Thursday, April 30, 2009

Journey to the Depths of Hope

By Sonnie Ekwowusi

Lagos — My journey to Institute for Industrial Technology (IIT) last Monday was like a journey to the depths of hope. At a time when all we seem to be celebrating is hopelessness, journeying to a far-flung poor neigbourhood of Isheri-North Residential Scheme, Kosofe Government Area, Off Lagos Badagry-Express-Way, Lagos and finding an institution that produces competent technicians for our industries and companies was like discovering a precious treasure. The wind blows where it wills and we can hardly tell where and when the wind will blow on us. Oftentimes we go about searching for treasures in the so-called special places forgetting that the most precious treasure can be found in the most unusual place. Before last Monday I had heard about the marvel called IIT and how it had produced young graduates now employed in Nestle, Guinness, Nigerian Breweries, Tetra-Pak, British-American Tobacco and all that. I had also read with relish Dr. Yomi Makanjuola's most-refreshing piece on IIT and the inevitable place of qualitative technical and vocation education in nation building. But little did I appreciate the whole revolution going on at IIT until I got to the place last Monday.

Everything happened fortuitously, although we have been told that nothing actually happens by chance. Worried by the increasing number of idle hoboes, out-of-school unskilled youths in Nnewi and its environs, the Nnewi Improvement Union sent a delegate to IIT to find out how Nnewi can benefit from the qualitative technical education which the school offers. Apparently after the delegate visited IIT and presented their report, the news filtered into the air. A member of the Anambra State House of Assembly who heard about the visit rang me up and said: "Go to IIT and find out about this thing they are doing. A lot of our young boys are wasting away in idleness. You can't believe it; we now have many Igbo area boys". He recounted to me his recent sad experience at Berger, Lagos where he had gone to buy a "tokunbo car. After buying the car and was walking away, he looked behind and saw, to his utter disappointment, about 25 Igbo boys in the age bracket of, say, 15-25, following him and begging him for money. It then dawned on him that petty-trading alone cannot take Igbo youths anywhere. Any wonder he did not hesitate to dispatch me to IIT as soon as he heard about the place. Why should I refuse to carry out such a lofty assignment? Human development is the epicenter of all developments. Any nation which doesn't invest in preparing her youths for tomorrow's leadership challenges is a nation tottering on the precipice of collapse.

Off I left with a Lagos-based accountant, a promoter of technical and vocational education and two young secondary school leavers. IIT stands in a world of its own at the desolate Isheri-North Residential Scheme. Many of the students, I gather, come from poor backgrounds. The school even offers scholarships to some deserving indigent students who cannot afford to pay the modest fees paid in the school. IIT aims at empowering these young students, who are mostly in the age bracket of 17-21, with world class skills that Nigeria needs for growth. My first shock was that the school was well-equipped with the latest technology and equipment for imparting technical education and vocation skills. I understand that the 3-year Electro-mechanics programme which ITT offers is modeled after the world renowned German Dual Training System that uses both the schools and the factory as avenues for learning. This ensures that the students appreciate the practical relevance of the concept being taught. Essentially IIT students are exposed to mechanical, electrical, electronics and automation technologies to equip them with relevant technical skills that the various industries need. Since its inception in 2002, IIT Electro-mechanics program has produced top graduates who have gained full emplyement within six months of their graduation in top industries. ITT graduates are well paid. Some earn more than University graduates in industries where they are employed. The products of the school, sooner after graduation, become breadwinners and could feed their families. The Director-General of the school showed us the school's well-equipped welding-instruction room. He explained that the concept of welding to the average Nigerian is pedestrian welding bereft of professionalism, but the welding course which ITT offers is a unique one that actually equips the students to carry out professional welding work anywhere. Before departure, the Director-General explained that, aside from technical competence and prowess, what makes IIT graduates excel in industries is their ability to put into practice the work ethics lessons which IIT constantly gives them. Of course another secret of successes of IIT is that it is a purely private non-profit making project of some concerned Nigerian citizens across the different divides. Government has no hands in it.

I left the premises of IIT feeling elated that I had reached the depths of human hope. It means that there is hope for this country if we do the right thing. There is hope if policy makers understand what they are supposed to do and do not mix them up with empty politics. You will recall that in the 70s and even 80s there were many well-run technical colleges and vocational schools in Nigeria . But unfortunately today all of them have collapsed. I remember the Benin Technical College , which, I think, was a joint educational initiative of the then Bendel State government and the Canadian government. When the college first started, it was the best thing in Benin . But a few years afterwards everything in the school came down crumbling. Other technical colleges across the country have suffered the same fate. We talk big; we boast big; we make noise on the pages of newspapers, but at the end of the day no concrete achievement. Our 6-3-3-4 educational system originally designed to promote technical and vocational education is not working. Our cultural bias for white-collar and paper qualification has become a formable obstacle to tackling the shortage of skillful manpower in Nigeria . Our concept of a University is completely skewed. Many of our tertiary institutions are busy churning out certificate-carrying graduates and nothing more. On the back page of this paper last Wednesday, Dr. Okey Ikechukwu lamented what he termed "the triumph of incestuous scholarship" in our Universities. Granted, unemployment may be biting harder but employers of labour are complaining that many of the certificate-carrying job seekers lack the requisite skills to work in their respective organizations. Every year many of our brightest students enroll to study engineering courses in the Universities and polytechnics but after graduation many of them can't even repair an ordinary electric generator.

So there is real cause for great alarm: our education system is in deep crisis and we should stop pretending that we have an already-made solution to the crisis. The truth of the matter is that we have no solution to the crisis. That is the big tragedy. And the adverse effects are already being felt in Nigeria . Countries like South Korea , Malaysia , Singapore , Philippines and others which have invested in technical and vocational education have greatly excelled. But here in Nigeria we lack the technical know-how to operate new equipment imported for our manufacturing industries because they are highly-automated and contain complex technologies ranging from mechanical to electrical/electronics and information technology. A country that cannot produce competent artisans, technicians, motor mechanics, plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, welders etc cannot claim to be making progress. So we have no choice in Nigeria but to start training good technicians, electricians, artisans, electrical engineers and good motor mechanics too. It is a scandal that some rich Nigerians now take their cars to neigbouring African countries for repairs.

