Friday, January 27, 2012

Across ECOWAS, cautious relief trails Nigeria’s strike call-off

Smugglers still smiling to the bank at N97/litre, filling stations empty again as buyers return to roadside vendors

The suspension of a nationwide strike which paralysed Nigeria with enervating toll on neighbouring nations was greeted with relief, amid speculation that the last has not been heard about the hike in petroleum products’ pricing in the country.
Pic 1

In Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin Republic, many roads are crowded once more. Aside the countless pedestrians and hawkers, the streets of Cotonou are once again bustling with vehicular traffic and the attendant noise from hooting of horns with reckless abandon as well as environmental pollution arising from the soot spewed by numerous automobiles with engines dying from want of servicing.

From Krake near Seme Podji to Agblagadan on the eastern outskirts of Cotonou; to Cocotomey, linking Godomey on the way to the ancient slave port of Ouidah; on the western fringes of the Beninoise economic hub; life is back to normal. And, after several days monitoring the trend in select member-nations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); mauricearchibongtravels can authoritatively reveal that the situation is similar.
Pic 2

Life is back to normal and, everywhere, there’s relief in the air. This means that in Cotonou (Benin), Lome (Togo) and Niamey (Niger Republic) as well as many other settlements in the sub-region; the streets are full of automobiles again. Along Cotonou’s avenues, for example, one could see that things are truly back to the status quo ante: Roadside petrol sellers are once again the darling of local fuel consumers.

Welcome to Cotonou and the entire Benin Republic, where official gas stations are empty again. Unlike the situation during the latest labour strike in Nigeria, when petrol users in this country formerly called Dahomey queued for as long as three hours to take their turn at the pump, the filling stations are deserted once more. 
Pic 3

Until January 1, 2012; the roadside traders offered a litre of petrol (Essence as the Francophones call it) at 350CFA (roughly N130), whereas the same volume of fuel sold for 570CFA (about N200) at regular filling stations. Practically all roadside fuel sellers get their supplies from smugglers, who bring in petroleum products through Nigeria’s porous borders. In Benin Republic and across other West African countries, most fuel users prefer to buy from roadside vendors, who offer bargain prices, which is why regular filling stations rarely see customers.

But, on January 1, 2012; the table turned: roadside traders began to sell a litre of petrol at 800CFA (N280 approx), against the roughly N200 per litre price still applicable at regular gas stations. So, with the exception of those under intense pressure from time, virtually every Beninoise petrol buyer gravitated toward official filling stations.
Pic 4

Interestingly, on Tuesday, January 17; barely 12 hours after the strike in Nigeria was called off; the price of petrol at the roadside dealers began to drop. It could be recalled that a litre of petrol sold for 1,000CFA (about N350) at some roadside merchants’ store by Wednesday, January 11, 2012. Two days later, on Friday, January 13 petrol could be bought at 800CFA (roughly N280) at some roadside traders’ spots. This explained why people were prepared to queue for hours at regular filling stations to buy petrol at the equivalent of N200 per litre.

The Nigerian Government had initially increased the pump price of petrol from N65 to N141.50k per litre with effect from January 1, 2012. In response, organised labour and civil society groups had launched a nation-wide strike that left the country’s social and economic life comatose. Since Nigerians account for roughly 50 percent of the ECOWAS population, it came as no surprise that a shut-down in their country had adverse spillover effects on neighbouring states.
Pic 5

Indeed, the situation was such that Nigeria’s temporary economic and socio-political asphyxiation left indegenes of neighbouring countries literally gasping for breath. Thus, what was supposed to be a Nigerian crisis took on a regional dimension. As a result of the biting impact of Nigeria’s social and economic crises on neighbouring countries, millions of those that prayed fervently for an end to the strike were actually nationals of other states.

Apparently, these supplicants’ prayers were answered on Monday, January 16; when the nation-wide strike was called off, following the reduction from the N141.50k earlier announced by the Nigerian authorities; to N97 per litre of petrol. And, viola! On Tuesday, January 17; the price per litre of this fuel dropped to 600CFA (N210 approx) at the roadsides dealers in Cotonou!

It is worth noting that by Wednesday, a litre of petrol sold at 600CFA (N210) and 570CFA (N200) at the street vendors’ and official gas stations respectively. At that point, the average Beninoise motorist, it would seem, found it more expedient to sacrifice 30CFA (roughly N10) per litre of petrol bought from roadside merchants than waiting for hours to buy at official gas stations.

