Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Life in the closet is the way of life in Nigeria

I first came across this piece on a blog I think is Russian or Ukrainian. I had not seen it on 234next.com when it was published on 10 July 2010, but the Russian blog referred me there:

LAGOS, Nigeria: Odunlami (not his real name) was engrossed in an activity on his mobile phone when this reporter walked into KFC, an eatery in the City Mall, Onikan. He had been waiting for 10 minutes, though he was an hour and a half late.

We were scheduled to meet at noon and, after waiting for one hour, I got tired of sitting down at the café and had to take a stroll. He had sent me his description in a text message and so when I walked in, I recognised him at first sight - neatly trimmed afro hair, well ironed shirt, light complexioned. Mr Odunlami, in his late 20s, is a graduate of Abia State University, hails from Delta State; and is a homosexual.

He is one of the numerous males and females who had scribbled their mobile phone numbers behind toilet doors at The Palms Shopping Mall at Lekki, Lagos, soliciting various kinds of services.

The wall post on the door

In the male toilets, graffiti-like scrawling advertising various businesses and services, ranging from sponsorship endorsements to the outright obscene, adorn all the four toilet doors; a sharp contrast with the spotless walls.

Some of the inscriptions read: "If you want to buy a gun, call John"; "Am a talented comedian"; "If you need gun, cocaine"; "Am a defensive driver, God's Power by name"; "I need a sponsor on music"; "Need a strong d**k to get your wife pregnant"; "You need a gay friend"; "If you need long time sex"; and "Need a laundry, computer engineer, private tutor," among others. Each inscription carries the writer's name and contact phone number for whosoever is interested.

"A friend of mine who was working with Shoprite told me that they (Shoprite) were planning to open a new outlet and were collecting applications. So when I went to submit my CV, I noticed people were writing their numbers on the door in the toilet," said Mr. Odunlami, a Biochemistry graduate.

He revealed he started exhibiting homosexual traits at 13, and that he had been receiving countless phone calls from gay partners in Lagos since his post on the door. "I got calls from Festac, Surulere, Ikeja, everywhere. My phone could not stop ringing. I met with one of the callers, a short young guy with pot belly. He was not my type so I cut him off," he said.

Another male who identified himself simply as Buddy said that the need to expand his network of gay friends made him advertise himself. "The response has been unbelievable. I went with a friend to watch a movie when I noticed that people write their numbers on the door. Ever since I wrote my mine, I'd been busy shuttling from Benin and Lagos to meet with new friends," said the 26-year-old University of Benin undergraduate.

The girls do have ‘em

The female toilets share a similar fate, but while the males say they advertise with the intention of elevating their financial status, the females use it as an avenue to give vent to frustrations in their relationships. Twenty-five-year-old Sandra Oduyemi said she decided to participate in the ‘toilet adverts' three months ago when a friend intimated her of the trend.

"I had a boyfriend before, but we broke up after he left me pregnant. After having my son, I lost interest in guys," she said. "I will never have anything to do with guys; they are not faithful and you cannot trust them. But women, you don't expect too much from them; they are not like all these men. The man abandoned me and my son."

For Tosin Raphael, it was curiosity that prompted her to put her contacts out, for the first time since she discovered her bisexuality in secondary school, in a public domain.

"The reason why I wrote my name was because I saw people writing their names. When I entered I was surprised but I wanted to give it a try so I wrote my number," said the 22-year-old Lagos State University undergraduate. "I was tired of my boyfriend, always flirting around with other women. But to me women are easier to be in a relationship with."

Well kept secrets

The society's perception of homosexuals and lesbians has caused most of the respondents to keep their activities in the closet. Mr. Odunlami said that as a spiritual leader he always ensures he does not run foul of expected standards.

"I was the vice president of the campus fellowship in school and so I had to be very careful. Even my twin brother does not know I'm gay. If he ever finds out, he will die," said Mr. Odunlami, stroking a copy of ‘Spiritual Leadership for the New Millennium' by David Yonggi Cho, a book he says he has been reading the past few weeks.

"There are a lot of us (homosexuals) in this Lagos. But I don't want to join any of the associations; I prefer to do my thing on my own. And again, if the government should legalise (homosexuality) in Nigeria, you would be surprised at the number of people around you that are doing it."

Sarah Johnson, another ‘advertiser', said that she had to take full advantage of the opportunity presented by the wall scribbles. "Well, it's free advert and a free world. It is public in other countries. I don't think it will ever get public because we have a strong culture," said Ms. Johnson.

Mr. Odunlami said he does not have any immediate plans for a girlfriend; he still prefers the men. Thirty minutes after he left the eatery, he sent a text message. "Thanks for the drinks. I do appreciate your kind of person.... Do you like what you saw? Cheers!"

