Michelangelo Antonioni died yesterday. His films have left an indelible mark on the collective imagination. I am still wondering how the through-the-bars shot at the end of The Passenger was made..
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Monday, July 30, 2007
Our Credulous Grammarian
You Must Set Forth at Dawn: A Memoir by Wole Soyinka. Methuen, 626
Towards the end of this, his third volume of memoirs, which covers the period from independence in 1960 to the death of General Sani Abacha in 1998, the 64-year-old Wole Soyinka is preparing to infiltrate himself back into his native Nigeria to confront the latest manifestation of military adventurism. By 1998 he had been in exile for three years and was
impatient with the failure of the opposition to mount a decent challenge to Abacha's
regime. Worse yet, Abacha, the 'monster' who had earned worldwide opprobrium following the 1995 judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa, appeared to have persuaded the international community to accept his transmutation into an elected civilian president, through the five political parties he had created and funded for that purpose. Soyinka believed that his own
presence on Nigerian soil, where he would make occasional broadcasts on the opposition's clandestine radio network, would galvanise the populace and postpone the 'evil' day when armed resistance could no longer be avoided.
Mercifully, Abacha died in mysterious circumstances before Soyinka could embark on his one-man liberation mission, but anyone familiar with Soyinka's extra-literary escapades will not be surprised by his willingness to engage a corrupt government with more than just his pen. Three decades earlier, when the then ruling party was busy rigging the first-ever
post-independence elections, he held up a radio station at gunpoint to force them to
broadcast a seditious message. He was promptly declared to be 'wanted' and taken
to court, but he got off on a technicality. Shortly afterwards, with the country sliding towards civil war, he set himself up as the head of a pressure group known as the Third Force and travelled to the about-to-be breakaway state of Biafra to negotiate a truce with the 'rebel'
That he wasn't executed by the first of the military regimes which went on to dominate Nigerian politics was due in part to his growing international stature as a dramatist and poet who had also published a well received novel. He was arrested and spent most of the next 27 months in solitary detention.
Soyinka is a physically courageous man for sure, but to what end? The elections - then as now - were rigged anyway; the country went on to fight a civil war it now appears intent on fighting all over again; and he was lucky only that Abacha died before we could be traumatised by the sight of yet another writer perishing by the sword. Either way, the man generally considered Africa's greatest writer would have been useless to the cause, which was - and is - to rid the country of the cabal that has pauperised it, as Soyinka himself predicted even before it revealed itself in all its wanton greed.
For Soyinka, the signs were there from the start. As a student in Leeds in the late 1950s, he rushed eagerly down to London to meet with the representatives of the people who had come to negotiate the transfer of power from the British colonial master, only to discover that these
self-styled nationalists appeared more intent on sleeping with the master's daughter than liberating their people: 'I recall one publicly humiliating instance: a national figure, a truly revered name in a highly sensitive political position. He got so carried away with his date that he paid for a one-night stand with a cheque, beneath which, just in case his scrawl was indecipherable, he had written his name, complete with official position.'
With increasing dismay, Soyinka observed 'their self-preening, their ostentatious spending, their cultivated condescension, even disdain towards the people they were supposed to represent', and feared the worst. His forebodings were expressed in his first published play, A Dance of the Forests, which failed to be performed at the 1960 Independence Day celebrations only because someone in authority finally took the trouble to read it.
The absence of any sustaining vision of what independence meant not only led
to the political crisis that quickly engulfed the newly independent nation but rendered the leading actors themselves incapable of preventing the slide into civil war. Tellingly, the war itself was fought under the meaningless slogan, 'To keep Nigeria one/Is a task that must be done', as though this loose amalgam of 350 ethnic groups and two world religions had been
created by God and not a foreign power preoccupied with its own strategic interests.
The one thing the representatives of the opposing forces needed to do was to sit down together to hammer out a political arrangement that would accommodate the very real concerns of the various groups unhappy with the country they had inherited.
For Soyinka, the Biafran war could result only in 'a consolidation of crime, an acceptance of the scale of values that had created that conflict', and the emergence of 'militarist entrepreneurs and multiple dictatorships', as he perspicaciously put it in The Man Died, the memoir he published shortly after his release from prison. But the fault was not all on one side.
In his current memoir, he is equally scathing about those of his compatriots who were willing to collaborate in their own degradation:
With victory go the spoils of war. Civil society lay at the feet of the conquerors, and within that civil society were many who had genuinely cheered, even sacrificed for the war of oneness. For others, the military had become enthroned as the new elite, and the level of fawning and jockeying to be merely noticed and smiled upon by any pretender in uniform already spoke of a nation that was loudly pleading to be crushed underfoot.
He recounts the harrowing story of a fellow writer who was horsewhipped in front of his wife and children because the corporal on traffic duty, impatient, as many were, with 'grammar people', imagined that he had jumped the queue. Such casual brutality became the norm, and Soyinka was sufficiently distressed by its daily manifestations to opt for a protracted
exile, first in the UK and then in Ghana. What perplexes a reader, however, is the contradiction between his well known hatred of injustice ('For me, justice is the first condition of humanity') on the one hand, and his apparent willingness to dine with its perpetrators on the other.
Consider his friendly relationship with his fellow townsman Olusegun Obasanjo, as it emerges from these memoirs. Obasanjo, 'a child of fortune', was a soldier in the civil war who became military head of state in the mid-1970s, when his predecessor was murdered in a failed coup
Among the achievements of what was to prove his first, short tenure, was a secret
offshore detention camp, where his perceived enemies were treated much as one would expect. Another was to send the army to burn down 'Kalakuta Republic', the home of the Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti, because Kuti -a cousin of Soyinka's - had derided soldiers as zombies in one of his songs.
Obasanjo relinquished power after organising elections that were rigged in favour of the consensus candidate chosen by the cabal that was by now firmly entrenched in power. In 1999, he bounced back, as a civilian president in elections rigged by a military that needed to shed its khaki in order to enjoy some measure of international respectability. Eight years later
still, having presided over a ruling party that Soyinka himself called 'a nest
of killers', following a spate of unsolved murders of well known opposition figures, Obasanjo organised another round of elections which even the normally complaisant international community baulked at, until - with one or two honourable exceptions - they came to see that access to Nigeria's crude was more important than the people's mandate.
Why Soyinka should want to be friendly with such a man is perplexing enough, especially when his 'friend' betrayed him on a number of occasions. The first came when Soyinka was about to embark on his ill-advised mission to save Biafra from itself. At the time, Obasanjo was the most senior local army officer in a position to prevent the war, but no sooner had Soyinka let
him into the secret of his peace initiative than Obasanjo reported him to his superiors. Not that Soyinka hadn't been warned what to expect: Obasanjo's own officers had already told him that he was not to be trusted, and he was himself incensed by Obasanjo's 'doctored' account of what transpired at their meeting. By and by, Soyinka agreed to a reconciliation meeting through the good offices of a mutual friend and found it in his heart to forgive his adversary, who nevertheless insisted on clowning about, as Soyinka recordsit. And that is where it should have remained. Alas, ten years later, with Obasanjo ensconced as the new military head of state, the two men had occasion to do business again and, again, we read about the 'bullish
personality' and 'calculating and devious' actions of someone who 'remains basically insecure, and thus pathologically in need of proving himself-preferably at the expense of others'.
So why did Soyinka put up with it? Because, he says, he has 'proprietary rights over such a phenomenon', a figure 'already indebted to me by an act of treachery' and could therefore 'regard him as a private reserve for compensatory study'. Since this won't quite do, he adds that, to his 'intense chagrin', he must have inherited 'a missionary streak' from the parents he wrote about so movingly in Ake, his childhood memoir. One might think that there are worthier recipients of Soyinka's missionary impulse. In fact, all this is just a tortured way of betraying his fascination with temporal power, and with the 'militarist entrepreneurs' he continues to dine with under the guise of helping the disenfranchised:
Those who insist on inhabiting the real world find themselves subjected to the clamour of what can, and deserves to be extracted from usurped authorityon behalf of a nation, on behalf of the non-statistical, palpable humanity that constitutes one's vital environment. For a temperament such as mine, it has never been possible to shunt aside.a sense of rebuke of how much is lost
daily, wasted or degraded, how much proves irretrievable, damaged beyond repair, through a position that confers the self-righteous comfort of a purist, non-negotiable distancing.
