All posts by Anne Chia

Woman, Project Management Professional, International Development Enthusiast, Globetrotter, Writer and Happy Shutterbug®

Is It Better To Be A Stay At Home Mum?

I will be honest and admit that before the arrival of the sprog, I did not fully comprehend the amount of work involved in raising a child. Indeed I did not know how much time and emotional investment that go into looking after a child. I think having been raised in Nigeria, I was always surrounded by family, and friends and nannies (as is quite common in middle class Nigeria) and thus did not think how raising a child without that support system can be quite difficult.

Increasingly, as the world becomes more globalised and the pressures of economics mean that people are moving further away from family, children are being raised without that treasured presence of grandparents, multiple aunts, uncles and cousins. The result I think is that primary carers of babies and young children are increasingly faced with the choice of putting their children straight into child care or putting their careers on hold in order to look after children.

I am ashamed to admit that when I was younger, I thought that women who stayed at home to raise their children had the luxury of watching soaps on TV all day and painting their nails. Well, I have been at home with the sprog for nine months, and I can tell you that my nails remain unpolished, and the closest I have come to watching any soaps is falling asleep on the sofa after dinner with the chief. It has not been easy. There is the physical exhaustion that comes with looking after a baby, there is the monotony of speaking “motherese” all day, and there is the emotional draining that crowns it all. When I put her to bed at 7pm, I skip out of her room and rejoice for the few hours that I get to be alone before bed. I am thankful that we do not have to spend thousands of pounds on childcare. I am thankful that I have been present for all her milestones so far.

However, I do miss the buzz and the fulfilment that came with my job. I worry about what this break means for my career growth, employers do not like gaps in CVs. Most importantly, I think that my career in many ways gave me a certain validation, and without it now, I feel almost bereft. You see, I grew up surrounded by strong educated women who beat the odds in a patriarchal society, who had day jobs, and could hold their own anywhere. My mother was a teacher and raised four of us. She was pregnant and breastfeeding through most of graduate school and teacher training. So part of me wants to work because I thrive in that environment, but also because I was raised surrounded by strong independent women who built excellent careers.

Choosing to raise one’s child full time is a sacrifice and a full time job, which can only be good for the child. One must remember that the alternative to staying home full time is paying or beseeching someone to do it. Stay at home mums have two jobs really; looking after the child, and also running the home (those meals, that laundry, the cleaning, will not do themselves). Conversely, choosing to be a working mum is a sacrifice too, often for a much needed income and a burden of guilt about leaving one’s child. Let us not forget the question of proving themselves at work because for the most part, women are held to a different standard than men. There is also the question of dealing with the guilt of fitting in mummy and wife at the end of a long days’s work.

What do the professionals say?

A research published by the Telegraph claims that children who go to Nursery do better than those who stay at home with their mothers. The research found significant progress in stringing sentences together and dexterity that comes from interaction at Nursery.

A research by Jay Belsky, a child development researcher at London’s Birbeck College, published by the Huffington Post, corroborates research which states that “long hours in child care are associated with behaviour problems”.

My Verdict

Babies go through monumental and rapid development milestones. These are as varied and as important as their emotional needs. Some babies will require more emotional support than others and no secondary care is better or greater than that provided by parents. It seems to me, from reading the literature that being a stay at home mother, or going to work, both have their pros and cons. Invariably, it does take a village to raise a child, babies will benefit from social interactions with the world, be it grandparents, neighbours, friends or extended family.

As for me and my household, I believe I will stay home for now with the sprog. I plan to return to work, but perhaps when she is a year old and walking, when she has some understanding of object permanence and where Mama has gone. Additionally, I think she will benefit from the social interaction at Nursery, because although I take her to mummy and baby classes and groups three times a week, she has recently become very afraid of strangers. I understand it is a milestone, but I often wonder of this is heightened by the absence of “the village” in our lives as we live far away from our family. What I would prefer is a combination of both worlds. It would be great to have a home based role or a part time job, so that she benefits from some vital nursery time, but also spends time being emotionally nurtured by yours truly.

