Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Edited by Moore Numental

Dear Uncle Sege,

I hope you got the gift I sent you through Santa Claus. Did you like it? I know it’s not much. Just keep it with you all the time especially when you go to bed. It will help you sleep soundly and not have any nightmares like you used to have before when you hear of EFCC.

Have I told you about my new friend? I should tell you about him because he makes me very proud. If he was a woman, and I was big like my big brother, I would have made him my wife. Months ago. But he is not a woman, and I cannot marry a man. Because I do not want to go to hell fire yet. Not in this particular life. Maybe in one of the other nine lives I will have when I become a cat like your cat “Oliver”. Maybe by then, I will not be attending catechism classes anymore.

I love spending time with this my friend; I love listening to all the wise things he says and all the stories he tells me, especially the one of one old woman called “Michelle”. I have always wondered how it is that my friend is so wise. My mummy says it is because of his gray hairs. Do you think I will look fine with gray hairs? So that I can be wise like him too. 

Sometimes, spending time with my friend means going for a ride in his car. He usually drives. He has a green car with a white stripe running down the whole middle from the back to the front. It is a very nice car. He once told me the name of the company that made the car. It sounded like “Loogaad” but I can’t remember. It is not like your own in that picture you sent me in your last letter. It is not as fine as that. My friend says it is because his car is a third generation model. It took me a long time to say that correctly but I did and my friend says I am very brilliant. 

I like our outings in my friend's car because it has a radio, an air conditioner that works (not like Uncle Tami’s own that does not work), and it always smells good inside. I wish it is what I enter to school every day instead of those noisy danfo buses that have smelly drivers, rude conductors, and sweaty passengers. I will tell my mummy to buy this type of car for me next Christmas. I think she should be able to. The other day, she said she would buy anything I wanted if I was good and took my injection. I was good and took the injection. I did not cry too much (only for one hour afterward); I did not bite the nurse’s hand and I did not pinch her bombom when she gave me the injection. No. I was good. So I will tell Mummy to buy this type of car for me. Then I will ask my friend to teach me to drive it. And next Christmas, she will buy for you too.

But first, let me tell you about how my friend drives.

My friend is a good driver. He is always careful. He drives slowly and obeys all the road signs. He obeys the traffic lights and obeys the traffic wardens. He also obeys that traffic warden on our street. You remember that one who is not really a traffic warden and who does not have any legs but controls traffic with his big hands and wheels himself around the road junction on a small wooden panel on which sits his rather small legless waist? But my friend doesn’t give him money. Everybody gives that man money. Except my friend. He just thanks him with a wave of his slender hands and a bright, wide, sincere, gap-toothed smile. What I like best is that my friend doesn’t drink and drive o. He doesn’t even drink alcohol at all. Just sips of water and fruit wine. As a good driver should.

Yes, so you see? My friend is a good driver. But he is not the perfect driver. No one is, I guess. But I don't just like how my friend spends too long looking at the mirrors that show him what is going on at his back. My mummy says they are called “rear-view mirrors”. I have noticed my friend not only looks but even spends too much time talking about what he sees there each time he looks. He looks in the mirror before he overtakes beautiful jeeps and ugly trucks and then he talks about it; after he avoids portholes on the road, he looks in the mirror so long I begin to wonder whether he is quietly measuring the size of the porthole in his mind and congratulating himself for a job well done. 

He looks in the mirror when we drive past beautiful girls and he smiles and nods his head (not that that bit is particularly worrisome); he looks in the mirror when we drive past beautiful houses and talks about his love for architecture. He looks in the rear-view mirror when he hears any car honk. And here, they honk a heck of a lot. Especially those danfo drivers. Those ones honk with their van horns as if it was a musical instrument for “Santa Claus is coming to town”. I don’t like danfo drivers. Thank God my friend is not a danfo driver. He is just a good driver who looks at the rear-view mirror a little too much for my liking. Sometimes, I even think he also looks at the rear-view mirror to see whether his eyes are too misty or his mustache too dusty.