Soyinka is never the most lucid of writers but he does violence here to the evidence he himself provides. Take the case of General Ibrahim Babangida, whose tenure coincided with Soyinka's Nobel Prize in 1986 and who was later to be accused by the World Bank of looting $12.2 billion of the nation's oil earnings, largely through dedicated bank accounts to which he was the sole
signatory. Eager to be accepted as an intellectual equal by the celebrated writer, he invited himself to dinner and the two men became firm friends.
Before long, however, Babangida unearthed evidence implicating his childhood friend Major-General Mamman Vatsa in an impending coup. Vatsa also happened to be an aspiring poet and active member of the Association of Nigerian Authors, and Soyinka, in the company of the novelist Chinua Achebe and the poet J.P. Clark-Bekederemo, made a much-publicised visit to the general to plead on behalf of their colleague. Babangida received them
sympathetically, declared his own reluctance to spill blood and assured the delegation
that he would do his best to convince the inner council ('I shall go into the
crucial meeting determined to do everything in my power to save him'), but the triumvirate had barely reached their homes before they received the chilling news that Vatsa had been murdered.
Soyinka could not, would not believe that Babangida's hands were clean, but then somehow accepted the protestations of an emissary: 'Prof., all I can do is give you a report of how that meeting went. I think it's only fair you know that IBB kept his word. He has been most anxious that you know it,' etc. Later, Babangida was directly implicated in the parcel bombing
of a journalist, Dele Giwa, whom Soyinka had met on a number of occasions and,
once again, the charming general protested his innocence as a 'man of honour' and was believed by our credulous grammarian.
More curiously still, Soyinka manages to make a distinction between the devils he will sup with and those he will not. Beyond the pale are General Muhammadu Buhari, Babangida's predecessor, and General Abacha, his successor. The first had overstepped the bounds of pardonable behaviour by using a retroactive decree to execute three convicted drug dealers,
the second by executing Ken Saro-Wiwa through a judicial process which had established his guilt before it began sitting. But murder is murder and such distinctions are hard to understand. As regards Abacha especially, Soyinka's contempt is clearly personal, as if he is outraged that one of nature's 'human aberrations' should have chased him out of his country in
fear of his life. It's only a mercy that Abacha never got hold of him in exile, having
been forced to endure the sight of his adversary popping up on television speaking a lot of 'grammar'. Anyone who lived through the Abacha years knows how much Soyinka's public pronouncements from exile maddened the regime, which was why it declared him to be a 'wanted' man, and why, according to rumour, it recruited hitmen from Latin America and the Middle East to dispose of him.
The major flaw in this long, rambling, badly-written book is the author's anxiety to be seen as a central player in the unfolding tragedy of Nigeria. We are given endless accounts of his derring-do, not limited to holding up radio stations or consorting with the 'enemy': they include, for instance, an attempt to steal an Ife bronze head from a private collection in
Brazil which turned out to be a terracotta souvenir from the British Museum.
Soyinka the writer, who, in a series of plays and 'interventions', had anticipated more accurately than any other intellectual the monstrous tyranny and corruption that was to crush the country, has here succumbed to Soyinka the public persona, and the result is tedious, as all such self-reverential exercises generally are.
The one story that would alone have made this book worthwhile is only fitfully sketched in between breathless accounts of his relentless one-upmanship: his friendship with the late Femi Johnson, an insurance magnate and one-time actor, who became part of Soyinka's circle soon
after his return from the UK. The friendship deepened during Soyinka's initial detention, 'when I first experienced, with sheer wonder, the potential depths of human friendship.' Johnson was a constant visitor 'turning up sometimes even twice or thrice - on his way to the office, returning home from the office or setting out from home for no other purpose than to keep
me company, remaining as late as the police would permit him'. On the eve of the verdict and fearing the worst, Johnson offered Soyinka a driver to spirit him to safety, as long as he was kept in the dark about the details.
'If I don't know anything,' Johnson explained, 'then I can't give anything away. I can't imagine torture, I tell you. I'll break before a hand is even laid on me, so it's better for me not to know.' In fact, he was more courageous than he was willing to admit. Some years later, he took
advantage of a trip to Nairobi to make contact with the wife of the imprisoned writer, Ngugi wa Thiong'o:
Femi's trepidation at such assignments was genuine. Equally genuine however was his relish of them! He revelled in the business of flattening letters and cash into false compartments of his suitcase, making clandestine phone calls from the public box in the lobby of his hotel rather than from his room, trying out different verbal codes to disclose his identity and
that of the person whose intermediary he was. Our insurance broker carried out his mission to the letter, and then some!
Johnson is the one who drove Soyinka to his ill-fated meeting with the treacherous Obasanjo, but then his flair for the dramatic had already been realised 'in the shaping of Soyinka's dramaturgy', for as Femi Osofisan, the country's most prolific playwright, puts it, Johnson 'was an actor born for strong roles, and for whom Soyinka undoubtedly created those protean, histrionic figures always at the centre of his cast.'
Unsurprisingly, Soyinka doesn't himself allude to his friend's thespian accomplishments,
which would only have detracted from his own dramatic posturing.
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of In My Father's Country and How Many Miles to Babylon. He lives in Lagos.
The guy behind Friday's posting (Tings dey happen) - speaking Wafi..
Thank heavens someone has sense at last in Lagos! The new police chief Muhammad Abubakar has rounded up 90 skimpily clad damsels and their 3 dastardly male cohorts. I thank God that someone at last has seen the direct and obvious causal link between a woman showing a bit of shoulder and the rampant nature of armed robbery in the state. Knowing that at least some of these immoral girls are now hidden away behind the strong, wide and virile arm of the law will finally give Lagosians respite, as decency returns to swathe its virgin fabric across the South-West..
Sunday, July 29, 2007
The Nigerian media has been its usual confused uninformed unanalytical self over the Alamieyeseigha sentencing story that has run over the last few days. First, it was reported late last week that tummy tuck had bagged a 12 year sentence. Then, the papers corrected themselves: it was in fact 12 years in total, but with all of the sentences running concurrently, making a maximum actual-time sentence of two years. Then, we learnt yesterday that since Alams has been in jail for two years already, he has already served his time. Accordingly, the hero of the Ijaw nation walked free yesterday. If only we could rely on journalists to tell us how much of the millions of dollars of public money he stole to lavish on properties abroad is still in his keep..
Saturday, July 28, 2007
BFM Film Club are screening Dan Ollman's documentary Suffering and Smiling on Sunday, 5th August at 4pm. A discussion will follow the screening; with an afrobeat night after that. Click here for more info. Thanks Giles for the link.
Friday, July 27, 2007
ACCLAIMED SOLO SHOW ABOUT POLITICS OF OIL
IN THE NIGER DELTA
BEGINS PERFORMANCES JULY 26
SPECIAL $25 TICKETS FOR FRIENDS OF THE CULTURE PROJECT!!! USE CODE SMRTX25.
Culture Project (Allan Buchman, Artistic Director) has announced that the acclaimed new play, TINGS DEY HAPPEN, written and performed by Dan Hoyle, will have its New York premiere at Culture Project's SoHo space (55 Mercer Street) this summer. Preview performances begin July 26, with an official opening night set for Tuesday, August 7. Directed by Charlie Varon, this limited engagement runs through Sunday, September 23.
In TINGS DEY HAPPEN, Dan Hoyle portrays warlords, militants, oil workers, prostitutes and the American Ambassador to Nigeria, among many others. In this, his third solo show, Hoyle continues to develop his unique form of journalistic theater. Having spent a year in Nigeria as a Fulbright scholar studying oil politics, he brings to the stage one of the most important geopolitical stories of our time. Already supplying 10% of American oil, Nigeria and its surrounding Gulf of Guinea region have been targeted as the "new Middle East" of oil security. However, militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta are blowing up pipelines, warlords are threatening rebellion and oil company employees are being kidnapped with alarming frequency. The audience meets all the characters in Hoyle's ambitious, comic and disturbing new play.
Tickets are priced at $25 and are available by calling 212-352-3101 or visiting www.cultureproject.org.