How To Prepare For Baby

My life has changed. It has changed absolutely and completely, I realise it is probably unnecessary to use these two words together, but at least you get the gist of it. I got married, and before we could embark on a honeymoon, there was a sprog on the way. Hurrah! The sprog is now five months old and has turned our lives upside down.

Nobody tells you how hard it is to look after a baby, nobody tells you about the love that almost overwhelms you at times and makes you question if you are doing enough. Nobody tell you about the exhaustion; mental and physical, that comes due to the sleepless nights, the crying, the breastfeeding, the not knowing, the 5 seconds showers (or not 🙂 and the raging hormones and pain in your body. I always saw childbirth and the looking after baby that comes with it, as a walk in the park (perhaps on a mildly rainy day). I suppose it could be a bit easier if you had a lot of family members around you to give you a break and a chance to catch up on sleep or something else.

Anyway, I did read a few books, but too many of them had photos of perfect mummies with their shiny teeth, shiny hair and perfect babies. Lies! I love lists, so here are a few things I have learned since welcoming our little star into our lives, particularly for a first time mummy.

1. You can never be ready  enough, be flexible enough to accommodate and bear the fact that upon waters breaking or however the baby comes, you will need something that was not in the bag or you forgot to park. Your partner can be on had to solve that problem.

2. The first night with baby, outside the hospital is nerve wracking. Babies breathe funny, sleep funny, or not. For the first few nights, you will peer at this little thing in worry and concern. Is he breathing well? Has she got enough milk? Is he warm enough?

3. Babies eat, cry, poop, sleep, rinse and repeat. They may decide to sleep only in your arms, in which case you really cannot do anything else. They feed 12 to 14 times daily (breastfed babies) and they poop after every single feed until they get to 2-3 months. So you will be busy. Babies are so new and used to the situation in the oven, that they mostly like to be cocooned and held. This can pose a problem for a mummy by herself, forget the TV shows or books you bought, you will be too exhausted for any of those. Try to sleep whenever you can manage it. My baby refused to sleep anywhere else except in our arms for the first six weeks! It was insane! She refused to sleep in her Moses Basket. I was out of my mind with exhaustion. Every time we put her down, she would startle herself awake because we put her down on her back per the Sudden Infant Death (SID) prevention protocol. All I can say is make plans to have help; your mum, a relative, a friend, a paid Doula, if you can manage it.

4. Many babies are very windy or have colic. Their little tummies hurt and they pull their legs up to their stomachs and cry and cry in pain. That keeps them awake and noisy, and keeps parents worried too. Gripe water or Infacol typically helps and putting them down on their stomach while you watch can also help.

5. Babies have no sense of day and night, they sleep and wake at the oddest hours and sometimes cry for hours on end, and sometimes they have been changed, fed, winded, warm and they still cry. Something I found to be the answer to that? Skin to skin. Take your baby’s clothes off and leave only the nappy on, take your top off and put baby to your skin. It works wonders.

6. Going out will become a pain and a pleasure all at once. A pleasure because babies tend to fall asleep once they feel the fresh air and are rocked in either a car seat or pram. That doesn’t necessarily give you the gift of rest or sleep for yourself, but at least it gives you a chance to meet up with other adults, have a cold or hot drink in peace, or just breathe in some fresh air. It will be a pain because you have to carry your baby gear. Changing bag with nappies, wipes, muslin cloths, change of clothes, food warmer or breastfeeding cover (if you use one), and the list goes on.

7. You will probably be in pain from your childbirth depending on what kind of birth you had. Be aware that you could be in pain for a few weeks and never hesitate to seek medical advice, a well mummy is the start to a well baby.

8. Your baby will poop once you are all dressed up, changed and ready to go. The sprog gave her Papa and I a few explosive surprises just as we were about to get in the car, our clothes were ruined and so were here. This happened on different occasions to both of us. At least she shared the love equally.

9. Research shows that breast is best, but be aware that you could have latching problems and excruciating nipple pain for the first few weeks. The good news is that it gets better, I found that myself. Make sure to seek knowledgeable help if you are struggling with nipple pain, latching or even baby getting enough milk or not. Sometimes there are medical and biological reasons why baby is not getting enough milk, the professionals will recommend an appropriate solution. For nipple pain, Lanolin nipple cream by Lasinoh was my saving grace and after an agonising 4 weeks, we began to flourish. The sprog is still being exclusively breastfed, hopefully we can carry on until the UNICEF recommended 6 months.