Our growing dependence on technology must be matched by a proportionate increase in the number of properly- trained, competent and highly-motivated technicians and engineers needed to design, install, maintain and adapt to new technologies. We must change this perverted value system which assesses the worth of a man by what he owns or the type of car he drives. Parents must be properly focused. There is nothing downgrading in becoming a technician. Every brilliant young graduate must not work for a bank or an oil company. Look at the Chinese invading our markets and competing with us. With our eyes glued to the oil they will soon undercut us away from the market.

I look forward to returning to IIT some day to revive my hope of a better tomorrow: the hope of seeing many young Nigerians graduating with requisite techincal skills and competence and solving the manpower needs of our companies and industries.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Living in Bondage: How I was cheated out of a project I created –Okechukwu Ogunjiofor aka Paulo


My name is Okechukwu Ogunjiofor. I am from Amaebo Ebenato, Osu local government area of Imo state. I am married with four children. I am a film maker, the pioneer producer of Nigerian Nollywood. I schooled in Jos, Plateau state.

The making of Living in Bondage

Before the making of the Living in Bondage, I had left Jos in 1987. I worked with Power Mike Promotions as a general manager in Mike Independent Television. But when Power Mike retired and relocated to Neni, Anambra state, where he comes from, his outfit closed down.

So, I was thrown out of job. It became difficult to find work and I desired to work on films. So, for almost four years, I was on the streets looking for how to actualize my dream.

At that time, if you go to the National Arts Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, there were so many theatre artists, who also were graduates but nobody could practice what we learnt in school. There was no avenue to make films. The only thing our colleagues could do then at the theatre was to go on stage production.

So, I said to myself there must be a way out of this. One day, I remembered that one of the courses we read was News Gathering. And if you want to gather news with an electronic news gathering camera (ENG), then one can actually use that to tell a story.

I then decided to turn that around and use it to tell a story. So, I began to look for sponsors to do that. As it wasn't coming, I began to lose faith in my ability to do what I wanted to do. Then I decided to do any menial job that I can do to raise money, if I can't get a sponsor. So, from 1989 to 1992, I was on the streets of Lagos, hawking.

Then, I was going to the National Theatre to keep myself abreast with what was happening in the industry. One day, I saw Ruth Osu, I made some corrections on their scripts and she discovered that I was good.

After listening to my story, she decided to assist me. I believed I could take the film to the people, instead of taking the people to the theatre since an average Igbo man then didn't have a cinema culture. And since an average Igbo man had a VCR, these were theatres waiting to be explored. If I could just take these movies to these home theatres, then as many people as can buy my film, I would be making money.

How did the idea of film making come to you?

I can't say this is what I was thinking. Film making then was like an elitist cult, where you have big budget, and technical know-how. There were so many laws guiding film making that if I had to wait for when I could make a film on the big page that we were trained for, it would be so impossible.

So, I started thinking "how can we evolve a new form of film-making that can still tell the story, even if the quality is not the same thing as what is accepted globally. Then I remembered that ENG cameras are used to gather stories. VHS cameras can also be used to record weddings and document stories.

If the same camera can capture images and sound, then we can apply the rules of cinema into it and turn out a near perfect picture, which may not be hip, according to the rule of thumb in film making. I was determined. I was desperate. It was actually survival that triggered the idea of trying to make a film with an ordinary VHS camera. And that's what we did in Living in Bondage.

How did you come about the story line?

When I was with Power Mike Promotions, the first external job I did was to record a cultural group. Their PRO, one Emeka, told me that the group was to perform at the National Stadium. When we got to that place on the appointed date, we saw who-is-who in this country - every car that you could imagine, men and women, both old and young arrayed in black, white, yellow and red colours from their torso down.

Then dance started. It wasn't a dance per se but one of those nuances that you find in esoteric gatherings. From their discussions, I gathered that they were about to honour a young lady, who was so powerful that she brought down a reverend gentleman and initiated him.

As the lady emerged from one end of the stadium striding towards the gathering, all her arms and ankles were adorned with elephant tusks, big and heavy. She was in white. As she was coming, they were hailing her. After the event, Emeka came to me and said "Have you seen where I belong?

He said in their group, they love each other and help each other; that if I belong there with him, it was a matter of time; I would become rich and influential. And moreover, I would become untouchable by law enforcement agencies.

Here was a young man (referring to himself), who just came out of school and wanted to be successful. So, I was so fascinated. Then I asked him the name of the cultural group. He said "Reformed Ogboni Fraternity, I was shocked. He said there was nothing wrong with it. Just the same way I was talking to Andy (in the film) because that was the same picture that he presented to me.

So, you could understand it wasn't a coincidence that the story came up. So, when I met Kenneth Nnebue, he said I should develop the story, that is, in line with how young boys then crave for quick money while he traveled to Japan to buy a JVC camera.

He gave me N150, 000 to produce the film with an agreement to share the profit 50-50. With a target of only hundred thousand homes and at N300 per copy of the film, I was sure we won't lose money.

After about three weeks of release, we sold N20 million worth of goods. But Kenneth reneged on our agreement because at the time I didn't have courage to ask him to put everything in writing.

By then, it was impossible for me to go anywhere because the fans were becoming too many. They didn't understand it was just an act. People thought it was actually that somebody took a camera to where we were holding meeting and exposed us.

So, anywhere I went, I found people wanting to stone me. And here I was living in a high density area of Ajegunle, where these people saw me last three or four months as a hawker on the street of Lagos and this week, my name was every where across the nation.

After sometime, I took ill. But for a N1, 500 I.O.U.and another N1, 500 he gave while I was working on the project that was all I got from that film till today as a producer, a director and an actor.

He published the story of Living in Bondage in a book and avoided even putting my own picture and my own story as a key member of that film. Every other person who played on that film had a chapter, had a story to tell on that book.

What happened in Part 2 of Living in Bondage? Did you still play any key role?

When I finished writing Part 2 and I saw that he wasn't ready to pay me anything, I went to the locker he gave me in his office, locked my file and left for home. I told him that if he didn't pay me, I would not come back to produce Part 2, not thinking that he would have spare key to the safe.

He just simply went to that locker, took all the files, called all the artists and told them I was blackmailing him. You know, it was a new thing and the euphoria was so much that nobody bothered to cross check. All of them did the job. It was only Kanayo O. Kanayo and Ngozi Nwosu that left with me in anger.

They turned around; in order to make sure that Paulo was still part of it, kept a pillow somewhere and said Andy went to squeeze it to kill Paulo. They enlarged one of the pictures I snapped on set with them and put in my room on the film and said Paulo was that pillow. That was what happened. I didn't do the Part 2.

