Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Pi Day

Math Fun

Do you remember Pi? No, not the book or movie Life of Pi, but from math! Think of today’s date – 3/14. Does that remind you? It would, if you studied geometry or trigonometry in high school or college.

Time Magazine has a story about how Pi got its name! The story explains how people have math fun with today’s date.

Waste Management in Nigerian Cities

Last week Clem and I heard Professor Felix Olorunfemi speak on “Greening the Urban Sustainability Gap in Nigeria: Innovative Approaches to Sustainable Waste Management in Selected Cities.” Apart from a title that was too long, his talk was excellent.

Prof. Felix Olorunfemi, Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research

Prof. Felix Olorunfemi, Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research

Felix has a PhD in geography. He is at NISER, the Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research. My husband Clem was on their board for three or four years in the 1970’s.

Urbanization of Poverty

Before speaking about cities’ programs of waste management, Felix talked about urbanization in Nigeria. “Urbanization has produced its own ‘backlash’ of increasing income inequality,” he said. He called it the “urbanization of poverty.”

Because there are more jobs in cities, younger people leave rural areas and villages to go to the cities. They crowd in with relatives. If they are fortunate to get a decent job, they want better housing. But they are pushed further and further out from the center to find something affordable.

Public transportation is poor or non-existent. They buy a car. The traffic increases. Electricity supply is erratic at best. Everyone who can afford it buys a generator. And pollution increases, making people less healthy.

Felix said, “It is kind of a chaotic situation, and not sustainable!”

Clem’s niece Chioma is a perfect example. She has a good job in Lagos. She and her husband wanted a house. So they bought land to build on. But it is not in Lagos at all, not even in Lagos State. They bought a car for her. It takes her more than two hours to get to work if she leaves really early, like 5 am. If she waits until 7, she will be late. She cannot drop the children at school because it’s so early. So they have a second car which he uses for his own work and to take the children. More traffic, more pollution!

The 'plastic yarn' project in Yola, northern Nigeria

The ‘plastic yarn’ project in Yola, northern Nigeria; man standing beside wall built of ‘plastic yarn’ and rug made of the yarn.

One City’s Solution

However, Felix is not without hope. Students at the American University in Yola, he said, are working with market women. They make ‘plastic yarn’ from recycling plastic bags. The yarn is woven into lightweight ‘bricks’ which are used in building. They are competitively priced and easy to transport.

Steph Newell, who is British, was the organizer of the talk. She invited Clem and me to accompany her and a few students to supper with the speaker. We ate at Caseus.

The waiter introduced the specials. “We have pork butt, layered with sweet potatoes . . .” Before he could finish, Steph was laughing, looking at him in surprise. “How can you say that? That’s too crude.”

The term for that part of the pig was unfamiliar to her. But when he finished describing it, we both ordered it. It was worth every laugh.

Chibok Girls Update

The New York Times had a recent article about the Chibok girls. Actually it was about the #BringBackOurGirls, or #BBOG, campaign.

Thousands of other people have been kidnapped by Boko Haram. But because of the campaign, the Chibok girls are well-known. In October 21 girls were released by Boko Haram. But they are barely allowed to see their families.

“The girls now seem to have exchanged one form of captivity for another,” the article says. “The campaign made them famous and, as a result, precious to the jihadists. The military says it can’t guarantee their safety if they go home, so they remain essentially prisoners of the state.”

If another person who escaped or was released by Boko Haram was recaptured or died in an attack, there would be no media attention. But if one of the Chibok girls is recaptured, Boko Haram will have a major victory, the government fears.

Progress But Boko Haram is Still a Threat

The military has become better able to track down and defeat the insurgents. But many areas are still unsafe. Suicide bombings continue. Millions of people want to return to their homes and some are going.

Another NYTimes article says, “in some camps for displaced people, new arrivals fleeing the militants are moving in even as others are moving back home.”

The camps for displaced persons are overflowing and in dire need of relief, as I wrote recently.

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani wrote the NYtimes story about the BBOG campaign. She said a few of the Chibok girls who escaped early on are in the U.S. They were brought here to continue their education. But they are also ‘prisoners’ of the desire for publicity for the nonprofit that brought them.

“As someone who has been following this story since the girls were kidnapped, [the writer says] I am happy that the world still cares. . . But sometimes I wonder if we have not made things even more difficult for the girls.”

Poet Emily Dickinson

Poet Emily Dickinson

She warns us about campaigns like this which make captives so famous. She concludes her article, “. . .after the cameras are turned off, Nigeria will be left with a fierce insurgency and the problem the campaign created: What can it do with girls who are too famous to be free?”

Women’s History Month

Next time I’ll tell you about Emily Dickinson. Also the event “From Equity to Equality, Strategies for Women’s Economic Empowerment.” Another long title but an excellent panel discussion.



Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. My bachelor’s degree is in math, but I didn’t know (or had forgotten) how the letter Pi was chosen to represent 22 divided by 7. What fun!

    I had a similar thought about the released Chibok girls, but coming from a different place. I had mixed feelings about the de-programming of girls and women who were living well as wives of some of their kidnappers, reported a week or so ago. They must have Stockholm Syndrome, and were, no doubt, also brainwashed in a more overt fashion. So I see why government, religions and famlies want them deprogrammed. I would feel the same way. But I wonder if and when one crosses the line between deprogramming and re-brainwashing into another philosophy. Who should get to decide what they are taught? Who decides the religion of the teachers? Do the women ever reach a point at which they are considered capable of making their own decisions about what to believe, and are allowed to do so? The saddest part is, no matter how you slice it, they are probably permanently damaged in one way or another.

    • Thanks, Margaret. I was just thinking of Pi as 3.14, not remembering it was the result of division! Yes, the Chibok girls, and the thousands of others who have been captured or kidnapped, and then released, face difficult times. So do all the people trying to return to their homes and villages that were devastated. How will they get crops planted in time for the next harvest? Where do they find the strength to go on?