"Hoyle has a gift for mime and vocal mimicry that recalls solo artists John Leguizamo, Sarah Jones, or Lily Tomlin." ~ SF Chronicle
"As a Nigerian, I was deeply touched by TINGS DEY HAPPEN. It made me laugh out loud and it made me cry inside. Dan tells it like it is, in the language of my people, even speaking the real, deep-down pidgin English! He shows the proud and fun-loving hearts of Nigerians and exposes the suffering of the Niger Delta under the regime of oil producers and their government accomplices. This show should be seen by one and all, and especially by my fellow Africans." ~ Baba Ken Okulolo Artistic Director, African Music Source
Thursday, July 26, 2007
The Ugandan Omuboro tree is under threat apparently, thanks to too many of them being uprooted to source a local aphrodisiac. No such problem exists for Burantashi, the Nigerian equivalent. Burantashi, a reddish bark, is sold in Lagos and Abuja and elsewhere. Apparently, it can keep a man in a staunchly priapric condition for the whole night. Who needs Pfizer?
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Seke Somolu's 30 min film Mama Put is showing in Harlem this Thursday (details below). You can see a 6 min clip here (having probs embedding YouTube today). New directions beyond Nollywood anyone? [thanks YO for the link].
Historical Harlem Parks Film Festival: Through African Eyes
7:30 p.m., ST. NICHOLAS PARK
LOCATION : 135th St. & St. Nicholas Ave.
RAIN VENUE : To Be Determined (visit
Subway Directions : 2, 3, or C train to 135th Street
MUSIC : DJ L¹Mani V / DJ Stone
Welcome to Nollywood
(Jamie Meltzer, USA, 2007, 63m)
The burgeoning Nigerian film industry, known as
Nollywood, is reportedly the
most popular cinema in all of West Africa and the
third largest film
industry in the world. Welcome to Nollywood looks in
to this newly emerging
industry, exploring its peculiar inner workings,
economic challenges and
diverse array of colorful films.
(Seke Somolu, Nigeria, 2006, 30m)
When a gang of three armed robbers arrive one night, a
soon finds herself feeding and sheltering criminals,
in return for money and
protection. But this fiery character uses her smarts
and talents in the
kitchen to extricate herself and her family
Article in today's UK Guardian commemorating Fela's death ten years ago next month - written by my mate Alex.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Monday, July 23, 2007
Interesting little piece on an up and coming fashion designer, Mobolaji Dawodu - here. Thanks YO for the link..
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Taken today. Note the men wearing aso-ebi. In a few weeks time, this church will have a building and be doing well.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Gender in the Making of the Nigerian University System by Dr Charmaine Pereira – a book launch and discussion
Book Presentation on Tuesday 24th July 2007
Venue: Shehu Musa Yar Adua, Abuja
Time: 9 a.m.
Chair: Mrs Amina Ibrahim
Reviews by Professor Nuhu Yaqub, Dr Rueben Abati, Chief Joy Ezeilo, Barister Ayo Atsenua and Dr Clara Ejembi
Book publishers: James Currey, London and Heineman Educational Books, Ibadan
Host: Initiative for Women’s Studies in Nigeria
The gendered character of the university system and its implications for women and for the kind of society that university education is in place to support, have rarely been the focus of enquiry. A recent study by Charmaine Pereira, titled Gender in the Making of the University System, shows how the multiple changes that the university system has undergone in the process of its formation are highly gendered, including deeply entrenched levels of gender discrimination, gender conflict and gendered violence. Addressing gender goes beyond increasing the numbers of women in universities to encompass the philosophies, values and mission of university education as well as its practice. This has implications for processes such as funding, management, institutional cultures, knowledge production and the quality of university education. Moreover, the most recent changes to the university system require wider and deeper consultation than has so far taken place and the gendered dynamics of these changes have to be put on the agenda.
The research on which the book is based was funded by the Partnership for Higher Education in Nigeria, a consortium of private US-based foundations that is supporting higher education across Africa. The partnership is also supporting the book launch, not only in Nigeria but in other countries where research on higher education was carried out, including Kenya and Ghana.
Support for the launch in Nigeria provides an excellent opportunity for not only reviewing arguments from the book but for opening up a discussion of ongoing changes to the university system and their gendered implications, to stakeholders within and beyond the university system. This is particularly significant in view of the considerable flux characterising the current condition of the university system, the current conjuncture of a change in government and the possibilities thus afforded for a potentially more empowering trajectory for the development of university education. The Initiative for Women’s Studies in Nigeria (IWSN), formerly the Network for Women’s Studies in Nigeria, is organising the book launch and the accompanying discussion. IWSN strengthens capacity for teaching and research in gender and women’s studies. Its members are individuals, mostly based in universities, working across a range of academic disciplines and spheres of practice. IWSN is currently engaged in a major action research project on the politics of heterosexuality and sexual harassment in university life.
About the author
Charmaine Pereira is a feminist scholar-activist, based in Abuja. She was born in Nairobi and spent her formative years in Kenya, Uganda, and Brazil before completing her education in the United Kingdom. She has taught at universities in England, Nigeria and South Africa, and came to Nigeria in 1993. Her previous writing has addressed subjects such as women organising, the state and gendered ideologies, and sexuality. Pereira has worked with a number of women’s organisations and other organisations in Nigerian civil society on women’s citizenship, political participation and violence against women. She is the National Co-ordinator of the Initiative for Women’s Studies in Nigeria.
Gender in the Making of the Nigerian University System
by Charmaine Pereira
This book maps the changing character of the university system in Nigeria, with a particular focus on gender. ‘Gender’ is used here to refer to the processes that define ‘acceptable’ ways of being masculine or feminine in a particular social formation. The aim of the research on which the study is based is to further our understanding of the gendered workings of university education. Education, because it is capable of developing scarce skills and raising consciousness, holds out particular promise to the state in relation to its need to control society and the economy. At the same time, education poses a threat to prevailing relations of authority, since education is also capable of stimulating independent thought. Gender in the Making of the Nigerian University System explores questions such as how gendered structures and processes at the level of the university system, and the broader contextual level, have affected universities; the ways in which the workings of the university system have contributed to bringing about gender differentials; how women have contributed to policy issues in university education; and the gender implications of existing reforms of the university system.
The study’s focus on an understanding of changes unfolding within the university system is driven by an emphasis on the kinds of changes that are necessary to propel the university system along a trajectory of greater gender equality and social justice. This entails understanding in the Nigerian context what forces subvert the building of institutions for knowledge production in this direction. It also entails an understanding of what strategies might promote the capacity of universities to engage in research, teaching and learning that are more likely to bring about democratization and gender justice. The overall goal has been to understand institutional power relationships, through an examination of the gendered formation and governance of the university system. Whilst considerable analysis of the university system has been carried out in other studies at various points in time, most of this work has been blind to gender.
Gender in the Making of the Nigerian University System is comprised of ten chapters. Following the introduction, chapter two discusses the historical basis for the educational system in Nigeria, as the overall system within which the university system is located. The intention is to draw attention to the regional, sub-regional and class dimensions of the system, which configure gendered processes and relations that continue to have an impact today. The discussion then turns in chapter three to the post-colonial context within which the university system has grown in Nigeria. The contemporary configuration of university education and its gender politics form the subject of chapter four, exploring the legal framework underlying the system and the nature of the educational bureaucracy. Chapter five examines the policy environment and the relations between the university system and the job market. This is followed by a chapter addressing the politics of funding the university system and its implications for the quality of university education. Universities are examined as gendered institutions in chapters seven and eight, focusing on access, student enrolment, academic staff strength as well as institutional culture and equity agendas. Finally, sites of reform in the university system and the implications for greater gender equity are discussed in chapter nine, before presenting the conclusions and recommendations in chapter ten.
For a review of the book by James Gibbs, click here (scroll to last article on the page).
Friday, July 20, 2007
We had a conversation yesterday about women's magazines in Nigeria, and how they do not yet reflect the diversity of local aspirational ideals. Put briefly, many Nigerian women still dream of being fat, not size zero waif-like. However, their aesthetic desires are not catered to - outside of the pages of Ovation magazine. Here's an interesting little piece on a traditional pre-wedding process amongst the Efik out east: the fattening rooms of Calabar (thanks PK for this link). Also, you can download/read this pdf on the same topic. For a slightly more scholarly analysis, click here - this article links the fattening room process with mbobi - female genital mutilation.