(The real names of the respondents in this story have been changed for the purpose of confidentiality) By Ben Ezeamalu and Esther Alidu

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Having a good moan..

Some time ago I wrote on this blog about my elation at being appointed leader of the choir at my church. Since then, I have found myself more and more involved in other church affairs that have nothing at all to do with the choir or the music department.

A short while after my appointment as leader of the choir, I started to receive the odd message from the church authority commending me on my efforts in conducting the affairs of the choir. Then gradually, and even before I realised it, I found that I was spending more and more of my time engaged with church matters. So that unlike previously when I could afford to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon lounging in my housecoat, nowadays the weekend zips past before I even know it.

Being perhaps the oldest "unmarried" male in the congregation, I suppose it was natural for the church authority to see me as the right person to name as leader of the "young men's" group. When I think of it, its not as if I can correctly be said to be a "young man", or that there are none of the youngish married guys who are capable of taking on the responsibility of leader. In fact, quite a few of these married men are younger than me. But maybe the reasoning is that since I'm not married, I will have more in common with the majority among the young men, who like me are unmarried. I would like to tell them about John, but I don't know how to go about it..

Anyway, as if running the choir and heading the young men's group isn't enough, I have been appointed to every committee conceivable, (save for the church executive committee, which is reserved for the clergy and the elders). And as if just being on these committees isn't enough, the Pastor has seen to it that I lead the committees as well, whereas none of these appointments was made with my consent. How does one say NO to one's Pastor?

What has irked me now is my recent appointment as leader of the... wait for it...summer picnic organising committee! Now tell me, what would I know about organising a picnic for 50 odd people, many of them children? Fortunately, the other members of the committee are women, so surely they wouldn't be expecting me to be the one to work out how many loaves of bread are required to make the sandwiches. However, I still do have the responsibility of choosing a suitable site for the picnic in two weeks' time, which will of course entail driving around extensively, time which I would otherwise utilise more profitably sitting behind my desk.

This evening, Pastor rang me to check on the progress of our plans and preparations for the picnic. I had no answers to his questions because I've been so preoccupied with some difficult issues at work that I simply have not had the time to spare. Yesterday was taken up with choir stuff, in preparation for a service last night and the Sunday service today. I've spent this evening drafting documents for work that must be ready for first thing Monday morning.

What I find interesting is that working hard at my choir leader job has been to my disadvantage, because it has made me seem like a reliable pair of hands to which more responsibility can be entrusted. I wish I was more like some of the others who seem not to be interested in taking on any responsibility at all.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Water no get enemy..

You absolutely must listen to Shakara too...

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Interesting radio interview with Sokari Ekine..

Sokari, the Nigerian activist and human rights defender and author of the well known blog Black Looks, speaks on the dominant discourses on sexualities in Africa. She provides this radio interview to CHRY 105.5 on their African Perspectives programme, which provides weekly news and in-depth views from Africa. Listen to the interview here.

The programme also features the work of LGBTIQ organisations in Kenya and South Africa, GALCK and Behind the Mask. You may also visit the African Perspectives blog.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Trip to Nigeria 1951

From a handwritten diary. Click here for a photo of a page of the handwritten manuscript. I attempted to obtain copyright permission, but my email bounced back. I hope I don't get into trouble for using it, but this is a historical treasure-trove, too precious to be hidden away. Reading it gave me tremendous enjoyment. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did..

Trip to Nigeria 1951

A Diary by A. Margaret Jefferies (1912-1992)

The Journey. 1951 Saturday July 21st.

Arrived at Airways Terminal Victoria at mid-day, checked in and had lunch on premises:-

Chilled Melon
Roast chicken, new potatoes and peas.
Neapolitan ice.

2:00 Boarded coach for Heath Row airport. Passed through customs and were on board B.O.A.C. Hermes “Hours” by 3:00.

Just as we were comfortably settled we were told there was a slight mechanical defect which must be seen to before taking off, so we disembarked and a coach took us back to “Departures” where cups of tea were served.

Passengers who went to greet friends in Spectators' Enclosure saw the Duke of Edinburgh arrive, met by Prince Charles.

Re-embarked, but found two passengers missing and had to wait while they were rounded up. They had been watching the unloading of Prince Philip's luggage which filled 2 vans so evidently he exceeded the regulation 66 lbs.

Took off about 1.5 hours behind schedule. Fastened seat belts for take-off and stewardess distributed barley sugar and later, when we were airborne, iced lemon squash.

Passed over Epsom and crossed coast just east of Brighton which we identified by its two piers.

