. She’s an excellent actor by the way. She learned her lines before anyone else, and now delivers them with a certainty that belies her 12 years. I always joke with Qwitch that I get to kill her. She just seems to enjoy the torture she gives me, I need to remind her that it’s only temporary.

At the end of October, I interviewed the qwitch and Susan on my gospel hour. I was amazed at how easy the interview was. In all the time we’d been acting together, we’d actually grown to be really good friends. It was a massive laugh, such great fun. It emerged in that interview that Susan had been in the theatre for as long as I have. She proudly announced that she was the longest serving child member of the theatre. And it shows in her understanding of how we work.

It’s surprising to learn that Whirlwind has been going on for so long. I think the first time I acted was “toad of toadhall” in 2004. This year, I really took time to observe how the older children had really matured into their roles. Organisation was very different. We had only 3 adult actors and for most of the time, apart from Myette who produced the show, no other helpers. The older children just grew into the role of organising the younger ones. And they did it well. When I ran some of the games, I watched the older child actors organising the younger ones into circles, even running some of the games themselves.

For me, it’s much more than the play, it’s about character building. If you see the play, you’ll see great acting, but if you look deeper, see its making, you’ll se growth, learning and fun. Do come and watch.