To make matters worse for operators of regular gas stations, the price per litre of petrol at the roadside dealers further dropped to 500CFA (roughly N160) by Saturday, January 21. This is the reason filling stations in Benin, Niger Republic, Togo et cetera are practically empty again!
Pic 6

Three weeks ago, we ran into a young Beninois man, Kouassi, who told us he was planning to trade-in his state-of-the-art motorcycle for a bicycle. When we reached him again on January 18; to find out, whether he has changed his mind now that the irritating queues have disappeared at filling stations; Kouassi said his plan remains unchanged. He is still looking for a buyer, revealed the young man, who reached this decision after spending more than two hours penultimate Friday on a queue at one of Cotonou’s filling stations!

And, after waiting over 120 minutes before he could get his turn at the pump; Kouassi discovered that, at the official pump price of 570CFA (roughly N200), the 3,000CFA (N1,050) he budgeted to spend on re-fuelling his motorcycle could only pay for roughly 5 litres.

Despite the return to roadside petrol sellers, whose prices trump official gas stations’ offerings; Kouassi is still keen to dispose at a give-away price, of his eye-catching Rabbit brand motorcycle, which he bought with the equivalent of over N80,000 a few months ago, for a bicycle because he fears the last has not been heard of the fuel price subsidy issue in Nigeria, yet.

Aside having to spend more money for less petrol, Kouassi is also worried that should another crisis erupt in Nigeria over petroleum products’ pricing, every subsequent visit to any filling station in Cotonou would cost him hours as well. This is why Kouassi is still keen to sell his motorcycle and buy a bicycle: With the latter, you only need to put your feet on the pedal and away you go! “With a bicycle, you will not waste time at any filling station before wasting more money also”, Kouassi mused.
Pic 7

With Nigerians accounting for almost 50 percent of the entire population of the 15-nation ECOWAS, it was to be expected that the West Africa region would feel the pinch of whatever afflicted Nigeria. However, it would seem that even the most pessimistic under-rated the extent to which Nigeria’s crisis was going to impact on other ECOWAS states’ nationals. Truly, the end of what most people thought was a Nigerian crisis has brought huge relief to nationals of neighbouring countries, especially those whose means of livelihood depend on the endless flow of Nigerians that daily traverse the sub-region.

Countless Nigerians criss-cross the ECOWAS region everyday. Almost all these Nigerian commuters travel by road and thousands of commercial vehicle drivers that hail from Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Niger Republic, Togo et cetera earn a living ferrying Nigerian wayfarers. Thus, the majority of commercial vehicle drivers in different ECOWAS countries literally went home hungry everyday during Nigeria’s shut-down because the passenger traffic had thinned down to a negligible trickle.

At Parc Jonquet, the 12,000CFA (roughly N4,000) fare for travelling from Cotonou to Idumota in Lagos Island has not changed. Mr. Opaayinde Idrissou said the local transport workers’ union was monitoring developments. However, along the Cotonou to Hilla Condji, Togo route, where fares had been hiked since Janaury 1, 2012; passengers have only been offered marginal reduction (from 5,000CFA to 4,000CFA), whereas the Nigerian authorities had brought petrol price down roughly 30 percent; to N97 against N141.50k earlier announced.

From January 9 to January 16, when Nigeria practically shut-down following the federal government’s withdrawal of the so-called subsidy on petrol, virtually every business went into forced hibernation. Since January 1, 2012, when the latest reduction in fuel price subsidy came into effect and this product’s pump price skyrocketed from N65 to N141.50k or more, per litre; neither Nigeria nor any other country of the entire ECOWAS region was at peace.

With the call-off of the latest protest, which led to resumption of work and return to normal economic activities, millions of Nigerians and citizens of the entire ECOWAS-member states are definitely relieved. However, there is a sense of apprehension beneath this veneer of relief. The belief that we have not yet heard the last of petroleum products’ pricing and possible strike over this issue in Nigeria is hinged on the fact that, for as long as fuel smuggling remains a lucrative venture the so-called subsidy could be likened to robbing Peter to pay Paul.

At the going rate of 570CFA, the equivalent of N200, per litre of petrol at regular filling stations in Benin Republic, smuggling still promises dividends; considering that a price of N97 applies in Nigeria. Evidently, the over N100 margin means that fuel smugglers are still in business across the ECOWAS region. Are Nigerians, through their government’s fuel prices’ subsidy, willy-nilly paying for fuel consumed by nationals of neighbouring countries?

If, truly, this is the reality; how does the Nigerian Government get its citizens to understand the situation and consequently agree to more “subsidy removal”? That is the question, and it would seem an acceptable answer has eluded successive leaders in these parts for decades.