How did you assemble the cast?

These were the same people I used to watch each time I went to the theatre. That was where I saw Frank Vaughan, Wale Macauley, Bob Manuel Udokwu, Nnenna Nwabueze and a host of others like Ruth Osu on set.

The moment Kenneth told me that we could work together, I went back to the National Theatre and assembled them. Then Andy (Kenneth Okonkwo) was working with Osiquip at Apapa. By recommendation, they all came. Most of them couldn't even speak Igbo very well. I was the only person who could build everybody's dialogue. We needed to get their idioms, vocabularies and mannerisms right. And we rehearsed it for so many months and we blended well.

When you started, did you expect the industry (Nollywood) would be this huge?

No, I wasn't doing it for the industry because there was no industry then. All, I wanted was to survive, to do something with what I learnt in school that was new. I knew that people would copy but I didn't know it was going to be this globally visible.

I didn't also know that it was going to become a voice that would speak for Africa and place Nigeria as a third film making nations of the world. I didn't even know it was going to be so big in terms of creating an alternative format for film making that will soon take over celluloid.

I didn't also know it was going to be so interesting that the whole world will be interested in Africa and that it would throw up this vista of employment for so many millions of unemployed graduates in Africa. I didn't also know that it was going to be a very vibrant avenue to counter cultural imperialism.

Then foreign films like Chinese and India were every where and they have alien culture and our people were enjoying them. So, I didn't know that they would enjoy our own to the extent of pushing away all these foreign films. To be candid with you, I didn't know it was going to be this big.

But I guess God, who in His infinite mercy, chose us to begin the industry, knew where we were going, because it took over four years of my doing that film before others started coming into movies.

Now that the industry is so big and so vibrant, do you feel fairly and adequately rewarded?

I would say yes and no. Reward in terms of physical cash, no. But when you look at the number of people who are playing in the industry, who are feeding from Nollywood, then you will know that I am fulfilled.

If Nollywood has become the third film making nation of the world and God used one person to start it, the whole reference comes back to me, it means that you have built a global brand that is bigger than you, that will outlive you.

It means that you have a legacy that thousands of generations unborn will practice and the reference will still be there. So, that is a very strong argument and I will say I am adequately rewarded by God for doing so. But, when you look at my bank account, you will know that I have not made it but I am not grumbling. It is because of what God has done for me or what He is doing that you are interviewing me today.

But God knew and God saved me from all these hardships and problems and brought me to a place where whenever my name is mentioned, somebody will say 'I know him! But, look at it this way, if I didn't do that, maybe God would have used another person to do it.

So, why should I be talking about whether I am adequately rewarded or not when God has given me such a very big name? Another thing I want to say is that the industry is not big yet. You won't imagine what the industry will be when other ways of film making collapses and the only format of making film will be Nollywood style, the home video style.

Very soon it is going to happen. And when it happens, there won't be any other story anywhere but Nollywood. And when that happens, it will still be traced back to that same place. So whether I make money or not, it is immaterial. What matters is that the father of Nollywood is what God has bestowed on me.

After Living in Bondage, you disappeared. What happened after and what you have been doing?

Now, when I finished Living in Bondage Part 1, when Kenneth Nnebue did not give me what we agreed and he had gone ahead to produce the Part 2, I was pained but it wasn't for long.

Then, a friend of his who was selling the film for us in Onitsha, who had paid for supplies but couldn't receive, heard that I had problem with Kenneth. He persuaded to sponsor a film for me. When the man came to Lagos, I went to him with Kanayo O. Kanayo. He gave me N100, 000, rented a house for me. And then, we signed an agreement to do Circle of Doom.

Let me tell you, the man cheated me after a very long time but the first batch of 50,000 films we did, he gave me N800, 000. That was a lot of money. Instead of me to use that same money to sponsor films, I bought a brand new Mercedes Benz and a Toyota Corolla. Before long, I was broke again.

God brought Gabosky Ventures to sponsor Nneka, The Pretty Serpent. Again Gabosky seized my money. But in all these films, I played roles though it may not be as prominent as in Living in Bondage.

After that, I did Brotherhood of Darkness. Another big film that ignited trouble across the nation but I didn't get my money. In 1997, we did When flowers Turn Black. Kenneth Okonkwo was to market it but upon release, the sponsor ordered the film recalled from marketers, because the moment the film came into the market, the sponsor claimed somebody saw the film in the East and so we had made money but didn't want to pay him.

So, with all these troubles, I went into television production.

What programmes do you have on TV?

I have shot a programme called Rough Ages. I have another one called Winnis Hotel, a story about where Nigeria artistes gather in Surulere. I want to tell the story about how and what happens behind the scene. I have other productions, some of them looking for sponsorship now, and another which focuses on Nigerian health care.

What is your comment on professionalism in Nollywood, compared to what obtains in developed countries?

Africa is a nation of great endowment, especially natural endowment. Our stories are great stories. Nollywood has great stories and talents. We also have great professionals, who have artistry in what they do.

What we do not have is the ability to bring our technical quality at par with what obtains abroad like Bollywood and Hollywood. In Bollywood and Hollywood, before you make a film, you would have sponsorship. Government support plus private sponsorship produce films in these countries. What we have here is personal initiative and drive to survive.

So, when you have a film to make in Hollywood or Bollywood, you are given gestation period of years to make the film and recoup the money for the movie. Two, there is institutionalized channels of distribution that everybody knows so that you are sure your money is coming back.

But here, there are no set down distribution channel that you can use to make the movies and get your money. Then the little fund you are going to get from the bank, they give you 30 days, at most 90 days to return it. So, what time do you have to incubate that story, edit it properly, shoot it properly, and do your lighting properly, development and all that?

Now, when you have such big problem in your hand, there is no way you can tell a story, no matter how good it is and maintain a high standard that is obtainable in other countries.

So, there is no basis for comparison between Nollywood and Hollywood or Bollywood because the operational ethics in these two places are different. They are telling stories on computers, CGI (computer generated images). And they have huge budget and huge market to do it. We have huge market but not a structured market.

What should the industry expect from you now?

We are instituting African Audio Visual Award to take place in July, this year. The process will encourage practitioners through reward to make conscious efforts through training and retraining in the area of perfect pictures and perfect sound.

