Sunday, May 13, 2012


Members of the business community in Cotonou woke up this morning to be greeted by the menacing presence of hundreds of armed soldiers, policemen, combat-geared fire-service personnel and a couple of bulldozers probably deployed overnight by some government agencies to completely demolish the historical international market of Cotonou popularly known as Missebo market. This market established in 1972 by Biafran refugees has up till this moment been serving traders from as far as South Africa to the two Congos among other African countries. It also accommodates a good percentage of wholesale merchants from the middle and far east. One of the images shows stranded traders standing in clusters, unable to rescue some of their merchandise that have been covered in the pile of rubbles. Other images emerging from the scene prove that the demolition exercise has not been completely free from being bloody. One of the images captured by anonymous observer shows a woman wounded on her back with blood oozing from the deep cut said to have been inflicted on her by some members of the armed policemen. Amidst the crowd of helpless onlookers are some of the international traders who are unable to locate their customers except to track them by mobile phone calls. No official from the government agency in-charge of markets administration in Cotonou has agreed to speak to me. Surprisingly, the entire Benin press is blacked out from covering the event. No statement is issuing from any quarters whatsoever as to resettlement plans for the more than 1.5million displaced traders. STOP PRESS: A woman has just dug up the remains of her one-year old baby said to have been crushed by the bulldozer while sleeping in the woman's stall as she was trying to scavenge some of her burried merchandise.

Saturday, May 05, 2012


The weather was as inviting as the wave that splashed from the ocean, carrying with it some air of serenity that induced some feeling of serendipity. Picnickers backed by amateur orchestras lined the shores of the beach as far as the eye can see. Families and friends came with lunch packs and were eating or drinking amidst dances at intervals, while some people just loitered along the sand verge with no particular destination in mind. Young boys played hide and seek within the shallow shore of the Atlantic. Some brave ones would occasionally venture into the deeper parts of the water only to be called back to safety by their guardians or parents. The girls were contented with running around their custodians. Some bourgeoisie usually came with their four-runner brand of jeeps and would drive along the deep sand to demonstrate the ruggedness of their machine. These impromptu contests added to the amusement of picnickers at large. Miss Mano had come to the beach just to while away time. The loneliness of the long Ramadan break which spanned from Thursday through the next Monday gave her sufficient reason to loaf around. She could have been anywhere and everywhere, just to avoid the boredom of some domestic rigmarole. There could not have been a better place for such idling than the beach. It was a walking distance from her family home, and being there provided some refreshing and invigorating break from conventionality. She had come to the beach unaccompanied. Although she had a few school friends, but she was not in the habit of embarking on private outings with any of them. Along the West African coastline of Atlantic Ocean is an inviting orchard of beautifully arranged coconut trees spanning five countries from Nigeria through Ghana to Cote d’Ivoire. These coconut trees were planted by colonial masters more than two centuries ago as they sojourned through those areas. Migratory birds would come to make their nets on the branches of these coconut trees during the summer; lay their eggs and wait for their young ones to develop strong wings before they take them to another continent where the weather appeared friendlier. Miss Mano had settled down under one of these coconut trees for many reasons. She liked listening to the churning of the birds. What fascinated her most was the orderly manner with which the birds conducted their affairs. She learned that it was the duty of the male folk to build the nests which needed the approval of the female to pass for a house conducive for rearing up their young ones. It was equally the male’s duty to dive into the water to catch some fish for the family. What intrigued her most was the principle of give-and-take which the birds were very conversant with. The family breadwinner would fly to a particular point over the water and deposit his droppings to attract the fish. It would fly back to the branch of the coconut tree and watch with an eagle eye when the fish will come to scramble for food. It would then fly in a fire brigade fashion and dive headlong into the water and emerge with its prey tightly gripped between his beaks. Whenever they were picnickers on the beach, the male would scout around for crumbs of cakes, rice, biscuits falling from human guests, and would invite his wife to a feast, fearlessly hopping from one camp to another. Miss Mano was filled with awe to observe this orderliness among the birds. That atmosphere evoked some inspiring affinity between her and Mother Nature, which accounts for her obsession for wanting to come to the beach as regularly as she possibly could. She instinctively expressed this relationship in the following verse: “Gently swelling ocean waves Coming up from afar, far away Message of hope and despair to bring From Seafarers long lost in the brink Who will listen to the stories you bear To attend the sufferings of those you hear Gently swelling ocean waves ---tra-la-la-la….” Miss Mano was about starting another stanza of her rhyme when she noticed some massive shadowy figure envelop her as she lay under the shade of the coconut tree. She looked up and saw a young man in his mid-thirties. He smiled at her and she reciprocated the gesture. “Need some company?” he asked in a voice that betrayed boredom and loneliness. “That wouldn’t bother me,” responded Miss Mano, as she sat up from her prostrate position. He stretched his right arm to aid her rising. That gesture gave her the impression that she was encountering a civilized and kind gentleman, if that was a reliable parameter for judging character. He heaved a sigh of relief as he stood next to her in a manner that she considered too compromising and too close for comfort, but she could not protest. She thought it would be too early to start exhibiting her “good girl” mannerism to a total stranger whose intention she had not yet discerned. “I am Jones,” he said. “My names are Josephine Mano,” she said in return. “That makes two of us – Jo-Jo,” he said with such air of assurance as if Jones and Josephine had anything in common. As far as she was concerned, Josephine was a feminine name and could not be a direct derivation from Jones. So, what was the similarity that made Mr. Jones feel such connectedness? However, in order not to sound offensive, she just managed a chuckle while at the same time timidly regarding Mr. Jones’s muscular stature. She had a penchant for liking muscular-built young men. That and nothing else was her reason for wanting to accommodate a total stranger in spite of her natural instinct to be wary of strangers. Mr. Jones squatted right in front of Miss Mano, breathed noisily in and exhaled with some extended suspense as if trying to get rid of every undesirable air that had lodged within the cavity of his gentle lungs. He reached for the picnic bag hanging loosely across his shoulders and brought out some chocolate bars and handed a pair to the unsuspecting young girl while he opened one and started chewing hungrily as though he had missed a couple of meals during the previous hours. This was like an offer Josephine could hardly resist. She certainly enjoyed chocolates and had not had some for a long time. Besides, chocolates had not been part of her budget because of their prohibitive off the shelf price. She opened one for herself and bit a mouthful. She closed her eyes momentarily and shot her nose into the air to consider the aroma and savour the familiar taste. That was the way she enjoyed eating chocolate bars. Their eyes met and they both smiled sheepishly. Just then, two men on horsebacks shuttled past where Josephine and Jones were sitting. One of them slowed down and took a curious look at Mr. Jones, or maybe, both of them. He moved forward a bit, dipped his hand into the breast pocket of his suede jacket and fished out something that looked like a paper which he spread stealthily over the mane of his beast. After a cursory look, he hurried up his horse to meet his companion whom he showed the same paper he had fished out from his pocket while communicating to his colleague his award-winning discovery. Both of them did a swift U-turn and headed toward the “Jo-Jo” in a manner that is only comparable to a rocket emanating from a furious enemy in a battle for supremacy. Mr. Jones, who had remained deep in thought all the while, suddenly jolted from his squatting position, brought out a pistol from the holster of his belt, grabbed Josephine by the neck and fixed the cold nozzle of his menacing colt point-forty-five berretta on her right temple.