10. Babies have relatively problematic skin and scalp in the first few weeks to months of life. There is cradle cap , eczema (and no, eczema is neither infectious, nor caused by dirt), baby acne, and some other rashes.    If in doubt, have it checked out by a professional to rule out meningitis. The best way to care for newborn skin according to my GP, is to bath in warm water once a day and moisturise with simple hypoallergenic moisturisers such as vaseline, coconut oil, shea butter. These will also ensure moisture is not stripped completely from the skin and cause dry skin conditions.

11. Nappy rash is quite common in babies. It is caused by exposure to urine and poo for long periods of time. The best way to avoid it is by regularly changing baby’s nappy, cleansing baby’s bottom with cotton wool and water, and rubbing a barrier cream regularly such as sudocream.

12. Nothing prepares you for the cry of pain your baby may have during immunisation. Give baby 2.5ml calpol (baby paracetamol) straight after and put baby on the breast. That is very comforting. Be aware that your baby may have a temperature after immunisation or the next day. Keep an eye out for temperature above 38 degrees and crankiness. The sprog was quite warm and cried a lot the day after her 16 weeks shot. Luckily, she was fine by the following day.

I want to write a few more things, but I can hear her over the monitor. She is chewing her legs ( she hit that milestone, yay!) and that’s a prologue to crying. All I can say is that it gets easier as they get older, I could never have dreamt of sitting down and writing at this time, a few months ago.

In conclusion (albeit rushed), it’s the best gift, but it is equally difficult, particularly if you do not have help, or if your baby is one who demands constant interaction and attention. Have your baby with some support for the first few months, you will be better off for it.

Ageing: Much Ado About Nothing

Ageing or getting older is something that I have totally and completely embraced. Perhaps because I have struggled literally all my life with my age; people never believe my age. I remember when I was five years old, and my mother took my to Nursery school for my first day at school. I still remember (and my mum tells this story all the time) the teachers exclaiming when they heard I was five, because I was quite big. They put me in the final class of Nursery, and at 6, I went to primary 1. I was at home playing with Lego and extended family until I was 5. I guess I was lucky because although my mum went back to work when I turned three months, there was no need to put me in a creche or playgroup because we had people around the house.

Anyway, fast forward a few years later, my hair developed sprinkles of grey by 8 years old, so much so that when I see old classmates now, they all still ask what became of the “white hair”. They disappeared by the time I hit 20. very odd; not that I am complaining though. I guess what I am saying is that my age was always in question and I grew up hearing people mumble “that’s not her age”, etc. I am writing this post because I read a piece about a successful Nollywood actress, and as usual, I scrolled down to the comments section. If you ever want to feel the pulse of the people, how mean, how prejudiced, how kind or free spirited, read the comments section of newspapers or blogs. The venom, mostly! Anyway, a lot of people argued that she couldn’t be that age, how she was a liar, how they had watched her films for over 20 years. Did it occur to anyone that she was discovered in her teenage years?

Someone in my family hates birthdays because it means getting older, but as I always say every year to their annoyance, what’s life if we do not age? Ageing means we have another chance to be happier, to get it right, to be more fulfilled and to accomplish that for which we are journeying through life. Age is nothing but a number, we are lucky to be living at a time when lifestyle changes and advancement in science mean prolonged life expectancy and a chance to look well. Consider how amazing people like Michelle Obama, Funmi Iyanda, and Maxine Johnson look; all redefining ageing. I am thoroughly enjoying my 30s, and already imagining how accomplished and exciting my 40s will be, the fact that it won’t be until a good number of years, notwithstanding.

Invariably, I do not think it is only about the physical, but also about one’s mental and spiritual well being. I choose to embrace ageing, it’s much ado about nothing.

Origins of Dreadlocks: Who Started the Trend?

