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FIFTY-NINE AND COUNTING…

Just one year away from being sixty, Nigeria has been, is and will always be, the land that God made for peace and laughter, the land He blessed abundantly. From the swamp marsh lands of the south, to the arid semi desert of the north, from the rich forests of the middle belt to the rolling grasslands of the north central, from the mountains and high places that dot both east, west and the plateau, the whole country, yes, every inch of this land of Nigeria, is a treasure, a wonder, a living miracle, a blessed land, a fortune of great value. A haven of green, a land of abundance, she yields a king’s ransom in produce year after year, her waters full of life, her forests full of medicines, her people; strong, vital, virile, compelling, entrepreneurial and capable of greatness. Her earth, filled with an array of mineral wealth. Who can want anything more? What is it she lacks? Where is she deficient?

Fifty-nine years and counting from Independence, we are still waiting for real independence…still expecting to be free, still bound, still imprisoned, still captive, still devoid of true freedom. We are still in the struggle for true independence from want, from corruption, from nepotism, from greed, from mediocrity, from violence, from tribalism. We are still bound by the same ‘devils’ that replaced the Colonists, still held captive by a cruel and unrelenting evil. Some even wish the British could come back; I hear this tossed around and wonder, was Independence a mistake? Some wish they had never come; that our political systems, which were in place before we were a colony worked better than what we have now. Was development a mistake? Some wish the military were back; they feel politicians have failed woefully and the only thing Nigerians can respect is a brutal military regime. Was democracy a mistake? Some feel it is the fact that we are one country that is our downfall; we need to split up according to tribes, is unity a mistake?

Who has failed Nigeria? Who has made the most promising country in 1960 a sad shadow of what she should have been? The blame can only be placed squarely on the shoulders of Nigerians themselves, past and present. Yes, it was and is Nigerians that have and are failing Nigeria. Simple. Why are we sabotaging ourselves? It is a question that should lie heavily in every Nigerian heart, for if we are truthful to ourselves, we should realize that we cannot blame anyone else for what is now our reality. We have no right to lay the blame for what our country looks like today at anyone’s doorstep. We are culpable, we are responsible. Let the truth be told; we made Nigeria look like this.

We refused to believe the beautiful dream that the Almighty dreamt for us. He gave us everything to accomplish His dream; a strong, competent, wealthy, competitive, disciplined, fruitful, upright, innovative and inclusive nation with a diversity that stands out and a future that is assured. The truth is that we chose not to believe that dream, we decided to dream something else, something that looks like what we have now. To not take responsibility for where we are now is disingenuous, 59 years is a long time to be tramping around, going nowhere, with little to show for the amount of resources, human and material that have been consumed. In 59 years there is so much that could have been accomplished. In 59 years, Nigeria should not look like it looks, sounds like it sounds or act like it acts. If we ask the famous United Arab Emirates what can be achieved in 59 years, they would smile and show us an improved version of Dubai, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and so on. And it would look nothing like Nigeria.

It would be so easy to blame leadership, which is what we do constantly. It is they who are bad; it is they who have failed. That is just another way we refuse to take responsibility. No. It is everybody responsibility to build a nation, it is everybody’s fault that our country is like this. The moment we all realize that we have played a part in ruining our development that is the moment we will start getting it right. We want 21st century infrastructure without paying taxes, we want clean environments yet we make our communities and cities garbage dumps. We want first class education, but demand that it be free. We insist on first class healthcare, but won’t use public hospitals or pay the bills. We want great leaders but refuse to train people for leadership. We want free and fair elections, but rig the polls and become thugs. We want peace and unity but hate our neighbours and discriminate. We break every law we make, want continuous concessions, refuse any sacrifice for our country and beg foreigners to come and develop our country for us. It never happens that way.