Like I said, my friend is a good driver. But he spends so much time looking at that rear-view mirror and I sometimes have this fear that we may fall into a porthole or miss a bend as our beautiful car bounces forward along these unsafe roads. I wish he would look forward more. Don’t you think so? Am I wrong? My aunty in the school said the rear-view mirror helps one drive safely, but I think the mirrors are better for glances; not stares and glares. The stares and glares should be for the road in front, the glances for the roads and trees and houses we have past. Yea, the glances should be for them and for other things past - fine girls and ugly women, Sambo Dasuki and Goodluck Jonathan, your own house and everything else that appears in that past.

My friend Muhammadu Buhari is a good driver. I want him to stare at the road dead ahead, and save only glances for the rear-view mirror.

Starting now.

One day, you will get to meet him and I can bet with all the money I have saved for Cold Stone Ice Cream that you will like him as much as I do. Maybe not as much.

Take care my uncle,

Hugo Naijaman.

Author's Notes: Very sincere thanks to Moore Numental for editing this piece and making it all the more readworthy. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015


As I looked at the now still form of what used to be a 7-month old baby, I tried not to hear the hair-splitting wails of the woman who had just ceased to be a mother. I tried to mentally lock out the drama that was playing out around me as she thrashed about on the floor, asking God why He would be so wicked as to take from her 28-year old self her 7-month old only child; I tried not to notice how determinedly her husband was standing by the corner trying to “be a man”, to show full composure; perhaps even to show no emotion, his pain suggested only by the furious twitching of his lower lip and the mist that clouded the tiny slits that occupied the place on his face where people would normally have eyes. I tried not to notice all this because, as I looked down at the little innocent who had so needlessly died, all I felt was rage. Rage at the parents, rage at her grandmother, rage that acknowledgement of their grief would only worsen – not temper. Rage because the child that had just died, the 7-month old child that had just walked away from a 28-year old mother and a 33-year old father, had been taken on that walk by no less a phenomenon than malaria.

Strange as it sounds, malaria still kills thousands of people the world over, and hundreds of children in your own locality in the time it takes a woman to have two menstrual cycles. In the time it takes the English Premier League to complete one season, about 300,000 people in Nigeria die from malaria. And this, not because the disease itself is untreatable, but because of the continued supremacy of the ignorance of the people, by the people, against the people.

Ignorance of the disease and how to go about its treatment is no excuse. That is why this 28-year old woman will never get her daughter back. That she did not know that she should not have kept in her house a 7-month old child with fever who was vomiting and passing watery stools is not enough; that she did not know that her generous aliquots of pastor’s prayers and grandma’s concoctions may be more potent in exorcising evil spirits than in curing malaria does not matter.

But I already resolved to be kind. So instead of giving the couple the verbal bashing I think they deserve for killing their own child, I resolved there and then to try to save another couple from killing theirs. Hence this piece, which has been written in as informal and as simple a manner as I can handle.

Malaria has long been blamed on the mosquitoes that thoroughly infest our environment, and with good reason. It is mosquitoes, the females among them no less, that transfer the malaria parasite from one infected person to another uninfected person. The malaria parasite itself can cause malaria in human beings but does not cause malaria in mosquitoes. Like I hinted at earlier, a patient who is down with malaria has excellent chances of full recovery if appropriate treatment is commenced on time and fully carried out. But for appropriate treatment to be initiated, one must recognize that malaria is afoot, and for one to recognize the presence of malaria, one must be familiar with its – common – symptoms.