The idea and appearance of dreadlocks evoke a variety of feelings, including, but not limited to fear, fascination, and the age old stigma attached to it. There is also the weed smoking connotation, some negative pagan symbolism and the Rastafarian movement. Most recently in popular culture, there was the infamous Guillani Ranci comment regarding Zendaya as well as the San Francisco State University incident involving a black student confronting a white student wearing dreadlocks, claiming culture appropriation. So what are dreadlocks and how did we get here?

Bob Marley. Source:www.artcreationforever.com

Dreadlocks are basically thick or light ropes of hair, sometimes matted naturally to form “clumps” of hair, other times guided by twisting bits of hair together until they “lock” and look like, again, thick or light ropes, quite different from strands of regular hair that are combed or brushed regularly. Research shows that dreadlocks date back to 2,500 BC and this hairstyle has been worn by very many ethnicities and religious even if they were not called dreadlocks at the time. According to Dr. Bert Ashe in his book “Twisted: My Dreadlocks Chronicles”, the first recorded evidence of dreadlocks in script is in the present day India’s Vedic scriptures. Therein, the deity Shiva is wearing the style. Ashe argues that the word JaTaa which is used in Vedic scriptures means “twisted lock of hair”. Shiva’s followers thus began to wear JaTaa and it spread to other Indian Sages and Yogis. These holymen wore JaTaa and shunned all worldly possessions to the extent that they did not regard their appearance or the maintenance of hair as a priority. As a result, their hair matted naturally and formed dreadlocks.

In addition to Vedic scripture, there is archeological proof that ancient Egyptians also wore dreadlocks. This is evidenced by mummies which have been recovered with their dreadlocks in tact and untouched.  The style is also linked to indentured workers of East Indian origin who were sent to work on sugar plantations in British and French colonies in the Caribbean after the abolition of slavery. Louise Hardwick in the piece “Creolizing the Caribbean Coolie” explains that from 1838 to 1917, over half a million Indians were taken to 13 mainland and Island Caribbean nations as indentured workers to address the demand for labour on sugar can plantations. Some of these indentured workers may have worn dreadlocks as a part and parcel of their culture and spirituality and this may have accounted for the introduction of the hairstyle into the Caribbean.

Accounts have it that in the beginning of the Industrial revolution in the 1930s, the Rastafarian movement began among the black Jamaican population. Rastafarian movement is said to be founded on the teachings of Marcus Garvey who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1914 and insisted that all black people should return to the motherland. He encouraged Jamaicans to look towards the African continent to find themselves and be liberated. Although he never practised Rastafarian, he is believed to be one of the prophets of the movement. Garvey spoke of a King who would spring up from the African continent and liberate black people. Thus when the self proclaimed King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Lion of the Tribe of Judah Ras Tafari (Haile Selassi I) became Emperor of Ethiopia, Rastafarians named the movement after him and believed this was indeed a fulfilment of Garvey’s prophecy and prophecies in the Bible. They revered Haile Selassi I as the son of God.

The Rastafarians called themselves dreads, to signify their dread and utmost respect for God, whom they refer to as Jah. God is referenced as Jahweh and Jehovah in some parts of the Old Testament of the Bible. Thus the hairstyle became known as dreadlocks. This movement and the hairstyle garnered tremendous international attention with the explosion of award winning musician Bob Marley on the world stage. Marley was a pro-marijuana Rastafarian as were many members in the movement, believing that marijuana facilitated clear thinking. It is important to note that some Rastafarian sects are purists who believe that any mind altering substance is impure and must not be used or ingested.

There is a second school of thought regarding the root of the Rastafarian movement; said to be an Abrahamic belief founded on three sources; the Old Testament, African cultures and Hindu culture. One thing both accounts agree on is that it is named after the Ethiopian Emperor Ras Tafari (Haile Selassie I) who Rastas believe is God based on the second coming recorded in the Bible. Ashe argues that the followers of the movement tried to model their attitudes and appearance including hairstyle, after the Hindu Holymen who were settled among them as a result of the indentured labour movement of the British Government, and thus began to wear their hair in matted styles, although there may not be an agreement to this among researchers.