If we can get our pictures and sound very well, Nollywood would have come to a place where the world will stand up for it. All my life is now being given to the new cause for our people. We inaugurated recently at Sheraton Hotel advisory board members towards the award. And I believe that it is a matter of time the industry will not be the same again.

Major challenge and the way forward

Our major problem is distribution channel that would guarantee grassroot distribution of every producer's product, which my friend and director general of Film and Video Sponsorship Board, Mr. Emeka Mba, is already trying to put in place. Because it will take a lot of money to build a distribution framework across Nigeria, let alone other nations because we have a population that can patronize us.

But when they cannot find our products very close to their domain, that's when they copy films, borrow and do a lot of things. If distribution is taken care of, we can then focus on piracy. If we can stem piracy, at least by 60 per cent, then we can begin to talk about funding. Then, if someone brings his money, you can be sure to get it back and the producer and the crew can also be sure to smile to the bank.

What is the contribution of video clubs to the growth of Nollywood?

Video clubs are springing up because we don't have a cinema culture. But they are vital aspect of distribution for our industry and government should register them.

Assuming that there are a million registered video clubs and I release a film and give each club seven copies at N7,000, I would be making N7,000,000,000 (seven billion Naira).

So, they are doing legitimate business the wrong way. It is a new channel of distribution that we can harness if the government is aware of the type of money that would have been made for the producers, government, regulatory agencies and media houses.

But if you don't legitimize them and compel them to buy legitimately from the producers, then the producers will lose money. They will smile to the bank, individually but they won't have control of the market by themselves.

Can you comment on the allegation that marketers have taken over Nollywood?

It is the truth. Nigeria Nollywood has gone to three stages now. We are going to the fourth. The first stage was producers market when we produced everything and the viewer bought it without caring what was inside. And when the marketers discovered that producers don't have the money, they took over the market and turned it to the marketers market, where the marketer tells the producer what to do - right or wrong, so long as it will make him satisfied and his money will come out.

The market has crashed now into the viewers market. The viewers will be the king because they will now tell us what they want to see. The charlatans will now drop because they don't know how to make films. It is then the producers, and big time money bags will come in with their resources, corporate sponsorship will come in. Because, now it is no longer who is making the films but who has the content to give to the viewers.

Now, what you find out is that beyond that frontier, you now have the investors market. That is the final frontier. When we get to that point, you will earn your fee, he will earn his fee, and the film will be a success.

How soon can that be?

We are seeing that in 2013. The banks have all collapsed. Industry will go with it because oil will no longer be in existence. And when that happens, the only vibrant industry across the nations of the earth will be entertainment. And everybody in the world will be pursuing entertainment.

The Decay in Nigeria: Our Attitudes are the Problems

By Chukwuma Iwuanyanwu

Read this carefully. In the early eighties, the students of one of the old generation universities in Nigeria rioted and burnt down buildings and cars as they spleened their anger on the university authority. The reason was that the officers working in the kitchen reduced the size of meat in the egusi soup served to the students. There was no justifiable reason why the size of the meat was reduced. The school was closed down and students sent home to their parents. A public plea from the traditional rulers, the general public and parents persuaded the minister of education, who asked the vice chancellor to open the institution with stringent conditions. Each returning student got a letter from his or her parents for good behavior and a payment of N50 then (good money) for damages caused.

After one week, the same size of piece of meat was served to the students again. Murmuring started, each student looked at one another and Fela song was hummed; not up to a couple of minutes, the students started breaking the plates and chairs and police were called immediately and the school was temporarily closed. An American trained sociologist advised the vice chancellor to tackle the cause of the students' anger. The vice chancellor fumed that how could a piece of meat caused such recalcitrant and foolish behaviors from the students, but he listened to the advice of the sociology professor and peace returned to the university. The lesson learned was that never treat the symptoms of a disease but the causative agent.

Nigeria is abysmally sick. The sickness is found in our characters and none us is free from this influenza. It seems, it is a generational sickness. Each ethnic group has its own brand of sickness. Back in time, we thought that there was no collective malady ravaging Hausas judging from their humble way of living, which the Southerners, especially the Igbos called “baa kwomi” until we discovered the “Ibu Alhaji” (Alhaji's Baggage), the original fraudulent practices of making quick money aka 419. But if the truth must be told, only a handful of the Hausas are engaged in this sharp practice.

When I was growing up, my father played a vinyl record, and I can only remember a portion of it in Igbo. “Ogbonye enweghi onu okwu makana ya enweghi ego. Oburu na mu nwere ego ihe obula mu kwuru g'ab u ezi okwu”. (A poor man has no say because he has no money. If he has money, anything he says will be true). In Igbo land, with the passage of time, everything has money tag. Money can buy anything imaginable, chieftaincy title, truth, respect, traditional ruler chair, any position, love, marriage, land, death and live, name it. If you have no money in Igbo land, you had better die than to live. People can do anything just to get money so as to buy prestige, respect, live large, build big house, buy big car and suppress and oppress others in the community. Whatever a rich man says in Igbo land, it is the golden truth and a poor is a beggar, he has no place in the scheme of things. Sweet Breeze, Dallas, Ikeotuonye and Co. of the old captured the mood of the society then in their song “Mr. Beggar has no town's man”.

What we though as the exclusive turf of the Igbos has for some time now ravaged the nation. As a matter of fact, the Yorubas, the Hausas, the Itsekiris, the Nupes, the Kalabaris, the Ibibios, the Tivs, the Fulanis, the Ijaws, the Ogonis, the Binis, and the rest of all others are on fire for time now I cannot remember. Igbos have now been displaced in this rat race. It is a race that will consume all of us. It is a race that is gender friendly and age appropriate. The pinheads in Abuja , the federal executives and the state executives have it now as a past time. We are greedy, we are not disciplined, and we are thieves of different classifications. We like showing off, we have unbridled tastes and we always dwell on my Mercedes is bigger than yours. Our ladies travel outside the country, to sell themselves for money, gather the little they could and come home to show off. The money stolen from Nigeria is channeled to unproductive luxuries. Privileged Nigerians like to see their neighbors suffer. It is in our blood, we live in it, we act it out and we believe in it. A Nigeria will like anything that can stand him or her out from the rest of the people. “I live in a place that has twenty four hours running tap water, electricity, good roads and greenish environment”, hear the fool speak.