Reached French Coast near Dieppe. Very good visibility all the way over France. Picked out rivers Seine and Rhone looking rather like wide satin hair ribbon. Saw Marseilles to east as we crossed the Mediterranean coast.

Flew over a corner of Sardinia, but clouds obscured it. On to N. Africa as sun was setting in spectacular shades of electric blue, green, and flame.

Flight very smooth indeed. Less sick-making than a motor coach. Seats well sprung, upholstered in blue, mine immediately behind wings, travelling backwards and facing passengers seated behind us, across a fixed table. Other seats faced back of seats in front and had folding tables. Powder room at tail of aircraft had cleansing lotion, make-up base, colognes, hand lotion etc. provided for our use, Elizabeth Arden.

Afternoon tea was served and cigarettes distributed by stewards at intervals.

Dinner, preceded by sherry, was served after dark.

Cold soup
Egg mayonnaise
Chop with new potatoes and peas
Strawberries and cream
Cheese and biscuits
Fruit dessert

Wine was served with the meal.

Landed at Castel Benito Airport, Tripoli, about 10:30.

Italian and Arab waiters served tea, biscuits, and wine.

Took off after an hour's stop for refuelling for hop over desert to Kano. Take-offs and landings much smoother thanI had imagined; we felt no discomfort from change in altitude, though some passengers yawned widely or swallowed violently to relieve ear pressures.

Lights were extinguished in aircraft for night flight but most people slept little owing to sitting-up posture and vibration.

Morning tea dispensed at 4:45. Landed at Kano Northern Nigeria for breakfast at 5:30. Black stewards waited on us with more zeal than efficiency. Had not realised that black men's hands have pink palms and finger tips and that the soles of their feet are pink.

After breakfast, sun had risen. Bright morning with cool breeze. Rest House had some attractive flower beds with zinnias and petunias as well as native plants and shrubs. One shrub had vivid flame red flowers and looked rather like a Christmas tree with bright red luggage labels tied all over it.

Took off at 7:20. Visibility good at first. Saw Niger and its confluence with Kaduna river then clouds thickened. Clear over Lagos Airport and we landed with no delay, ¾ hour ahead of schedule. We had flown at about 12,000 to 13,000 feet, but pressure inside aircraft was no more than 3,500 feet.

1951, Sunday July 22. Arrival.

T. had set out in good time to meet me and arrived just as the aircraft taxied in. He filled in an immigration form for me to save time so that I got well to the front of the queue through the Customs. The African Customs man looked suspiciously at my travelling case and made me open it for inspection. He showed great interest in the contents of my bottles and jars and seemed to suspect that the Cosmedia lotion might be whiskey. I was tempted to offer him a taste.

The steward boy, Ronson, and the new car (Vanguard Estate) were awaiting me.

It was a 16 mile drive from the Airport right through the town of Lagos.

Arriving at 22 Cameron Road, Ikoyi, we found a reception committee lined up to welcome us. It consisted of Godwin, a steward boy at the Rest House, his wife and three picaninnies. They live in part of our boys' quarters as the Rest House does not provide quarters for the boys there.
Ronson made us coffee and beamingly produced a bunch of bananas as his dash (i.e. free gift) for me. He was resplendent in the new uniform he had ordered for my arrival – white drill with brass buttons. He is well under 5 feet and not unlike a chimp to look at.

The staff off duty. Ronson, Sammy.

The Drive through Lagos.

African pedestrians expect to receive audible warning of the approach of a car, so we proceeded, hooting loud and long. They hop and skip nimbly out of the way without dislodging the loads on their heads, and with an alacrity which is refreshing after the stolid indifference of English jay-walkers.

It seemed to be a feast day and the citizens of Lagos were out in their best bibs and tuckers, highly coloured and of infinite variety.

The men wear loose cotton robes called RIGAS. Some of these are in most beautiful colouring and patterns. They may have matching cotton trousers, or white ones dazzling enough to serve as a Persil advertisement. With these garments the appropriate headgear seemed to be either a red or black fez, or a sort of Victorian smoking cap embroidered in gold or silver thread. One or two had large coloured umbrellas, a really important man has a servant to hold his umbrella over him.

The women are fond of blue. The local indigo dyes give a very pleasant shade. They wear loose shapeless blouses, and a length of material wrapped round a la sarong. Whole families will dress alike. Bright head scarves are made into intricately draped head-dresses. Yoruba women wear high crowned straw hats that can be adapted to carry their personal effects when necessary.

Their skill at carrying loads on their heads is incredible to a European. We passed women balancing bottles, oil drums, folded umbrellas, palm fruit, bowls, baskets, and bags. One African belle was dressed in a fashionable European frock, navy wedge-heeled shoes and a perfectly matching handbag, which she carried on her head with the handles drooping artistically over one ear.