Following the popularity of Marley, dreadlocks have become increasingly popular in mainstream particularly among hippies, vegans, New Age thinkers and within the music, art and literary scenes. In researching this piece, it is evident that almost every culture has worn dreadlocks at some point or the other. In some African cultures, wearers of dreadlocks are known as Dada and traditionally wear their hair in locks as a mark of belonging to the goddess or god of the land. Children who are marked as Dada can only have their hair cut when they reach a certain age, with the approval of the chief priest alongside some rites and rituals.

There are accounts that Celts wore their hair like snakes. One is reminded of Medusa in Greek mythology “with snakes for hair”. The Germanic tribes and Vikings were known to wear their hair in twisted locks. Dreadlocks have also been worn by the Monks of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church, the Maori tribe of New Zealand, the Dervishes of Islam, and many early Nazarites, most notably Samson in the Bible where seven locks of hair were said to have given him extraordinary strength until Delilah chopped them off. In many cultures, the religious priests wore dreadlocks because energy and one’s Chi is present in their hair and wearing it in large knots or not cutting it essentially keeps the energy in and keeps one in touch with his or her Chi.

Many people nowadays wear dreadlocks for different reasons; because they like the style, because it is unique, because its natural form gives hair the capacity to grow and thrive. Some are based on spiritual purposes around the Rasta movement, one’s Chi or even religion. I grew my dreadlocks because they are natural and I was tired of putting chemicals in my hair. But more than anything else, because I like the style and the look. Why do you have dreadlocks? Why do you think people have dreadlocks? Is there another group in history that wore their hair in twisted locks besides the cultures and religions articulated?

Returning to Naija? Culture Shock, and Personal Struggles

If you are returning to Nigeria after spending some time in another country, particularly a developed one, be prepared for the reverse culture shock which will surely hit you. First of all, a lot of people will dodge you because they perceive that you are here to ask them for a job. Ha! Then there are these fun points to consider.

1. There is no constant and consistent electricity supply. Be prepared for power cuts and excruciating heat. For example, last night, I spent the night hugging a coke bottle in a bid to cool off and get some sleep. Carry your phone charger around and be prepared to charge it in your car, in restaurants, at work, even in church. Water supply is also a luxury, the city mains in Nigerian cities and towns barely work. People have taken laws into their hands and have what we call bore hole, which is a deep well with a water pump that distributes water to the entire house.

2. You must have two phone sim cards because you see, one network will shut down, and you will miss that job interview. You will also miss that contract you have been sowing for. Equally important is the purchase of 2 different internet sources, don’t believe the adverts on billboards. Some poor naive JJC actually believed something about one provider and bought their modem because of an advert hahaha. A word is enough for the wise.

Source: Commons Getty Collection Galleries
Source: Commons Getty Collection Galleries

3. To drive here, forget the driving rules you learnt during the theory and practical tests that you managed to pass “in abroad”. To drive in Naija, you better play those car racing games on your Ps3 or whatever series your neighbour allows you to partake of occasionally. The practice will help you to effectively weave in and out of traffic appropriately and dodge the owners of the road. Traffic rules and traffic lights are discretionary, pray that your instinct proves useful for when to and when not to obey them. If you like, try walking casually across that zebra crossing on the road. You will be dead in minutes. You may find that the drivers prefer to speed up upon approaching a zebra crossing, it means “move move move”.

4. When you go into the banks, restaurants, government offices, you are an annoying relative who is disturbing them. Forget all that nonsense about you bringing your business, or your tax paying their salaries (do you even pay tax?) Are you the only one? This is a country of 170 million people (methinks there are more of us), someone else will bring business to the banks and restaurants and airlines. We are so used to being treated badly that we just get on to it. Have you had the waiter watch and discuss Chelsea, while saying to you “Order nooow” and then ask for a tip? Have you had a local airline delay and cancel their flights without saying a word to their partners. Be clear about what you want and insist on it. Goodluck…

5. Sorry if you look foreign i.e have an accent, or look fairer than usual. Better get a tan quickly and learn to speak with a Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa accent, whichever comes to you naturally or prices will keep going up.

6. God bless you, or we thank God, or God is faithful, does not mean that man is good or that woman should run your business. People pray to God and rob you at the same time. Religion in Nigeria does not translate into goodness. Don’t be deceived.