A country is developed by its citizens being diligent, honest, selfless, law abiding, loyal, uncompromising, sacrificial, inclusive…I could go on and on, but that will suffice. A country is not developed by foreigners, not by aliens, not by religiosity, not by platitudes, not by sabotage, not by fraud, not by running away to other peoples’ developed countries, and then fighting from there. It’s hard work building a modern country; just ask Singapore or Malaysia, or any developed country. It takes so much sacrifice, especially on the part of those who are doing the building. It takes so much discipline, especially on the part of the citizens. When we are ready to build a modern Nigeria, we will take responsibility for its mess; we will jettison all our differences and put our country first. That is when we will build the Nigeria that God dreams of, a land that He made for peace and laughter, a land that is blessed abundantly. A land where the green and white mingle beautifully and where unity, faith peace and progress lives. Happy birthday dear Nigeria! One day you will be everything God dreams you to be.

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THE BIG SUMMER READ 2019

Our Big Summer Read for this year is over and the two books we read were ‘The Joys of Motherhood’ written by Buchi Emecheta (and summarized by Dabo Jesujuwon) and ‘Mother’s Choice’, written by Agbo Areo (and summarized by Godwin John). Both Nigerian Authors, they give us a tantalizing slice of Nigerian life; our idiosyncrasies’, a bit of culture and the struggle between the old way and the new. Mothers are central to both books, a sure pointer to the importance of mothering and good parenting as a pathway to success. Sons are also a strong supporting cast; in our patriarchal society, where girls are viewed as less than boys, we see how much damage that ideology breeds. One mother gives her all for her son; the other pampers and spoils, yet hardly parents him.

They are compelling stories we should look at and appraise ourselves. Even if our Big Summer Read had finished, please find time to rediscover the awesome truths in these two stories and draw your own conclusions.

 

 

THE JOYS OF MOTHERHOOD WRITTEN BY BUCHI EMECHETA, SUMMARY BY DABO JESUJUWON

The novel begins in the mid-1930, and is set in a newly formed country as at the time called Nigeria. The first chapter portrays the reaction of protagonist (of new mother) Nnu Ego to a trauma in her home. She runs blindly through the streets of Lagos, seeking relief from pain that is both physical and emotional. Her attempt to gain that relief by jumping off a bridge into a river is stopped by concerned neighbors, who berate her for not thinking of her infant child. This triggers memories in Nnu Ego that are narrated in three chapters of flashback, narrative that explores the complex relationship between her parents, her troubled first marriage, and her second to a soft-bellied laundry-man named Nnaife, a marriage that resulted in the birth of a son who died a few weeks after being born. As the flashback concludes, that death is revealed to be the trauma that caused Nnu Ego’s attempts to flee her home and end her life.

As the story returns to its present-day timeline in chapter six, Nnu Ego returns home, and begins the long process of rebuilding her life after the death of her son. In this she is helped by friends more than she is by Nnaife, who seems unable to recognize what the death of their son means to his wife. This lack of awareness of what his wife is going through continues as he becomes increasingly lazy, following the loss of his laundry-man job; becomes increasingly distracted by the demands of a second family (i.e. having to take in one of the wives and children of his deceased older brother); and repeatedly gets drunk as he tries to distract himself from what he sees as the pressures of his life.

As time passes, Nnu Ego becomes pregnant several more times, giving birth to two more sons and a pair of twin daughters. As she struggles to make sure that they, and Nnaife’s second family, are all fed, she becomes increasingly angry with Nnaife, pushing him harder and harder to get a job even as she runs a small business of her own. Eventually, Nnaife gets a job serving on a British warship, deployed as part of the Allied war against the Nazis in World War II. Nnaife is gone for months at a time, leaving Nnu Ego with an even more complicated struggle to maintain her household. As her children aged, that includes struggles finding ways to pay for their education.

 Eventually the war comes to an end, and Nnaife comes to her hometown Ibuza permanently. The story portrays him as having been emotionally wounded as a result of his experiences, a wounding that contributes to what becomes Nnaife’s violent assault on the family of a man that one of his daughters plans to marry without his permission. As a result of Nnaife being jailed and losing his income, and also as a result of several other circumstances (her oldest son going to America to study, her two oldest daughters getting married, and Nnaife’s second family having moved into their own home, all neglecting her), Nnu Ego chooses to return to her home village. It is not long before her own mental health deteriorates, and she soon dies, having mistaken a ditch by the side of the road for her bed at home.