A Nigerian driving his or her car will like to splash puddles of water seen on the road on a poor pedestrian. This is our lifestyle and this is one of the reasons why the country cannot develop. How can Okeke have the same good amenities that I am having? After all Okeke did not go to school, the son of a palm wine tapper and I went to the university, hear the fool speak again. The vogue in Nigeria now is that during summer period, the so called “big man” will gather his family, spend up to $40,000 on air fare to overseas. By time he is back with his family, he has spent closed to $200,000. He has to stand out from the rest of the folks who cannot even find the roads to the overseas embassies. Check this man; he has people who cannot afford even one meal a day in his kindred or community. Nigeria does not know charity. The rich men in Nigeria prefer to lock up the helpless if they make noise instead of sponsoring them to the universities. This is why we cannot develop and make meaningful progress.

In the country that I live now, USA , the light shines for the poor and the rich. With constant supply of light, industrial production is sustained and employment is created. Give me $16 billion dollars and as an engineer, I will guarantee twenty four hours power supply in Nigeria , but Obasanjo squandered it without qualms. They knew what they were doing and they will pay one way or the other. Let me be the president of Nigeria and I am blessed with the resources available to Obasanjo during his time, I would guaranteed water supply, good roads and employment generation. The only things it will cost me are the love of my country, the love of my people, the fear of God and living a modest life. We will never live forever for dust we are and unto dust we shall return.

If the evils of our character are not uprooted, we will not inch anywhere. If we do not stop accumulating wealth we cannot spend in our live time, we will not go anywhere. Our attitudes are the problems why Nigeria stinks to high heaven. Indiscipline is our major challenge. At one time, we had a chance to address this endemic sickness by the honest duo of Buhari and Idiagbon, but Babangida caused us that opportunity. The war against indiscipline is a war that cannot be overlooked if we desire to make progress in our nationhood. Indiscipline is the spring well of election rigging, kleptomania, the worship of wealth, prostitution, armed robbery, kidnapping, child trafficking, corruption, fake drugs, embezzlement, contract cost falsifications, not taking turns and all kinds of deviant behaviors.

We are losing our culture too fast and in time to come, there will be no identifiable culture for any ethnic group in Nigeria . Despite the myriad of churches and mosques, Nigeria is still the front runner in wickedness, corruption and the neglect of the soul brother. We are Africans; we live in communities, clan and close. We are known to be our brother's keepers. Some of our culture have semblance with the bible. Forget about what is happening in America now; they will get over it, because the country has established laws and President Barack Obama has defined mission. In Nigeria , anything goes. These are not the ways we are supposed to live. No matter who we elect to rule us, if there will be fair and free elections, it will be the same, because of the causative agent that pressed us down with incurable sickness at all times. Has any Nigerian paused and asked questions why Ghana and even Rwanda are better organized and prosperous than we do? Go to these countries, the level of greed is somewhat reduced. What brought peace in the university I stated in the beginning of this essay was professor's advice that the size of the meat should not be reduced? I think we can beckon on that professor to tell us that the cause of decay in Nigeria is indiscipline, and if we tackle it, the country will move forward. No sane Nigeria can forgive Babangida and Abacha. May God preserve the life of Buhari.

Chukwuma Iwuanyanwu is the Executive Director, Harcourt Foundation, Inc., Los Angeles , California

Rejecting CFR was painful decision for my father, says Chinua Achebe’s son

Dr. Chidi Achebe, second son of the novelist, Chinua Achebe, and medical director, Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center outside Boston, USA, was in Nigeria last January with his family for the Ahiajioku Lecture delivered by his father. As one who acts like the spokesman for the family, UDUMA KALU approached him to speak on certian issues that affect his father. EXCERPTS:By Uduma Kalu, Vanguard Newspapers

When your dad turned down the national honor - Comander of the Federal Republic (CFR) award- did your family feel alienated from the country?

One should never feel alienated by such events....Remember that Dad has been in the public eye for over 50 years. This is nothing new for us...particularly for my mother. Dad has been embroiled in a number of “controversies”... for a long, long time. He has “fought the good fight and continues to fight” as oyibos would say...

Dad has a deep love for Nigeria and Nigerians...That action was a painful decision... that statement took a lot of courage. It was quintessential Achebe...If you only understood from whence that statement came, the energy emanated...your question would have been different. It was a difficult, painful decision. He did it for the love of Nigeria...We were and are very proud of him... very proud indeed.

What is your impression of Nigeria today? What are your hopes for it?

Nigeria is a beautiful country and a potentially great country that has not yet gotten things right, not because we don’t have the people or know the way but because a certain group will not let the right people get into the right positions to change things. Look at the power situation, clearly, there is a very powerful interest

Chinua Achebegroup that benefits from the failure of this sector and the increased generator importation....

Clearly, every Nigerian knows that Nigeria has to Change (to borrow from Obama) that we have no choice but to move in a different direction, unless of course we want to wallow in abject poverty and continue to be at the mercy of individuals variously described by leading ‘thinkers’ as “incompetent.” We have been plagued by decades of political ineptitude, corruption and mediocrity because we have not taken careful and calculated steps to entrench meritocracy. Meritocracy holds great promise for the ordinary citizen and for the nation. It is only under this arrangement that individuals of simple means but with the brightest minds can rise to leadership.

Meritocracy transcends ethnicity, class, creed and gender. It is the only system that will ensure that the best and brightest run the affairs of the nation – a development that will benefit the majority of the population. We must put in place a system that constantly seeks excellence, a process that matches the appropriate position with the most qualified applicant; and finally a culture that asks questions such as “Is this person the best person for the job?”

Meritocracy will also produce a true leadership cadre – based on the tenets of hard work, discipline and excellence.

Those that have run the affairs of our nation, historically, have often not been part of a true merit based elite. What we have had instead, are individuals and their corrupt cohorts that “shot themselves into power;” “looted and stole themselves into prominence;” or “rigged themselves into office.” With such mediocrity, how can we expect that anything will be run correctly? We have become a laughing stock among the family of nations.

The ancient Israelites found themselves in a similar situation as Nigeria finds itself in today and recorded this profound observation: “It is ill with a people when vicious men are advanced and men of worth are kept under hatches.” We can learn a great deal from that wisdom.

When was it you visited Nigeria before the last Ahiajoku lecture, and how was the country compared to what you met?

The last time I visited Nigeria was in 2008, so not too long ago... quietly..

Things Fall Apart’s success has dwarfed all other works by Prof. Please tell us what’s happening to other works in terms of translations and sales.