7. If you are a woman, you are fair game. Why have you not married? Why have you not had children? It is well, etc. Everything male will flirt with you and treat you as fair game. You may have a bit of respect if you have children in tow or a ring on your finger, but men will act weird; old, young, married, single, colleagues,etc. Be prepared.

8. Your old mum or dad will be treated with tremendous respect and kindness. Our attitude towards older people is very sweet, unless they have dementia, then they may be a witch and their senile rambling is them confessing their witchery and all the people they have killed.

Urbanization. Source:www.spyghana.com
Urbanization. Source:www.spyghana.com

9. There’s no need to discuss religion, women’s rights, or anything progressive such as online shopping for groceries (meat, vegetables, God forbid, are you not ashamed to buy meat online? If my wife does that, I will chase her back to her father’s house, etc). “It is not our culture” to do anything differently than the everyday norm in Naija.

10. Finally, there is a huge sense of entitlement that you will notice. That person did not help me. He did not employ anyone. When I was struggling, that my uncle went and bought another car, he wants to be the only rich person in our family. Maybe he bought the car because he works very hard and saved to buy himself a nice car?

Finally, if you are female, and a man tells you that he loves you (as you may hear without knowing anything about the person and vice-versa) thrust one or two plastic gallons or cans into his hands and ask him to prove his love by buying you a minimum of 10 litres of petrol for your car, and another 10 litres for your generator, nobody has time to do love where there are significant queues for petrol. I rest my case

“My Mercedes Is Bigger Than Yours”

It was a drive from Abuja to Asaba. I was fortunate to be given a free ride in an air-conditioned vehicle by a kind middle aged couple who were friends of friends. The couple (or maybe it was just the man) had requested a service from a taxi driver whose usual airport pick up and drop off services he used quite regularly. I never learnt what this service was. His instructions were not quite followed properly.

Nigerian taxi. Source:www.connectnigeria.com
Nigerian taxi. Source:www.connectnigeria.com

“Such a fool, that man. Simple message, he could not deliver.” He fumed at the wheels.

“Oh forgive him, if he was as smart as you, he won’t be a taxi kabu-kabu driver.” His wife rubbed his shoulder as she spoke the words.

“I know! Anyway, he is lucky I did not meet him when he arrived to deliver the news. I would have slapped him a few times.” He said.

I remember being very still when I heard this. I was outraged and shocked that the people I was travelling with held this point of view. This was over 10 years ago; they were older than me by over 20 years. Therefore, as is the norm with Nigerian traditional values, I did not challenge this outlook. But it came back to me today because I heard this view expressed again, this time about a waiter.

Isn’t it incredibly pompous that that some regard themselves as somewhat superior based on occupation, social standing, wealth, qualifications, or worst still circumstances in life? Nigeria is an incredibly class conscious society. Should the “human-ness” of others be categorised based on these social constructs or just as bad, based on financial standing?

I have found some other countries to be incredibly class conscious societies as well, but at least, there is some semblance of a social system which provides equal and regulated services to all and sundry; whether rich or poor.

Public transport. Source: www.en.wikipedia.org
Public transport. Source: http://www.en.wikipedia.org

These services include great quality healthcare, transport, and security services, although of course having a family name or upper class connections and some wealth, may mean being bumped up school lists, or cutting the waiting lists and paying for private healthcare or flying a private jet to France instead of being stuck at Calais as a result of strikes in France or the “swarm” of migrants attempting to cross the channel tunnel.

However, the police will respond to an accusation of an employer hitting his employee, and justice will follow its due course in the United Kingdom for example. In Nigeria, try reporting your employer to the police. The police, for the most part, will dispense justice to the highest bidder. Good luck to you as the series of events unravel.

Nigerian police force. Source:www.dailypost.ng.com
Nigerian police force. Source:www.dailypost.ng.com

There will always be people who seem to be in less of a social standing than us, or seem less intellectual, or are more qualified, have a higher IQ, are better leaders, better looking or have their lives seemingly together more so or less so, than you. That this man is a taxi driver, so what? Someone has to do that job; he could be more liquid than you are, (not that this matters anyway), with a better quality of life even. How do you know that this is not a two or three year plan to the next phase of his life? This man was a branch manager of some micro-finance bank at the time. But he did not start out as a branch manager. Most people do not come fully formed. What was wrong with being a taxi driver? Everyone has a different goal; I would never work as a branch manager of a Micro-finance bank.