The roads were narrow and busy. Besides the pedestrians, there were droves of shiny bicycles, very solid, upright, and respectable like English policemen ride. A three speed gear and a chain case are essential for snob appeal rather than practical use, T. says.

We passed lorries loaded with Africans bearing inscriptions such as “Help us, O God”. These are known locally as “mammy wagons” and seem to be the equivalent of Green Line buses. The passengers are said to be adept at getting in and out in a hurry if the pious mottoes prove ineffective and they just get ditched, so the injury rate per accident is negligible. T. says the worst drivers in Lagos, however, are the Europeans.

We stopped at Government House to sign the Governor's book, which is the practice of all new arrivals from the U.K. . A magnificent sentry saluted us as we entered.

The House, 22 Cameron Road, Ikoyi.

Stands in about an acre of compound, which consists mostly of grass, trees, and bushes. The soil is almost pure sand. We have an avocado pear tree, mangoes, breadfruit, flame of the forest, magnolias and hibiscus.

The front door opens into a hall with red tiled floor, leading to dining room, butler's pantry and two store rooms. There is a fridge in the passage leading to the pantry. A covered corridor leads from the pantry to the cook-house, which has an old cast-iron wood-burning range. Ronson sometimes uses it for his own cooking, but we would not relish a meal cooked there until it had had a very thorough spring-clean.

Hardwood stairs – polished and un-carpeted (there are practically no stair-carpets in Nigeria) lead to lounge with windows on three sides, wide open all day on to balcony. A large electric fan hangs from the ceiling. The floor is polished hardwood.
22 Cameron Road

There is one large bedroom and a very small dressing room. The bedroom has openings in the verandah on two sides – slotted doors – and a large built-in wardrobe in which electric lights burn all the time to keep the clothes dry and prevent mould. The mosquito net is furled up over the beds in daytime and the boy lets it down each evening before dark.

Large bathroom with electric geyser, and further on an earth closet emptied every morning. The usual offices have concrete floors like the verandah.

The government provides furniture. Mahogany dining table and chairs and sideboard, writing table, some chests of drawers, two beds, dressing table. Hardwood armchairs with drab covered cushions, a bookcase and several occasional tables.

Like most government buildings in Lagos, the house could do with a good coat of paint, but is pleasant and spacious to live in.

Cameron Road


This is the rainy season and it is cooler than England when I left. Temperatures from 75 to 80F with overcast skies, and little drop in temperature at night. There are occasional heavy showers but no continuous rain. Atmosphere is humid, and leather goods, books and papers very soon go mouldy. Characteristic smell is a combination of dampness, mould, insecticide and palm oil. It is not as unpleasant as it sounds. Mosquitos not very plentiful here at present.


Sammy keeps the garden swept and tidied, and cleans the car. He is about 18 and speaks no English except Yessir and Yessum. He seems quite a good worker and sings as he works. Sometimes his song is a rhythmic chant accompanying his raking, sometimes he sings in a choirboy falsetto and sometimes renders his own variations on “God Save the King”. His favourite working dress seems to be a ragged shirt which only hangs together by a miracle.

He cuts the grass by swishing light-heartedly at it with a home made machete, consisting of a piece of hoop-iron worn thin and sharp with some rag bound on the end to form a handle.

Music while you work.

African workmen are said to work much better to music and often chant a rhythmic accompaniment to their labours. Gangs of convicts employed to cut grass on road verges are accompanied by a man beating out a rhythm on a triangle. It has been found profitable to pay a man specially to provide music for a gang of labourers at work, as they work much more quickly.

A visit to the cinema.

Lagos cinemas are all open to the sky. In the two-and-sixes you sit up on a balcony on wicker chairs, with an awning overhead. The groundlings in the ninepennies sit on hard forms and have no shelter from the rain. Their reactions were the same as their white counterparts in England. They warned the hero of impending peril and applauded when right triumphed over wrong.

If you get bored with the show you can gaze up at the night sky overhead and try to pick out the constellations. I was told that sometimes lizards run across the screen with ludicrous effect at tense moments, but saw none at this performance. Perhaps they prefer love scenes to comedies.


On the way home we passed a Methodist funeral procession in which the clergy and choir wore cassocks and surplices. The mourners were dressed in white. Funerals here often end up like an Irish Wake in dancing and drinking. Apparently if an old person dies it is considered proper to rejoice as a thanksgiving for longevity, but if a child or very young person dies it is an occasion for mourning.

A funeral here must take place the day after death and often posters are put up announcing “A Funeral will take place tomorrow” and giving particulars to let all friends know in time.

