Friday, April 29, 2011

On Black Sisters Street in Amrika

'“On Black Sisters Street” marks the arrival of a latter-day Thackeray, an Afro-Belgian writer who probes with passion, grace and comic verve the underbelly of our globalized new world economy.'  Great review of Chika Unigwe's book in the New York Times.  Here.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Who will be a voice for the youth corps members?  #ProtectTheCorpers

Forwarded message from The Future Project:

Yes, we are angry now but 1) How much longer will that anger last before we all go back to our merry lives and forget all about this? 2) How will anger actually lead to any solutions unless we do something? 

The government has promised compensation for the families of those like Ukeoma AikFavour and Obinna Okpokiri who lost their lives, but this is not enough. Their deaths should not be in vain – it should lead a fundamental change in the way that the youth corps scheme is implemented. 

The Future Project (which runs The Future Awards), in partnership with the National Youth Council, AIESEC, SleevesUp Nigeria and Friends of Aik and Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, has decided to take up this cause. 

We are aware that many initiatives have been undertaken in the past – but we believe it is time to move from anger and protest and to make this a broad-based national campaign. It is also a fine opportunity for us to put our hard won democracy to work – to move from protest and activism to advocacy and productive democratic lobby. 

SO, over the next nine-months, we are implementing a solution-oriented approach that involves 1) Engaging government on a policy level to restructure and reform the NYSC in order to protect corps members in the interim and then to completely overhaul the scheme in the long term so that it is actually useful to the nation. 2) Supporting this Policy Engagement with a wide-ranging public and media campaign to ensure pressure is sustained on the government. 

Starting from tomorrow therefore, we are activating a #ProtectTheCorpers campaign that will involve both online and offline strategies to engage the authorities, the media and young people.
The strategy is simple – 

1)      We are gathering 100, 000 signatures for a petition that is going to the Presidency with a 7-point demand (see demand below) to restructure the scheme and protect the corps members.

2)      Request an urgent meeting with the Minister of Youth and the Director-General of the NYSC to implement immediate action points.

3)      Begin an aggressive lobby at the legislature, especially the Senate and House Committees on Youth, towards include the deletion of the programme from the section of the Constitution and placing it as an Act of Parliament with a revamped structure, as recommended by the Senate Spokesperson, Ike Ekweremadu.

1)      Read the demands below and sign the petition on  – and get at least 20 of your friends, family and associates to sign the petition.

2)      If you have any direct influence with any legislator who can help with introducing and facilitating this bill, please get in contact with us at [email protected]

3)      Use the #ProtectTheCorpers Hashtag on your Twitter and Facebook Accounts Daily, Use the Avatar/Display Picture on Your Facebook/Twitter/BBM Accounts and Send this Message To All Your Contacts.

4)      Support this initiative with resources or donation to sustain the publicity and lobbying drive over the next 9 months (our working time-frame.)

5)      Join the ProtectTheCorpers group on Facebook as well as the ProtectTheCorpers group on Yahoo.

6)      Send us an e-mail on [email protected] or call us on with any suggestions or how you can or want to help.

7)      Visit for more information.

1.      Hotspots - Identify violence-prone “hot-spots” states and/or districts and ensure that corps member posting to these areas is voluntary. This voluntary posting must also come with an institutionalised incentive.

2.      Emergency Fund – Institute an NYSC Contingency Fundthat  is easily accessible in pre-crisis situations. This Fund should be easily accessible at crisis periods.

3.      Decentralisation – The command structure of the NYSC should be devolved in terms of accommodation, welfare, wages and security to avoid red tape during times of crisis. State governments should be primarily responsible for welfare as well as security – including evacuation – at moments of crisis.

4.      Compensation - Corps Members posted out of their states of residence should be beneficiaries of a comprehensive life insurance policy as a compensation structure in time of unavoidable loss.

5.      Data Management – Digitise the database of corps member with location, contact information and total number per state. This is to ensure easy pre and post-crisis accessibility and tracking. 

6.      Representation – Institutionalise an alternate platform for corps members to interact with administration on welfare and security. This structure will interface directly with the corps commandants and state level and the Director-General at federal level.