Professor Achebe has written over 20 books, short stories, essays, childrens books and poems and lovers of literature should seek the other great works and enjoy them. It should also be stated that Professor Achebe’s new work Reflections of a British Protected Child is now in the hands of his publishers at Random House and will be published shortly.

Having said that, one should never belittle the importance of his first and most famous work -Things fall apart. This novel has served as a nexus for the study of Achebe’s other canonical works. Now, there are many experts that believe that his greatest work is Arrow of God, others believe it is Anthills of the Savannah. One of my favourites is A man of the People. So there you have it....It really is about how great Art affects you, how it moves you, influences you, inspires you....

A lot of people say Prof. Achebe spoke in parables at the last Ahiajoku lecture. Could you help break down what he actually said?

Clearly, they were not listening... because what he said was written and delivered in classic Achebe style. I must say that the microphone system was not in the best working condition...coupled with the fact that the acoustics in the arena of 5,000 people made it often difficult to hear. But his voice was strong. Let’s break it down then....

There were three main themes in his lecture...interwoven:

The importance of language in a civilization: Language forms a huge part of the culture of a people - it is through their language that they express their folk tales, myths, proverbs, history. In other words language helps to preserve the civilization of the people that speak it. Achebe has often stated that “the language situation is not solved by taking doctrinaire decisions” such as standardizing Igbo and trivializing dialectical differences, particularly if those differences preserve their idiosyncracies.

The imperial powers invariably attempted to control native languages - diluting them and thus reducing the power of the civilization that they represented. Clearly, one cannot escape the fact that the power of English continues to be one of the major factors that makes Great Britain/America and the Anglo-saxon civilization the dominant one on our planet.

The other theme that he touched upon was that of the importance of Women. The professor clearly reports that “Ndi Igbo should, as a matter of great urgency, work towards the removal of impediments in the status of women in our society. Several studies have clearly indicated that when women are well educated, the entire society benefits positively in overall standard of living. The dehumanisation of our women through acts such as wife beating, funeral rites that take away the dignity of our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters must be abolished.

He read a passage from Things Fall Apart that dealt with the importance of women in Igbo culture and discussed the meaning of the name Nneka - Mother is Supreme.

His statement A Harvest of Ideas from Achebe for Ndi Igbo touched on a number of other important topics.

Yes, he called on Ndi Igbo and all Nigerians to hold their leaders accountable and encouraged the people to demand transparency and accountability in government; insisting on clear plans from the leadership concerning development, timelines etc.

He talked about the importance of Education - that we must make sure that our boys go to school, even if they decide they want to be traders, we should encourage them to seek out a business oriented education... obtain an MBA etc.

He called on Ndi Igbo, indeed all Nigerians to make sure we abolish practices that dehumanize our fellow citizens such as the Osu/Oru Caste system. He also called for a reappraisal of the importance we have accorded money in our society as this obsession has the ability to erode our moral fabric. I encourage all serious minded Nigerians to read that statement...

Did you visit Ogidi on this trip and how was the reception there?

Yes, we spent a some time at our country home. Not as much as we might have liked, but the itinerary was packed. The reception of our people was very warm. It is always wonderful to be home with family and friends, many of whom were present in large numbers.

What was Professor Achebe’s itinerary like?

It was packed. He travelled to Nigeria with the BBC and the Royal Africa Society led by Richard Dowden (the executive director), Smita Patel and the cinematographer Ming. The Imo State government really pulled out all the stops. One must thank Governor Ohakim and his PA Chikwem, the organizing committee and members of Ohanaeze that made the visit and Ahajioku experience memorable.

So... not only did Prof have to prepare for the lecture, attend numerous press events, meet a litany of distinguished individuals involved in the planning of his visit, he had to make time out to have deep reflective sessions with Richard and the Documentary experts Smita and Ming. Also Lord Melvin Bragg, crew from the South Bank Show were also in town making a documentary on the fiftieth anniversary of Things Fall Apart, and he sat down with them for several conversations as well.

Chidi, some say one cannot reach Professor Chinua Achebe unless they contact you first. But clearly, you are not his ADC...What is your role in the family?

Laughter.... Yes, I could be called that (raucous laughter)...That is how we want it to be...”You know, I can handle you people well well....”

But seriously, he does have a distinguished group of agents - The Andrew Wiley Agency in New York and anyone who does not want to deal with me can contact them directly (laughter).

I come from an incredibly close family... something that a number of people find difficult to understand...My siblings/family cherish their privacy....With time, people will get used to these things... It is nothing new in Europe or America, that designated sons or daughters are involved intimately with his Father’s or family’s affairs....particularly if the individual of note is a public figure...

On a spiritual level consider this (from the Church of Christ): The old testament commands us to-
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you
Exodus 20:12 (RSV)

The command to honor your parents is carried over into the law of Christ intact. The wo rd “honor” means to place a value on something, to consider it a prized possession.

Children honour their parents by listening to their advice and obeying their instruction. Godly parents are a treasure to a child. They have a wealth of experience which they can pass down to their children.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”
(Ephesians 6:1-3).

“My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother; for they will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck” (Proverbs 1:8-9

“A fool despises his father’s instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent” (Proverbs 15:5).
So Alvan, you see, one gets something too, by obeying the law.

The Global celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of Things Fall Apart has led to a reappraisal of Achebe’s body of work. What is your take on the significance of his work?

When Professor Achebe set out to write, it was clear that he was willing to engage Africa’s involvement with imperialism. He flavoured his work with an ‘African creative aesthetic’- proverbs, idioms, perspectives, customs, histories and sensibilities - to paint a unique, and authentic African literary tapestry for the ages.

In helping to reshape the dialogue between North and South, i.e. in broadening our and the West’s understanding and conceptualization of great literature, to include the African voice and experience, Achebe carefully engaged the politics of representation.

Achebe sought to reclaim the power of self definition, calling for the inclusion of voices of the powerless in Africa and around the world, in the literary conversation on the world stage. He challenged long held myths (often negative about Africa) along the way; and attempted to recast, concomitantly, the image of Africa, Africans, - and hence himself- through his novels, poetry, essays, and children’s books.

As founding editor of the African Writers Series, Achebe played a seminal role in introducing a new cadre of writers and literature from all parts of Africa to the world. The influential Harvard intellectuals - Stephen Greenblatt and Henry Louis Gates Jr. - remind us that: “the world wide literature cannon today is shaped as much by Anglo-Saxon or Celtic names like Lessing, Grass, Pinter, and Heaney, as by names that clearly imply origins beyond the British Isles or Europe - Naipaul, Achebe, Walcott, Rushdie, Marquez and Soyinka.” I am grateful to GOD for blessing Dad with this immense contribution to world literature and hence, civilization.

