Friday, May 25, 2012

Lessons from the Smiling Coast of West Africa

By Wole Olaoye

My grandmother, Hannah Dovonou of blessed memory, had a standard exclamation for any remarkable disclosure or happening. Instead of saying something like Waoh or My Goodness, she would simply exclaim “H-a-l-l-o!”
I am having my own “H-a-l-lo” moment right now in The Gambia, where a chapter of the Great Ife Alumni Association was launched last Saturday. This is my very first visit to this country. My earlier acquaintance with the Gambia was through a friend and classmate at the Post Graduate College of the University of Lagos in the 80’s, Alhaji Swaebou Conateh who is one of the foremost journalists in this country. More than a quarter of a century after those happy days in Akoka, it was indeed a great pleasure reuniting with my friend and sharing remembrances about those good old days when we still dared to dream dreams.
The Gambia prides itself as the smiling coast of West Africa. How true. From the airport through the streets to the hotel and the welcoming beaches of Banjul or Sene-Gambia, you are enveloped in the open embrace of these self-contented people. Even the police and soldiers you see on the streets or in the State House are so civil that as to leave you in no doubt that they are truly happy to have you in their country.
Add to that the incredibly warm disposition of the Nigerian High Commissioner to the Gambia, the Hon Esther John Audu, and you would understand why I have decided that my family will return with me next year when I revisit the natural haunts of this truly unspoilt country which hosts a regular stream of European tourists many of whom have even invested in properties here. Gambia is home away from home. Esther Audu has become such a favourite among the diplomatic community here because she sells Nigeria with a passion. She also works very closely with the Nigerian community here. The Gambians are so impressed with her that they claim her as their own. The Gambian Vice President, Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy described her as a Gambian-Nigerian when we visited the State House. It felt good to be a Nigerian.
The important lesson I’m taking away from “the smiling coast” is that it is crucial now, more than ever before, that we reinforce south/south corporation instead of Africans looking up to Europe and America for everything from developmental ideas to the colour of their ice cream. The alumni event made it possible for both Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), led by Professor Tale Omole, and the University of the Gambia (UTG), whose Vice-Chancellor is Prof. Muhammadou Kah to sign a memorandum of understanding for a sisterly relationship which would soon translate into having post-graduate students of UTG being supervised by OAU faculty. The possibilities of the arrangement are enormous.
The collaboration is nothing new. Many Gambians schooled in Nigerian universities. Indeed, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Mrs Fatou Bom Bensouda who read Law at Ife, flew in for the event to receive an award from the Gambia Chapter of the alumni association of which she is a member as well as to inspire her countrymen and women to aim for the stars. Also at the event was Prof Mike Faborode, the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of OAU and incumbent Secretary General of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors.
Ninety-five per cent of the Gambian population is Muslim, but religion is not their problem. In fact you cannot guess a person’s religion by looking at him or her. The young lady in head scarves that cover down to her shoulders may actually be a Christian while the one with flowing braids and beads may be a Hajia. No sweat; no wahala. They see themselves as Gambians not as adherents of different faiths.
I was so stunned by the simplicity and good nature of these African brothers and sisters that, involuntarily, I whistled, h-a-l-l-o!
I have gone on record several times in support of Arik Air, especially over the unfair treatment the airline is receiving in the hands of the British. But now I must counsel the owners of that airline to put their acts together or face destruction. The check-in counter of Arik at the MMIA is designed for corruption. Sundry middlemen who have no business at the counter crowd the place to make various deals on overweight cargo and ease the passage of their patrons at a fee. Arik Air must be losing a tidy sum to this organised confusion. In the plane, I found two of the hostesses unbelievably discourteous. It seemed to me that they were convinced they were doing the passengers a favour by attending to their needs. A Nigerian airline on international route must be the epitome of excellence. We have no business exporting rudeness. From what I hear, my own experience was typical. Arik Air should, as a matter of urgency, clean up its act.
RE: EVERY ALMAJIRI SHOULD COUNTI am saying aye! as an advocate of re-integrating the almajiri system with the modern education. There is no gainsaying the fact that people hide behind the almajiri system to shirk their parental responsibilities. Most send their children at the tender age of 4 years without bothering about how the child would survive; hence the child grows and ends up becoming a political thug.
It is high time people realize that change in life is certain and one cannot operate in isolation. We can preserve the study of Qur’an and apply the modern education subjects. To prove that, products from El-Kanemi College and Iman Malik Secondary Schools in Maiduguri (which re-integrated Islamic studies and Western subjects, are well versed and fluent in Qur’an, Arabic and the Hadith than those using the orthodox method.
Thus, state governments as matter urgency should pass a bill that discourages parents from sending their children out as almajiri; every parent must take direct responsibility in educating and bringing up their children.
Babangida Labaran ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it), Maiduguri

Your article on the federal government’s programme to educate the almajirai was very welcome. I grew up within that system but had the good fortune of having a father who believed in sending his children to school. I am well versed in Islamic and Arabic studies and I am sure that I can compete with anybody from the Western world in my field of specialization. That is the opportunity we should give all almajirai but the elite have always turned a blind eye to the problem of abandoning millions of children to a hopeless itinerant fate in the name of religion. Their own children enjoy both Islamic and western education. I think they will be very angry with you. They want the ordinary people to be ignorant so that only they and their families will corner the good things of life.
Hafeez M. Maishanu, Abuja

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