Some coffins are elaborate but are used only for conveying the body to the grave, and then returned empty for future use.

Village fish ponds.

The staple diet of the Nigerians is gari, a kind of paste made from grated and processed roots of cassava. This contains a little protein but is mainly starchy and lacks vitamins. The people as a whole are not well-nourished. They are undersized and lots of children are rickety, and so an attempt is being made to get more animal protein into their diet. One of the ways of doing this is to help the villagers to establish their own fishponds in suitable places. With the co-operation of the District Headman two new ponds have been made under Europeans' direction at Paiye and Ballah. The object of the trip was to inspect these and survey two possible sites for new ones in other villages.

We drove out to Paiye where the District Chief, Dauda Paiye, a tall fine-looking man, received us ceremoniously. Where a European politely removes his hat, and African removes his shoes. We noticed Paiye was wearing embroidered heelless slippers. His servant removed these and he squatted down in front of us and touched the ground with his knuckles. After a few polite remarks had been exchanged he rose up, his servant put on his shoes, and he and his retinue conducted us to see the pond.

When we got back to the cars Paiye looked covetously at our Vanguards and wanted to know how much they cost. His present means of transport is a black horse with elegant trappings which was waiting for him under a tree near the Court House.

Taking ceremonious leave of Paiye we went on to Ballah village, but were disappointed to find that Dauda Ballah could not be there to receive us personally as he had gone to Ilorin to see his brother, the Emir. We left for him two enlarged photographs of himself taken on a previous trip.

We had a picnic lunch at Ballah Rest House, a very pleasant one. It was luxuriously furnished for a Bush Rest House, having an Egyptian chemille tablecloth. blue with white kittens on it, and a sofa covered with an Indian embroidered spread. The views from the verandah were pleasant and suggestive of England. The compound was very well kept with flower beds and decorative trees. Nearby was the village school, also surrounded by flower beds, and Dauda Ballah's own house, which is a little apart from the village.

Head Men.

Dauda in Hausa (Dawido in Yoruba) is our name David and means literally “King”. It is the title given to a district chief. The District Head in the Western Provinces is second only to the Emir. It is not entirely a hereditary office. The Dauda is appointed, and is approved by the British Authorities, but is a man of high birth. he receives a salary, but is personally reponsible for the welfare of his district, and the care of the poor and infirm. T. knows one chief who is an ex-tailor.

Dauda Paiye on his horse.

Dinner Party.

The day ended with dinner at the house of Mr Calder, the local fisheries officer, a retired D.O. who is Scotch and has lived in the tropics most of his life. He regaled us with his national beverage and records of Scottish dance music repeated over and over again. “This”, he said, “my friends here call real savage music.”

The dinner table was magnificent. Black stewards love an excuse to put on a good show and display their skill at folding table napkins and arranging flowers. There was a big bowl of zinnias and other red flowers in the centre, a pattern of scarlet petals all over the table among the shiny cut glass and silver, and it seemed sheer vandalism to unfold the intricate table napkin mountains and remove the scarlet blooms that crowned each one.

A white-uniformed steward waited on us wearing a magnificent sash in Ogilvie hunting tartan. He had evidently been trained never to have a guest with an empty glass.

We had a huge turkey, who we were told had died happy, as half a bottle of gin was poured down his throat before he met his end. He was accompanied by sauces and stuffings and various sorts of vegetables, and followed by jelly and strawberries (tinned of course) and cream, coffee, and liqueurs - Crème de Menthe which our host insisted we must lace with brandy. I found this improved it making it much less cloying and sickly.

At the end of the evening the cook came in to make his bow to us. He was dressed in a toga of lurid jungle print in orange and brown and black. His broad grin showed his teeth filed to sharp points and he looked as if he would be quite at home presiding over the cauldron at a feast of “long pig”. All the boys were Hausas and their master talked to them in their own language. They seemed to be trying to stem the flow of spirits. “They are always bullying me” said our host. “If I let them have their own way I should be a teetotaller”.

Mr Calder showed us a magnificent leopard skin which he had had mounted on to brown felt to make a rug. This was a parting gift to him from the Pagans of the Plateau district when he retired from being their D.O. In this last term of office before his retirement only 2 or 3 years ago, he said he had had three men hanged for cannibalism.

Jock Calder; fisheries officer, Ilorin

Besides its use by Europeans in soap manufacture, palm oil has a myriad uses for the African. It has definitely antiseptic properties. the more bush and rancid it is the better apparently, and it is used in the treatment of injuries, besides being a lubricant and a food ingredient.