  It all happened in the last chapter, when Nnu Ego has returned home, she used to go to the sandy square called Otinkpu, near her house and tell people that her son was in America ‘Emelika’ as she calls it, and that another one also in the land of the white men(she could never manage the name Canada), after such wandering on one night, she lay down by the roadside thinking she had arrived home, she died quietly there, when her children had of her sudden death, they all came home, they were all sorry she had died because they were in position to give their mother a good life, she had the nosiest and most costly burial in the town, and a shrine was made in  her name so that people could appeal to her should they be barren(Nnu Ego had it all, still did not answer prayer for children), poor Nnu Ego, even in her death she had no peace, the joys of mother is giving all to the children, yet she had been too busy building up the joys of mother.

                                                                                                                                                                         

MOTHER’S CHOICE WRITTEN BY AGBO AREO, SUMMARY BY GODWIN JOHN.

Mother’s Choice is about a boy named Ade, who went to a very expensive nursery and primary school in Ikoyi/Victoria Island high class, low density neighborhoods of Lagos. Adedire who is also known as ‘junior’, made his parent proud by passing his common entrance examination into two prestigious, government secondary schools. His mother is Mrs. Frances Ogidi, and is mother of Adedire junior and two daughters. She tries convincing her son to go to study in England, but Ade, at eleven and the half, insisted to go to study in Zaria. This is because he did social studies in school and he liked it. His mother, being so persuasive, eventually convinces him, despite her husband’s concerns that their son goes to secondary school in the UK.

   As a weird form of foreshadowing, Ade’s father tells his wife that whatever happens to their son during his time overseas will be her fault. She accepts the consequences. Ade goes to England, becomes an alcoholic, gets hooked on drugs, engages in orgies with prostitutes, gets arrested, and ends up in a mental institution, due to all the drugs that have messed up his brain. His father regrets his decision due to the whole calamity that has been befallen his son, and he decides to bring him back to Nigeria to save himself the expense and the disgrace. It is a good lesson to parents to always remain close to young people so as to help guide them and assist them to make good choices with their lives, because there are a lot of things that can distract young people and cause them to derail their lives.

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WHERE IS OUR HUMANITY? (PART ONE)

It is a Thursday afternoon and after a particularly hard visitation to an orphanage, I find myself in the position of comforter; one of my colleagues has broken down in despair and is sobbing, his emotions in turmoil; a mixture of grief, anger and misery. I try to find the words to offer comfort, but I am unable to…this is one of those situations where silence and holding hands has to do something more than words. I usually do not lack the words to comfort and create perspective; my Mother always said I could talk “the hind leg off a donkey”, and truly, words rarely fail me, but occasionally, even I get gob smacked and on this day, I am desperately looking for some new way to talk about the silver lining around this dark cloud, but the silver lining is really thin, almost broken in some places.

Much as I love visitations to orphanages, hospitals, correctional centres and so on, I also know they are emotionally draining and can sometimes create an inner sadness that takes a while to dissipate. The human condition in Nigeria has deteriorated to the point of concern; I have been going for such visits from childhood, some forty-odd years now. It gets harder every year. With all the prosperity that is flaunted, sometimes rather distastefully and irresponsibly, the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’ has continued to widen with every passing year and has become quite alarming.

I have frequently been in the position where I see the vulnerable underbelly of humanity; I have for some reason been exposed perhaps more than others, to situations like this and even if I seem to be the only pair of dry eyes in the room, it is not because I lack tear ducts or salt and water, (my preferred audience is my pillow at midnight with a few mosquitoes as witnesses,) it is because someone must be dry-eyed long enough to give strength and encouragement to weakened comrades. I use the word ‘comrades’ because I see that we are increasingly drifting into a situation of warfare. We are at war with our world, at war with our democracy, our faith, our principles; we are at war with each other, at war with our souls. Boundaries that we feared to approach are now trampled on with disdain as we constantly fight against all that is good, upright and sacred. And that vulnerable underbelly of humanity? It is bruised, bleeding, torn and stretched to breaking point.

