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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Thursday, November 16, 2006



I had a huge argument recently with a babangida apologist. The force of my revulsion for the military and Babangida in particular shocked my affluent audience but then that’s because they don’t know what it is like to live on the wrong side of the swamp or have shit thrown in your face. All forms of injustice always hit me like shit in the face and l know intimately, what that feels like.

I was born poor although l did not know it at the time. My mother worked too hard, my father drank too much, they fought all the time and we moved from one dingy little room in one slum or near slum to the other, all nine of us. We were nine because my good looking, young, never married dad, God bless him, had married my young single parent of four mother whose first husband had abandoned her because she did not bear him a son. I didn’t feel poor as most people around us were like us besides l was never hungry, at least not in those early days, but I always felt uncomfortable about the dirt, l still hate dirt and l craved my own little space but that was a physical impossibility so l started creating my own world in my head. Thus began my lifelong ability to be physically in the worst of places but in my soul and spirit in the place l want to be.

Eventually we moved into my mother’s little provision store attached to a house where about fifty people shared one slimy shack for bath and a pit lavatory. The shack was a discarded corrugated roofing sheet wrapped around three bamboo pillars. Since it was out door and exposed to the elements, its dirty maroon colour was broken by little holes through which perverted neighbours peeped at the burgeoning femininity of pre teen girls bathing. The concrete floor was always green with algae and remnants of other baths long before. The challenge was therefore not quelling the rising nausea that l always felt but in maintaining bare foot balance amongst such viscosity.

In all, the bath shack was better than the pit latrine, which was on a raised dais similarly protected by rusty roofing sheet. It was sort of like squatting on a throne of decay as quite a number of people do not get the aim right and yet some do not make it to the throne before discharging their contents. Climbing to the throne was thus an exercise in foot dexterity. I remember being fascinated by the contents that are clearly visible through the hole in the ground under which there was a huge bucket to be emptied once a week by those mystical dark men in tattered clothes, their resignation to a lesser life covered by an obliging piece of rag tied round the nose and mouth at the back of their heads. These were the Agbepo who carried the remains of human excesses and existence to deposit in the Lagoon. Since we were not real tenants it was a battle to get to use even those facilities or fetch water to bath from the well. Later we became 10, and thing improved.

My four half sisters, my three younger brothers, my parents and l moved into a room in a house where we had a right to the slimy bathroom and pit lavatory through which you could see the putrefying remains of many meals and the most humongous maggots. We were better off than our neighbours who lived next door in a house without those facilities. It was the last house on a street which lead into a swamp beyond which there was a lake with a foot bridge separating our community from those who had ceramic toilets on which you could sit on and flush away the evidence of your lifestyle, not that l knew this at the time. The people in the next house thus did the most logical thing, they bathe outdoors at the crack of dawn and wrapped their human wastes in polythene bags which they threw across their backyard into the swamp beyond to be straddled by water hyacinth until it degenerates.

The swamp was also our playground as we loved to throw crumbs at the beautiful white migrating birds who come to feed there. Once, aged six, as l walked back from the swamp a neighbour miscalculated on her swing and the content of her human waste polythene bag landed squarely on my face and cornrows. I can still smell my panic till today as l yelped for my sisters. Yelling, breathing, moving all worsened the matter as l got the mess into other orifices. It took an hour and the combined efforts of the contrite neighbour and my sisters to wash it all off my face, hair and body but they never washed it off my mind.


Anonymous said...

Please, where is the rest of this novel?

Anonymous said...

You write so well and its obvious you like I, have a huge burden for Nigeria. It will change, It is changing and one day I'll be back to muck in.

Nostalgic Nigerian

Anonymous said...

This story brought tears to my eyes , but good tears. I remember as a five year old with my maternal village cousins trying to use the forest behind my grandmother's house as a toilet because there was a family latrine in her compound shared by her, my uncle, his 2 wives and children and having to run the long 1 minute to go back to my father's house to use the WC where there was elctricity and running water. Good times.

Reader from Toronto.

Anonymous said...

I can relate to all what you wrote.I was brought up in that kind of enviroment you were brought up.But the difference is my Dad owned a "face-me-I-face-you," called tenement building.I went to schools with children of ministers and the power brokers in Nigeria,but I knew I was different.School afforded priviledges but home was different.