1. Empty again: A filling station yearning for consumers in Cotonou, Benin Republic.
2. A roadside petrol vendor in Cotonou.
3. Bustling with traffic again, automobiles on Avenue Steinmentz, Cotonou.
4. Scene from Tudu in Accra, Ghana.
5. A view of Kojo Thompson Road, Accra.
6. 500CFA at the roadside.
7. 570CFA a regular gas station.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

mauricearchibongtravels: Segun: A former street kid turns mentor

mauricearchibongtravels: Segun: A former street kid turns mentor

Segun: A former street kid turns mentor

Segun: Street kid turns mentor

Performing artiste SEGUN OLA ran from home at age 8, and suffered seriously for years; today, he wants to spare other kids the trauma he went through.

Segun. PHOTO: MAURICE ARCHIBONG. All rights reserved.

Stevie Wonder is virtually a house-hold name world-wide, but how many people, even Americans, know that this US star musician was actually born Stevland Hardaway Judkins? This Motown Records discovery, who has been churning out hit after hit since the 1960s; would later replace Judkins with Morris before finally ending up as Stevie Wonder.

Another American music icon, James Etta, who died recently, and whose classic hit, At last, was performed by Beyonce during the Inaugural Ball for President Barack Obama; was born Jamesetta Hawkins.

And, did you know that John Legend, whose string of chart-busters includes Ordinary people and If you’re out there, the latter adopted by Mr. Obama’s campaign organization; was baptised John Roger Stephens?

Some names, it seems, just don’t gel with the entertainment world. So, countless artistes have had to jettison their original epithets possibly because it would sound ill-fitting in the realm of show-business. In the razzle-dazzle world of show-biz, practitioners are at home with words like razzmatazz and paparazzi; but, when it comes to personal sobriquets they seem at odds with anything evocative of concatenation.

For example, if a prospective star was baptized Hippopotamus; such a one would have to shorten that name to something like Hip, to get any label to sign him/her on. An entertainer needs a name fans will easily remember and the experience of a Nigerian-born entertainer, Olabisi Aramide Segun, is similar.

Though born Olabisi Aramide Segun, he was once re-Christened Mark Stevens. Somehow, Mark Stevens would not stick and Olabisi Aramide Segun went back to his original name. But, only for a while because; today, he is simply known as Segun.

Akin to the several names he has had to bear in one incarnation, Segun is also a man of many parts. He is an acrobat, actor, artiste, a comedian, magician and workshop organiser. Entertainment has contributed phenomenally to Segun’s metamorphosis.

For one, who fled home at the tender age of eight, Segun has truly come a long way. He has enjoyed the privilege of travelling to Europe several times and currently owns a car. Never mind that the automobile is an antique Citroen, which probably rolled off the assembly line decades before Segun was born.

As a tear-away kid, Segun slept rough and discovered, first-hand, that life could be tough and his experience growing up must be responsible for his current devotion to spare other kids the trauma he went through. Segun said the creative arts have made a lot possible for him and he feels duty-bound to share his good fortune with other kids.

Why Segun fled home
To really understand Segun’s determination to save other kids from the nightmarish experience he suffered, it was necessary to unearth why he fled home in the first place. The age at which he did so, and how? And, when he opened up, it was a heart-rending narrative.

At eight years old, many kids are literally unweaned; and, even at 30, some offspring are still scared of the prospects of leaving their parents’ home to go fend for themselves. Yet, Segun abandoned home as an eight-year old. It would seem that Segun’s “home” was so turbulent and harsh that he felt anywhere else had to be better. And, before he was eight he made his first attempt to escape. That dream was aborted, when he was found and dragged home.

But, before long, he would embark on another flight from home. Again, he was caught and returned to his father’s house. Since Segun’s heart was not where his father called home, it came as no surprise that the boy tried and tried again, until he finally succeeded in fleeing from “home” at the age of eight.

As to where he planned to live upon leaving his father’s house, Segun apparently hadn’t the faintest idea. It would seem that he believed the most important priority was to leave home first. As regards where to lay his head upon fleeing from “home”, Segun felt that, somehow, he would cross that bridge when he got there.

He could not exactly recall all the details of how he travelled for at least four hours from Osogbo in Osun State, where his father lived, to Lagos. But, he remembers vividly that his first home after fleeing from his father’s residence, was under a fly-over in Lagos. That spot is Ojuelegba Bridge. This bridge stands over the notorious Ojuelegba Roundabout that afrobeat king Fela Anikulapo Kuti sang about in Konfushun.

