Sunday, 23 August 2009


A few weeks ago I finally visited Kaduna – and number 2 Bosun Close*, home to the Brown family from 1979 – 1982 when my father was running the Kaduna office of the British Council. The visit was fleeting: I and a couple of Fantsuam colleagues were visiting NITEL – the Nigerian telephone company, to look at the possibility of co-locating our equipment on their communications masts rather than adding to the proliferation of individual towers, usually holding only one or two small radios, that litter small (and large!) towns of Nigeria.

But that’s another story...

After a fruitful and interesting visit with the NITEL General Manager and a host of his colleagues at the NITEL state headquarters, we took a quick detour to Bosun Close* which I had surprisingly managed to find on a map of the town (finding the road was not as surprising as finding the map itself).

First we passed the concrete shell that belied the former glories of the local Durbar Hotel. Only a couple of minutes’ walk from our house, my sister and I would congregate almost daily at the large and crystal clear pool with other expat kids from all corners of the world (Germany, Grenada and Lebanon, English made up the main contingent).

I don’t know the full story, but it appears the Durbar was a victim of Nigeria’s – shall I say ‘complex’ (for want of a less descriptive term) politics. It appears the Durbar was owned by Sani Abacha, former Nigerian head of state who ‘died’ in office. Since then the place has been stripped bare but there appears to be some dispute over ownership (or something...) so that this prime plot of real estate remains derelict and disused.

A 15-year old me making faces at the camera man. Today the Durbar is just a rusting, empty shell. Thanks to Jared for digging out my old photo album and scanning these pictures to remind me what it used to be like.

The first left took us into Bosun Rd* and moments later I made out the battered street sign which stood between high security walls on both sides of the road. Bosun Close* – here we were.

It appeared that the compound had not been divided up as many people familiar with the growth of Kaduna had warned that it would be, however a huge wall and iron gate stood between me and our former home. A colleague accompanied me up to the sleeping security guard and politely explained the bature’s somewhat strange request.

A short conversation took place in Hausa which my colleague then translated: this was now the house of a recently taken wife of a big local alhaji and as a result the occupants were in purdah which prevents women from being seen by men. The guard disappeared inside the compound to ask if I, a lowly woman, might be allowed inside and a few moments later he reappeared with another young man who invited me to step inside the gate.

...into a building site. Whether a result of the application of ‘Nigerian time’ to building contracts or a lack of attention to finishing, the whole compound looked unfinished although a shiny big Toyota was parked in the drive of the house suggesting it was definitely occupied. I struggled to tell whether the house was completely new or re-modelled on our former home. Although substantially bigger, it was of similar design and proportions.. However unfortunately it really wasn’t our house. The compound was devoid of the trees and greenery that had been so diligently (hmmm...) tended by our former gardener Yakubu, whilst rubble lay in small piles all around.

2 Bosun Close in its later livery in 1981 (it was blue and white when we first moved in) and in 2009, naked and bare.

The side view through the fragrant frangipani trees in 1981 whilst our bungalow neighbour seems to have been undisturbed over time.

I was reminded of this change to our former home was last weekend during Fantsuam’s ‘Vision & Strategy’ workshop. As a review of a comprehensive strategic planning process that happened two years ago, the objective of the workshop was to highlight the changes that the commuity, the region and indeed the country, was experiencing to ensure that our strategy remained relevant.

Whilst Abuja grows and the cars get bigger and the parties get fancier, the infrastructure in the rest of the country is deteriorating: schools are falling apart and teaching standards are sinking. The railways are rusting and the roads are disintegrating. It’s true there are more health clinics but it appears levels of public health are declining. Electronic banking means that the people who used to travel around with huge bundles of cash don’t have to any more so there’s been a noticeable decline in the number of armed robberies however farmers in rural areas can’t get hold of fertiliser for their crops and farming remains predominantly at the subsistence level.

West Africa’s largest oil producer and electricity generator (and electricity exporter) can’t even begin to meet the power needs of its own population stifling businesses and progress.

When I saw the old photos again it really brought home to me the lack of real progress that Nigeria has made. This powerhouse of Africa, recently lost its African oil crown to Angola and was snubbed by Barack Obama on his recent African tour in favour of Ghana.

All over Nigeria you meet individuals trying to get Nigeria back on track: from Fantsuam’s own John Dada, to young friends from my village who are determindly trying to do whatever little they can to improve the lives of their communities. Fantsuam’s GAIYA volunteering programme is key to driving this commitment.

But how much will it change when the lights don’t work, there’s no public transport, rural salaries are typically less than $150 per month and preventable and treatable diseases like typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and malaria are killing daily? An enthusiastic GAIYA volunteer at the Foundation has started a project to improve the quality of drinking water in and around Kafanchan – a fairly sized regional town: his research has shown the 54% of rainy season admissions to the Kafanchan General Hospital involve water borne diseases. His plan is ambitious and I know he will do everything he can to change those statistics.

But for everyone looking to help the community there are five looking to help their own. "Helping your own" is a key element of the strong (extended) family values that have been a powerful and important tradition probably for thousands of years; something needs to change now in order for Nigeria to change gear and move forward. It’s difficult to comprehend how Nigeria has failed to prosper despite the intellect, drive and resourceful-ness of its huge population and despite the wealth of its natural resources. It’s also difficult to understand how it will be lifted out. But it must be lifted; although the question is how far down it has to go before coming up.

I am waiting. Real progress will come. It must come.

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