From the last article, it seems like around 50% of Efik women even today go through this fattening/mutilation process. The picture is not a simple one of blunt patriarchy however; during the mbobi process - which can last up to a year - Calabar women are taught the art of sexual pleasure. Even today, Calabar women have a legendary reputation (feared by Nigerian women from elsewhere), resulting in phrases such as, 'if a Calabar woman cooks for you, you will never be able to leave.'
Thursday, July 19, 2007
A guests discovers that we now have English Al-Jazeera on DSTV (channel 62). It's a small thing, but great that a non-Western perspective on global events is now available in Nigeria - even on the budget N4,500 per month bouquet option.
I went for a meeting today and saw someone secretly examining my Lagos Tube Map in their office, sent via email. It just goes to show the subversive/transformative power of images and the unpredictable paths they may forge. Who knows what dreams are made in this way? Transformation of society begins with a transformation in the way we imagine that society - there is no deeper truth.
How about taking that most ambivalent of objects -the Nigerian passport - and turning it, through creative means, into the most positive statement of a progressive Nigerian identity? Nigerian cool, anyone?
A friend has just returned from Jos. He was unfortunate to have taken the new road. No one takes the new road to Jos, unless they are mad or they enjoy contributing to someone else's corruption. The new road gets you there theoretically 15 minutes earlier than the old road. Trouble is, in the little bit of Kaduna State you have to go through on the old road, the VIO are waiting. The VIO is the Vehicle Inspectorate Office. They make money at this spot by finding vehicle 'particulars' that you don't have, and then selling the forms to you for several thousand naira. They make the trip to Jos along the new road an utter misery, which is a shame, as Jos makes a pleasant getaway from the capital.
My friend has a new car, which has every possible bit of paper these people need to see. However, they have a way of extracting money even in this situation: they force you to buy the Nigerian Highway Code (yep, there is such a thing) - for N2k. After some futile discussion on the way there, my mate paid the money for the useless pamphlet, and made his way. On the way back to Abuja the next day, a new set of VIO vultures were lurking. The same old rent-seeking routine began. However, the time was close to 3pm - finishing time for these hard-working soldiers of truth and good conscience. The decided to leave with all the photocopied papers from the car - and the Nigerian Highway Code he'd bought the previous day. Nice bit of recycling that.
Here are some tips on driving in Nigeria by an expat. It rings true to my experience.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
In the utility room next to the kitchen in our little semi-detached house, the kittens lay sleeping. Their eyes were not yet open, their tiny mouths opening and closing in sleep. The smell of mother’s milk pervaded the air. I was 6. In puerile fascination, I picked up one of the kittens by the tail and swung it round and round. Then, in an instant, the shiny fur slipped through my fingers. The baby cat went splat against the wall.
I picked up the lifeless body, cradled the fragile, broken head, and let out a cry. Mom came in and asked what had happened. I lied and said I had found the kitten there. The guilt and shame over that one life lost is, on a subtle level, with me still. No human has the right to take another sentient being’s life.
In 2002, I went back to Belgium, on a nostalgia trip. I wanted to map the dream morphosis of Liege I had cultivated back onto the physical grid of the city itself – the city I had known ten years before. After a few days of this therapeutic exercise, strolling down and up cobbled streets, searching for places that were no longer there, staring at the space that was, drugged in loss, I took myself off to Maastricht on the train. I met up with a Trini friend of ours, L__. I wanted to buy some crockery from a fabulous shop in town as well as just be in Holland.
First we met up in the centre. The day was cold and wet and full of November. We entered a café – all smoke and cheese plants and fresh-faced Dutch. L__ stood behind me as I asked the proprietor if there was space for two. He shook his head. Behind his shoulder, I spied an empty table. I shrugged my shoulders and we turned to leave. Whatever.
As we closed the door, another late middle-aged couple entered. Looking through the smoked glass door, I could see the proprietor ushering them to the empty seats.
Something inside me snapped like a bad hamstring – a synaptic transfer van-der-graffed into bodily impulse. I barged back inside the café and demanded to know why we had been refused a seat and yet the couple were not. The proprietor had a shocked look on his face as I bawled at him – alarm spread across his moustache and his eyebrows raised in surrender. ‘You fucking racist bastard. What kind of shit is that?’ On and on I ranted. The room froze into silence around my words. L__ stood in the doorway, looking on, her face a portrait of saddened indignance. As soon as I felt my anger lowering, I turned and we left and went back to her apartment. She kept me company with tea and her razor-sharp wit and social commentary for the rest of the afternoon. Her giant cheese plant looked on with a droopy smile.
I found out from Bibi later that L__ had been secretly happy that I had made a scene like this. So many white people would just quietly go on their way in a situation like this, their liberal meekness amounting to nothing more than passive complicity. I’m no hero. There’s little special about me in the grand scheme of things. It’s just that the struggle against injustice burns in my soul, as it does in so many others. If a scene needs to be made, I will be there to make it.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Pity poor Turaki (or not). He weeps like a woman for what he stole like a man, and now the kingdom is lost (guess the historical reference before you start flinging abuse). Kuje prison must be somewhat less than 5 star. The gist I can add is that when in Jigawa State earlier this year, I heard on the vine that he has a wife in Damaturu, a wife in Singapore (or was it Malaysia?) - with whom he spends most of his time - as well as a wife in Niger. Apparently he does not share a common language with the Nigerois. I wonder if the translator is permitted to enter the matrimonial chambers? Kalu on the other hand took his remand sentence like a man, I am happy to report.
It looks like Bode Agusto, who would have made the best finance minister Nigeria has ever had, has been pipped at the post by Shamsudeen Usman (from the CBN).
With ministerial confirmations coming shortly, we will finally see what kind of team Yardy go-slow has assembled..
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Document is a BBC Radio 4 series of investigative programmes that will go out (in the UK) for the next three Mondays from 8.00-8.30 p m. Readers of this blog will be interested in the programme to be broadcast on 30th July: it will examine claims that the British rigged the pre-Independence elections in Nigeria.
For background, visit Harold Smith’s website
See, for example, where Smith writes:
I was astonished to receive orders from His Excellency in 1956 telling me to help fix the 1956 State elections. I was to head a covert operation and, under cover of a study of migration, to take all Labour headquarters staff and transport to help elect politicians backed by the British. I replied with a minute that said, 'No.' These were criminal acts, expressly forbidden by the election laws of Nigeria and I could not carry them out. The Governor General and the British Government had it in for the Action Group, the government party in the Western Region. Robertson's remarks about the Action Group in his memoirs illustrate his deep animosity and hatred towards them.
A BBC team has recorded Smith’s allegations and will be investigating whether the British showed Nigerians how to rig elections.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Our essay on Ojuelegba (critiquing RK) is here. It was originally presented in multi-media format (beginning with Fela's track Confusion) at a conference organised by Toyin Falola on African Urban Spaces in Austin Texas.
Thinking about Lagos thanks to the earlier youtube post reminded me of Rem Koolhaas and his long-term interest in Lagos. For those who don't know, Koolhaas is one of the top trendy/innovative European architects, with his practice, Office of Metropolitan Architecture, in Holland, as well as a design studio at Harvard. Click here to watch an hour long talk he gave at Documenta 11 on Lagos (Real Player link).
New (and excellent) site for African Writing. Thanks Afam Akeh (the Editor) for the link. Read his own piece, Memorial for Biafra, first.
Interesting lecture on the informally organised nature of Lagos, including a short film about Lagos. Thanks to Emeka Okafor for the link, which also appears on his Africa Unchained blog.
A BBC Radio 4 contemporary thriller in two parts, set in England in Nigeria, with the extractive curse at the heart of the plot.
Friday, July 13, 2007
You know you're in danger of becoming Nigerian when you start:
a) Idly thinking of buying a high collar shirt
b) Buying a watch when you have never worn one
Both have occurred to me in recent weeks. Fortunately, a friend steered me clear of the high-collar shirt idea. (where do the guys buy these anyway?) However, the watch idea has lingered. Stuck in Ajose Adeogun traffic yesterday, I took pity on a watch seller. He flogged me a Patek Philippe for N1500. I am quite pleased with it - it has not stopped working yet.