Now, while I will not presume to tell you what your own malaria symptoms could be (perhaps because I am sure you know them already), I will make bold to tell you what you may notice in a child around you, or what a child around you may complain of when he or she has malaria. Someone with malaria infection may have all (or some of) these symptoms listed. In some cases, the malaria sufferer may not even have any of these symptoms, or may have just one of the symptoms listed. The paucity of the symptoms exhibited by the person doesn’t make the sickness any less dangerous.
  • The child may refuse foods or be uninterested in food and drink.
  • Fever with chills – the person may be noted to have very hot body temperatures, while at the same time shivering from cold. Caring for the person may be challenging because, one minute, the person may complain of being cold and needing a blanket. The next minute, once the blanket is applied, the person throws it off, complaining of heat. And all the while, their body temperature remains burning hot. The episodes of fever are sometimes followed by excessive sweating, following which the body temperature may drop to normal.
  • Cough
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • There may be yellowing of the eyes
  • Fatigue – the person may notice that they become too easily or too frequently tired after little or no physical activity.
  • Malaise – the person maybe uneasy, without being able to say precisely what it is that is responsible for their unease.
  • Joint pains 
  • Muscle pains
  • That telltale bitterness that fills the mouth

OK. So when your usually active child who always fights with you for your mobile phone or for the remote controller of the television suddenly begins to prefer the company of his pillow, when the child who previously could not get enough of breast milk (to the scarce-expressed chagrin of his father who has had to wait in a never-moving queue for his turn at the breast) suddenly loses interest in all things round and beautiful, that is not the time to quote the scriptures with the local pastor; that is not the time for “trying” the herbal remedies Mama brought with her from the village when she came for the customary omugwo. Mbanu. It is time to dress the child up and take him to a hospital so he can be properly diagnosed. His fever may not be spiritual. It may be malarial.

In fact, in recognition of how big the problem posed by malaria is, Community health experts now advise us to commence antimalarial treatment within 72 hours of onset of the aforementioned symptoms if we cannot get the patient to hospital and symptoms fail to abate within that timeframe. The consequences of treating for malaria when it is not present are far more tolerable than are the consequences of NOT treating for malaria when it is present.

So, how do you treat for malaria?

Before I talk about antimalarial medications, let me say a few things about handling the fever that is due to malaria. That fever usually responds well to paracetamol, although you may prefer to use ibuprofen. Your doctor will tell you how to administer the drug. But it is the tepid sponging that those busty nurses at teaching hospitals yap about that I want to highlight here. Tepid sponging refers to the use of tepid water – made from a mix of warm and cold water – to try to reduce the body temperature. This is done by dipping and wetting a towel in the tepid water and then dabbing different body parts of the feverish person with it. Dabbing, not scrubbing, not washing, not anointing. Dabbing. When next the child has a fever, take their clothes off them and do a tepid sponge. It works. 

I would like to say that antimalarial combination therapy is the preferred mode of treatment. This means that you make simultaneous use of two different antimalarial medications in treating the condition. Happily, many of the antimalarials on pharmacists’ shelves today are pre-combined in just the right doses. This is to ensure that instead of taking two or more different antimalarial tablets each time, you take one tablet that contains the two different drugs. An example of these pre-combined medications is Lonart. Another is Amatem. Then there is Coartem. And Artecam, Artequin, and many others.

You or your child can take your antimalarials whether or not you have had your meal. Don’t prevent your child from taking their antimalarial because they have not had a meal or because they have refused to eat. The truth is that loss of appetite is one of the first symptoms that appears when you have malaria, and one of the last symptoms to completely disappear after you have successfully treated the condition.

If you are treating your child, maybe it is preferable you use tablets. I know there are these equally effective antimalarial powders that come in bottles to which you can add water to form suspensions which you can give the children to drink. But some people add too much water – to make the drug last longer –This excess water that they add to the powder just lessens the effective dose of drug that the child gets to drink at each administration. For this reason and for no other, I think tablets are better. 

Do not give more than the recommended dose at any one time because you are in a hurry to make your child get well. An overdose does not make your child get well faster. It may actually make your child get sicker. With malaria and with at least one more thing else. Recommended doses are printed on the medication packs and on the leaflets that accompany them. Try to read those leaflets before you discard them. Reading does not kill. 