We walked through the village accompanied by the usual throng of children. one of them. a cheerful little urchin of about 8 or 9 was instructed by his elders to act as guide to lead us to the fish pond. He flitted on ahead of us, the loose sleeves of his indecently short robe flapping like wings, so that he looked like a little black hobgoblin or Puck.


As well as the large pan of rice on her head nearly every woman coming to the mill carried a piccin strapped on her back. These little black babies with their woolly topknots are lovely, though to European eyes their beauty is marred by the barbarous habit of slashing their faces soon after birth in patterns according to the markings of their tribe. The little girl piccins, however tiny, wear jewellery, invariably ear rings, often necklaces and bracelets. This is the quickest way to tell girls from boys at first glance. I was told that their trinkets are often of solid gold or silver. On the arm of one small mite I noticed a man's wristwatch on a wide chromium strap. It was not only going, but told the correct time. Unlike their bigger brothers and sisters the babies seemed scared of us. I suppose it is quite natural for a white person to look like a bogey, to a black baby.

Diversions on a Journey.

Driving mile after mile through unvarying scenery can grow monotonous and we found two ways of relieving the tedium of a long journey..(1) waving to the populace who usually responded with appreciation and (2) collecting mottoes on African transport vehicles.

This page (section, ed) is reserved for our collection, English and Latin only, though no doubt the Hausa and Yoruba would be even more amusing if we knew what they meant.

Help us O God
Wait and see

The Lord is my Shepherd
Deo Gratias
Goodwill and Speed
Trust in God and do the right
Dum Spiro Spero
God is Good
In God's Care
Charity begins at home

and on Taxis

God First
Take Life Easy

and on Bicycles

Let George do it
Watch and Pray

Hope on hope ever
Ever jolly
Praise be to Allah

1951, Wednesday August 22nd. Genuine bargain.

Yesterday the Hausaman who had sold me the crocodile bag and other things at various times offered me a bag made of black and cream deerskin. Having already got the crocodile bag I was not interested, but he was nothing if not persevering.

“Madame my good customer. Yesterday I lose £7 for races. I need customer. Madame give me price.”

“No, I have plenty bags”

“Not bag like this. This good good bag. I sell cheap price”
“What do you call cheap? 15/- ?”

That put him off as I thought it would. he laughed scornfully and departed.
Today he waylaid me with the same bag as I came out of the Rest House.

“What madame's last price?”
“No. yesterday you say 15/-. Today you go up”
“Still 15/-”
“Madame, good business lady, but 15/- small small for good bag. What your last price?”

By this time we were getting into the car. He appealed to Ted.
“Sir, you give me better price”.
“15/1” said T., jokingly.
“Take it”. The bag was thrust in through the car window and T. dashed him an extra 1d for luck, making 15/2 in all.

It is beautifully made and is a much better one than the crocodile bag for which I paid £2. I have Monday's winners to thank for this bargain.

Beginning Young. Small peanut vendor giving change on Victoria Beach.

1951, Friday Aug 24th. “What is life without a wife?”

When Ronson brought my morning coffee he was obviously bursting to say something. Presently it came out.

“Please madame, in my country wife take plenty money”
“In England, too, wife take plenty money, Ronson”

But he was dead serious.

“Madame is kind. Madame speak for Master. My bride's father ask for £27. That plenty money. I only pay small small money for one time. NowI pay £18. Madame speak for Master to lend me £10, then my wife come to this Lagos. Madame come back for Master after leave and she see my wife.”

I had already gathered that he hoped to go home during Ted's next leave and return with his bride, and that before the marriage was finally achieved he had other financial obligations as well as the price agreed with the father. The bride's mother and family would expect a dash, the bride would expect at least £4 for her trousseau, and he would have to stand drinks, smokes etc. to the whole village.

I pointed out that as his bride-to-be was so very young they should not be in a hurry to get married and it would be better to save up out of his own income and start off free from debt. At this he looked very downcast but was not defeated. If he couldn't have a wife he would have a consolation prize. He changed the subject.

“I think madame go home for October. In England be plenty good shoes. Please madame send me for Christmas shoes size 6 with rubber soles like master's sandals, but shoes for tie up. I show madame.”

Fashion Note.

He trotted off to his quarters and returned and returned with a pair of brown leather walking shoes. “Like these, madame, but with rubber soles. Leather not good” As he never wears shoes except for ornament when he is all dressed up, he probably finds leather too hard and too slippery.

In off-duty hours when really dressed to kill he wears a pair of shorts in flame red moyjashel, a white shirt with the inscription “EVER JOLLY” written in blobby marking ink on the breast pocket and tennis shoes. The shoes are freshly whitened, the shorts pressed and the shirt laundered for every time of wearing.