I live overseas now and I might have left all that description of yours behind.I have always found it hard to find women/men I could relate to on this level.

Thanks for bringing back memories

internationalhome said...

Aunty funmi,Aunty funmi, write this book!! A word is enough for the wise!

Anonymous said...

well I’ll never lived in a one room with pit latrine but I have lived in a one room even though my father’s mansion was next door ! during the SHITTY REGIME OF BABANGIDA, I was the only child of my parents for along time , they built their first house 3 yrs after marriage though the location had no electricity we lived like kings because the house was a 'beautiful bungalow' painted and all but we had to move out because children the area used to line up the street to wave at me when my father's LADA car brought me back from school my mother couldn’t stand it after a while, we moved to better part of town- GRA and I changed my school to the BEST SCHOOL in town , well after years there we started building another house we has to move to another location closer to our 'site' so as to monitor the building , then after a while we moved into a one room apartment for 1yr or so anyway we moved into my father's mansion without toilet ! yes for the first few months we had to throw waste to the river just behind my house , we were given toilets facilities but a family friend but we had not been able to fix it , two sisters had come after 2 quick successions and things were not as good but we were feeding yes we were but it wasn't easy ! I still remember how a neighbour saw us throwing shit over the fence and screaming STOP IT !it still rings in my head till date ! That was in 1990/91. Those were babangida years!

Anonymous said...

Hhummm! u write beautifully and i really would like to read the rest of the book. i think you shuold submit this as a manuscript at www.cassavarepublic.biz or thru Farafina.( i think i read ur piece on football in Farafina b4 though i dont share ur passion for the game)and you will get a book contract i'm sure.
back to the crux of the matter, election 2007. i wasnt that young during the Babangida era but i wasnt as aware of the politics as i wld like to think i am now but i remember the SAP days and its effect on my family.e.g Moinmoin leaves were washed to be reused instead of thrown away.that is story for another day.wat was i going to say? i lost track of my thots again. 2007 is crucial and we need to ARISE and make our vote count. by the way i still havent found a registration center in my area. i live and work in Surulere/Aguda. we shall overcome.

Anonymous said...

And to think I imagined you growing up in one aristocratic colonial-style house in Ikoyi, with summers spent in Europe! You just proved to me again that your background shouldn't determine who/what you become in life. I'm prouder of you now, having read this. It's sad knowing that people still live like this in this country "that has no business being poor" (Pat Utomi). All the more reason to vote in (if our votes will count) leaders that will make such ways of living, a faint memory.

bello.fighting.ignorance said...

Pure Genius!!!
the merde!!!
Clear road for jaga jaga
Clear road for yama yama.

Dimples said...

I swear i thought I was reading an extract from an already published book!!!

Nice one!!

Anonymous said...

Hey atleast u made the most out of the situation and survived.many stil go thru dat wil some stil eat and giv der dogs rooms hav u asked urself wat is realy wrong cos it tgakes more dan tuking which is wat most of our leaders seem to be doing.
let me tel u smthing election is not about being the best,eating or not taking part in adams apple but its time wen the eligible in the society get tugeder and decide who has done wat for them despite eating money, its a tin of pride and not wen one crook who thruout his regime couldnt do anytin just buys one bus, plastic cups,or highest open one borehole dat wen voted in stops flowingor time for kiling and makinfoes i dont believce u even need to campaign cos ur good would fish u ou unless we want to experience anuder impeachment regime and embezzlement of funds wich we neva hav orf de accept to hav.
wat legacy do u think de are leaving cos de young get corrupt now from de grave, heard abut nde paris debt frm u and want to tell u sometin dat next yaer the same excess crude money wud stil be used to settle de debt dat neva finishes thou de excess funds finish so did u get my mail hey i meant N.G.O in dat foundations. bye from cleoterria.

Anonymous said...


Whoa! I can imagine. I recall my family leaving in a one bedroom apartment and that we shared latrines. I recall the maggots. But it was so temporary as my family had relocated from he states and real short after, we upgraded to a 3bedroom flat. I'll have to ask why we were there. This was in the early 80s.

But, I can relate to you because even though I went to a private primary and secondary school, the biggest nightmare for me was always the toilets. While they the porcelain flushable toilets, it might as well have been a latrine. People would mess the floors and also the top of teh toilet seat with shit. I got to the point where I started to kust hold my igbe from morning till evening when we were picked up/found our way home because I could not stand the sight of all that shit.

