As I approached my 65th year, shut up the apartment in Lagos and returned to my West London flat (albeit retaining Naija connections and visiting rights) I might have been expected to settle down to a kind of retirement. However, two factors have come into play.
Externally, there are more and more instances of social injustice and dysfunction that demand that thinking people (some, now, might use the term ‘woke’) speak out against. The increase in racial bigotry and prejudice, inspired in part by the xenophobia of Brexit and the divisive nature of the current UK government, seems to be undoing the slow and painful progress made over the last few years. Clearly any belief that society, in the UK at least, had seen some increase in tolerance has been shattered. Without entering a party political discourse, it is obvious that politics itself has descended into xenophobia and divisiveness. I have been genuinely shocked by the diminution of compassion in the media – social and otherwise. Indifference and even denial towards the imminent threat to our very existence from the effects of climate change, greed, consumerism and economic disparity, corruption and the collapse of global governance, the dumbing down and manipulation of the written and electronic media are all issues that I cannot be complicit in, through my failure to add my voice to those that cry foul.
“Oppression thrives off isolation. Connection is the only thing that can save you. Remember: Oppression thrives on superficiality. Honesty about your struggles is the key to your liberation. Remember: Your story can help save someone’s life. Your silence contributes to someone else’s struggle. Speak so we can all be free. Love so we all can be liberated.” ― Yolo Akili.
In addition, the reasons that compelled me to write through my “Outsider Inside” column on the woes that affect my adopted country have not gone away. It is as if nothing has progressed from the Nigerian issues and concerns I wrote about in 2005. Appallingly I cannot even write that the names and faces have changed. It seems everything is as it was, only more desperate.
“My people are scared of the air around them, they always have an excuse not to fight for freedom.” ― Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
Secondly, and equally as important are the Internal factors. I began to realise that my liberal smugness as a ‘enlightened’ (though still privileged) expatriate with a reputation as a ‘liberal’, culturally engaged, employer had lulled me into complacency, even arrogance. My response to movements such as Black Lives Matter and the environmental crisis, even at times my own behaviour, was found wanting. As I spent more time in the UK and some of my friends of different colour, ethnicity or religion shared what they are still experiencing in Brighton, Bradford and across London I realised my own reaction was inadequate. Such friends, old and new, including, among others, Dhill, Fabbeh, Seun, Dapo, Yettie, Yinka, and Joy have motivated fresh consideration. My own sons Tom and George inspire and challenge. Reading radical young authors, such as Reni Eddo-Lodge, Michelle Alexander and Akala, as well as more traditional writers have stimulated new thinking. Somehow, externalising that inner debate helps me in the process of understanding it – writing, whether it is poetry, columns or this blog helps, formulate those thoughts. The act of sharing also contains within it some form of redemption.
“And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?” ― Rumi
But then again, it can never be all doom and gloom. I have been unbelievably fortunate to not just have had some amazing experiences but I am still having them – and determinedly so. From attending the Grammies as a guest of Seun Kuti, dancing in the moonlight in La Herradura, hosting mini-gigs and reading my poetry, hanging out with some pretty special people and jumping on trains, planes and buses – I intend to avoid the ‘getting old gracefully tag’. After all, my namesake seems to keep going! So why not share some of these lighter moments and escapades – if only ‘pour encourage les autres’! Additionally, both my sons are engaged and making waves as best they can, as are many of my mates’ children who are doing wonderful things and making their parents proud. I will be sharing some of these activities too.
So, all in all. Watch this space. And let me know in the comments section what you think as I truly welcome your thoughts.