Today I had a meeting with a guy. I noticed he kept looking at the watch. I could see that his eyes had traced the words Patek Philippe on my wrist. I wondered whether he wondered whether it was fake or not. Something in his facial expression suggested that he wanted to believe it was not, but was not really sure.
I like staring at my fake Patek Philippe. It suits me. I like my superfices. But am I yet omo naija?
Book review of Beverly B. Mack & Jean Boyd, One Woman’s Jihad – Nana Asma’u, Scholar and Scribe, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2000
Reviewed by Fatima Harrak, Professor of religious studies, University of Kansas
Considering the amount of work and the time that they have spent researching and writing on Nana Asma’u -- a northern Nigerian scholar-poet from the early 19th century –as well as on Caliphate women and Nigerian women in general, Beverly Mack and Jean Boyd may be considered the unquestionable experts not only on women in Nigeria but on Muslim women in general. Already in 1997 Mack and Boyd translated and compiled Nana Asma’u’s writings in The Collected Works of Nana Asma’u, 1793-1864 (Michigan State University Press). One Woman’s Jihad comes to give a more complete image of the life of this Muslim scholar and poet who, moreover, played a major role in the political and social history of the Jihadist Caliphate in Northern Nigeria.
The book is divided into six chapters and develops six dimensions of the life of Nana Asma’u. The first chapter is dedicated to the Islamic scholarly tradition to which Asma’u was affiliated by virtue of her scholarly chain of transmission. The second chapter presents the Qadiriyya Sufi order of which the Caliphate leaders and their families were active members and propagators. But Nana Asma’u was also the daughter of the first Jihadist Caliph, ‘Uthman Dan Fodi, the sister of the second Caliph and the wife of an important executive administrator of the Caliphate. It was only natural that the biographers dedicate the third chapter to Nana’s function in this Caliphate community. And since Asma’u was also a poet, Mack and Boyd dedicated the fourth chapter of their book to the study of the poetic tradition in Nigeria and in the Islamic world in general. The two last chapters undertake to establish the success of the Fulani Jihadist reformers in re-creating the model Prophetic community of Medina in the Sokoto of the 18th-19th centuries, paying particular attention to the place of women in this archetypal society. The co-authors conclude their book with a rich appendix containing samples from the poems of Nana Asma’u, translated into English from the various languages that she mastered.
One Woman’s Jihad is a precious addition to the women library in general and to Muslim women biographies in particular. Bravo to Beverly Mack and Jean Boyd.
I’ve spent the past few days in Anambra – my first trip to the ‘Light of the Nation.’ Day one is spent in a tedious all-day meeting with senior civil servants in the state. My attempts to avoid praying at the beginning of the meeting are futile – Jesus must be called to help the meeting be brought to a successful outcome. There are about ten ‘in the mighty name of Jesuses’ and three or four ‘journey mercies’ – haven’t heard that phrase in a while. Fortunately, the prayer only takes three or four minutes and then we are into the meeting.
As the meeting progressed, I am increasingly struck by the number of female permanent secretaries, both in the room and alluded to. This chimes with the women I have seen driving motorbikes in the few hours I have been here – riding solo and giving lifts – with bored expressions on their faces – demonstrating case after case of the entirely usual. It is the first time I’ve seen women riding bikes in Nigeria, and quite an arresting site. What does it say about gender relations, I wonder..
Towards the end of the day, I conclude that Anambra State has been battered and bruised by political turbulence for many years. Some of the agencies do not have proper accommodation; there is erratic (or as they say here, epileptic) power supply, let alone any thought of a wide-area-network etc. A director with a central role in budgeting does not understand the distinction between incremental and activity-based budgeting. Oh dear. There is work to do. That said, all the talk of the new Peter Obi administration is positive; however, Anambra has a long way to go to catch up with many other states in Nigeria..
Day two, we drive to Nnewi, to tour the well-known auto-parts market. My tour guide is the Local Government Chairwoman, Mrs Calista Adimachukwu. We meet the guy who runs the market, and tour both the motorcycle parts and car parts areas. The sun beats down. The market employs around 12,000 people, and rakes in billions of naira per year turnover. Even so, there is no electricity, no water and most of the roads in and around the market are in a piteous state. Given that a considerable sum of money must be collected in various rents and taxes, one can only conclude that there is quite massive corruption going on, blocking the development and upgrading of the facilities. Peter Obi’s challenge will be to break the racket, as he has done apparently in nearby Onitsa.
As we drive around afterwards, we pass by Idemili South Local Government area. I daydream of the spirit of Idemili (quite close to the Yoruba equivalent of Osun). I wonder where she is now. Does her spirit and energy still resonate?
Later in the afternoon, I persuade my host to drive us to Ogbunike cave - where Biafrans hid during the civil war. I have heard about the place as a possible tourist attraction in the state. We take the Onitsa road out of Awka. After a while, we pass by a small settlement called Abba. I wonder if this is the Abba of Chimamanda’s birth-place. If so, it is a tiny settlement from what I can see. A few minutes later, we get to Ogidi, on the outskirts of Onitsa. After a fifteen minute drive down a Martian road, we get to the top of a hill and road’s end. Three guys are lounging under the shade of a rickety bamboo shack. The initial ‘fee’ for visiting the caves is 5000 naira, which is quickly lowered to 2000 naira. A few casual bantery moments of haggling later, it appears we have hit the lower limit. I fling out a casual comment about ‘Onyeocha’ prices. They are not moved. I put forward the economic argument that charging a lower toll will attract more visitors, and therefore accrue greater revenue. Although persuaded of the logic of the argument, they are not moved to lower the price. I argue that they cannot be serious about tourism in the state. They do not budge a kobo. I call the whole thing ridiculous and a scam. They say that it is not their fault, all the money goes to the local chief to maintain the upkeep the area. This makes me think about the terrible entrance road leading to the cave. With the afternoon running out, I suggest that if I pay, I will also write out a receipt, that they sign it with their names, addresses and telephone numbers. They agree to this immediately. At which point, I surmise that the N2000 is fairly non-negotiable.
As we make our way down the other side of the steep hill, the two boys who will be our guides then request a further N1200 as tour guide fee. My host and I let out a collective cry of outrage and disgust, and turn back up the hill. Meanwhile, the third guy has wandered down to see what is going on. After some heated argument between them, the third guy, who seems a little older and has a curiously menacing air about him, motions for us to carry on down the hill, saying ‘we will settle it later.’ As I am quite keen to see the caves having come all this way, I turn around and we head back down the hill.
After a few more paces, we come to some concrete steps leading down into a ravine. The air quickly becomes humid under the forest canopy. The light is heavily shaded, with the sound of crickets reverberating in the stillness. Guide number one, Innocent, tells me he recently caught a hawk here. He wants me to start bidding a price. I offer him 500 naira, to which he laughs. ‘Aahh no. If only you know how I caught it!” he cries.
After a few more minutes descending the steep steps, we turn a corner, and there it is: Ogbunike cave. The mouth lies in shade under the heavy canopy above. I think of the word ‘maw.’ A solitary candle burns on a piece of rock at the entrance. The smell of incense is heavy in the air – strange to smell outside of the north-east. We walk down into the dankness of the cave. Even just inside, there is little light. Innocent points to a tiny hole to the right.
‘We go there.’
My first reaction is disbelief. It doesn’t look possible for a human being to fit inside such a tiny tube of space – no bigger than the size of a luxurious coffin. I look again. Perhaps on hands and knees, with the back kept low like a lizard? Innocent turns on his cell-phone torch light and enters. I take a deep breath and follow. The roof of the cave presses down on my back. I am wearing my finest Aquascutum chinos and jacket. Oh dear. I think of the dry cleaning bill. After a few metres, I call back to my host. I hear a muffled shout that he is not coming. Great. He has bottled it, and it is the two guides and I. The space is so tightly cramped there is no option of turning and heading back. A few more shuffles forward and there is a dip in the roof dimly suggesting itself ahead. The space is now so low I can barely shuffle – perhaps 20 inches or less of height. I feel a deeply embodied sense of claustrophobia overcome me. I stop and take a few calming intakes of breath. The air is dead, warm and damp. Innocent has disappeared ahead of me. I can see nothing – not even my hands in front of me. I shout out, and a light appears ahead – Innocent has pointed his phone back in my direction.