I also got turned off from eating whenever I saw shit on the streets. I emphatize but you do not have shit in your face so work on getting rid of the mental babes.

Pretty makes the day go faster said...

I love your blog; its so real and thought provoking.

Anonymous said...

"All forms of injustice always hit me like shit in the face and l know intimately, what that feels like."

Your voice in your blog is strong and that of an assertive woman, I expected you would support your thesis of injustice by siting examples (possibly by military and the linking this to the difficulty of growing up poor, and trying to justify they were partly responsible) .It was absent in "shit in my face."

Also, I found,' but then that’s because ....' a bit awkward

Just private comments though - you really don't have to publish this comment

Errata said...

Can you people not be critiquing someones personal experiences!!
okay she never said the piece had aspirations of becoming a book however much youd like to read it as such.

Me I thought it was a funny piece but then again I always seem to find comedy in peoples tragedies. Anyway sha. dont be telling her her sentence is AWKWARD. Where is your own. Im not being a voltron but SERIOUSLY!!
When its time Im sure she'll request structured reviews and have professional editors on her team.
anonymous 4 you sound curiously like my lil cuzT. as for ibb election.......hmmph! one leg in one leg out;i no fit comment

Toni Payne said...

Ha!.. You really should write a book. Such graphic details. Call it "The grass wasnt always green" hehe

Anonymous said...

That was a lil' more information than i can handle..


Anonymous said...

This is such a true story i remember growing up is a similar suitation, it is funny how u can look back and won't belive you grew out of that...

Funmi Iyanda said...

@ honored all by the comments, thank you. Four quick points people.
1. writing is exorcism of the soul for me, l write because l can. The blog is an attempt to keep writing no matter how busy l am so l can perfect that gift, who knows where it,ll lead to.
2. l,m glad l took the lesson of poverty, the ability to feel the pain, understand the underlying reasons and a passion to eradicate it, there is a level beneath which any person within a society must not be allowed to sink.
3. l,m happy l dont have the curse of poverty, the rabid need to distance a bettered self from it, fear of it leading to the unquenchable quest for the material and the loudly clothed but barely disguished lack of worth as a human. l do not fear poverty, l know that its bite is impotent.
4. True poverty is of the mind. physical poverty can be overcome but poverty often lurks in the most gradiose of palaces.

Funmi Iyanda said...

@ honored all by the comments, thank you. Four quick points people.
1. writing is exorcism of the soul for me, l write because l can. The blog is an attempt to keep writing no matter how busy l am so l can perfect that gift, who knows where it,ll lead to.
2. l,m glad l took the lesson of poverty, the ability to feel the pain, understand the underlying reasons and a passion to eradicate it, there is a level beneath which any person within a society must not be allowed to sink.
3. l,m happy l dont have the curse of poverty, the rabid need to distance a bettered self from it, fear of it leading to the unquenchable quest for the material and the loudly clothed but barely disguished lack of worth as a human. l do not fear poverty, l know that its bite is impotent.
4. True poverty is of the mind. physical poverty can be overcome but poverty often lurks in the most gradiose of palaces.

lamikayty said...

"How can a man who is warm understand one who is cold?"
-- Alexander Solzhenitsyn
I saw this quote today and it made me realise that the 'high& mighty' who have never 'felt or lived in poverty can never understand what the masses are going through. How do we elect 'sympathetic' leaders to rule over the masses going in danfos and molues when all their lives they have been driven in 'moto ayokeles'?
I read this entry on Friday and it was with me throughout this weekend. We need leaders who have gone through 'this' and who refuse to forget to bring this nation out of the mess we are in.
Apart from boarding house in a Federal government College and Mozambique toilets (Great Ife!), I have never seen bathroom facilities like you describe!

Olukayode Taiwo said...

Men!Funmi this is really good. I was laughing like mad. i could use more of that to sculpt my abs... sebi that's what they say about a good laugh!
seriously you are ok for a nobel prize or something of that sort, even better.

Olukayode Taiwo said...

"writing is exorcism of the soul for me, l write because l can".
I just found an expression for my reading habits.In your own words "reading is exorcism for me", but how is that a gift. I could use your advice

Through these eyes said...