7.      Full-scale Reform – Constitute a National Youth Service Corps Reform Committee that will recommend full scale structural and policy reforms for the scheme and make binding recommendations to the Federal Government to be implemented into a National Youth Service Act.

Let’s ensure that we put our government under pressure immediately after the elections. This is a good place to start making our democracy work! Those ‘corpers’ cannot die in vain.
The Future Project, Nigeria.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Stephen Hendel: ITT

Stephen Hendel is a New-York based oil trader.  He is also the main promoter/producer behind the Broadway-version of the Fela Musical currently showing in Lagos.  He is being sued by Carlos Moore, author of the authorised biography of Fela, Fela: This Bitch of a Life, published in Nigeria by Cassava Republic.  

For more background on the case, read here.  

With all his oil money and corporate leverage, its hard to imagine he is going to be able to successfully defend his claim that the musical was a work of independent inspiration.  You can fool some people some times, but you can't fool all the people all the time.  At some point in the near future, Jay-Z, Jada Pinkett Smith and Bill T. Jones may have to eat humble pie and realise that they tried to write another black man out of history, and failed.


Monday, April 18, 2011

North and South

The graphic of the results of the Presidential elections on Saturday on provokes much thought.  In a way, it reminds immediately one of the two Nigerias of colonial times - the north ruled on the QT via the convenience of the native authorities, the south heavily focused on Lagos as the commercial hub, with a completely different kind of colonial officer in each place.   In the north, enthusiastic slightly waify Oxbridge-types, keen to learn hausa and wander around their domain on horseback.  In the south, altogether more mercantile brutal deal-cutting types.

At least in the early to mid twentieth century, there was a balanced fiscal framework for Nigeria, with taxes from groundnuts, cocoa and palm oil going directly to the North, South-West and South-East respectively.  The heavy reliance on oil revenues and the resulting resource curse since the 1970s has eroded all other sectors of the economy.    The heavy CPC vote can be explained in many different ways - as a vote against abandoning zoning and a vote for a northern leader. On another level however, its a cry of pain from millions of wasted lives.  The North desperately needs a viable development solution. It probably also needs fresh blood and fresh leadership.  Where will the northern version of Fashola come from and when?


Recorded in Kaduna today

Kaduna Youths by ifejika


Determined to vote, Mararaba


Sheltering from the rain, Mararaba.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

A celebrant, Mpape

A celebrant, Mpape, originally uploaded by Jeremy Weate.


Watching the count, Mpape

Watching the count, Mpape, originally uploaded by Jeremy Weate.


Watching the counting, Mpape


A young citizen, Kubwa

A young citizen, Kubwa, originally uploaded by Jeremy Weate.


Diasporic observers, Kubwa

Diasporic observers, Kubwa, originally uploaded by Jeremy Weate.


Deciding who to vote for, Kubwa


Waiting to vote, Karo

Waiting to vote, Karo, originally uploaded by Jeremy Weate.


Election technology, at Mararaba yesterday

Election technology, originally uploaded by Jeremy Weate.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sexual slavery in Edo State

This woman is almost certainly Nigerian, and just as certainly, she is likely to be from Edo State.  She was photographed having sex just off the Ramblas in Barcelona.  To most tourists who visit, the Ramblas is perhaps the most beautiful shopping street in Europe.  To her, it is degrading servitude.  As we know from the Channel 4 documentary Unreported World (see the previous post), she was probably forced to take a juju oath, which ensures she spends years and years as a prostitute in Europe paying off 50,000 Euros or more, in utter fear of the consequences of running away.

It seems there is a conspiracy of silence around this contemporary form of slavery in Edo State.  Its not hard to imagine why: the remittances keep flowing in, with 40,000 or more Bini prostitutes in Mali and perhaps the same number (or a lot more) again in Europe.  We know this is going on.  We know it is causing enormous suffering.  A lot of the girls imagine that they will only have to be prostitutes for a few months, and persuade themselves that they will find other work as a hairdresser etc.  It is only when they arrive in Europe and their Madam tells them the terms of the job that they realise their life is effectively over. 