I wanted to say all these as I sat in the back of that car, particularly to the wife for her patronising line. I find that those who seemingly preach “peace” but are only actually being very patronising and institutionalising these attitudes, are just as bad as those who treat those whom they perceive to be in a lower social standing, with contempt or abuse.

I remember feeling annoyed and ashamed that I did not speak up for that taxi man. He failed to deliver on the errand to which he was sent; big deal. The solution is simple; don’t use his services any more. This is the sort of belief system or social system that brings on abuse even in domestic relationships.

I have been meaning to do a piece on the modern day slavery that is the so-called “housegirl” arrangement where women keep children in their homes as housekeepers. These minors are then expected to look after the children and run the home. We are talking about a 10 year old who is barely able to look after themselves. This child will make mistakes because he/she has been given the mandate to supervise a household that they neither have the capacity nor the maturity to manage.

USA Dept of Labour's findings regarding child labour in the USA. (Just a random photo of the publication I found while looking through NAPTIB's documents). Source:www.issuu.com
USA Dept of Labour’s findings regarding child labour in the USA. (Just a random photo of the publication I found while looking through NAPTIB’s documents). Source:www.issuu.com

The result is a lot of physical and emotional abuse and violence meted out on these housegirls by madam. What did you expect? Can you trust your child at that same age with such responsibility? Will you send your child to clean and wash and scrub other peoples’ home and look after babies unsupervised? The fact that women have allowed this to go on is beyond me and quite irresponsible. I hear the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIB), the Nigerian agency working to do exactly to end all trafficking and child labour related crimes, has developed a massive campaign around this. The agency reported a total of 130 cases relating to human trafficking and other related cases in the first quarter of 2015. Over 20% of that related to child labour. Read the report here.

Our societies are almost obsessed with the idea of respect bordering on fear. This respect is not necessarily earned or extended to all human beings, but is leveraged on the basis of age, social standing, material possessions and religious affiliations, or its hierarchy. It seems to me that everyone deserves to be respected to begin with; young, old, rich, poor, white, black, Christians, Muslims, atheists, humanists, and all the different kinds of people in existence. But this is not true in practice.

The concept of “nkali” is one that is so embedded in our culture that nothing seems to supersede it; not moral obligation, not our overly-religiousness, and certainly not the state with its weak regulations and even weaker enforcement. It is an Igbo word which when loosely translated means “to be greater than another”. In our society, people are treated quite badly depending on where they have found themselves in life and there is no recourse to justice. Anyone who tries to stand up for him/herself is regarded as disrespectful.

Geert Hofstede’s power distance index goes into a little more depth in his work on cultural dimensions. Nigeria (and other countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) which is struggling with development in spite of incredible resources, features very highly as a country where the power distance index is very high. This “nkali” is quite commonplace in countries steeped in inequality and poverty; the wealthy, elite, political class and the powerful do not want a distribution of power. No surprise there. But also those most affected by inequality, seem satisfied with servicing this inequality instead of standing up and demanding for change and what is rightfully theirs. Nobody wants to be dubbed ‘disrespectful’. We see this manifest in governance in Nigeria.

When I thought about this incident, the one thing that captured the essence or the ripple effect of this “nkali” besides Hofstede was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk “The Danger of a Single Story”. In her talk, she discusses the reality of treating people in a certain way, because we know only one version of who they are, and depending on what that version is, treat them with condescension, amusement, or in the case of this woman who was making peace with her husband, patronising pity.

It is often quite startling to see others treated in a certain way when because we have preconceived notions about them or are more fortunate than them. So we do them “favours”. I hear some of this ‘favour’ when women talk about giving housegirls access to the same pots from which their children are fed, and paying their school fees (in a community school with the worst ranking and the lowest fees nonetheless). As though treating people right was a luxury instead of a necessity.