What I am getting at is that ART is a serious matter.The fiftieth anniversary of Things Fall Apart has produced renewed interest in all of Achebe’s work. Arrow of God,& nbsp; Anthills of the Savannah, No Longer at Ease, A man of the people and his poetry have remerged in classrooms around the world.

Given your profound interest in literary developments around the world, people tend to forget that Chidi Achebe is actually a medical doctor, tell us about yourself and how it is that you are able to traverse both the scientific and literary worlds.

Well, Alvan, send a medical correspondent next time and we will talk about health care issues (laughter)...

Yes, indeed, I am the President and CEO of a health center in Boston and I am also a physician. I was educated at Bard College where I earned a B.A. in Natural Sciences, with a minor in History and Philosophy. I later obtained an M.P.H. (Masters in Public Health) from the Harvard School of Public Health and a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) from Dartmouth College Medical School. I also hold an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) from Yale School of Management

I believe that there should be a seamless interplay of myriad fields of knowledge - be it science, politics, business and/or art. Exposure to as many aspects or disciplines of knowledge sharpens your intellect and enhances you as a human being.

In our family, several members have both science and art degrees or intersecting interests. Dad as you know started off in medicine and we can all be grateful that he ended up as a writer. My older brother Ike holds a masters and a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge in the UK and another masters in Computer Sciences. My maternal uncle, the late Dr. Samuel Okoli (one of my mentors), was a UK trained physician - (Obstetrician/Gynecologist) - and apart from running a hospital in Lagos, also was deeply interested in the arts, music and literature.

Let us not forget that there is a long list of physicians who practiced medicine and had other great interests in history - in antiquity there was Ctesias (5th century B.C.) Greek historian, also one cannot forget one of the greatest of physicians - St. Luke (1st century A.D.) apostle and author of the most literary of the four gospels- the explorer David Livingston, Anton Chekov... Closer to home one can name individuals such as Nawal El Saadawi, the Egyptian novelist, Professor Anezi-Okoro, the ANA president Wale Okediran. Also Frantz Fanon comes to I do not have unique interests....

Gender Factor In Igbo Culture

By Wisdom Nwaiwu, The Tide

We cannot envisage, or imagine life without sexuality. Human existence hinges to a large extent on sexuality. This assertion is predicated on the assumption that our personality, behaviour, emotions and attitudes stem from our sexuality. Human beings possess a hereditary psycho-physical potential for the reproduction of human species and this is carried out by sexual experience.

The concept of sexuality can be defined in many ways notably in terms of our gender identity or in the sense of being male or female. Sexual identity becomes significant in our lives as soon as we are born. This can be observed even in the dresses of baby boys and baby girls, which vary. As children grow older, the males tend to identify with their fathers while the females imitate their mothers. Then, as soon as maturity sets in, sex takes on a new meaning. We tend to experience new feelings about people of the opposite sex and eventually may engage in various types of sexual behaviour.

Within the Igbo cultural milieu, sexual behaviour and necessary schemes in developing the ability to get along smoothly and pleasantly with the opposite sex especially among the youths is remarkable.

But it is necessary to correct some cultural misgivings about human sexuality in order to appreciate the positive reality of the concept of human sexuality.

The term sex or gender refers to the biological differences between a male and a female. A lot of factors have been identified as responsible for biological determination of sex. There are patterns of chromosomes that determines gender. Notably, males have an XY pattern while females have XX chromosomonal pattern.

However, it is not intended here to go into the details of biological determinants of sex but those physiological appearances which determine sexual identity.

Boys and men tend to have heavier bones and muscles than female. The two sexes play different roles in life and to become a man psychologically the male must learn to feel like a man. Part of his feelings, thinking and acting comes from experiencing the contrast between himself and girls. Part to it too, lies in the experience of being attached to girls and in associating with them in the role of the male.

When we are faced with the question of why the sexes are different, the most obvious reason is that they are built differently and the differences in structure influence their needs, interests and preferences. The reason this is less obvious to many people is that the sexes differ because society makes them different.

For instance, even as children, the types of dresses presented by parents and relations to male children differ from those of females. Gradually, they grow to think themselves differently.

Furthermore, from the aspect of social and cultural perspection, one homogenous factor that looms large among the Igbos is sex roles. Sex roles involve the set of behaviour and attitude that are determined to be appropriate for one sex or the other in society.

Boys and girls are taught appropriate behaviour for their particular sex, and are encouraged to reflect these behaviour in their life styles. By the time they are mature young adults, they must have learnt the cultural norms regarding sex roles and sexual behaviour.

Since he has been taught these sex roles, the young male begins to think of himself as a boy and as being different from the girl in interests, strength, appearance, attitude and abilities. In this process too, the girl will identify with her mother. This means that she will feel herself like her mother when she washes dishes, sweeps etc. similarly, the boy will identify with his father.

Nwaiwu wrote in from Aba

Women's group set up for Oxford's Nigerians

By Amanda Williams
A WOMEN'S group aiming to help Nigerian women living in Oxford has been launched.

The Udoka Igbo Women’s Association was set up by five women from Blackbird Leys, Cowley and Littlemore to teach the children of Igbo men and women, an ethnic group of people from east Nigeria, more about their culture.

There are thought to be about 2,000 Igbos — sometimes spelt Ibo — living in Oxfordshire.

Ngozi Nze and Ochiora Ebede, from Cowley, Stella Godwin-Malife, from Littlemore, Theresa Eke, of East Oxford and Chinwe Anya, who lives in Kidlington, decided to set up Udoka, which means Peace is Best, after discussing the importance of teaching their children about their heritage.

They now hope the association, which is awaiting charitable status, can attract sponsors so it can set up the country’s second Igbo language school in Oxford.

Ochiora Ebede, 53, from Cowley, taught her own daughter, Jasmine, 24, about her language and culture so she could grow up speaking both English and Igbo.

She said: “It is very important that children are taught about their heritage — the language, food and culture.

“Children will often go back and visit Igboland and it’s important they are able to integrate properly.

“We also want to raise awareness about other issues facing women in today’s multi-ethnic Britain, such as domestic violence and the importance of family values.”

