Heart of Arts


Toyin Falola


I accidentally owe the inspiration for this piece to Glorious Vision University and its Dean of Humanities, Dr. Samson Ijaola. I was invited to pay a courtesy visit to the University’s Lagos Campus on August 8, 2023. https://punchng.com/don-advocates-certification-in-technical-skill-programmes/. The traffic to Ketu, where the University is located, was not bad that day. Traffic flow has improved in Lagos since our one and only Jagaban, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, mounted the throne he claimed as his turn in the succession plan. A democracy with a Crown Prince? A throne of magic reformed the streets without adding to the traffic police or lights where the red stays on green. Those without money to buy petrol have learned to park their cars in front of their houses for dogs to look at and birds to perch. Psalms 39:6, after centuries of not having relevance in Nigeria, suddenly comes alive: Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! Nigerians are in turmoil, in shadow, so says the Holy Book. Whether your car is “tear leather”, “Tokunbo”, or “Nigeria-use,” they are now entertainment pieces for pet animals as the dust gathers.

Our car on the way to Ketu stopped suddenly, not because of “go slow” or “hold up,” but because a commercial van blocked the road while the driver got out to transact his business. Everyone exercises power in Nigeria, although the driver will tell you he is powerless. Anyone who can leave his car in the middle of 5th Avenue in New York is more powerful than the Mayor. Dr. Samson Ijaola, the Dean-turned-TF-Driver, was enraged, boiling, even though his big head was not expanding.

I love road rage, especially in Houston, where an angry driver who thinks you are driving slowly can point his gun at you. As soon as the now powerless TF-Driver could negotiate his way through his narrow path, remembering what Our Mummy in Israel, Folasade Iyalode Ijaola of Sango-Otta, told him, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life…” he yelled at the driver: ORÍ Ẹ FỌ́KÁ SÍBẸ̀!  As I wondered about his intended usage, it became “Your head is scattered!”; “Your skull is broken,” releasing its contents for pepper soup; “You are a lunatic”. A man of God from a faith-based University can quickly forget what Matthew 18:21-35 tells him:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”


TF-Driver does not know arithmetic! We are not from Israel, jo. Road-rage insults are how we roll in Lagos. I love them so much that I see the streets as cemeteries in cities like Gaborone and Kigali. Give me my Lagos and creative insults.

Years before, when I gave money to an Area Boy at Computer Village, he praised me: Orí ẹ fọ́ká síbẹ̀! Our slogans, like the politicians, our Lords and Killers, of the APC and PDP, can change parties at no notice. If you stole government money as a PDP member, Orí ẹ fọ́ká síbẹ̀! You have arrived! The EFCC is after you to steal part of it, your lawyers collect their shares. Orí ẹ fọ́ká síbẹ̀! You heard that the judge might throw you into prison, and you give My Lordship his share, Orí ẹ fọ́ká síbẹ̀! Before you become broke and beg for food, cross to the APC to receive forgiveness. Orí ẹ fọ́ká síbẹ̀!

My fellow Nigerians, we know the hard work and tenacity it takes to be a Nigerian. The struggle is real, and our eyes have seen many shege. One thing we are good at is our ability to adapt, our ability to conform to changes in the system. We adapt all the time; we adapt to new environments, new jobs, new people, new relationships, new habits, new phases, new slang, and more importantly, we adapt to new governments and new problems! But still, we stand gidigba; we are doing well, our head still dey there, e never commot for body.

Gone were when a bag of rice was sold for ₦10,000 and a cup of garri sold for ₦10. I should have “turned the side” of my late mother for a memorial service and owambe party. Our life today, na wa, as food prices go up, fuel prices put on a parachute. To build a house sef, e don cost. A bag of cement sold for ₦2,000 in 2015 is now, on average, for ₦4,600. The best legacy, education, no carry last for this matter. The cost of living in Nigeria is terribly high; being a Nigerian living in Nigeria no be beans. It is real work, but as the Igbo man will say, “wetin man go do“?

I know you have been told you are not doing well enough; you are performing below expectations compared to your fellow tech bros. Was it not all of you who graduated together last year? In fact, you finished with a First class, and they graduated with a 2.2, but now some of them have secured jobs with an oil company, another has gotten a house on the Island, and the other is driving himself around in a Big Daddy. Those guys you did NYSC with, cruising around town with expensive cars and living large, have told you to learn work and either bring one omoge or bath with the soap one Baba gave them, so you too can build a filling station overnight, but your mother’s prayers will not let you do Yahoo-Yahoo and run mad in two years. Your closest friend did not waste time before he japaed for his Master’s after graduation, and he now floods his status with pictures of him having breakfast in the snow and eating dinner on the Eiffel Tower. But you have only managed to get a job that pays ₦50,000 per month, flying Okada to work in the signature suit your parents managed to gift you for your convocation. Your only prayer request is that God should change your level; He has done it for your mates, ìwọ lókàn. Or is it the witches and wizards of your father and mother’s house that will not allow you to prosper? They must die by fire! So you can move forward. Amidst all of this, e no mean say your head no dey there. You are doing well regardless, doing what you know how to do best, legitimately. It will surely pay off. If Falola Baba Idan can make it without going to the Camp, you have a future.