Ojuelegba! Ojuelegba!! Ojuelegba!!! Moto dey come from east, moto dey come from west, moto dey come from north, moto dey come from south; and policeman no dey for centre, wetin u go get ooo? Na konfushun be that o/ Konfushun na wetin o? Konfushun na wa! Konfushun na wetin o? Na Kpafuka be dat! Wetin be kpafuka o o o? Kpafuka na quench!

That is how Fela described the Surulere-based Ojuelegba Roundabout linking Yaba to Lawanson in Lagos. Yet, this is where Segun made home as an eight-year old. He would soon let us in on how he struggled to keep body and soul together but, before that; let’s hear from the horse’s mouth why he left home in the first place.

‘How I ran from home’
“We had family problem, and I had to leave. My older sister, Olufunke (Funke), and I lived with our paternal family: My father, his other wife and their children. My paternal grandmother, who hailed Oyo Alaafin, was not happy that her son was married to my mother, a native of Illa.

“So, my mother was forced to leave because her mother-in-law had brought another wife from her hometown for my father. Eventually, there were about eight children in the house. At some point, before I was eight years old, I could no longer stand the problems in the house.

“I ran away the first time and was caught and brought back home. I ran away again several times and somehow would be found and returned to my father’s house. Finally, I eventually made good my escape and found my way to Lagos. Initially, I didn’t know where exactly I was; but, the molue bus I was riding in developed a fault and we all had to disembark. I later learnt that the area was called Ojuelegba. That is how I made home under Ojuelegba Bridge for about two weeks.

“After interacting with other kids, I discovered where most of them used to sleep and I joined them there. To make a living, I used to go to Tejuosho Market to help people ferry their loads to the car and would buy food with whatever I was given. When night fell, I came back to Ojuelegba Bridge to sleep”.

Living as a street-kid
Ever wondered what street kids go through? Given that street-life often features drug-addiction, prostitution, stealing and mugging, few people would believe there is the proverbial other side to life in the street.

Interestingly, it was in the wilderness called street-life that Segun found compassion and encountered an experience that invoked a resolve in him never to betray anyone’s trust.

Hear him: “On one occasion, a lady (Aunty Bukky) gave me N20 to go buy omelette, bread and tea for her. Those days, N20 was a large sum of money. With N20, you could travel to Ibadan from Lagos and back. I was touched that she could entrust so much money to me. I was indeed moved to the point that I decided that I was never going to betray such trust. I eventually brought her her meal and change intact. Somehow, I think my sincerity touched Aunty Bukky, who began to trust me too”.

While many of the younger boys toiled all-day working as mules, helping to ferry traders’/shoppers’ cargoes to raise money to eat, some of the older boys refused to work.

“Some of the other boys were pick-pockets, many worked as bus conductors; others were real ‘bad boys’ (he would not expatiate). But, throughout my stay in Lagos, I made conscious effort to avoid stealing”, Segun remarked.

Although they were all young, some of the street kids Segun once lived with under a Lagos Bridge were stronger than others. And, even in their generally unfortunate world, some took advantage of the weak ones in their midst. Many spent the day-time sleeping after smoking weed till their brains were full. For food, these older and stronger boys preyed on the younger victims: each of whom had to part with some money for a place to rest their wearied head after toilling all day.

Segun again: “We didn’t sleep for free, some of the older boys used to collect money from us. Sometimes I had to pay N2, N5 and so on, for a place to rest my tired body”.

With regard to empathy, this is how Segun recalled his experiences to us during a chat in Cotonou: “Since there was no parent or anyone to rely on to feed me and I had to eat to stay alive, I was always ready to do anything legitimate to raise money. So, on one occasion, some of the older boys found me suffering at Tejuosho Market. I had attempted to carry a load that was many times my weight and came crashing! Sympathetic passersby helped me back on my feet again.

“Later that night, some of these older boys came together at Ojuelegba and decided that I was too young to be suffering so. The concerned boys then raised funds and had me transported to join my mother at Ibadan. I chose Ibadan because I didn’t want to go back to Osogbo, where my father lived. But, when the bus got to Ibadan, I didn’t go to stay with my mom as earlier planned. Instead, I continued living in the street. Later, I found my way back to Lagos. In Lagos and Ibadan, I also made some money through helping out as people prepared for parties. I helped in conveying loads, arranging seats, even fanning people, while they danced”.