About five minutes of crawling later, we arrive in a hall-like space. I can hear the sound of bats fluttering wildly nearby. Innocent leads us towards an opening, and gestures towards the space beyond. We peer into this chamber-like space, and he shines his light. In the gloom, I can see thousands of bats whirring around. One flies past my head at speed. I am spooked.
We turn back into the main hall. Innocent now points his reedy torch light to the left.
‘This is where the crocodile lives.’
‘Whaaaat?’ I gulp.
Innocent explains calmly that the croc only likes to eat bat, so we will be quite safe. Even so, I quicken my step, and request that we find our way out as soon as possible. We carry on past the hall – the path turns to the left. Suddenly, I see candle-light ahead. A man appears, and says something in a sombre, tenor igbo. After he finishes his quiet words, Innocent translates that they are praying, and that we should just exercise patience. We then wait in the darkness.
It suddenly occurs to me that I have just argued with these two chaps, and being so far underground, the network is dead. Then, I think of whatever the man is doing nearby with persons unknown, and of the two strangers who are my guides, without whom I will not be able to find my way out, and the word okija quietly pushes itself to the front of my thoughts. Just then, Innocent turns off his mobile torchlight to save battery. We are in the lifeless warmth of complete darkness. The stream that bathes our feet trickles quickly by. I ask Innocent how long we will have to wait. He assures me it will be soon. I decide that keeping the conversation going is the best route, to stave off impending paranoia and the rapid flowering of nightmare scenarios narrating themselves in my head. They tell me they are students at the local polytechnic, that they want to go into public administration. Then we fall into silence, and the darkness overwhelms. The heat is sauna temperature or above. It is not good.
And then, the man appears with the candle again. He holds it carefully in front of him at the bottom of his stomach, cradled in his cupped hands. He says something, and we can go. Around the bend, there is a sense of daylight leaking into the space ahead. I sigh with relief. The smell of joss sticks again. We step outside and walk up to the first cave entrance. My host is there, with our driver. We walk down to the river below. The water is now a powerful stream, bubbling over a ledge. We meditate here quietly for a while, before walking back up to the cave entrance.
We see the third man walking down the steps, carrying something in a bag. Two women are waiting for him by the cave entrance. One is wearing white, with a tooth or bone as a pendant round her neck and feathers on a band around her head. The other is wearing a loose flowering dress. She sits languorously on the top of the steps leading down to the cave. As we walk back up through the ravine, I ask Innocent if the group below are Christians – I am sure they are not. He tells me they are a special kind of Christian. Upwards we walk - the humidity, the sound of the crickets, again. I have not eaten all day. The climb back up weakens me. I feel faint. Eventually, I reach the car, and the AC. We give the two boys twelve hundred naira, then leave. As we pass by the nearby houses, I look out at the people, and think of the clandestine activity that is taking place in the cave nearby. At that moment, it seems like a metaphor for Africa: nothing that you see is all that there is to be seen.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
A tourist attraction in Anambra state. Full posting on the experience coming up..
The 3rd largest auto-parts market in the world, apparently.
Chair of the Nnewi North Local Government Council, explaining why women make better leaders than men. Apologies for the poor sound quality.
show of Victor's art at the Hilton in Abuja, coming right up on the 16th July. His work features on the cover of the Nigerian version of Helon Habila's Measuring Time (published by Cassava Republic) - out later this year.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Caine Prize: Nigeria’s Round
With three Nigerians among the five on the short-list, West African hopes were high for a Nigerian winner of the 2007 Caine Prize. In the event there was disappointment when the winner was announced at the dinner held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, on 9th : it was ‘Jambula Tree’ by Ugandan Monica Arac de Nyeko.
However, there were West African ‘credits’ at the function. Some of these were Ghanaian since ‘Jambula Tree’ had appeared in African Love Stories edited by Ama Ata Aidoo and published by Ayebia Clarke.
Nigeria was also involved. It seems that the principal sponsors of the Caine Prize are the Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation (one of the Sainsbury Family trusts) and Celtel International BV. (The last named picks up the cost of writing workshops.) At Oxford on the 9th guests enjoying the hospitality of the Caine Prize organizers were told that a major Nigerian institution, the First City Monument Bank Plc, had provided the wines offered, a South African Chenin Blanc and the Wine Society’s Côtes du Rhône.
See also here.
Monday, July 09, 2007
recorded today with my crappy camera video recorder..
Win tickets to see Femi Kuti at the 930 Club, DC on the 13th July. Click here for more. Thanks K for the link.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
After an enjoyable 2 hour lunch at nearby Reeds (the best Thai in Lagos), I took my Janded friend Es to Quintessence and Glendora at Falomo. She remembered Falomo from her early childhood, when it was THE shopping centre in Lagos.
Coming out of Quintessence we heard a sound - a live band was playing nearby. They were playing the intro to my favourite Fela song, Water No Get Enemy. We danced and sang along. There was no audience, just a few people working nearby. Soon enough, everyone started to dance. Fela is the soul of Lagos. In two hundred years time, he'll join Sango and Eshu as one of the Orisas. What fortune to have lived in his time..
Sorry about the poor quality - it was taken from my cameraphone..
Running through Lady. The sax player honked a nice little solo on this one..
Friday, July 06, 2007
Aged 13 and finally going to the big school (Wolgarston, in all its ugliness), I used to cycle to Penkridge to spend idle Sundays doing nothing much. One weekend, I found myself in a bus stop on the A449 with three girls in the next year up. They seemed big and wild. It was shadowy inside this wooden-slatted half-room. One of the girls sniggered and then said, “shall we rape him?” As she said it, she moved to block my way out. I was shocked by the audacity of her suggestion, and its assumption that I would have no say in what happened.
Suddenly, my lungs were filled with the dankness of the space. The other two girls considered the proposal for a few moments. They looked me up and down, then looked at each other, then laughed dishevelled laughs. I felt a twinge of arousal, mixed in with fear. “Nah, its not worth it” one of the others answered. The first girl moved reluctantly aside. I walked out and went on my way. The air was fresh, my thoughts, dislodged.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Well, it looks like the release of Alan Johnston has prompted Nkem to start blogging again. I'm glad he's back.
SPECIAL READING IN LAGOS. NEXT WEEKEND
The first monthly reading and meeting of all creative
writers resident in Lagos, under the umbrella of
Association of Nigerian Authors, Lagos Branch, ANA
Lagos, after the annual Lagos Poetry Festival
(LAPOFEST) organised by the Association, holds next
week, Saturday, July 14, 2007.
Theme: An Appraisal of the Content of Nigerian
Literature, with Emphasis on Language.
Special Guests: Bibi Bakare, Andy Akhigbe, Jossy Idam
Book Review: God of Poetry by Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Compere: Dagga Tolar
Venue: Cultural Hall, National Gallery of Art (Aina
Onabolu Complex), National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos.
Time: 2.00 p.m. prompt
As usual, the special reading, which will be spiced
with exciting recitations, performances and readings
from creative works of new and established writers,
will present the right atmosphere for the exhibition
of creative talents. All (published) authors are
therefore implored to bring copies of their
publications for presentation and sale at the event.
0802 611 8565 / 0805 680 8265
Chairman, ANA Lagos
A friend and I trekked to Garki Village last night. Lagos Drive is aptly named - the area is a small slice of Lagos, with none of the usual sanitised/Rufai'd vibe you get elsewhere. Down a back street (I think its called a lungi in hausa), we settled down for a Star or five in a local bukka, while another friend ordered fish. Up above, Venus and Mars looked down with a twinkle in their eyes. All was well with the world..
After a while, I needed to urinate. The 'toilet' was a patch of earth at the back behind some shacks. My friend directed me. In the shadows nearby, a group of women were lounging in the shadows.
'Hey tall man. How are you? What is your name?'
I told her my name was Romeo and I was from Rome. She followed me back to my white plastic seat.
She told me she was a library scientist. She had studied at the University of Maidugiri. Her uncle is a diplomat in Italy. We left it at that.