In spite of his lack of height he walks with dignity and is able to assert himself. He has Sammy trained to spring to attention and say “Yessir” when he addresses him.

I have never seen him wearing native dress.


Gari is the “staff of life” for the W. African, like bread to the European. It is made by grating cassava (sometimes with yam). The grated cassava is left to ferment for two or three days, the moisture is pured off and the dry granules rubbed through a sieve. The sieved fu-fu is then put in a pot with a little palm oil and heated. it is eaten either as a thin gruel with water or as a thick paste made with boiling water.

Standing a little apart from the others was a house which bore a poster telling the world in Arabic. English, and Yoruba that here lived a Cairo-trained astrologer of extreme wisdom. Among others he earnestly urged “moneymen, sickmen, journeymen, men in old age, bachelors, women without issue” to consult him.

Saturday Sept 8th. Football match.

The African is just as keen a football fan as the Englishman. We saw a match today between the railway and the Public Works teams. They play in bare feet, are very quick and have wonderful control over the ball with their flexible toes. The referee was a European, Father Slattery, a Catholic missionary. The spectators are said to get very excited sometimes surging right onto the field and having to be chased by the police, but today they were no more obstreperous than an English crowd. We sat in the two-and-sixpennies and our neighbours were, of course, the well-to-do types but their shouts seemed most refined, even pedantic, compared with the remarks you would expect from an English crowd. “Well done”. “Oh, please use your head”. “Do not give him a chance now” and not one swearword, perhaps they didn't know any in English.

1951, Sunday Sept 9th. African cemetary.

I visited the Lagos cemetary expecting to see some amusing inscriptions, but found they were more restrained and dignified than in many English country churchyards. Some were in Latin, most were texts from the Bible or lines from hymns, with one or two quotations from English poets. Some of the tombs were very elaborate and had statues of the deceased. There was a life-sized nurse, seated; the head of a judge with black face and white wig; and a lifelike reproduction of John St Matthew Daniel “an industrious financier and philanthropist and devout Catholic worshipper”. He stood on a square plinth flanked on one side by a kneeling angel and on the other by his patron saint in white marble. He wore a Palm Beach suit, black shoes and a black trilby hat and carried a walking stick. His expression was benevolent and he looked a very charming old gentleman. His plinth was simply covered in lettering. The front gave his name and details of his life; one side pious quotations; the other the list of his twelve children who survived him, and on the back was the following verse:-

“Live in the present, for the One who lends
Has taken back the past he lent
With all its tears and laughter, therefore friends
Live in the present.
The present is a loan that each man spends
And a new loan receives when that is spent.
Nor can we tell when this strange present ends
And when begins, wherein the future's blest
And with the past made one: for us fate sends
No choice, but all men, well or ill content,
Live in the present.

Another man was described as “a zealous patron of the Baptist Church and sole agent for Singer Sewing Machines”. One tombstone was crowned with two blue and white roses in, I think, Italian pottery of pleasant design, and another with a charming statue of a little dog. Unfortunately the inscription on this was completely obliterated, but the owner was evidently following the old crusaders' tradition in leaving his favourite dog on his tomb.

Piccins with ram off Lagos marina waterfront.

Nigerian Politics.

Godwin has borrowed a gramophone and records and we have a free concert from the boys' quarters. One particular favourite, played over and over, was an African number with spectacular drumming and a tune even a European could recognise. I asked what it was and it turned out to be a song in praise of ZIK, Dr Azikiwi, the political leader, head of NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons). He is an Ibo, like “the boys”, and a fierce nationalist. He wants a united Nigeria, combining all tribes, and is anti-European. The main opposition to his party comes from the ACTION GROUP of strong Yoruba influence, which is less anti-British and seems to advocate regional autonomy for Hausas, Yorubas, Ibos, and other main tribes.

1951, Tuesday Sept 18th.

Today we forgot to take a key when we went to our evening meal and had to send for Ronson to let us in. He was wearing a blue toga with red spider webs all over it, so evidently he does wear native dress when off-duty.

Our fellow men in Lagos.

The Europeans are for the most part friendly, though I am told it is possible to feel very lonely in Lagos as in all big towns. In the smaller stations the white people are only too glad to get together and make friends, according to all accounts. We find lots of the people we meet have travelled all over the place. A good many of them used to live in India. One great advantage of Rest House meals is that you meet all kinds of people and it is easy to find some with whom you have things in common. We often had people in to play bridge or just drink and talk. Lots of them liked to come in for a cup of tea last thing at night. Contrary to popular belief, the Englishman in the tropics does not live exclusively on spirits and malaria prophylactics.

As a general rule white people are either fascinated by Africa or simply loathe it. There are not many neutrals.