In another account of compassion, which Segun found in the street and how he came into the entertainment world; he recalled: “There was a day, when some of the older guys tried to extort too much money from me. But, one comedian called Seyi took pity on me because he couldn’t stand that attempt to rob a little boy of his hard-earned money. So, he rose to my defense. A quarrel broke out and he felt it might not be safe for me to sleep at Ojuelegba henceforth. That is how Seyi took me to where he used to sleep.

“While there, Seyi asked me, if I liked the arts. I said, ‘yes’; and, he threw some comic words at me, which he wanted me to repeat. I did, successfully, and discovered I was actually in love with this act. It was as if I had been doing it all before. It was so easy for me to practise and rehearse. That, in short, is how I became a comedian and worked with Seyi for four months, before we parted. Seyi and I parted ways around 1990 and I went solo”.

It is said that one turn in life could make all the difference. For Segun, that critical pivotal turn came when he met Seyi. During our latest encounter, a sigh escaped Segun’s lips, when asked where he thought he would be today; had Seyi not come along.

“It is difficult to say, but I know that most successful people enjoyed a break at some point in life. Street kids have something to offer, too; but, they need someone to provide an opportunity. We need to engage them, give them hope and lure them from crime. With proper encouragement, every street kid can turn a new leaf and become useful to the society”; said Segun.

On how he subsequently thrived as a solo entertainer, Segun had this to say: “Somehow, my tender age contributed to my success as a comedian. I believe people were fascinated to find that such a little boy could make them laugh. I used to take my act to markets, where I played and made people laugh. And many people happily gave me money.

“Through my comedy, I came to interact with many musicians. I even met King Sunny Ade at a show and he gave me money. Between 1991 and 2000, while shuttling between Nigeria and Benin Republic I acted in four films. And, one day, about six famous Yoruba actors visited a food vendor, a popular Togolese food seller in Cotonou.

“One of the Yoruba actors was Abija. The others included Arakan guru, Sokoti and Luku-luku. I performed for their entertainment and they were so impressed that they asked me to come and live with them. And, in the process of mixing with other musicians, I also learnt to play some instruments”, Segun added.

Somewhat comfortable, he yearned to see his mother
For a child that was robbed of mom’s cuddling and deprived of parental care, Segun still nursed a soft spot for his mother. That he set out to see his mom and bought presents for her, even while he was still struggling to make ends meet, obviates this.

“I had started making money from some acts and I had become somewhat established as an entertainer. Since I was now a bit comfortable, I decided to go look for my mother. So, I went to shop for presents for my mom”, he told us.

After an emotional reunion with his mother, Segun also decided to visit the lady (Aunty Bukky) that once entrusted all of N20 to him to go buy omelette, bread and tea for her.

Segun again: “I told her that on my next return to Lagos, I would love to stay with her. And, Aunty Bukky and her mom said, ‘No problem’. When I returned from Ibadan after another visit to my mother, I started living with them. I slept on the passage-way, where they lived, and for the first time since I came to Lagos, I had access to a proper bathroom and lavatory. During my subsequent visits to Lagos, I lived with them on and off for many years”.

How Cotonou came into my life
As an itinerant artiste, Segun played inside markets, nightclubs, restaurants and even at mechanic workshops. In the process, he met all kinds of people at all kinds of places.

He tells us more: “At some point, I ran into some artistes, who spoke a language that to me sounded peculiar. It was while staying with Aunty Bukky and her mom that I ran into these artistes. I was so fascinated by this language that I asked someone: ‘What language was this’? The person told me it was French. I went over to the French speakers and told the people that I would love to follow them to wherever they came from. Incidentally, they were also Nigerians and it turned out that they came from Cotonou, Benin Republic.

“The name of the first group of French-speaking artistes that I met was Pajovis. But after their break-up, some band members went on to form Dynamic Force. I was a member of Dynamic Force, which was led by Boy Iyke, an acrobat and a magician. Boy Iyke is the one, who named me Mark Steven and he also taught me acrobatics and magic. He is the guy who brought me to Cotonou. So, in 1991 I was in Cotonou for the first time. After that first visit, I returned to Cotonou on and off.

“We used to go perform at parties and in different hotels in Cotonou. We performed frequently in Soweto Bar, Afrika Nite and at many other nightclubs and eateries called marquis. In those days, Afrika Nite was one of the hottest spots in Cotonou”.