A little later, three hajiyas came and sat down nearby. They had the northern babe look. My friend assured me they were women of the night. Later, making our way to another part of Garki, driving back down Lagos Drive, we passed the full spectrum of Abuja working girls. You have the breasts-pumping-ready-for-action Lagos-esque ones, then you have the covered from head to toe hajiya types. Something for everyone really.
Later, we ended up at Wonderland. Not the new Lebanese-owned Amusement park near the white-elephant stadium, but an area of open ground somewhere in Garki (can't quite explain where). You get there by driving down a lunar road, then across a rickety bridge. There are about ten bars scattered amongst the neem trees. Its quiet and very laid back, an excellent place to go with friends for conversation. Our table was full of the local Tiv boys network, with lots of jollyment under the stars. I found out to my dismay that the nearby Tiv strip-joint has been closed down. What a pity - it was an excellent night out while it lasted (it featured both male and female strippers). I had a memorable lap-dance there for 50 naira once...
At one point while at Wonderland, a couple of Katsina musicians came and praise sang for me - the music sounded malian and divine. They requested payment in either dollars or Euros. I gave them 400 naira. We found our way home by midnight.
Molara Wood talks about her friendship with Bibi on her blog. The Caine roundtable today went very well by all accounts. A few building blocks to put African publishing on firm foundations were laid. Watch this space, or rather, this space.
Its good to hear about Kano State taking cancer-company BAT to court. A ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and all public places in the State (and all other States) would be another good tactic to kick BAT, Phillip Morris et al out of Nigeria.
The One Laptop Per Child initiative comes unstuck just as it starts, in Abuja. There's no point having a laptop if there's no electricity..
Thanks PK for the link.
There's nothing more that gets me more violently angry than sexual abusers - paedophiles and the like. I often think about what form of restraint I could apply against extreme violent intent, had I a daughter that I found out someone had abused. Its easy to understand a father that would want to murder a paedophile who had tampered with his children. In Nigeria, the alarmingly widespread sexual abuse against young girls is too often swept under the carpet. The time is long overdue for an awareness campaign and some form of moral campaign, with the churches, the mosques and other institutions/organisations taking a strong stand.
With this in mind, its heartening to see campaigns like the following stance against Nigerian paedophiles in the US:
"The Cover Up"
Pedophiles in the Nigerian community
The "Cover Up" has long plagued the Nigerian community. The nature of this cover up is much to the disgust of the any living, moral person. The details of this plague are graphic in nature and will cause alarm to those who read this. The "Cover Up" in the Nigerian community refers to the sexual molestation of young innocent girls in America by fellow Nigerian men and the instantaneous reaction of parents to conceal it from the public and erase it from the child's memory. This reaction does not include therapy for the child, emotional console for the child, or punishment of the culprit. It is dealt with in most cases by withdrawal of contact between the child and the culprit and implicit mechanisms that demean, debase and emotionally cripple the child and her allegations. The culprit will go free without any condemnation or say so, just a peaceful good bye, well that should not be the end of it!
As a victim of the "cover up", I do not feel that abuse in the Nigerian community mirrors that of the American society because of the nature of the plan of action. Although I do not feel like it mirrors American society, I do feel like it is not limited to the Nigerian community. We are, however one of the few communities left that has not recognized this issue. I am not writing this to demean or in any way embarrass my community, I am writing not only as a medium through which to express my outrage but also for acknowledgement and change. We need to understand that level of emotional damage that happens in these young girls.
Acknowledgement. This perhaps is the most difficult task to accomplish in the Nigerian family faced with this type of tragedy. Thoughts of humiliation and embarrassment outweigh the need to acknowledge abuse in the family. The label "Proud Nigerian family" is the motivational factor behind every Nigerian family in America and overseas. Well, my stance is this: THE LABEL IS GARBAGE! The so-called "Proud Nigerian Family" is reveled with lies, deceptions and over zealous boasting. What saddens me is the negative effect it is having on the kids in these households sexually abused or not. The children already must try and sustain a level of "show and tell" and a sexually abused little girl fits nowhere in this "family". "That's what a woman is for", says the typical Nigerian man. "If you tell anyone, you will disgrace and shame yourself", says the typical Nigerian mother. This attitude about little girls is derived from the views of women more as property to be auctioned off and sold to the highest bidder than a citizen capable of being productive. A sexually abused little girl is not going to "get the highest bid"; she is rather considered "used goods" to the typical Nigerian man. Yes, it is an awful thing to say and an even more awful way of thinking, but it is a truth that instead of coming to live with it like most Nigerian-born women, I and hopefully we all will take a stance against it.
Change. After acknowledgement, we need change in our community. This cannot go on any longer. We need to be proactive in raising our future. As parents, siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, and all others we should have the desire to inquire about our children, ask questions, make suggestions, and most of all consider the unthinkable and have a plan of action. We need inform our little girls about what to do if this were to ever happen to them and most importantly; We Need To Listen. We need to disregard this barbaric way of thinking that most of our parents raised us with. We need to acknowledge everyone as not just physical but emotional human beings. We need to consider our beautiful little Nigerian girls not just as future mothers but as future providers, nurtures, support systems, professionals and most of all take notice of their behavior. Confidence, shyness, and reaction toward men should be a basis for considering behavioral characteristics in little girls.
TAKE NOTICE. DON'T BE AFRAID TO TAKE A STANCE AGAINST SOMETHING!!!!! TAKE NOTICE!!!
As an American-born Nigerian woman, I a cannot help but consider my sisters at home who have and are still being victimized by the "cover up". For them I ask,
"Chineke, kpoputa ndi ogbenye na ndi enwegi; zoputa ha naka ndi ojoo." (Psalms 82:4)
"Lord, deliver the poor and the needy; free them from the hand of the wicked."(Psalms 82; 4)
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Well the new guy is doing a great job - public sector corruption in Nigeria must be at an all time low. I'm not talking about Yar'Adua's recent declaration of assets (he's worth N856m) - as Reuben Abati notes in an excellent piece, not a bad return for a chemistry teacher in Katsina; rather, the fact that not a single Minister has been appointed. This means that no govt contracts in any Ministry can be approved, as there is no Executive Council to review and rubber-stamp them. Perhaps there is a model for government going forwards somewhere in there. No contracts, no kick-backs, no ministers, no work. Abuja could return to the sleepy rural setting it was, and the private sector could be left to self-organise Nigeria's path to economic and social development..
Interesting page on African migrant stories on the Beeb. Thanks AS for the link. Also, Ishmael Beah is also on Hard Talk (BBC World around the globe) at present (its shown everyday I think) - very interesting interview with Zeinab Badawi..
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
The question of ownership has been disturbing quite deeply lately. Questions such as, what can we really own? Why do we care about owning things? Is it right to want to own so much stuff? Why not let it all go?
It all began a couple of weeks ago, although in another sense, it has always been there. I met a former student who is making a documentary about compulsive hoarders. There are more hoarders about than you might imagine - in London there is even a hoarders' 12-step support programme. It seems that many people (often as a result of traumatic experience) have a fear of letting anything go, to the extent that their living spaces become warrens, with narrow canyons of space carved out of mountains of clutter. He showed me some of his footage: one woman could not bear to let go of the cotton pads she used to wipe off her make up each night. And so, in her bedroom, there is a huge fluffy pyramid of cotton pads, each with a stained dot of makeup in the centre. Another could not bear to bin her plastic bath and shower soap bottles. Her bath is ringed with half full containers. She has to gingerly displace some of them each time she goes to bathe, placing them back carefully afterwards..
The question of why people get stuck in the compulsion to hoard begs another question as its mirror opposite: why does anyone want to take ownership of anything? What does ownership pushed to its extremes tell us about everyday claims of ownership? Why do we want to consume and gather round us more than we will ever need? Do we really need that many pairs of shoes, that many jackets, that many adornments parading themselves around us?
It reminds me of the time my parents sold the house I grew up in from the age of 10 to 18 - a large rambling farmhouse in the village (Church Farm). I had the third floor to myself, as well as an outbuilding (talk about spoilt for space). And then, one day, it was not ours anymore, and I was bereft; struck with the feeling that in fact we never really owned it. Someone had lived there before us, and someone before them, and generations unborn would live in it in to the future. Anonymous lives going about their business, across time, in a space I had thought was exclusively ours! What delusion.
