Monday, 28 March 2016

AN OPEN LETTER TO MIKE ENAHORO EBAH: The rules don’t say I can’t brag for you

Dear Mike,
The ethics of the Nigerian legal profession tell law students, and lawyers, that it is unethical for Nigerian lawyers to solicit their services to clients unless they are approached. We are forbidden to go out there to grab the cases by their necks. We are also told that it is unethical for Nigerian lawyers to advertise anything beyond modestly or discuss their matters with the press while they are in court, and not to flaunt their success afterwards. So we leave the Nigerian law school quite uncertain how we are to become Harvey Spector, Olivia Pope or Superman in a Nigeria where success and financial fulfilment flows only from reasonable conformity, even when you are self-employed.  So as lawyers we are out here in the world on our virtual Nigerian thrones waiting for the bruised, broken and violated clients to approach us. Do we really?
What if they do not come? What if they believe that lawyers are liars? What if they believe that we are all as corrupt and exploitative as the ones who violate them? What if they can’t afford our fees or our presence? What if listening to them cannot afford us the lives, assets and exotic trips abroad we see flaunted by our learned ‘brothers’ and seniors? As if this is not bad enough, what if they are the very ones the society has prejudged as evil, miscreant, unreasonable, vile, and criminal? What if we our jobs as associates , partners, paid legal staffs, paralegals, assistants, public office holders, legal assistants, personal assistants, fathers, teachers, mentors, pastors, friends and lovers are hinged on avoiding, ignoring and walking away from them, even if they approach us?
But you Mike. You have crossed the line. Fortunately for us, not in the way that violate the scripted Rules of Professional Conduct, but in the way that mocks, taunts and slams the unscripted ones in the face- the ones that reek of bigotry, prejudice and indifference to the cause of vulnerable people.
I did not know of Joseph Terriah Ebah and Ifeanyi Orazulike’s case until recently. I confess that prior to being called to bar, I was not one to sink into verbose, thick volume law reports, ceaseless news and current affairs save for narrowed down and deliberate research purposes. Interestingly, I did not read about your participation in these cases from the law reports, but from blog and online news posts dating as far back as 2014.
Mr. Joseph’s case did not go so well. I would have been shocked if it did, given the fiercely homophobic legal climate at the time. The clouds are still dark by the way. But learning of the victory in the case of Ifeanyi Orazulike v. Inspector General of Police and Abuja Environmental Protection Board of last month at the Federal High Court Abuja, Nigeria, I now see colours in the Nigerian sky. There is hope. Fortunately for us, someone at the bench sees that a right is a right, and a human is a human regardless of where he /she is or what he/she is doing. And some one at the bar is firm enough to fight for it.
Mike, I am proud of you, not because you are the fore-front of Nigerian LGBTIA rights litigation but because you have insisted on staying there, and fiercely so, in spite of the odds, insecurity, snail-pace of our judicial system, pressure from the public and from within. You have stood strong and you have seen Ifeanyi’s case to the end. It has come out well. We have been heard and seen.
Before now, I have not thought of the Nigerian court rooms as a place where LGBTIA rights could stand, be heard and protected, at least for now. But you have shamed my pessimism. And I’m all the more blessed for it, we are all blessed for it.
I know that the Nigerian LGBTIA rights battle is far from being over. I know that not all the violations will get to court. But the ones that must, must. I have a role model in you sir. And I hope to learn more as time advances. You have just proven to me more that Nigeria is a place where anything and anyone can happen.
You remind me of a thought that haunted me years back: an activist is not activist for his gifts, opportunities or compliance with the ethics of human rights, but for his stubbornness, resilience and resolution to cross most of the lines. You have crossed this line. This means that we have crossed. This means that we can cross.
I know that the Rules of Professional Conduct will frown at you for bragging, if you did. But it does not say that I cannot brag for you. So here goes: You are a hot, powerful and cut-throat dagger of a lawyer, activist and ally. If only you can reproduce yourself, so that this battle can swish-swish twice as fast, twice as powerful, twice as effective. And even in multiples of three to hundreds.
I think Superman is quite overrated. Harvey Spector and Olivia Pope, not Nigerian enough to stand this heat. So I have decided that when next I don my wig and gown in Nigeria, or anywhere in the world, I will be mirroring you, inshallah- if I can find the stamina to successfully pull it off.
We still have rules, Mike- the ugly unscripted ones. For some reason they are an inalienable part of our bar. But then, what is a fight without a scar? Sex without a burn? Heights without a rush? And activism without the barriers and ‘do-nots’?
Thanks for winning this, for standing out. For showing us, me. You are God sent. You and all that you are and stand for.