How as Nigerians, did we lose our way? How, as human beings did we get to this place? How did we arrive here? Why are we not in retreat? These are the questions that are hard to answer. There is blame aplenty to go around but no takers; no one is willing to put up their hand and accept the responsibility for the mess we are wallowing in. Leaders blame the people, people blame the leaders; are we not all members of the human race? Are we not all responsible? Yet we refuse to smell the coffee, wake up and get out of this infernal pit we are wallowing in. From being among the happiest people in the world, we as Nigerians, are fast becoming the most heinous, from being among the most hospitable, we are becoming the most murderously hostile. I was thinking about this when the xenophobia attacks on foreigners, mostly Nigerians, happened in South Africa. It is obvious that cruelty is not only a Nigerian thing, it is a human thing. The videos and pictures from that were heartbreaking. There are some things one wishes one could erase from one’s memory and for me, it is always scenes showing inhuman behavior and the consequences that flow from that. Not just man’s inhumanity to man, but also violence against all God’s creatures and even violence against our planet, this beautiful earth we all call home.

It doesn’t end well for those who kill, maim, terrorize, defraud, dehumanize, lie, betray, steal, cheat, pollute, corrupt or destroy. I don’t remember one folk tale growing up where the ‘bad guy’ wins in the end…they always lose. I can’t recall one terrible person in history whose legacy is positive. The world knows what is right and wrong and even if the comeuppance is slow, it is sure. No one ever gets away with wrong doing; we all must give account for everything we do. We should all be concerned with the legacy we will leave behind; will we be remembered for good or for evil? Will our name evoke disgust or fondness? Everyone has the ability to do well, to be a person of integrity, to leave a great legacy.

 

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

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MAKING A DIFFERENCE, CHARITY LEADING THE WAY.

“All of you who have heard the appeal of suffering peoples, all of you who are working to answer their cries, you are the apostles of a development which is good and genuine, which is not wealth that is self-centred and sought for its own sake, but rather an economy which is put at the service of man, the bread which is daily distributed to all, as a source of brotherhood and a sign of providence.”

(Encyclical, Populorum Progresso, 86)                          

One of the things I enjoy the most about my vocation as a Non-profit worker, is our monthly visitations to various public and private charitable institutions around the State. There are many reasons why I find the visitations so important and so enjoyable. For one thing, they serve as a constant reminder that I am blessed in so many ways. To have not been abandoned as an infant or a child, to have been healthy except for the normal bouts of childhood illnesses and growing pains, to have been raised in a stable and loving Christian home, to have had the best education my Parents could afford and a chance for success, to have had siblings and other relatives to learn from and teach things to…I could go on and on. I cannot stress enough to those I meet with a similar background, how fortunate we are to have had the kind of start in life that we had; I have a need to keep pushing that message because of what I see at visitations. I have seen that I have had a fortunate start in life filled with many blessings.

Secondly, the next message I push out there is the need for constant gratitude. One must never take for granted the sacrifice others have made for one’s comfort and provision. There are too many people out in the world today who live in a state of constant dissatisfaction with their lives and so live lives devoid of gratitude. It is one thing to have high standards and be unhappy when one falls short, but it is another when one is constantly dissatisfied and begins to become envious of others around who seem to be better off. A habit of deep gratitude is the antidote to envy and covetousness. However much one thinks one is suffering; there is always someone out there who is suffering far more.

The third thing I love about visitations is meeting people who are genuine and genuinely happy for even the brief company of a total stranger who they may never meet again. This reinforces the fact that all human beings need contact. I don’t think being a hermit comes naturally. Even if from time to time we desire to be left alone, I think human beings are primarily social beings and need interaction, no matter how fleeting or superficial. Being alone can have grave consequences on our health. I have seen people light up and come alive after just a few minutes of being with them. Everyone needs and craves some level of interaction.

Fourthly, visitations allow our organization and staff meet the needs of people who are in need. It is great to be able to provide some basics for people who have pressing needs, but from my experience, the visit is appreciated far more than whatever we bring. The material things we give are not as valued as the hugs and words of encouragement and the appeal to return for more visits is not because of what they expect we will bring, but for the promise of camaraderie. For the knowledge that in the midst of their struggle, a kind heart remembers and temporarily bears their burden, makes life more bearable.