At the bottom of this sinking feeling was the dawning understanding that no one can ever 'own' anything. All that can be done is to entreat some kind of custodial care upon things from within the inner sphere of one's world. Everything we own, we will have to give up, to others, either for or against our will.
And at the bottom of this new extraordinary knowledge was the even deeper intimation that we delude ourselves into the belief that we can own things simply because at some inner level of being, we are afraid to accept the reality of our own eventual demise. We cling to ownership as a way of clinging to life. We fear death, and so we decide to own. We do not allow ourselves to realise that the world must slip through our fingers, as sand pours down through the hour glass of our lives.
What to do with such mordant realisations? One could simply baulk; move away from these disquieting thoughts and feelings, let them slide. One can continue to maintain the enjoyment of one's possessions. After all, isn't it rather lovely to have a well stocked wine cellar, a long library of books, to have that vintage guitar in the corner unstrummed yet loved by simply being there, that treasured collection of Fela vinyls, that 100GB collection of MP3's spanning all of human music in time and space? In these ways we condense culture within our grasp, and allow ourselves to be persuaded that we are doing our small but valiant preservational bit for the collective culture..
I am therefore drawn to the bourgoise comforts of ownership. But I am equally pulled or pushed into the seduction of giving it all away. What freedom there would be in owning nothing, of letting everything go, of giving it all away. I imagine being on a ship, and tossing everything I own, one by one, into the ripping and curling water below. What lightness of spirit it would be to set forth with nothing for the rest of one's days; of going walkabout, singing the landscape back into enchanted being; of becoming a sanyasi, covered in chalk, a humble mendicant..
This freedom is even more compelling when I think of all the people out there who could be reading the books that I hoard but no longer read, listening to the music I no longer have ears for: of all the minor inspirations I am withholding through this selfish yet illusory claim to own those coagulations of dust that surround me. All was dust, all will be dust.. The only thing that is not dust in the cosmos are the moments of meaning between all the objects that surround us in our multifarious presents:
The intricate cadences of someone laughing from the belly of their soul at a joke - Ellison's homeopathic laughter; the sound of an alto saxophone played by someone whose combination of 10 hours practice per day every day and a sublime spiritual tension produces the most divine squeaks at the higher registers (I'm thinking of David Murray); and of walking, on an autumnal day, with one's love, scrunching the leaves of the park underfoot..
All we have are these moments of magic. All the stuff in between is, just stuff. We should let it go, I reckon..
I received a couple of interesting comments by email:
One: use the water!
Interesting/practical way to start developing a modern transportation
network would be to first look at what is available vis-à-vis transport
corridors. The bridges, rail lines and waterways for instance are an
immediately available skeleton on which to layer a new network. Check out
this map of Lagos...you can clearly see the network of roads and waterways
as they intersect and spread away from the islands.
Also ignore comments on your blog about "the islands are not Lagos". The
bulk of lagosians may live off the islands, but this is a transport network
that recognises peoples' needs to move around and the fact is that the
largest flow of traffic is to and from the island...it is the hub of
activity. Even London's network is centred around zone 1, the west end/city
etc. but 90% of London's population lives outside this zone.
Two: Overground not underground, and start small
Good idea, but no need to base it on London, which
already had its own developed infrastructure, and is a
19th century tube for a 19th century city.
Lagos is a 21st century city, and its plan must be
around that mentality. Look not to London but to
Bombay or Bangkok.
Two big revisions to your idea:
(1) Forget the underground. Think more of overland
and/or elevated trains. Lagos is marshy, and the
landscape is fragmented. Underground is not reasonable
for the topography.
(2) For now, think of only two or three lines. Pick
out three major arteries, and run perhaps ten stops on
each of them. It would not be total coverage by any
means, but it would make a big difference to people
who have long daily commutes, and it can be
supplemented by danfos and okadas. First artery from
Agege southwards via Ikeja down to Ajegunle, second
one from Ojota to Yaba (maybe along Ikorodu Road). And
then one cutting across from Surulere to the Island,
and perhaps curving south to terminate in Ikoyi. That
way, hundreds of thousands of human beings can be
moved great distances with less pollution, less
expense (eventually), and less hassle.
Monday, July 02, 2007
Piece on the BBC's site today. Thanks PK for the linkage.
Click here to listen to an interview from last month with CNA on the Guardian's site. A few minutes in, she refers to living and loving and laughing in Nigeria. This is a bit odd, because in another interview, she claims to have given up on reading blogs some time ago... Stranger still, the interviewer then asks her about the white expat Englishman in the novel..
Let me not develop delusions of influence, conscious or sub-conscious, abeg. Thanks to the keen ears of D.O. for the reference.
A lovely going-home short piece by Ike Anya here.
(Ike runs an incisive blog with Chikwe Ihekweazu - Nigeria Health Watch.)
And Molara Wood has a superb short story in the same edition of Eclectica here.
The M-PESA mobile currency in Kenya is a world-first: buyers and sellers make payments (with the support of a network of agents to receive or deposit cash) without using the formal banking system. It should be directly replicated in Nigeria and other African Countries. Its simple and highly effective. The NCC and CBN and other stakeholders should get together with the phone networks and make it happen. I know several Nigerian tech supergeeks who should be part of the plan.
Bibi considers Marie-Elena John's debut Unburnable to be one of the best novels she's read in years- a novel stuffed full of passion, love and lust, set in Dominica and the US. Chimamanda Adichie agrees - see her recent Great Escape piece for the UK Guardian. Message from Bibi: if you only buy one book this year - buy this one..
Sunday, July 01, 2007
The new Colours in Africa shop has opened in Abuja. Colours in Africa has some lovely contemporary African furniture and objets - there is also a shop in Lagos (Akin Olugbade St in VI). Meanwhile, downstairs, Salamander is a tastefully designed coffee-bar-cum-lounge (they do cocktails as well), together with an outpost of Jazzhole bookshop (you can see it at the back of the image). I tried out an espresso - 7/10. There is also free internet access (via two laptops and wifi). Salamander is open 7 days a week, 8am - 8pm.
72 Aminu Kano Crescent, Wuse 2. 09 7084518
Quite a good website on the representation of black people in European Art. Here.
Excellent video. Unklejam played at Gay Pride in London yesterday..
Finally I have finished a pet project I’ve had in my head for the past few months: an interpretation of the London Underground for Lagos. Click the image on the left to get the full-size version.
As with the London version, I have taken quite a few geographic/artistic licences for the purposes of design clarity and readability. My thinking is ppp: companies with deep pockets could sponsor the design & build of some of the stations to reduce the strain on the public purse, and in return pick the name of their choice (see Zenith, Silverbird, IBTC). On the other hand, some of the station names strongly signal a poetic sense of place, as with Palace (for the Oba’s Palace on Lagos Island), and 1004, standing for the eponymous flats. Again, for ease of use, I have left out the Five Cowrie Creek that separates Lagos Island from Victoria Island below it – those familiar with the morphology of Lagos can project it onto the map in their imagination.
What a joy Lagos would be with this metro system (it could be part overground, and part underground, depending on geology). As with the London version, I have kept a light rail system heading due East towards Ajah and Epe from the shared stations of Lekki/The Palms – this is it to cater for the marshy terrain along the Lekki peninsular.
Just imagine how convenient it would be if Lagos had this metro. The highbrow set could take the Falomo line (Piccadilly renamed) from their Bourdillon mansions to catch a classical music concert at Muson – at last not having to worry about parking and ‘settling’ awon boys; one could shop for a picnic at The Palms, then drink and eat it all on the new-look Bar Beach; or one could stock up on no-one-need-know juju fetish-wear at Oyingbo market before heading for the Silverbird cinema (connecting onto the Circle line at Kuramo Waters).
Please let me know if there are errors or improvements, or any thoughts the map sparks off for you... Its time a critical mass of people came together to plan Lagos into a global city worthy of the name.
The imaginary Lagos Metro system I have created is copyleft/creative commons – you are welcome to publish it elsewhere, so long as I am acknowledged. Please email me if you wish to do so.
This is the post-link: http://naijablog.blogspot.com/2007/07/lagos-metro-imagined.html