Segun’s early days as an immigrant in Cotonou
Interestingly, it would seem that fate had prepared Segun for life as a homeless immigrant, when he was forced to live under a flyover in Lagos. When asked how he coped in his early days as an immigrant in Cotonou, this was Segun’s take: “At some time, Boy Iyke and I left Cotonou. But in 1992, I started coming back and since I didn’t have a home here, I slept anywhere. Fortunately, there are motor-parks with sleeping space and public lavatories here and I used to pay 100CFA (N35) for a mat, 100CFA to bathe and 50CFA (roughly N18) to use the toilet. I did that for five years, till 1997; when, during a visit to Cotonou, I ran into one Ibrahim, a Senegalese drum-maker.

“Ibrahim was a Djembe (drum) maker and he became my host any time I came to Cotonou. I used to stay at Ibrahim’s place until he got married. After his wife moved in, Ibrahim introduced me to a friend of his, Bongo Man, a half Ghanaian-half-Burkinabe. Subsequently, I went on to live with Bongo Man in Guinkomey, Jonquet.

“O, Benin Republic was very nice. In those days, with ‘cent francs’ (100CFA or roughly N35), you ate enough to fill the tummy. Of course, Benin Republic is still nice, but with the conomic problem across the world, things have changed. Those days, there were more tourists in Cotonou. Once, during one of my performances, someone even gave me 5,000CFA (N1,750 approx). That was a lot of money back then.

Our first report on Segun was part of a story titled, Resurrection in an estuary of death. Published in 2004 in my Daily Sun Travels column, Resurrection in an estuary of death revolved around Easter in Cotonou, which derives its name from the Fon language phrase Kou to nou. Sources say Kou to nou roughly translates as Mouth of the river of death.

Those days, Segun was engrossed with drums. He actually collaborated with French Cultural Centre, Lagos; to run a Djembe Workshop. Aside his interest in Djembe, Segun had also told us, those days, that he also doubled as an entertainer as well as worked as a comedian and magician, sometimes.

Recently, more than seven years later, we engaged Segun in another chat and it came to light his focus has shifted, somewhat. Nowadays, Segun is preoccupied with getting kids off the street. He is struggling hard to save lives. He said street kids could be snatched from a life of crime by giving them a trade. Something like crafts-making skill that could serve as a source of income for mendicant kids, thus restoring their sense of dignity.

From workshop to crafts school
In line with his new love, Segun recently held a workshop Atelier de cirque et des Art Vivant avec des enfant de la rue (Circus and Live Art Workshop for Street Children). That exercise lasted three days, from December 14 to 16; 2011. Atelier de cirque et des Art Vivant avec des enfant de la rue, which involved 17 children, took place at Curis corkiage aka Chez Rada along Rue des Perche (Fishers’ Road) in Tongben part of Cotonou, we gathered.

Reminiscing further on the latest workshop he organised, Segun insisted he was convinced he had chosen the right path for himself because just watching the children during the workshop, he was moved by their desire to learn. He added that the success of the latest programme convinced him it was a positive and welcome contribution, which is why he was already working towards holding another and subsequently more follow-ups.

“O, I was touched by the children’s passion to be useful human beings and make a success of their lives. So, I have vowed to continue to help provide that break or second chance that street-kids desparately need”, declared Segun, who has spent roughly 20 years living in Cotonou, Benin Republic.  

“The aim of the workshop, which we are planning to hold regularly in different West African countries, is to give children the opportunity that art has given to me”, he remarked.

Speaking further, Segun, who never really had the benefit of formal education; declared: “Art has changed my life and given me a lot of enlightenment through the people I meet. Some of these people learnt art during formal education but through interacting with all kinds of people, Art had given me confidence”.

He said that being an ex-street kid, he knows what street children go through. “I know what street children suffer because I experienced it personally. We were called ‘Omo’ta’ (a Yoruba phrase that translates as lay-about). For me, it was a hurting blanket stigmatization”, he lamented.

“If street kids are not given a break, how do they make progress? Like me, many street kids are talented but without exposure, how do we tap their talent”; queried Segun, whose long-tern objective is to set up a school.

“Ultimately, I hope to establish Ecole des cirque et des art vivant West Africa. At this school, street kids would be picked from West Africa, especially Niger Republic, Togo, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin Republic and Nigeria. The selected kids will learn to read and write. They will be taught how to make decorations, costumes, to light a show, to cook; because this is also a form of art. We will also teach the children to paint and to play music”, he mused.

Perhaps more importantly, Segun added; “The kids will be given a place to sleep, and this place will offer street kids an opportunity to interact with children from regular homes. This will help the kids grow instead of stigmatizing them as ‘Omo’ta’ (rascals). The school will have a centre in Nigeria and Benin, and later spread to other countries”.