Its long since time that a full-on campaign to challenge sex trafficking in Edo State began with civil society groups joining forces with the Edo State government and NAPTIP.  Their may need to be punitive state-specific legislation passed. 

We are all allowing this to happen, by looking the other way and dismissing Benin women as promiscuous and enthusiastic to do the work anyway.  We were in denial in Germany, 70 years ago, just as we are in denial today.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Unreported World

Desperately sad to watch. You must watch it.  Here.


Homage to Ulli Beier

"I do not need much convincing from this detribalised, white Yoruba man in Germany wearing a traditional tie-and-dye shirt. The proof is in his life spread out before me like an Ifa divination chain. Through honest, pagan vigour he founds the Mbari-Mbayo Literary and Arts Movements, without which there will be little of modern Nigerian culture to speak of. It is an occasion for rejoicing because Ulli Beier is not dead but has merely joined his pagan Yoruba ancestors..."

By Amatoritsero Ede here.


Star Bottle, by Polly Eaton


Sunday, April 10, 2011

The BBC in Jos

Good piece by the BBC World Service in Jos here.


Saturday, April 09, 2011

Seun Kuti tours the UK

Good interview in yesterday's Guardian.


Ben Okri's new book

"I imagine a reader who, like me, is a bit exasperated with the accumulation of the follies of our times, someone ready for a new way of looking, thinking and being; someone who combines youth and experience, idealism and realism. Someone who isn’t afraid to dream but also is not afraid to roll up their sleeves and participate in the tough magic of life."  Review here.


Thursday, April 07, 2011

Those nasty Euros...

Looks like the Spanish may have buggered up the Ife sculptures by coating them in something nasty.  Here.


Ugandan oil transparency

Ugandan civil society activists are campaigning in London to put pressure on the British Govt to create its own version of Dodd-Frank/EITI legislation.  The awareness of what went so badly wrong with the resource curse in Nigeria is high...


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

At the Presidential launch, yesterday

The photographer George Esiri followed the PDP Presidential campaign trail around Nigeria.  An exhibition of the images he captured was launched at the Yar'Adua Centre yesterday. I took the picture with my Blackberry.


Soyinka on Lagos

Kongi celebrates the rebirth of Lagos in Newsweek from a month back, here.  Reading the piece (nicely edited, for a change) prompted me to go back to Richard Burton's memorable description of Lagos, 150 years ago:

"The site of the town, four miles from the entrance, is detestable; unfortunately there is no better within many a league... The first aspect is as if a hole had been hollowed out in the original mangrove forest that skirts the waters, where bush and dense jungle, garnished with many a spreading tree, tall palms, and matted mass of fetid verdure rise in terrible profusion around."


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Pastor Erastus Akingbola

Poor (or rather, not so poor) Pastor Erastus Akingbola has been ordered to pay back the money he stole from Intercontinental Bank. I wonder if he still preaches at church on a Sunday?  Its hard to imagine anyone learning anything that is good and moral him.  However, if you want to know about the best way to set up a shell company in the Cayman Islands...


Monday, April 04, 2011

Ulli Beier RIP

A piece by James Eze from a few years back gives a flavour of the man:

Watching President Olusegun Obasanjo dole out national honours on
prime time television to Nigerians and non-Nigerians of all ilk the
other night, it struck you just how odd it seemed that Nigeria had
yet to say 'thank you' to him. Yet, he was here when it all began.
Not as a distant spectator, but as a prime mover, an enthusiastic
facilitator and a devoted promoter of the Nigerian letters. He is a
black man in white skin. He is a German born Yoruba man. He is
indubitably Nigerian. He is 83. He is Ulli Beier. And it is a pity that
his name was not on the honours list of this year's National Merit
Award recipients.