Try not to skip any dose. Try not to forget. But if you do forget to take a dose, please take the next dose when you remember. Don’t come and go and be forming drug amebo, taking double dose, one for yesterday night and one for this morning, all at once. Haba! You want to go from malaria survivor to suicide survivor?

Let me hasten to say that if you live in Nigeria, and you use chloroquine or any of the variants of that “three-at-once” drug they call Fansidar (or Amalar, etc) to treat malaria, just know that every day is for the thief, and one day is for the owner of the house. And in this case, you are the thief, not the house owner. Those drugs are not effective in treating someone who already has malaria. They may have been effective when granny was a twelve-year old Girl Guide but that was many years ago, and I don’t even know whether the Girls’ Guide exists anymore. Many things have changed since then, and more particularly, the malaria parasites have become more stubborn. A la Donald Trump, chloroquine and “three-at-once” medicines are now ways of ensuring that your child who is suffering from malaria dies faster. 

Speaking of dying, that is something malaria can bring about too. Something that it brought about in the patient whose death inspired this post. People with untreated malaria are liable to die young. And before they die, they may have convulsions. They may behave irrationally. They may experience kidney failure. They may see blood in their urine. Yes, malaria can be wicked like that, and in many other ways. 

When you have treated your child and recovered him from the valley of the shadow of the darkness of malaria, you can take the following steps to keep him/her in the light of health, and out of easy reach of the next hungry, infected mosquito:

  • Try to ensure that there are no stagnant water deposits around your house, whether clean or dirty. Although they can do dirty, the mosquitoes that spread malaria actually prefer to breed in clean water where they can find it. Their only requirement is that the water be stagnant.
  • There is also that piece of advice about spreading a film of oil over surrounding stagnant water deposits in order to deprive whatever eggs are there of oxygen. 
  • When children are going out in the evenings, let them be fully clothed in long sleeved shirts, trousers, socks, and gloves. Let there be a minimum of skin which mosquitoes can bite.
  • Let us all sleep under those insecticide treated bed nets. Doors and windows can also be protected with nets. Sometimes, we can use insecticides to fumigate our homes; although the producers of these insecticides nowadays claim that it is essentially harmless to humans in low doses, I think this fumigation is better done when there will be no one indoors, no one forced to stay and inhale the substance, no one to share the final moments of the mosquitoes with them as they embark on their one-way trip to insect-hellven.

May her soul rest in peace, and may God comfort her grieving parents. Amen.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


I want to say a word about how uncatholic I find some Catholic positions (and some positions that are passed off in these parts as Catholic positions) - one of which I had been aware of, but whose import I had blissfully failed to realize until it played itself out at Mass earlier today.

At Mass this morning, the altar was resplendent in its Advent purple. The choir did justice to the solemn tunes that herald the coming of the long-expected Saviour. The mass servers looked innocent and dutifully holy, always punctuating their altar crisscrossings with low bows and deep genuflections. The woman who read the first lesson from the lectern on the right side of the altar seemed like she was drowning under the weight of her own gele - the elaborate headscarf that she had mounted on her head in a manner that strongly reminded one of a poorly mounted secondhand corn mill. The voice of the little girl who sang the responsorial psalm was outdone in its beauty only by her own visage. The second reader’s beard reminded me of, of all people, Saddam Hussein. The gospel was short. The sermon was long. Very long. The preacher pranced around Pentecostal-style, intermittently asking the bulletin- and Missal-wielding congregation to turn to this and that passages of their Bibles - Bibles which were most likely nestling cosily in their various homes while the Sunday bulletins and missals stood proxy on their behalf. He sounded intelligent. Many Catholic priests are. If the Church lacks anything, it is not brains. Ask Gregor Mendel. Look up Fulton Sheen. Read George Ehusani. Or spend a few moments with Okoye Anthony.