Interestingly, Segun revealed that though he had discussed his dream with several people, only two friends; Paola Anke (a German) and Anique (a Burkinabe born in France), supported the project financially.

“Paola had seen a circus show I did, called ‘Omi’. I told her that I’d been working on this project for two years. But, when I met Paola in Berlin (Germany), she asked me to do a workshop with the children first.

I later came to realise that, from the workshop, we could shoot a short movie of the proceedings and participants. With that as proof that we are serious, we could then start looking for more sponsors. Paola and Anique have been very supportive”, Segun concluded on an enthusiastic note.

Monday, January 16, 2012

mauricearchibongtravels: Nigeria sneezes, ECOWAS catches cold

mauricearchibongtravels: Nigeria sneezes, ECOWAS catches cold

Nigeria sneezes, ECOWAS catches cold

Nigeria sneezes, ECOWAS catches cold

Although the impact of Nigeria’s ongoing strike on the world oil market remains unclear, the ripples of the country’s shut-down is being felt across the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Since January 1, when the federal government withdrew the so-called subsidy on petrol sending the pump price for a litre skyrocketting from N65 to N140; Nigeria has not been the same. And, like an infectious flu; many nations in the West African sub-region are now afflicted by Nigeria’s malady.
For example, a young Beninois man is planning to trade-in his state-of-the-art electric motorcycle for a bicycle. Now, why would a young man want to dispose at a give-away price, of an eye-catching Rabbit brand motorcycle, which he bought with the equivalent of over N80,000 a few months ago, for a bicycle?
The man, who gave his name simply as Kouassi, reached this decision after spending more than two hours last Friday on a queue at one of Cotonou’s filling stations! To make matters worse, after waiting over 120 minutes before he could get his turn at the pump; Kouassi discovered that, at the official pump price of 570CFA (roughly N200), the 3,000CFA (N1,050) he budgeted to spend on re-fuelling his motorcycle could only pay for roughly 5 litres.
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Until the January 1, 2012 hike in petrol pump price in Nigeria, Kouassi and countless other Beninoise bought their fuel from roadside traders. Those days, at 300CFA (N105) per litre, Kouassi’s 3,000CFA normally paid for 10 litres at the roadside fuel merchants. In the past, Kouassi needed to re-fuel every four days; but, since he could only get 5 litres this time, he would need to re-fuel in another 48 hours or so. Aside from having to spend more money for less petrol, Kouassi is also worried that every visit to any filling station would cost him hours as well. He has, therefore, decided to sell his motorcycle and buy a bicycle that only requires pedalling to take him wherever he wants to go.
Across Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin Republic, many roads are almost empty nowadays. Developments in Nigeria are responsible for the scanty human and vehicular traffic on the streets of Cotonou and other major settlements in Benin Republic. Along Avenue Steinmetz, and major roundabouts like Etoile Rouge and Carrefour La Beninoise as well as other roads in this city, long queues of anxious fuel buyers can be found at every filling station. And, the scenerio is similar in every other major settlement in this country formerly called Dahomey.
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Countless motorists and Cotonou’s fleet of both private and commercial automobiles, it seems, are scattered around different filling stations in long queues. Interestingly, most fuel station workers can’t remember the last time they witnessed such a large crowd of buyers because until penultimate week, virtually every vehicle owner, private user and commercial operators alike, bought petrol and diesel from roadside dealers. The roadside traders offered a litre of petrol at 350CFA (roughly N130), whereas the same volume of fuel sold for 570CFA (about N200) at regular filling stations.
Practically every roadside fuel dealer got their supply from smugglers that brought in petroleum products from Nigeria, where until January 1, 2012; the price of a litre of petrol was N65 (less than 200CFA). Today, the table has turned: roadside traders sell a litre of petrol at 800CFA (N280 approx), against the roughly N200 per litre price still applicable at official fuel stations.
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So, with the exception of those under pressure from time, practically every other motorist now buys at regular filling stations. Due to the large crowd and long queues, people spend as long as two hours or more before getting their turn at the fuel pump. Notwithstanding the time lost to long queues, most Beninoise folks prefer waiting to wasting money. Such is the impact of fuel price hike in Nigeria on living in Benin Republic for you.