There is of course a certain amount of colour prejudice and the white population of Ikoyi tends to keep itself to itself and not mix with the black. I found this a pity as I should have like to have met more educated Africans. The few I did meet seemed altogether pleasant and reasonable. Collectively the European women seem rather suburban in outlook. Social climbing and keeping up with the Jones can be all-important, but individually I liked most that I met, very well.

Tropical Africa is a region for Mary, not for Martha.

I can't help thinking that it is better for themselves and for Africa, if all people with a strong unshakeable colour prejudice were to keep out. Gratuitous rudeness on the part of white people, gives the rabid nationalist a legitimate grievance and may make otherwise reasonable types into rabid nationalists themselves, thus driving yet another nail into the coffin of the poor old British Empire.

An assistant in a bookshop who had been to England, one day asked me “why is it I find that in your country English people can be so polite and charming, and in my country just the opposite?”

1951, Thursday Sept 26th. (sic, actually Sept 27th, ed) The Mountain fish.

This morning Ronson came and said “Madame, I have news. A beeg beeg fish, a mountain fish, be washed up for beach. I follow Master and madame go for see it.”

After lunch we set out for Victoria beach and found Ronson and Sammy waiting to get in the car. The Five Cowrie Creek Bridge had a quarter mile traffic jam, Africans in cars, taxis, on bicycles and on foot had turned out to see the wonderful sight from all over the town.

However, when we got there, there was almost nothing to be seen. A 50 ft whale had been washed up, but now what was left of it was drifting out to sea practically submerged. A few bold swimmers were going out with knives and cutting off bits of blubber. It made an excuse for an outing and Sammy obviously enjoyed his car ride.

1951, Saturday Sept 29th. Cup Final.

This was a great event attended by the Governor's Deputy – the G being on leave – and the local Oba, in state.

Immediately behind us sat the famous ZIK with wife, a girl friend, to whom he explained at length the finer points of the game all through the match.

It was an exciting game. When the whistle went for time the score was even, 2 all. There was a twenty minute extension during which Railway scored the winning goal. Their victory was a well-deserved triumph of brains over brawn. The Plateau team were taller and heavier and looked quite a different type, possibly Pagans. Their supporters among whom we found ourselves, looked a real tough crowd, including mining types. The audience was orderly and good-humoured, though policemen with truncheons were there in force.

Programme for Nigeria Football Association 1951 Governor's cup final

The Police band gave a good show at half-time. They looked very smart in Navy uniform with red zouave jackets and Jarbouches. They gave a display of marching and piping.

1951, Sunday Sept 30th

Visited fishing village off Victoria Beach in morning. The houses are made of palm frond ribs and thatched with palm. The sea is encroaching and the village is retreating. Some huts have been washed away in the short time I have been here.

Main street of fishing village.

Lagos, RC cathedral. Lagos has a Protestant and a Catholic cathedral. This is not the oneI went to.

Lagos Cathedral.

Went to evensong at Lagos C. of E. Cathedral. The congregation was mostly black. The choir and organist were black, and the service was conducted by an African clergyman, headmaster of the C.M.S. school. A white parson read the lessons and another black parson preached.

The cathedral is a traditional European building. The interior is light, with decorations in blue, gold, and pale green. Behind the altar is a modern carved oak figure of Christ, above which is a carved crown illuminated from the inside. There is a matching carved oak screen and a carved font.

The service was straightforward C. of E. and all in English.

1951, Friday Oct 5th.

Jose Doherty took me to meet BEN ENWONWU an African artist who lives at the other end of Cameron Road. He is a native of Onitsha and has a beard. He is planning on a one-man show for Paris, London, and the USA next year and has promised to invite me to his London show. I wished I could have afforded a picture. There were portraits of Hausas, Yorubas, and many different African types, dancers, full of movement, and scenes mostly in Benin Province. An unfinished portrait of the Oba of Benin in full regalia showed the Oba looking most shirty. Ben said he didn't approve of artists and didn't want to sit. We could well believe it from his expression.

(ed's note, see e.g. www.ijele.com/vol1.2/enwonwu3.html))

The Battens took us to the R.E.M.E. sergeants mess at Yaba for the evening where we talked and played snooker and darts. The R.E.M.E. were excellent hosts and made us very welcome. They are pleased to have visitors. A Cockney sergeant-major made us feel at home and a Scotch sergeant-major bewailed their lack of feminine society and gave us a dissertation on spiritualism. He said it was a demoralising life for a very young man there. They seem to have fewer social contacts than the civilian expatriates.

Anengiyefa's note: I have done quite a bit of editing. To read the full diary please click here.