The fifth thing I love about visitations is it gives me the opportunity to be a blessing, to be a person who is solving problems and ending challenges, to be a person who is actively righting wrongs, to be a solution provider, to be a bearer of good news. For this world has become progressively richer every decade, every century; the standard of living has constantly improved, new technology has made processes and work more efficient and effective, yet human beings have become more depressed, more unhappy, more dissatisfied and perhaps more destructive. Being in Non-profit is being a blessing in many ways.

I have come to learn that charity does not mean pity, as St. Theresa of Calcutta always said. Pity has no place in being charitable. Pity is draining, pity is undignified, pity is negative, pity dehumanizes. Charity is more about love, empowerment, dignity, hope and solution finding. Charity gives more to the giver than the recipient, in my humble opinion, because it is more blessed to give than to receive, as we are taught. If you want to make a difference in this world, if you have a deep desire to leave a legacy, you have to be a person who realizes that they are blessed to be a blessing and give hope and succor to others.

 

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CELEBRATING KUDIRAT: THE SAD TRUTH

It is a sunny day at the Alhaja Kudirat Abiola Park on the 11th of June 2019. The park (perhaps more of a monument dissected by major roads with heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic) is clean and pristine, awaiting new flags from our foundation tomorrow. Since we constructed and maintain the Flags and its pediment, we come every year, as if in pilgrimage, to honour this uncommon woman. She was a lady of courage and dignity, who left the comfort and safety of her home, to protest for justice, continuing even after her husband was incarcerated unjustly. For this, she was murdered in broad daylight, a case yet to be solved and closed, 23 years after the dastardly and cowardly act.

As I sit quietly at Kudirat’s monument, I am overwhelmed with the sadness of it all, how a country that has so many educated and intelligent people can be a place of gross injustice. How a loving mother of seven children can be attacked and killed with such viciousness. How after two plus decades, a case like this can still be unsolved. How before Kudirat and after, so many senseless killings have and still go on unanswered, unexplained, unresolved. The wheels of Justice turn so slowly; perhaps they do not even turn at all, for the soil of our country is soaked in the blood of innocents.

Where does one turn to for fairness? Where does one go to complain over trampled rights? Where does one go to for succor, for justice, for relief? If those who are entrusted with our security, protection and to safeguard our rights have become invisible, where can we go? To whom do we belong? Who watches over us to ensure we become the people we were destined to be?

As I sit by the monument which stands in silence while the traffic thunders by, I mourn for Kudirat; I mourn the loss of a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, aunt and friend; I mourn for the times that her husband wept over the murder of his wife, I mourn for the children who ended up with neither father nor mother because of their country. I mourn for the grandchildren who came later that never enjoyed their first baths from their grandmum, nor have any name from her. I mourn for the injustice of her killing that has gone unresolved. I mourn for the hundreds that have soaked the Nigerian soil with their innocent blood, victims of our invisible law enforcement and undetectable justice system. I mourn for a country that was born great, but has refused to occupy the huge space allotted to it, preferring to stick to a tiny corner of infamy populated by the notorious.

May the soul of Kudirat Abiola and all other victims of injustice continue to rest in perfect peace. But I thank God that even if men deny justice, He who made the heavens and the earth, knows how to right all wrongs, either in this world or the next.

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FINDING YOUR VOICE

“The moment a woman comes home to herself, the moment she knows that she has become a person of influence, an artist of her life, a sculptor of her universe, a person with rights and responsibilities who is respected and recognized, the resurrection of the world begins.” 

– Joan Chittister

On one occasion, I had a very bad throat infection. It dragged on for weeks and defied one antibiotic after another. One night, in my battle to regain my health, I woke up in the early hours, my throat seemingly on fire with the infection, my body weakened with fever and nausea and antibiotics, my body toxic with the prolonged use of medications and I realized I had completely lost my voice. I would speak and no words would be heard, just a diseased and hoarse sound which was completely unintelligible. It was frightening to say the least; I had a presentation in less than five days and could not speak.

Being unable to communicate, even the most basic of intentions, gives the feeling of a powerlessness that can make one feel utterly redundant. The only consolation I had was I knew that no matter what, I would regain my voice at some point in time, even if it was not in time for the presentation. This experience made me think deeply about people whose voices are ignored, silenced, discountenanced; not being able to speak one’s truth, not being able to speak one’s mind is tragic in so many ways. To be a person of integrity and to have a sound mind, but be gagged is cruel on so many levels, yet this is exactly what so many go through day in day out, year in year out, decade in decade out.