Indeed, Benin Republic is not the only country convulsing from the hike in petrol pump price in Nigeria. Inhabitants of Togo, immediate neighbour to the west of Benin, also feel the pinch. Even in Ghana, Niger Republic and as far away as Burkina Faso; none is immune. Truly, when Nigeria sneezes, ECOWAS catches cold.
The ripples of Nigeria’s temporary shutdown is being felt along the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor, where the usual millions of commuters that daily shuttle the Nigeria to Ivory Coast route, through Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana; has literally pared down to a trickle.
Unlike the hitherto rush-rush flow of travellers, the situation at many motor-parks in the sub-region nowadays is that bus and taxi operators have to wait for hours to find enough passengers to fill their vehicle’s seats. It is worth noting that the passenger traffic has been made more skeletal by increments in fares introduced by commercial vehicle operators since the hike in petrol price came into effect in Nigeria.
In the face of sharp drop in demand, you’d expect fares to drop; but, this is not the case: taxi and bus drivers have hiked fares in response to “Withdrawal of fuel subsidy” in Nigeria. Until late December, 2011; the fare for travelling from Mile 2 to Seme, Nigeria’s border with Benin Republic, was N400/N600 by bus/taxi. From January 1, 2012 this fee rose to N600/N1,000 in a bus/taxi.
From Seme to Cotonou, the fare ranged between 600CFA to 1,000CFA (roughly N250 to N350) depending on whether the car is a nine-seater station-wagon or six-passenger salon. Today, the journey to Cotonou from Seme attracts between 800CFA/1,200CFA (about N280/N400).
The fare for a journey from Cotonou to Hilla Condji, Benin Republic’s border settlement adjacent to Togo; has similarly risen: The current rate is 2,500CFA/3,000CFA (N850/N1,100 approx) in bus/taxi; against the previous 1,800CFA/2,500CFA (N630/N850). From Hilla Condji to the Togolese capital, Lome, the old fare regime of 800CFA/1,000CFA (N250/N350) has also been toppled. The going rate is 1,000CFA/1,500CFA (N350/N520).
Just beyond Lome, stands Kodzoviakope which leads to the Ghanaian frontier town of Aflao. From Aflao to Accra, capital of Ghana, the fare used to be between 9Ghcedi (about N900) to 16Ghcedi (say N1,600), depending on the state of bus or taxi. Expectedly, passengers that chose to ride in the 9cedi buses could not expect a very comfy trip, whereas the 12cedi buses are fitted with air-conditioner. The upper limit of 16cedi applied to taxis. Today, all that has changed.
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Departing from Ghana last Friday, we ran into anxious passengers who practically jumped into a far-from-sleeky bus for a fare of 13cedi to Accra. The taxi fare on this route had also jumped to 20cedi. From the Ghanaian capital Accra, the journey to Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, used to extract a fare of 36,000CFA.
But, since January 1, this year; a higher fare of 45,000CFA has been in effect. Interestingly, the Professor John Atta Mills-led Government of Ghana introduced a new price for petrol on New Year’s Eve. A gallon of petrol now sells for 8 Ghana cedi, instead of 7 cedi until December 31, 2011.
Interestingly, like his Nigerian counterpart, the Ghanaian President, Prof John Atta Mills, also dropped the bomb of fuel pump price increment on New Year’s Eve! And, you can’t help but wonder: Dr. Jonathan went through an election last year and can afford to chastice his people, but with presidential election looming in Ghana Prof Mills may have taken a wild gamble. In any case, Ghanaians have not gone on strike; everyone, it would seem, is going about their business until poll time, when many would seize the opportunity to take their own pound of flesh…
Across Nigeria, crowds of protesters have kept police busy since Monday, January 9. Organised labour ordered workers to down tools penultimate Monday, in reaction against the hike in petrol pump price from N65 to N140. Nigeria’s Federal Government claims petrol pump price should be left to find its level in the face of market forces. Unfortunately, it would seem that Nigerians are unimpressed and unconvinced by government’s explanations and have chosen to either stay home or invade the streets and select public spots in anti-government rallies.
Rising from a crucial meeting with government representatives last Saturday, January 14, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President Abdulwaheed Omar told reporters that the meeting was not deadlocked: “But, we have not reached a compromise”, explained the labour leader.
Alluding to rumours that oil industry workers were planning to launch their own strike, the NLC president said the second strike threatened by oil industry workers has been put on hold. Nigeria is the sixth largest producer of crude oil in the world and a second strike by oil sector workers could affect the international price of crude.

1. Passengers stranded at Aflao Station, near the Togo/Ghana Border.
2. Many commuters but few buses/taxis in sight at Aflao.
3. Unusual scene: a queue at a filling station in Cotonou, Benin Republic.
4. Scene from a Cotonou street.
5. Trans-ECOWAS travellers stranded at Aflao.