There but for the grace of God go I

If you are a government worker in Nigeria, you would understand the struggles in the profession. Passion is supposed to drive you into doing what you love, but there is less or no motivation to work. You are probably not even proud to call yourself a salary earner; you have added five different side hustles to your job because “ọ̀nà kan ò wọ ọjà (“There is not one way to the market”). Your salaries are unpaid on time, and your fringe benefits are denied. The economy chokes, but you still dey breathe. The Pastor continues to pray and preach, but you must not forget the seeds and tithes. I don’t understand the passage used in my Church during the last service:

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:11-14


I look around, and I cannot find my salvation. I must live before I die!

As the breadwinner of your family, the first child of your mother’s 8 children, the first of your father’s 15 children and the first and only one to find his way to japa to greener pastures, the burden of the whole family is rested on your shoulders, but your family does not understand that travelling abroad is not necessarily a green card out of poverty. Abroad is a location; if your village people follow you there, you will know what’s up.

The competitive spirit in this country is high, where people measure their own growth and achievements using another person’s measuring tape. Who can become like Toyin Falola when you have not swallowed alive an entire tortoise in one go, washed it down with water from the Ogunpa River, and endured 2000 incisions on your head? The definition of success is not the same for everyone. To some, success is when they can build a million-dollar mansion in their father’s village. For another, success is when you manage to get a Polytechnic certificate, get a government job that pays you a minimum wage, find a wife to marry, start a family and live on credit and loans from cooperative societies. While to some others, success is when one can reach their highest potential, solve human problems and live a life of fulfilment and legacy. To Falola, success is when Nigeria is successful, but the eccentric professor is waiting for the eyes of the crab to blink.

Nevertheless, whatever your definition of success is, whether you are far from it, close to it or have attained it already, your head still dey there. You see, this is not exactly a motivational piece that tells you to Aspire to perspire so you can retire to refire in Maguire, but I write to tell you that you are simply trying your best; your head dey there! You sef no small!

Let me take you back to 2009, when a Nigerian artist, then DJ Zeez, released the hit song Fọ́kásíbẹ̀ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXEdPH4vpk0). The song that made waves and was blasted on every loudspeaker on the street back then was the anthem of street boys. Orí ẹ fọ́ká síbẹ̀ in Yoruba loosely means “your head is scattered there”. The word is used to commend or to hail a person, to say that you are the best at what you do, and your expertise is commendable.

The street boys in Somolu, my good friends, use orí ẹ fọ́ká síbẹ̀, orí ẹ dúró síbẹ̀, orí ẹ wà ń bẹ̀ interchangeably to show respect to whomever they are referring to. So, if I tell you ” Orí ẹ fọ́ká síbẹ̀” I mean “, I see you, I appreciate your work.”   If you are conversant with the streets as I am, you will understand the language of the street better. If you dip some naira into the hands of an Area Boy, he will hail you, saying, “Baba, orí ẹ fọ́ká síbẹ̀!”

Dr. Ijaola is not from Somolu, and his own Orí ẹ fọ́ká síbẹ̀ is not of a positive hue. The Dean is not allowed to listen to DJ Zeez to allow me to say Orí  Samson fọ́ká síbẹ̀! Orí ẹ fọ́ká síbẹ̀ is sometimes translated as an insult due to its vulgarity and depending on the context in which it is used. For instance, if you engage in a hot argument with someone and they go on to say “orí ẹ fọ́ká síbẹ̀” you will be wise to decide that they are not singing your praise or hailing you at that moment but saying “your head has scattered” and indeed, they mean it. In fact, they mean that something is wrong with your head. In the context of insult, I would like to deviate to say that something is wrong with the head of Nigerian leaders; they are sick in the head, but let us leave their matter aside.

It is the head a fish uses to swim through water— orí lẹja fi ń l’abú já. It is your head that makes way for you in life. You have often questioned God why your head seems to not have made way for you. Are you a spoon? A fork? Or your own head is just bad? Those making it, do they have two heads? Or how many heads is one supposed to have to make it in life, reach the peak of his career, and be in the limelight? Or was it your head your ancestors used to appease the gods? Or did your rich uncles use your head for their money ritual? You have asked all these questions and more. Perhaps you have consulted several churches, and they have told you things are not working for you because your head is bad and you will need to undergo some celestial rituals where they will dress you in a white garment, take you to the riverside, tie you down, whip your head with seven brooms so that they can flog out ill-luck from your head. They will also have to break a coconut on your head while 7 candles melt in your hands. Then, your head can begin to make way for you.

You admire the dons and captains of industries in Nigeria, whose heads have taken them to the top. Speak of the likes of Aliko Dangote, Folorunsho Alakija, Tony Elumelu, and even that small boy from Ojuelegba, Wizkid. The Yoruba believe that ibi orí má dé, à dé bẹ̀, which means you will surely get to where you are destined to be. You have to keep pushing and believing in yourself.

Glorious Vision University and Professor Babatunde Idowu, the Vice-Chancellor, oil dey your head. You may not be where you want to be yet, but you no go carry last; your head is there! Staff and students of Glorious Vision, on Monday, a day after your Sabbath, dance to DJ Zeez, Fọ́kásíbẹ̀ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXEdPH4vpk0)!

“I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:47-48).

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