Professor Beier is a foremost Africanist scholar, whose arrival in
the University College Ibadan in 1950 at 28 sparked off a chain of
events that eventually led to the lighting up of the African literary
tree. As a university teacher, editor of the influential Black
Orpheus and proprietor of the catalytic Mbari Artists and Writers'
Club as well as Mbari publications, Ulli Beier found himself
strategically nestled in the fork of time. But he made the most of
it. Flapping all around him were budding writers whose creative gifts
needed stronger wings to soar.
There were Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, J.P Clark, Mabel Segun,
Demas Nwoko, Duro Ladipo, Ezekiel Mphalele of South Africa and of
course Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. It was a great moment in time all
The flowering of ideas that ensued marked the preparatory
stage of modern literary offering from Africa.
As you raise the micro tape recorder to his lips in this plush little
room inside the cavernous sprawl of Osun State government house,
Osogbo, you marvel at this man whose deep set eyes still sparkle
behind a pair of rectangular eye glasses at 83. In your opening
remark, you had generally alluded to his contributions to African
literature and how one of his former students, Mabel Segun had spoken
fondly of him in a recent meeting.
At the mention of that name, his powerful eyes lighted up "Oh! Where
is she? What is she doing?" he asks in quick succession and without
waiting for your reply he wades into an old familiar tunnel. "She was
one of my students in the University College Ibadan. I only spent one
year on campus and she was one of the students I saw a lot privately
to. A lot of the students came to my house; Chinua Achebe, Mabel, all
kinds of students.
“It was more than just a class, you know what I mean?
She was one of
the first people to write poems. She was bright and wrote some quite
good poems and I think I would have published a few. Another student
who came quite a lot was Chinua Achebe. He had quite impressive
manners. I kept a lot of contact with him in later life and when he
was working with the NBC, I did quite a few programmes with him and
he was also a member of the Mbari Club when we founded it", he
recalls in a voice that belies his age.
Beier is urbane.
He returns compliments with compliments. Mabel Segun, he said, was
brilliant. A statement of fact, but he also talked about Achebe and
the Mbari Club which offers a veritable opening for a follow up
question. When did you found the club? You ask. "I think in 196o and
it was Chinua who gave it a name. Mbari is an Igbo name. Soyinka and
I were tossing around in search of a name to give the club and then
Chinua rang and said 'what about Mbari?' And I jumped at the name
because I knew Mbari Houses," he recalls with a nostalgic glint in
his eyes.
Ulli Beier's recollections are incomplete without names
like Soyinka, Chinua, Okigbo, Duro Ladipo etal.
In a manner of speaking, his story is their story. "My whole activity
in Nigeria in the 196os was basically to help people get a better
identity by pointing out what wonderful culture they have", he had
said in an earlier comment. In a way, Ulli has walked the road of his
destiny well. Along with Gerald Moore, an Englishman, who taught
extra-mural classes in Eastern Nigeria, Beier made his presence felt
on the continent, translating and publishing modern African writings
from David Mendessa Diop to Leopold Sedar Senghor, and even some
Yoruba poems. He also played a fundamental role in the conception and
nurturing of the world famous Oshogbo school of artists along with
influential playwright and gifted composer Duro Ladipo.
Story telling comes natural to Beier. He is dressed in his trademark
Aso Oke and his luxuriant grey hair has turned completely white like
a soft tassel drooping down a corn cob. You let his sweet old voice
swaddle you up with nostalgic recollections, let it carry you to a
time beyond your reach when our people still retained those things
that made then distinct. "I really loved the idea that people do
creative work that involves young people of a certain age grade and
that under the guidance of craftsmen they created mud buildings
populated by arts figures," he says of the Mbari Houses from which
the name of his literary club was chosen.
"They had a figure of the earth goddess with a child on her laps, a
leopard pouncing on a goat, a school teacher with a book and a tailor
with his sewing machine. Then within a few years, this building
crumbles back into mud because it's not fired and all the figures
virtually collapse. But there's a beauty in that. The building and
artworks must give way for the next age grade to practice their own
craft, you see.
And there I learnt something for the first time in my
life. Growing up in Berlin as a child visiting museums, I thought
that the older a work of art was the better and more valuable and all
the so called art treasures and worth not.
“It's all because of the false values attached to art. Now from the
Mbari Houses, I have developed a whole concept of Ephemeral Art;
which means art that is not meant to last, art that is allowed to
disintegrate, art that is destroyed, burnt, drowned and art that is
shot. It is a very fascinating concept and on December, 18 at the
Obafemi Awolowo University I am going to give a lecture on Ephemeral
Art. And I will start with Mbari."

