NUPE DAYS – Merit Award


I am sitting in my garden late in the afternoon on a December day in Lagos. A cool, dry harmattan breeze blows across the terrazzo patio.  I hear the garden gate squeal as metal rubs against metal. I am aware of someone entering. A security guard hands me a white envelope with the words neatly embossed:



Wadata, Bida, Niger State, Nigeria

Surprised and intensely curious,  I am careful not to tear the envelope so as not to damage the contents.  I pull out a beige, one page letter. It reads:


I had not a clue that I had been considered for a community service award in Nupeland, After a short time, I realized that I had 48 hours to get to Bida where Nupe Days and the ceremony was to be held. Airline tickets to and from Abuja had to be organized, drivers, food, appropriate clothes, money, accommodations …. so many people to call upon to help me put together this trip. Everyone pitched in to get me to Bida on time!

Arriving in Abuja, there was another 5 hours to drive over broken, rough, potholed roads.  After checking into Bab Hub Motel and changing my dusty clothes, I visit the glassmakers of Bida on my way to the palace and give my respect to the ETSU.

The programme laid out each days activities:


Horse stables throughout Northern Nigeria—Sokoto, Kibbi, Niger—and from Burkino Faso came to Bida to race their best horses. The prizes ranged from money to generators. The races only began once the ETSU was seated. P1040525

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Dusk is short-lived in this part of the world and during harmattan season, the dusty air envelops everything. As soon as the sun sets, all activities come to an abrupt end and everyone rushes to get to the road as soon as possible.


From the race ground, I return to the motel and change clothes for the award event. There are cultural shows, music, and speeches before the awards are presented:

Then I hear my name being called to stand in front of the high table to receive the Merit Award.

I wish to express my profound appreciation to His Royal Highness the ETSU Nupe  for the award. I also extend my appreciation to all the Nupe Traditional Rulers of Niger, Kwara, Kogi and the FCT Abuja. My profound gratitude also goes to the entire Nupe Kingdom, all Nupes within and outside Nigeria for the honor. A special thanks goes to Alhaji Abubakar Mahmoud (Dangaladima Nupe, Hakimi Etsu Audu) who has been a friend of the family for his role in coordinating this recognition.


**Most photos were taken by my driver, Yacubu, with my camera. The first photo of the ETSU is a photograph from the royal photographers. The last 4 pictures of receiving the award was taken by royal photographers. ***All Photographs and text are under international copyright laws. No re-use without the permission of Lesley Lababidi 2023.

16 thoughts on “NUPE DAYS – Merit Award

    It is absolutely astonishing the flow of good fortune, first that you happened to be in the country to receive the invitation, then that you managed to drop everything and GO, then that you actually arrived in time to enjoy the festivities and receive the award, and finally that it was YOU who was the HONOREE!!!! WHAT an incredible experience and honor. We are so PROUD OF YOU, Lesley! Thank you for these amazing, colorful and life-giving photos. You look absolutely regal and radiant! You deserve this and more! With love, from Lynn and Mom

    • Yes it was quiet some serendipity at work! Everything lining up, it was as if I was following a path laid out for me. Amazingly, I followed! (hahaha) The ETSU opening up the merit award to me gives him complete and utter credit for his openness and acceptance of diversity. It is truly an honor. L.

  2. Hello Lesley

    Congratulations! Amazing pictures and an amazing experience. Was wondering what exactly you were recognized for? What activities constitute the ‘support’ mentioned in the letter?

    It is so wonderful to see everything you do. Such an inspiration.

    Wanted to wish you a lovely festive season and terrific start to 2019. Where will you spend it? Are you going to Lebanon at all?

    Thanks for the posts. All the best in health and family Diane

    • Dear Diane, How wonderful to hear from you! The reason, I believe, that the ETSU saw fit was the work that I have done over the last 4 years to help preserve and promote awareness of the glassmakers ancient traditional crafts through exhibitions, books, film, and opening up new markets. This award gives me encouragement to keep trying.
      I was in Beirut for the month of September but probably won’t be there in the near future. Tell me about you….would love to hear what keeps you busy. I will send this comment on the email as well. L.

  3. Lesley,
    I’ve read every word and gazed at each photo. The pageantry is impressive, the colors so vibrant and you are so beautiful and happy.
    What an honor for you and one I have no doubt you deserve.
    Like Lynne, I think the planets aligned in so many ways to make this possible.
    Love, Karen.

    • Dear Karen, Absolutely…the universe said YES and gave a clear direction and everything went so well. It was like one of those magic wands that pointed and I was there…Truly an amazing experience and I am still reeling from the magnitude of openness and hospitality of being received and accepted.
      Love, Lesley

  4. Lesley,
    The pageantry, the colors, and an honor I’m sure is much deserved. I read and looked at each photo and I’m smiling thinking of you being given such an award.
    Like Lynne, I think the planets aligned for this event.
    Congratulations, Les.

    • Dear Karen, Absolutely…the universe said YES and gave a clear direction and everything went so well. It was like one of those magic wands that pointed and I was there…Truly an amazing experience and I am still reeling from the magnitude of openness and hospitality of being received and accepted.
      Love, Lesley

  5. I am dumbstruck. You never cease amazing me. I have no clue about Nupe Land but have lived and travelled enough among traditional communities to know that if they go to the extent of recognising somebody outside their circle it means that she/he has done something very extraordinary. And the more so now, in these times of seemingly pervasive distrust in the motives of other people. You are an inspiration. All the very best to you and your family

    • Thank you, dear Stefano. It is the ETSU and the NUPE people that have shown such openness. I have been working in with the glassmakers in Bida over the last 4 years and this recognition gives me the enthusiasm to continue. I am reeling with such an honor. Happy New Year! L.

  6. Lesley, you and your fantastic life! Thank you for sharing it with us and congratulation on your well-deserved award. Michael and I send you hugs and our very best wishes for your 2019. May it be filled with health and wonderful adventures!

  7. Dearest Lesley,

    I have read through the previous comments and second all the opinions expressed around your always surprising, totally inspirational and – I must add in this age of vested interest- your incredibly generous work.

    Thank you again for the nicely produced booklet ‘The Red Walls of Bids- Glass Bangles. The work you do documenting, promoting and protecting culture and history is so important.

    Your merit award from the Etsu is truly well-deserved.

    I am proud to call you my friend.

    And like most of us have observed, you are beautiful in the photos. Love the gele- style and colours!



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