Another example of “nkali” is the book ‘My Mercedes Is Bigger Than Yours’, written by Nkem Nwankwo and published in the Heinemann African writers series. This book tells the story of Onuma and portrays the wastefulness and opulence seen in the city slicker. However, the moral superiority held by the rural dweller quickly diminishes when the chiefs in the villages are shown to take advantage of the desperate and poorer migrant labourers.

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There is a chance for exploitation in every human being. This is why one hopes that factors such as teachings of faith, leadership, consequence, or a reform and necessary evolution in cultural norms which have outlived their usefulness, will begin to tip the balance of inequality in our society.

However, the real solution is yet to be seen but may include a steering that boosts economic growth, a social services system and infrastructure development that can close the gap in inequality, and act as a leveller.

The principle of “nkali” breeds human rights abuses, resentment, terrorism, poverty, disease and general instability. Realistically, “nkali” will always co-exist with human nature, but there needs to be fundamental change in us as individuals, our common humanity must be more important than our differences. Most importantly, the government must empower an incorruptible, well equipped and knowledgeable police force and judiciary system to deliver redress and consequence for injustice and abuse.

Nigeria’s Senators And Legislators Receive UK MP’s Annual Salary As Wardrobe Allowance

Nigeria is an emerging economy, considered as the fastest growing economy on the continent. Yet according to numbers from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), over 61% of Nigeria’s population lives under $1 per day. In the last four years, the country has gone through a steady battering, with raging terrorism in the North east, and a failing infrastructure that means the cost of business and livelihood are at an all time high. In the last couple of years, corruption has also been significantly high and amnesty granted to politicians who were known to have looted from the treasury.

The Nigerian National Assembly. Source:www.sunnewsonline.com
The Nigerian National Assembly. Source:www.sunnewsonline.com

Fast forward to March 2015, Nigerians voted for what has come to be known as change. President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn into office on May 29th, 2015 and he promised in his inauguration speech, to prioritise the tackling of terrorism and the improvement of infrastructure. He has spent his first two weeks in office travelling to some parts of West Africa and to Germany; to discuss the strategy for fighting Boko Haram and to engage with world leaders at the G7, respectively.

Nigerians have very high hopes, particularly given the poverty that is rife in the country. Imagine the shocker today when the realisation hit, that this may be business as usual. The realisation that politics is indeed a quick avenue to rob the country and enrich oneself. The Senators and the Members of the House of Representatives in Nigeria are very well paid. Indeed they are so well paid that the 8th National Assembly which has recently been sworn in will allegedly receive the sum of NGN9billion which is about 28 million pounds for wardrobe allowance. No statement denouncing this has been issued by the National Assembly. Nigeria is spending this much to clothe the members of the National Assembly, yet we receive international aid. This is incredibly shameful.

Agbada which the NASS requires £60,000 per annum for. Source:www.thisisafrika.com
Agbada which the NASS requires £60,000 per annum for. Source:www.thisisafrika.com

In other words, the Senators will receive about 21.5 million naira each, while the legislators at the House of Representatives will receive 17.5 million naira each, all for clothes. The question is; how is it that a country which still receives aid from the countries in the G7 is giving about 60-70,000 pounds each to its senators and lawmakers to buy clothes? This is the annual salary of members of Parliament in a country that gives Nigeria aid. Nigerians are waiting and hoping that President Buhari intervenes in this and puts a stop to this wastefulness, vulgarity and mismanagement.

Furthermore, considering that Nigeria’s 2015 budget was approved by Goodluck Jonathan the former President, one understands that this wardrobe allowance was not fundamentally instituted by the Buhari government. However, he is the President and has the authority to dispose of certain wasteful parts of it or to review it, thus we shall hold him responsible.

Finally, recall that Nigeria is heavily reliant of oil and gas for 99% of its revenue. The 2015 budget was laid out using the revenue number of $70 per barrel. Since the price of oil has not risen above $64 per barrel since its crash to about $40-$45 per barrel last year, this government must begin to cut back, it should be running an austerity government. The economy must be run efficiently with as many cuts as possible where feasible. This ridiculous wardrobe allowance is one of such costs which should be implemented. Nigerians are watching President Buhari closely to see what kind of policies, economy and country he will run.