Eeewww...that shit is nasty. It must be so hard to remember that you were once in that situation but thank God you made it out in one piece and can actually write about it with humor. I remember falling into one week old pool of pee on the concret floor by my school gym. Shit is 10 times worse!!!

Anonymous said...

you should write a book!

Justme said...

Dont want to sound like a "groupie", and I dont know if you ever mentioned writing a book,but I think if you write a book, it would be a best seller.
The story was kind of funny @ the end though (Hope U r not offended)


BabaAlaye said...

For the first time this Month i'm totally lost for words.
And that's saying a lot.

I feel so guilty. We need to do more for the less priviledged.
I was "Preaching" this on my Blog a couple of days ago, but i had no idea people actually live like this.

Shame on all of us who are in a position to alleviate other peoples suffering be it your Security Guard, your Driver, or the Beggar on the street.

Thanks for Sharing your story. I was tempted to post annonymously, but we all got to step to the plate at some time or the other. Thanks

funmi said...

@lamikayty, the truth is many of our leaders both in public and private life do come from varying degrees of poverty. If only, they remember. Interestingly, the truth is that as long as over 70% of nigerians live below poverty level, then we are all poor as yorubas say, olowo kan la arin egberun otoshi, talaka l, hun na. (the lone rich amogst the thousand poor is himself destitute). just look at our "posh" areas like VI and Ikoyi, they are glorified urban slums if you look closely. There is no short cut to fixing our nation.

@dekore, of course it is funny, l wrote it with a cheeky grin on my face occassionally chuckling. since you "gift" is reading, l reccommend Frank Mccourt's pulitzer winning debut, Angela's Ashes and l swear you'll have a bod to beat the new blood james bond (god, what a god!).

@ babaalaye, you are right mah bro, it starts with looking into people eyes and just truly seeing them and treating every person whatever their station with dignity. my personal vow is nobody who is with me will stay the same, they must get better in whatever way they choose.

Anonymous said...


Came back to your blog today after we spoke the other time... Wow, you are really unleashing the fire here -exorcising your soul :)

You have a very good way of expressing yourself, should indeed look into it. Also look for the options that allows you show how many comments have been dropped, this way people are encouraged to comment as well.

I'm impressed!

chioma said...

Funmi.. I absolutely love you! When i read about the abepo it brought back childhood memories. I was born to civil servant parents and lived a very comfy "aje butter" life in ikoyi,went to a british school and had tea at 4pm.(lived in an apartment for the first time when i got married) However my parents (who had very humble beginning) made sure we related with our less fortunate relatives in ajegunle and mushin. That was where I saw how the masses, the true lagosians lived.I knew what "face me I face you" were, watched people being lynched, saw the covered up abepo passing by and i ate kokoro.We went to Federal Govt Colleges and the older ones went to University here (Of course with the decay everyone in the system now, all my younger siblings studies in the States). As a teenager though we had a driver I sometimes entered buses to go buy stuff at tej or badagry, not because i liked it but because the driver had other errands to run and my mum didnt see the big deal in taking a bus.(my dad never liked the idea of his babies in public transport, and would drop us himself or give us "drop' money)..I have lived a priviledged life but I can relate with all sorts of people because of my upbringing.
Recently my lovely dad passed on, everyone in my office was shocked that he had been a Fed perm sec because of the way I related with everyone in the office. They gasped at my parents house when they came to pay condolence visits (I wondered how they expected me to behave). Poverty can be a curse and when we are blessed to ride above it we should not forget those who still grapple with it.
Funmi you have a wonderful spirit and I thank you for not forgetting your humble beginnings, now that you have crossed to the other side.
I pray that you raise your lovely daughter(pls dont put her in a bus!)to appreciate how blessed she is, and how there is no difference between her and her peers that live in the slums of aj city or the palaces of brunei.
I wish I could visit your show but we are here in abuja. When next you are in abuja please be our guest at Crystal Palace Hotel, we would love to have you..chioma

Unknown said...

Just stumbled on your blog and I must say I'm so so impressed I have to leave a comment. I didn't realise you were such an articulate writer. I thought it was only the "New Dawn" stuff you did. Keep the flag flying.

Now to comment on the post ... I guess most of us would display a similar if not stronger revulsion for Babangida and the military. There are too many sad memories to recollect. I really feel your story and I thank God all that is past now. I believe it shall get better and Nigeria shall be great. Sooner than later.