(originally published in )

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Waiting Alaireh

(Inspired by and for Silomo Khumalo)

A few days ago someone walked into the room and the fluorescent ray struck his eyes grey. His expressions were like mine when O’level Chemistry caught me in 2007, confused. It seemed to me that he had puzzling thoughts rattling within him until he stretched his hand and someone pulled him gently as he felt around for barriers, his eyes still grey and speaking to the fluorescent. He sat and I christened him Alaireh, after a princess with ninety hand maids (human and non-human).
I was at the last row in the room the farthest one from him. And I thought it an interesting week. I watched as more people walked into the room, and their stories, I was convinced, were destined to collide. I would be one of them, I thought. Alaireh sat quietly all through the lectures and did not catch my eyes again until he introduced himself as a member of a civil society group that cater for people with disabilities.
Quietly I sat in his space the next day, in the front row, just before the projector screen. While it burned my eyes and made me uncomfortable, his eyes were squinted, he sat still too, ‘confused’. I left for farther away but I watched. For the rest of the week, I watched. I watched as several other Alairehs came alive and we all took turns being hand maids. I heard them tell stories of exotic lives of misunderstood ‘royalty’- struggles that only the Alairehs could understand. For the first time, I observed that the Alairehs walked differently, some of them did not take our stairs but seemed to teleport through invisible paths in the walls.
The Alairehs, for a second, made me think of limbs and ‘perfect’ as burdensome. Alairehs did not have them but they tripled the accomplishments and distances that my dreams are yet to weave.
The Alairehs, I was learning, were on a movement to be treated differently. Not like static vegetables but phoenix flames with will that choose and chart to lead, not to be led anymore. By being in this room, I had been permitted to match as well, fortunately. And we are telling the world to make our classrooms and life paths level playing fields for everyone including Alairehs that need handmaids.
In the course of the week, I observed my first Alaireh, like a hand-maid waiting to wait. I saw that what I thought confusion is the beauty of clashing sensations from everywhere but two eyes and an ear, sorting out neuro-files in a mind that never stops spinning. My first Alaireh, Silomo Khumalo, brilliant, beautiful also has the gentle laughter of a fourteen year old psalmist, and the body of a teenage robin hood. Whenever, he smiles, it is festival of suns and his lids shudder in response.
When I was 15, I saw the movie ‘Dare Devil’. I recall that he was visually impaired, but fiercely superhuman. It seemed that when his door shut, his hundred windows blew open. The universe conspired to bestow him heightened sensitivities and sensualities. I cannot say that Silomo is Dare- Devil, he has come this far. He is greater.
I waited all week to wait, and I took every chance I was given. This Alaireh, this royalty, this Silomo is now for me a fierce glare of the heights I can reach in spite of these wild seasons that may last forever while some never beginning- no matter how much we pray. That we are all Alairehs- impaired, disabled, gifted, heightened and royalty. In spite of these ‘gifts’ that mock us, yet can be trampled on, and made irrelevant enough to never stand in our way.

Silomo Khumalo:  A delegate at the Advanced Human Rights Course on Disability Rights in Africa, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, March 2016. We met here.

