It’s a rising moon

Letter to Pamela Watson on her book, Gibbous Moon Over Lagos

Hi Pamela,

It was nice meeting with you at the presentation of your book “Gibbous Moon Over Lagos” on 3rd March 2020 at Woodside in Perth.

My good friend, Martin, extended the invitation to me and I was sceptical as to what your narrative was going to be. Sincerely, I have become tired of sitting at functions to be told the same old boring “one-sided’ story about Nigeria. I wasn’t going to subject myself to another one of it. The ebullient Chimamanda Adichie had told the world, in her 2009 TED Talk, that inherent in the power of stories, is a danger—the danger of only knowing one story about a group. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” I agree with her fully. However, Martin held sway for you and persuaded me to attend. 

Well, I will say it was a refreshing experience, one that led me to buying an Oyinbo written book about my city, my people! How I hate the idea of others telling our story from prejudiced minds, one that sees Africa as the dark continent where nothing good exists except for its resources that are to be pillaged!

One theme that immediately endeared me to your narrative runs through the book – your efforts in always seeking to be a positive change agent. It showed in your establishing Ekologika, in helping Agaja community curb the erosion of their land and also in helping Segun make a representation to Steve. There is yet another one, your stand for ethics over profit. The order by the Tobacco Company from Ekologika, was a case in point. I would say that was a firmness that not many can stand for.

Such a tough choice between business continuity and principle is not something for the faint hearted. Of course, you showed the human side of enterprise in your choosing to contract out your printing to Mr. Babatunde against the advice of Chuks [page 141]. Decisions like these are what many of my country men have to make daily in an environment where the cost of failure may be suicidal. I am glad you understood this, something many privileged westerners cannot comprehend.

I love the sweet flowing write-up and the similes used to drive in the point. They really show that you are well versed in world affairs and a someone of diverse interests. However, there are parts that made me sad. I must mention that the saddest part of your story is that Peter was also a deceit [Page 273]. He was my man, standing by you through your thick and thin and making a glorious exit on page 272. You can only imagine how troubled I am by Page 273. Really? Anyway, he won’t be the first Peter to disappoint his Master. Simon did worse to Jesus, he denied him at the point of death. Take solace that your Peter only defrauded you. The 2012 death of Tippy [page 285] makes the second sad part of the narrative, probably because my daughter has a cat and has gradually won me over to love him, Prince. What adorable creatures cats are!

Digressing a bit, one common narrative in Nigeria is about business owners, like Dapo, complaining about the competence of their employees, and yes this is a problem. However, there is the other side of the story, one that validates the saying that If you pay peanuts, you’ll have monkeys as workers. Simply put, when it comes to the workforce in Nigeria, it is like online ordering from China, you’ll get what you pay for. The really great workers cost a fortune and businessmen are unwilling to pay for their services. You expressed this was not the case with your team and I will take yours as a notable exception. The fear of losing a well-paying job is enough to detract many from stealing from their employers unless the rewards are huge.

All that said, I can’t hold myself from offering some suggestions on how you probably can make the next edition better, As with life, there are always opportunities to be better but these are entirely from my perspective. Here they are:

  1. You had a very rich experience in Lagos, making trips to Mushin and Ikotun, places that expatriate “angels” are unaware they exists. So you must have some pictures of Lagos which would have made lovely centrespread for the book;
  • [Page xiv]
    • For consistency, since you have chosen to use tittles for military leaders, using titles like PM and Presidents for civilian rulers will be ideal e.g. Balewa, Shagari Jonathan etc.;
    • Regarding the EXIT column, the opportunity is to align similar exits with same details. For instance if “Lapsed” is appropriate for Obasanjo’s 1979 Exit, then Abdulsalami exit in 1999 should be termed Lapsed. This could also be stretched further for Babangida in 1993, though the jury is out on that one.
    • Also if “Murdered” is deemed appropriate for Balewa in 1966, same should apply to Ironsi and Murtala
  • [Page 47] For a balanced perspective,  the story of the origin of the Yorubas  would be helped by that of the Hausas in respect of how Bayajidda arrived in Daura and killed the snake in the well.
  • [Page 48] The word Ooni does not mean King, the word Oba means King. The meaning of the word Ooni is lost and there have been several interpretation of what it connotes or how it was derived. There are competing narratives on the word but let’s leave this to scholars of history to establish but we can all agree that it is the “title” of the King of Ife.
  • [Page 49] The word “outdated” here qualifies the lounge. The comparison of the looks and conversations at the Boat Club is missing a word such as “sight” to link it to the BOAC lounge.
  • [Page 56] I would literally have avoided the use of sub-Saharan as an adjective here. That term, to pan-Africanist, is racist and colonial colloquialism.  Why not simply say Africa?
  • [Page104] The more acceptable term is the Osun Oshogbo Grove, that sounds better than the Osogbo Forest.
  • [Page 105] Consider removing the extra “wan do” in line 11
  • [Page 178] Having spent decades in the oil industry, the more acceptable terms are “the technical and commercial evaluation”.
  1. [Page 232] Ascribing the proverb to the Igbo group is a departure from all the precedent chapters where they had simply been identified as Nigerian proverbs. This is good but once you chose to go the way of identifying a proverb to an ethnic nationality, it will require you go the whole hog by doing so for all the other proverbs. We Nigerians, are sensitive to our ethnic nationalities oooo.

Cheers and well done for a well written, thought provoking book. One that, probably arising from your consulting background, I will be recommending to my folks for the nuggets of wisdoms regarding managing businesses in Nigeria. You learnt these lessons on page 285 with substantial pains and sacrifices, they need to be spared these.

As you wrote on my copy of the book, this is that you “Travel well, always”.