So all was going well, and I was going through the motions of the Mass, kneeling, sitting, standing, feeling contrite when I was expected to, and being joyful when the liturgy permitted it. I admit I was also thoroughly enjoying the smell of the incense that wafted upward from the thurible wielded by one of the mass servers, the very tall, very black one with a scar running down from just behind his left ear to his jawline, a scar that didn't look like it was acquired during a holy excursion. I was also, perhaps not so righteously, enjoying watching the young girls who were giggling, the young men who were looking at the preacher with a faraway look in their eyes, a look that seemed to see the English Premier League football match coming up later in the day rather than the steps to take on the march to heaven  as being pointed out by the preacher. I remembered not to forget to notice the elderly men who were nodding off at intervals and their elderly wives who were fanning themselves with their multipurpose Sunday bulletins, their beautiful handkerchiefs...the leisurely fanning probably more for show than for sweat, since the chill of the air conditioning was taking care of the latter.

Then the new converts to my Catholic brand of Christianity were called upon to approach the altar, their robes whiter than their hearts, their soon-to-be-baptized hearts soon to be whiter than their starched, white robes. They approached the altar, their hands clasped together and heads bowed in the universally accepted pose of Catholic sanctity. The priest then invited them to announce their names to us all. And then came the flurry of Ritas, Angelas, Stephens, Anthonys....

And then there was Okechukwu.

And silence.

Silence as the priest retrieved the microphone from the boy who introduced himself as Okechukwu, and, in no uncertain terms, chided him for introducing himself to God's people in God's house using an unchristian name. And then gave him back the microphone after instructing him to reintroduce himself to the community of the Lord’s faithful, as the catechist had taught him to.

In the single, low-pitched penitent word that followed, what was Okechukwu became Henry.

The priest apparently found Henry to be acceptable, to be Christian enough. On behalf of the people of God therefore, he congratulated the new convert who had been Okechukwu and who was now Henry, and he then went on to the next person. Welcoming her, and then the next girl, and the next young man, and the one after him - all of them Mary, Prisca, Raphael, Nicholas - into the fold of the one, holy, Catholic Church, world without end. Amen.

But while all that was going on, I began to reflect on how Okechukwu had just been robbed of his right to his identity, how he had just been made to become less African, at least in name, in order to be considered worthy of Catholicism, of redemption; how a young African’s soul was redeemable only so far as its owner first shed his African name.

I have been told several times since childhood that the Church “encourages” her faithful to adopt for themselves at baptism and confirmation names of canonized saints. I don't know to what extent this “encouragement” is persuasion, but today at Mass, it looked to me like compulsion.

If we all have to be Henry, John, Benedict, Lucy, Agnes, Perpetua….in order to become Christians, how will there ever be a time when the Church will have saints like Saint Somto, Saint Okechukwu, Saint Tinuke, Saint Hauwa? So that some American girl can also be someday encouraged at baptism to take on the name Folake because there is such a saint as Saint Folake? Perhaps being a saint is incompatible with being a black man - or having a name native to the black man. But how would I know? These things are beyond the reach even of extraordinary men...and I am but the most ordinary of the ordinariest men. I am just a man who hopes that when Blessed Tansi is canonized, he will be addressed as Saint Tansi, or Saint Iwene...and not be forced - even in posthumous sainthood - to go only by the baptismal Saint Cyprian.

But if the Church will be universal in reach, as well as universal in name, I think one place to start is to allow adherents universal reach in choice of their own personal names. I think it is instructive to remember that the only person whose name the Lord Jesus was recorded as having ever changed was Simon, the man he called Peter. And that was the one who became Pope, after first denying three times that he knew him. The rest of his disciples, from the one who betrayed him to the one who was portrayed as the one Jesus loved, all kept their names. Their original names. I think two brothers even kept their Zebedee surname and there was another whose surname was Alphaeus.

Okechukwu should not have become Henry. Okechukwu was robbed of his Okechukwuness and dressed in a Henryness that was not his in order to qualify to be Catholic. If we must accept Catholicism and Christianity as they are, I think Catholicism and Christianity should accept us as we are, and then make saints out of us sinners - whilst we keep our names.

Names like Okechukwu.

Image sourced from