A photo of Silomo Khumalo, (sourced from
'a Students for Law and Social Justice Research Fellow at SECTION27. Silomo holds a Bachelor of Social Science degree with majors in Sociology and Legal Studies, a Bachelor of Laws and an Honours degree in Public Policy from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. During his time as a student he participated in human rights and disability activism organisations. Silomo is passionate about constitutional law and public policy and hopes use a career in human rights law to assist in the transformation of South Africa. Silomo is totally blind.'(from the same source as photo).

More about Silomo :

Sunday, 13 March 2016

For Olumide, and us

Dear Naija,
Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi. (photo sourced from )

Once more you have let your 'holiness' corrupt your call to love and protect. I know the world is unreasonable but the attack and death of Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi kicks you off the conversation completely. How can you prepare us to stand firm to defend you when you indoctrinate our hearts with so much hate and darkness. And you make this filth okay.

My pastors, teachers, leaders, corpers, brothers, family...what life came from grinding his face against the cold death? Did he not work hard and prove himself a treasure? Did he not love and give? Naija, did he not be? Was he not in your classroom, church, mosque? Did you not feed from his sweat? Did it taste any different? Did it kill you?

Why did the colours of his heart upset you? Even when it beat so discreetly in his chest? Why did you kill him for the stubborness of his circumstance, his blessing? Did we not all share in the sting of the sun? Were we not all born? Will we not all die?

sourced from
My naija, why did the splash of his warm blood unjustly drench your soil? Did he hurt you? Did he ever threaten to hurt you?

Though the Bible, the sweetest, offers me the best, it somehow teaches you to hate. How can something so beautiful make you so cold? When you unjustly take us down, you crash first, because we are fiercely and inh
erently part of you, and you us.

My Naija, we'll never conform, we have tried. So kill! Hit your hardest! How many of us do you want dead? Ten? Ten thousand? Ten million? How many of us do you know, really? In our government, churches, mosques, markets, streets, classrooms...How many of us can you genuinely tell apart? So strike Naija! Keep destroying your own. And when you done, you will fill all their shoes with your 'holiness'. You will sculpt out heteronormative teachers, mentors, pastors, neighbours, lawyers, students, doctors, accountant, writers, readers, thinkers...from your cold hatred- because this is all that will be left. Oh I'm sorry, you may also need to summon Elijah and Saint John to paint, dance and invest in your economy. And perhaps invoke Amadioha and Mohammed to occupy the stalls and flourish the markets themselves. Lets face it Naija, its quite practical to go around slaying all the sons with light voices, and the girls with beards.

My Naija, does cutting Olumide off fulfill you? Has it put food on our table or jobs in our lives? Will it fortify our naira or 'de-flaw' our democracy? Will it heal our youths of HIV or stop them from being terrified at the sight of condoms? Will it save our birthing mothers from dying? Will it heal Ogoni? Will it bring back our girls?

Hasn't this year been crazy enough for us all? Why do you insist that it remains hotter for the LGBTIA community? It solves nothing really.

Dear Naija, you have brought hot tears to my eyes! Your 'holiness' just got darker, its claws searing into the same flesh that I have sworn in my creed and pledges will die for you if it has to.

How can you do this?


sourced from

More info on Olumide

Saturday, 12 March 2016

A letter from circumstance

Dear Nnanna, 

I am the circumstance to teach you resilience and self-reliance. Your golden heart can take it. She can look at want and need straight in the eyes and turn in the opposite direction. Trust me, I know your heart. She is the queen of the hearts. But you are taming her instead of listening to her visceral voice. Deep down she knows that desire and expectation make the heart leap and dejected. She knows that recognising this human reality and smile through the pain it elicits is the only way a phoenix will go through a rebirth. So child, I am your friend and not your enemy. Stay with the lesson. Embrace my message and that is the only revolution you must court. I love you. 