The inability to speak because of an infection is temporary; the inability to speak because one is not allowed to speak is totally different even if the result is the same, that is, one goes unheard. Speaking freely is an inalienable right, if it wasn’t, we would not have been given a mouth. Let me say that in another way; being heard is an inalienable right; otherwise God would not have put two ears on either side of the head. Just as we are entitled to speak, we must also listen to those who speak.

In many Nigerian cultures, if an elder wants to warn a younger person, they invariably ask, “Why do you have your ears?” To which the younger person is expected to answer, “To listen to my elders.” I always wondered why the elders had their own ears…it seemed to me that elders’ ears were not meant to listen to those younger than them, only to those older than them. Then, I wondered, who does the oldest person listen to? I asked this question of an elderly Aunty of mine who was tolerant of my inquisitive nature. She laughed and replied, “The elders listen to the ancestors!” Not satisfied, I asked her further, ‘And who do the ancestors listen to?” to which she replied, “The ancestors listen to God!” To take the matter ever forward, I asked her, “But who does God listen to?” To which she surprisingly answered, “God listens to everyone. If you want to talk to an elder, talk to God first. He will instruct your ancestor, your ancestor will instruct your elder, your elder will instruct you. So you see, you are your own biggest problem!” I chalked that discussion down to one that needed to be tested…it seemed like a wild goose chase; the type that African elders always send you on if you are a young person.

Eventually, my voice returned slowly at first, but in time for my much anticipated presentation. I had a new found appreciation for the way it sounded, I spoke, I sang and tested my vocal chords to see if I still had the range I had previously. My ‘over-antibioticked’ blood stream rose to the challenge and kicked the opportunistic infection out and I was overjoyed at the vigour that returned with my voice.

On a serious note, I have noticed that more and more people around the world have found their voices, especially women. These days when one listens to the news on the television or the radio, I see that there are a lot of people talking. The issue has become that no one is listening. Seriously, I don’t think anyone is listening to anyone any more. Everyone is speaking, shouting, crying, screaming even, but no one is listening, our ears have become a decoration on the sides of our heads and something to hang our glasses on. Finding our voices has been great; we are speaking out like never before about topics that we could never talk about before. But in finding our voices, we have all lost our ears, no one, no body young or old, not even the ancestors, are listening. We have found our voices at the expense of our hearing, our mouths at the cost of our ears.

RUNNING THE MARATHON OF LIFE (PART FOUR)

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RUNNING THE MARATHON OF LIFE (PART FOUR)

Every year, unfailingly since the Access Lagos City Marathon started, I have written about marathons. Last year, I talked about pain. This year, I want to talk about the course, the route of the marathon.

We all know the saying, that life is not a sprint, it is a marathon. I’m not too sure, but I think it was Maria Shriver’s mother, the wonderful woman who started the Special Olympics, that made that statement. In more ways than one, that is so true; especially as I look at my life; it has been and still is definitely is a marathon.

Standard marathons are usually 42 kilometres long. Nowadays, there are several types of marathons, the 10k marathon, the 5k marathon, the wheel chair marathon…I could go on and on. It seems like human beings, since living in organized societies and with modern inventions, never gave up the love for the long endurance run.  Then there are the ‘evil relatives’ to the marathons; the marathons “whose-names-are-not-to-be-mentioned”, also known as ‘ultra marathons’, these are not for the faint of heart. Only certain dare devils with zero fear tend to enter these marathons. Their courses are unreal; through deserts, through jungles, steep inclines, over mountains, at high altitude… I shiver as I type this! Amongst these baddies are the all time bad marathons namely:

  • The Badwater Ultra marathon in America. Billed as “the world’s toughest foot race,” the Badwater race is well-known for its 135 gruelling miles that includes a jaunt through Death Valley in July when temperatures are soaring into the 30’s and 40’s Celsius. The race starts in Death Valley and ends on Mount Whitney, covering three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600 feet of cumulative vertical ascent and 6,100 feet of cumulative descent. To even qualify for this race, you have to complete the Badwater Salton Sea race, which covers 81 non-stop miles from below sea level at the Salton Sea, through the desert to the top of Palomar Mountain.