The incurable photographer, curator, author, translator and publisher
may be in love with the concept of ephemeral art, but he builds
eternal friendships. That is why when he talks about Christopher
Okigbo, or Wole Soyinka or Chinua Achebe and J.P Clark, he comes
across like a teenage Casanova regaling his crowd of youthful
admirers with tales of his new conquest.
"When I moved out from the University Campus, I was giving
extra-mural classes in Oyo. On the way, I used to stop in a little,
town called Fiditi," he recalls in the same pitch of voice. Wasn't
that where Christopher Okigbo taught? You interject. "Exactly! Then I
met Christopher. Well, he wasn't one of my students. So, I met him
and we developed a very close relationship. Then, when he became the
representative of Cambridge University Press, he had a big house in
Ibadan and I was living in Osogbo.
“So, when I had business in Ibadan, I would just go in there, whether
he was home or not, I was sure of a bed and a good meal. His house was
just like home to me and we talked about art, literature and politics
and a whole lot more.
Then, when the Mbari Club started, I started
something called Mbari publications which subsequently published his
first two volumes of poetry Heavensgate and Limits.
“So, we were very close and I remember that he was very upset about
the way the political situation in the country was going at the time.
I was not surprised when I heard later that he was first to go to
Biafra and enlist in the army and first to die. It's very tragic," he
surmises looking suddenly crestfallen.
You sense that it may be tactless to allow this mood prevail long
enough to affect his recollections and then wonder if there are
particular things he could remember about the late poet. "Well, he
studied classics and then Greek and later when we published Black
Orpheus; he would take a view and say 'I am not an African poet. I am
a poet'.
“This was where he was different from others. He was contemporary. He
was extremely influenced by contemporary English poets. But the other
aspect of him was that his poems became more political in Path of
Thunder. It was actually inspired by some of my translations of
Yoruba poetry, some images, you know. He became more interested and
more African and finally more relaxed with his craft.
One thing about
Mbari Club was that we had people who had very different ideas.
“Soyinka and Christopher Okigbo never agreed on anything with J.P
Clark. But they respected each other because there was some merit in
their separate positions. And we always had a very lively
interaction. They never agreed on anything but they worked
successfully together. That was fascinating”.We had artists like Demas Nwoko, 
Uche Okeke. 

But no. Beier is wrong.
The disagreement between Soyinka and Okigbo with J.P Clark did not
end on the floor of the Mbari Club. At least what Okigbo told South
African Lewis Nkosi about his resentment of Clark and what Clark
wrote in some of his civil war poems where he basically spat on
Okigbo's grave lend credence to this position. However, this does not in
any way in particular, whittle down the legacy of Mbari Club.
Listening to Beier’s flawless English, it strikes you just how
wonderful it is that he is actually German and has a remarkable grasp
of French and Yoruba languages as well. This led to his translation
of literary works from Yoruba and French to English. But Beier went
beyond mere translation of Yoruba works. He became deeply immersed in
the Yoruba culture and worldview earning himself names like Obotunde
Ijimere, Sangodare Akanji and Omidiji Aragbabalu. His close friends
boldly refer to him as the German-born Yoruba man which he relishes
with pride.
"In a sense, it was necessary for me to do the translations because
when I started teaching African literature and extra-mural classes,
there wasn't that much African literature coming out of Nigeria," he
says of what pushed him into trying his hands on translations. "There
was no Soyinka and Achebe in 1950-51, so I had to translate Sango and
Diop and Aime Cesare the Caribbean writer. So, I have always enjoyed
translation for one reason or the other and I was totally bilingual
in German and English.
“At a time I didn't know which was my language anymore and I had a
pretty good French. So, from that, I was able to do what I did. But
one thing about translation is that you must know the language from
which you translate but turning it into a poem requires a deeper
When you are translating from Yoruba to English, you have
to realize that there's a lot of things that you can't do. You have
to make it as simple as possible but what survives adds to a unique
"Of course Beier should know. He translated the works of Bakare
Gbadamosi and Timi Lawuyi among others to wide reception. Still, it
is interesting to note that Beier, in spite of his complete immersion
in the Yoruba culture has some critics. Oyekan Owomoyela for instance
thinks that Beier's "representation of the Yoruba ethos is too often
distorted and even slanderous."
But Beier is not deterred.
Even at 83, Obotunde Ijimere still recalls with enticing vividness,
his earliest impressions of Chinua Achebe at the University College
Ibadan. "He was a very calm person. And when I returned to Nigeria
after the Biafran War in 1971, I went to the University of Nigeria at
Nsukka and it was all pretty raw then. Students were trying to clean
up the mess left by the soldiers. I saw Achebe then and you could see
that the terrifying experience of the war had given him some kind of