Magnanimously yours, 

(by Toyin Ajao)

Friday, 11 March 2016

Dear circumstance

Dear circumstance,

Every time you tell me its impossible I'm frightened. You are all so imposing and I respect you. I can hardly think of anything else when you look in my eyes. How do you do that? I see the world and her winds settle down around me. Yet my heart is charmed with tempest after tempest. And this is all because you fancy my confusion. Unfortunately, my 'stupid' heart insists on being resilient in spite of all the wisdom that you teach her. How does she do that? Dear circumstance, my circumstance, you make me cry. Even as a full fledged Nigerian hard man I can't call your bluff. But this heart wants what it wants and there will be no stopping her. I would have loved to team up with you to quiz her a bit. Ask her why your tempests don't exhaust her. Ask her why the silence does not freeze. Tell her that she is really no match for all you have thrown at me and her. I want her to stop. But she won't. She keeps leaping into fire, embracing hurricanes and courting revolutions. She wants what she wants. I'm sorry.


Sunday, 6 March 2016

I love you mum

(from Daddy, Nnanna, Akudo, Chinma,Uju, Amaka to Mummy on mothers’ Day)

When titles are little and words are few
At this distance I’m thinking of you
When people don’t laugh and ages renew
Through words I reach out to you
I love you mum, fiercely
For every time you made me see
I love you mum, dearly
For all the sacrifices you made for me
For being stubborn
For standing out
For being bright
For loving dad
I love you mum
For each one of my sisters
For being strong unafraid to glitter
I’m thankful for circumstances that led me to you
I’m happy for the life that has stuck me to you
I love you for being part of my life
And letting me bother you
For letting me sneak into your prayers and fill you
I’m grateful
Please stay alive, strong and happy
For each one of us
God is here, in colours in your decades and moments
Warmly from us in places there, near and far
Still blessed by the kindness you are.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

An Open Letter to Korede Bello

Dear Korede,

It is quite surprising to me that I should have to write to you this morning given that before now I had thought nothing extraordinary of you or your art. However, today I was scheming through my music files and I saw the ‘Godwin’ video. It must have slipped in through one of my sisters, all of whom adore

Well, about your video Godwin. It was generally okay. But it healed me this morning of ingratitude and an aching heart.  The year has been interesting for me so far. I have darted around geographically more than I have ever done within a short while. I am also on this evolutionary process which often scares the lotion off me. Often I am confused, exhausted and weak. Struggling to pray and, generally,  to be. I find it very difficult these days to write or express myself through any other means. I have also become a lot naughtier.
Seeing your video reminds me of last year when I was in Port Harcourt and everyone would spring at the sound of ‘Godwin’. Akudo would play the song over and over again sashaying along. Initially, it was cute. But then it was every day. It was ‘Godwin’. Seeing your video, watching you dance and hearing you sing today had that effect on me as well, crazy. 'Boys do not sashay'  This morning, you told me that God is my everything and has always been.

, so I’ll contain myself most of the day. Your art has injected a vibe into me, like church came to me- a church that will not belittle any victory or circumstance.
People are crazy about you. Half the time, I think, it is because you have accomplished so much at such a young age and in such a short while. Other times, I think it’s because girls are crazy about the magic in your smile and winks. Evidently, they have a point.
Suddenly Korede, you and your art have become so important to me. I wish I had as much stamina. I am thankful that you are where you  are. I am also thankful that you are powerful and opportune enough to do what you do. And above all, that you are who you are and have become. Don Jazzy is a great mentor. And Mavins Records evidently is a great platform . More grease to your elbow.
I humbly request that you write me another gospel song- one that perhaps celebrates imperfections, brokenness, tolerance, and interdependence- if it ever occurs to you.
Hey! Keep shining bro. You are all kinds of fabulous. What’s not to love.

About Korede Bello:
Godwin Video:

Auntim Jane...She always begins with ‘hmmm, look at you.’

You take. You take. You take from yourself till there is nothing left to listen to when you retire to your bed at night. You give yourself t...