TEDxEuston

Spoke: Some were bold, some italic, some plain old blank!
Audrey Brown, Onyekachi Wambu, Bryan Pearson, Chika Unigwe, Funmi Iyanda, Bola Olabisi, Lawrence Mbugwa, Yvonne Ike, Nasir El Rufai, Segun Aganga, Remi Adeseun, Nuhu Ribadu

I am discovering in my old age, albeit reluctantly [not the age, the revelation] that I DO have some “British” traits one of which is an aversion to too much rah rah and a tendency to celebrate the understated. So it was with some reservation that I attended the TEDx event last Saturday. I figured there wasn’t much else to do on a dank grey wet Saturday in London. At least it would be warm and I was meeting a couple of friends, so I was pleasantly surprised by the welcoming of hosts Ike Inya and Chikwe Ihekweazu and the general vibe which wasn’t too rah rah. In fact it was a genteel balance between British understated and Nigerian over stated.

We were quickly informed that speakers had flown in from various parts of Africa, Europe and the US all on their own expense so thank you so much but me I am thinking of my 25 very expensive pounds sterling and though I am hopeful, it will take more than that to impress.

Audrey Brown from SA and the BBC spoke about the civilising process and the omissions of Euro history which were “false in the particular” and how we need to seek the truth. Some of the names [truths] hidden from history are Josephine Baker who didn’t just prance about in banana skins for Parisian masses but worked as a nurse during WWII and participated in the US civil rights movement. According to this report she even sang the US anthem in Nigeria during WW2!

Next up was Onyekachi Wambu with whom I have some old connections through family and friends from back in the day when kids were in nappies and London had the best “Naija” parties – from the Elephant to Hampstead to Eton Sq – yes we mixed with all sorts in those days! Now we and the kids are all grown up, heavier, and stay home on Saturday night. Onyekachi recalled Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God and the villagers choice in choosing the weakest to lead the clan. The question of sovereignty came up with Kenya as an example but it could be any country on the continent. How sovereign are we if we cannot solve our own national and continental conflicts? A bit depressing to be reminded that we – citizens – cannot trust our leaders but oh so true!. The next speaker I was not impressed.

Byran Pearson spent his time name dropping and ultimately informing us that at one point he had the whole collection of Fela’s master tapes in his possession. Sigh – Enough said!.

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Chika Unigwe spoke about the research for her book [“On Black Sister Street”] amongst the sexworkers on the streets many of whom were from Nigeria and from the Benin area. Why are there so many young women from the Benin area working as sex workers in Italy and Spain? I did not know there is a slave market in Belgium where women were paraded naked and auctioned off as sex slaves.

This is besides the politics of passports. On the one had there is the problematics of Nigerians getting a visa for South Africa. On the other there is you as a Black woman with a red passport being singled out for extensive scrutiny at the borders of Euroland. Then there is trying to negotiate your daily life whilst living in a “foreign language”. We are reminded that it is language which grounds us and forms our identity.

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Funmi Iyanda was a breath of fresh air as she introduced us to the “shit” in your face. We need to be careful how we interpret the lives of the “other”. In this case those living on the waters of Makoko who are not what we imagine. Funmi is famous for hosting New Dawn chat show on Nigerian TV. She has a new show “Talk with Funmi” where she travels round the country meeting and speaking with ordinary Nigerians. It will also be shown online. Sounds like a great show and I look forward to watching it.

Bola Olabisi: There are three zones of life – comfort zone, stretch zone and panic zone. I am permanently in the latter so I know it well. It’s not exactly rocket science to know that to be an innovator one needs to move from comfort to stretch. Check out the banana flavoured pap.

We do have our heroes – Nasir El Rufai and Nuhu Ribadu were both compelling and for them alone i was happy to attend this event. El Rufai delivered with wit as he painted a corrupt Nigeria well beyond the pale. Ribadu spoke about his dedication, attempts on his life, birbery [someone presented him with $15 million in cash] and life in exile which clearly brought him much sadness.

Was it worth it? Yes particularly the chance to listen to Iyanda, El Rufai and Ribadu. However it could have been more representative of the whole continent and the speakers more varied with less emphasis on the economic – a couple from the technology world and the creative arts would have made a difference. Still congratulations to the two organisers, Chikwe and Ike.