“And Achebe told us a very touching story that when the frontline
moved during the war, as it did all the time, they had to pack from
house to house. And his children said "daddy you must be very rich,
because we have so many houses.' That's a great anecdote. Great
anecdote! I learnt a lot from Chinua.
Later on, he came to Bayreuth
University when I was there and gave a lecture and I later did an
interview with him which was called -
"The world as a Dancing Masquerade." The world is a dancing
masquerade, if you want to see it properly you cannot stay in one
place. This explains the Igbo ability to move and try new things.
They are a very dynamic people. Achebe's Things Fall Apart was
published in 1958 and up till today it's popular all over the world
and a recommended text for HEC exams in Australia.

“It's one of the most successful books in history and it means a lot
because that's somebody looking into his culture without sentiment,
without chauvinism and at the same time showing the dignity of his
people, you see. And from him I learnt what I know about Igbo
culture. He did an interview with Georgina which was called 'Wealth
is not what you have but what you give away'. That's a wonderful
point. So, we learned a lot about the Igbo culture from him and also
Obiora Udechuckwu and we learnt to respect the Igbo culture.

“I realized that the culture has extra-ordinary tolerance. Chinua told
us a story of when he was in primary school. The teacher one day
moved the class out of the classroom to the shade of a tree and put
the black board on the tree and proceeded to give them a lecture on
the geography of Great Britain. Then the local lunatic walked by and
stopped to watch the class for a while and walked up to the teacher,
took the chalk out of his hand, wiped the black board and proceeded
to give the class a lecture on Ogidi (Chinua's home town) which was
more important to the children. What amazed me is that the teacher
let it happen. In Europe he would call the police. That's fantastic!

This is one of the things I admire about Nigeria, these experiences."
Ulli Beier is not only full of years at 83 but full of stories as
well; wonderful stories, exciting stories and he tells everyone with
fresh candour. He is also an adventurer who left his beloved Nigeria
for Papua New Guinea where along with his wife Georgina, he repeated
the Mbari experience setting up a Center for Art and Literature in
Moresby which threw the door ajar for creative people in the region.
Almost as many books have been written on Beier as he wrote on
African literature.
But Beier deserves even more books for all that he did in Nigeria and
on the continent. Beier and Gerald Moore played a memorable role in
erecting the pillars of Nigerian literature upon which African
literature stands. Beier's cultural activism in Yorubaland with all
his translations and books on various aspects of the Yoruba culture
offer deep perspectives on the Yoruba race. Now, if these do not
qualify a man for a national honour I wonder what else does. You see
why Obasanjo's national honours list for 2005 was in complete?


Political map of Nigeria

Pilfered from here.


Sex, Lies and Black Magic

Interesting yet highly disturbing-sounding documentary coming up this Friday on the UK's Channel 4, here.  The women who are trafficked have little or no idea of what is in store for them.  Their belief in witchcraft is exploited to the full.  With tens of thousands of mostly Edo women working as sex workers in Italy, it seems that NAPTIP is fighting a losing battle.  What if the Governor of Edo State organised mass screenings of the film, as part of a wider public awareness campaign?


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