  • The Jungle Ultra marathon in Peru. It’s tough to run the 142.6 miles in Peruvian rain forests and cloud forests, where the temperature is 90 degrees with 100 percent humidity, and an elevation change of 9,000 feet all downhill which doesn’t make it any easier, plus about 70 river crossings. Added to that, you have to be self-sufficient, carrying the weight of your hammock, sleeping bag, food, water and other supplies for the entire race. And all this in a rain forest with massive insects and other wildlife that bite and sting as you work your way through its five stages.

  • The Marathon Des Sables. This is 156 miles through the Sahara desert. Not only that, but you have to be self-sufficient, carrying everything you need for the entire race. The only things the race hosts provide to you is water and a place in a tent at night. When you finish, you will have run the equivalent of five and a half marathons in five or six days and you will have done it in 100-degree heat. Despite this, the race has grown in popularity every year since it began in 1986.

  • The Grand to Grand Ultra marathon in America. From the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the summit of the Grand Staircase in Utah, this marathon certainly isn’t short on spectacular geological formations. The only thing is that runners have to go over, around and through them to get to the finish line. That finish line is 170 miles away from the starting line, and each runner has to carry his own supplies for the trip. You get water refills and a tent to sleep in but other than that, it’s all you and only you. You are expected to run 170 miles in seven days (just short of a marathon a day), with an elevation change of 19,000 feet, while carrying a pack with supplies.

  • The Hardrock ultra marathon in America. This marathon has an apt name; it is, after all, filled with hard rocks that can ruin hips, knees and ankles. You have 48 hours to cover 100.5 miles, but those 100.5 miles are a loop that includes 33,992 feet of ascent and descent. Runners cross above 12,000 feet of elevation a total of 13 times, with the highest peak at 14,048 feet. Weather, cold temperatures, high altitudes and scree-covered trails that some racers need to navigate at night by headlight if they want to make the time limit, all mix to make sure these 100 miles feels anything but easy.

  • Spartathalon in Sparta, Greece. In or around 490 B.C., there raged the battle of Marathon, in which an Athenian messenger named Pheidippides ran 153 miles from Athens to Sparta — arriving in Sparta the day after he left Athens — to get help, and that deed played a huge role in Athens winning the battle. Some brave souls came up with the idea of retracing the route as an ultra marathon. And sure enough, this race was born. If you think a jog through Greece sounds like fun, just be aware that, at most, only about a third of the runners who leave Athens end the course in Sparta. The rest drop out along the way, which makes it even more amazing to look back at what Pheidippides managed to accomplish, changing history along the way.

Now I return to the Access Lagos City Marathon and the route from Teslim Balogun Stadium in Surulere to Eko Atlantic (aka Bar Beach) in Victoria Island. It is 42 kilometres of asking yourself, “What have I myself gotten into?!” As a member of the Technical team, when I start my work at KM3, usually at about 5:00am in the morning, I always wonder about the minds of those who are about to soak the route with sweat, blood, tears and pain. The route of a city marathon may seem civilized and easy to run, but it is anything but. The ridiculous heat of February, the inclines and declines, the uneven roads, the ‘ghoulish’ 3rd Mainland bridge, the never ending Dolphin Estate stretch, the constant meandering of Ikoyi and Victoria Island all gang up to make this one tough race. Kind of just like how life knocks the stuffing out of you, takes you up and slams you down and beats you when you least expect it. What makes you the victor in the end is perseverance. We don’t get a medal and a juicy cheque at the end of running the marathon of our lives, no; if we are fortunate to live long and receive the thousands of beatings we receive over the course of life, we can and should end with much, much more; the respect of younger generations, the love of close and intimate loved ones, the legacy of a life time of great work, the treasured memory of the battles we won, the awesome lessons from the battles we lost, the peace of knowing we were the ultimate victor over all that is reprehensible and base. Yes, and most of all, the courage of that old warrior of Grecian times, the Great Father of marathons, Pheidippides the Greek. How are you running the marathon of your life?