The group will also be open to women who may have married into the Igbo culture.

Currently Udoka, which has appointed Lord Mayor Sussana Pressel as its patron, meets once a month at one of the women’s homes but the group is looking to set up in a community space soon.

Mrs Ebede said she also hoped sponsors would come forward to support the setting up of the language school.

She added: “We would also welcome donations from people of whatever they are able to give.

“Equipment, computers, whatever people can donate, we would be very grateful for.”

Ms Pressel said: “I lived in Africa for five years and I continue to be interested in various aspects of African culture.

“I was very flattered to be invited to be part of the new group.

“Also I think Oxford is very lucky to have groups from many different countries who contribute to the rich diversity in our wonderful city.”

l To contact the association email or go to

Nigeria: Ilomuanya - a Monarch's Controversial Mission

By Emma Maduabuchi

Lagos — Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, Chairman of South-East Council of Traditional Rulers is on warpath, waging a war against what he chooses to call culture abuse, known generally as the Ezeigbo phenomenon.

Ilomuanya was in Lagos State recently, to, according to him, educate his kinsmen from the South East zone of the country, who parade themselves as Eze-Ndigbo in Diaspora. He believes that such title is a corruption of a monarchical system, the Eze-ship in parts of Igboland.

He insists that those parading themselves as Ezeigbo outside Igboland are people generally unknown by the Igbo in the localities they reside, chosen and recognised neither by anybody nor working for any group.

Ilomuanya, who is also Chairman of Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers and a highly affluent traditional ruler, led a delegation of 10 other traditional rulers from the South East to the palace of the traditional ruler of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu. He told his host that the Eze-Igbo phenomenon was never anything cheery to celebrate, but rather an abuse of culture. "There is nothing like Eze-Ndigbo; rather it is an abuse of our culture and tradition," he further said.

Ilomuanya went on to request from Oba Akiolu and Lagos State Government to stop granting such people recognition as Eze, because "it is contrary to Igbo culture."

However, Ilomuanya seems not to be alone in this struggle to restore what some call the dignity of Igbo traditional institution. Many Igbo sons and daughters see the thriving Ezeigbo phenomenon outside Igboland as a misnomer, and a mockery of Igbo culture.

Yet, a group of commentators criticize Ilomuanya's crusade as starting on the wrong plank, and wondered if he was not merely playing the Ostrich.

Those on this divide center their argument on the fact that Igbo culture is not in its entirety a monarchical system.

"The Eze-ship, as being held by Ilomuanya and his contemporaries within Igboland itself was not a culture prevalent in every Igbo community to necessitate such platforms as, State Council of Traditional Rulers, or South East Council of Traditional Rulers," one critic noted.

The critics argued further that Ilomuanya should have started his crusade by campaigning against the "dubious" conferment of autonomous communities to people, and the Eze stools that go with it, which have, in most cases bred rancour and division within those communities.

Incidentally, Ilomuanya is said to be a beneficiary of this proliferation, having benefited from the creation of Obinugwu autonomous community, which he is the first traditional ruler. His critics thus question the morality in his creating a kingdom for himself, and seeking to restrain others from doing same, even if, in Diaspora.

A concerned Igbo who chose to speak on condition of anonymity said: "Yes Ezeigbo outside Igboland is an aberration and not our culture. But, is it not necessary to have a body outside Igboland to preserve Igbo culture? Some would say it is necessary, but the name Ezeigbo does not go down well with a lot of people. So they can consider such titles as Nna-Udo, Eze-Udo, but not Eze-Igbo."

Ikenga Nnewi, Dr. Dozie Ikedife though supporting recognition of a leader wherever there is a large Igbo settlement, frowns at what he calls a desecration of revered Igbo traditional title.

"There is a need to have a leader of Igbos wherever they are in good number. But, it is wrong to go with the title Eze-Igbo, which is a reserved title for autonomous communities. You don't go desecrating the thing everywhere," Ikedife advised.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The new Zikist movement

By Obi Nwakanma, Vanguard Newspapers

On February 28, I was a guest speaker at the Anambra State Association Black History month symposium on Nnamdi Azikiwe in Dallas. It was an apt and proper celebration of the life of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a true giant of the 20th century.
In choosing to celebrate Azikiwe’s contribution, it struck me that the leadership of the Anambra state Association in the Dallas/Forth Worth area had a fine sense of history. This much I told Nnaerika Okonkwo, nuclear reactor inspector - whose father, the legendary Okonkwo Kano, was a formidable Zikist himself.

They brought together Dr. Chudi Uwazurike of the City University of New York, Dr. Assensoh of Indiana University, the Houston based publisher of the USAfrica on-line newspaper, Chido Nwangwu, Mrs. Oyibo Odinamadu and I, to reflect on the value of Zikist history and on Zikism. Azikiwe was a man who played on the world stage.

In the emergence of radical black internationalism in the 20th century he will be regarded alongside WEB Dubois, Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, CLR James, and the younger Kwame Nkrumah who followed Zik, as the leaders of the black world in that century who gave the push for the emancipation of the black peoples of the world from the abjection of history.

The fruits and vision of their struggle, with that movement that began in the 18th century with Olaudah Equiano and in the 19th century by Edward Blyden, have started to ripen and crystallize in the emergence of Mr. Barrack Obama in the White House.

But while it does seem that everywhere else progress is being made, the changes towards the emergence of new terms of relationship with Africa and the black world seems to be hampered by a clayfooted Nigeria. Nigeria has been called a crippled giant and is increasingly dismissed as irrelevant.

Nigeria was once “the great black hope,” but today, listening to diasporic Africans and other people in the world, it is clear that this once bright hope has been reduced to a laughing stock: Nigeria is like the idiot king, “Temugedege” in J.P. Clark’s classic play, Oziddi: self-regarding, but incapable of a singular redemptive act worthy to memory. Why did the light depart from this nation?

A full reading of Nigeria’s history ought to properly situate the Nigerian crisis of nationhood, and thus place squarely on the genealogy of events, where, as the novelist Achebe would say, the rain began to beat us. It would also, hopefully, provide some exemplary direction towards a new movement that should free Nigerians from the current situation of internal colonialism.

That, indeed, is the state of affairs: the contemporary crisis of nation in Africa in general and in Nigeria in particular is the result of an arrangement that has basically substituted one form of colonialism with another.

It has also reduced the meaning of nation. Where Nnamdi Azikiwe and his group conceived of the nation as transcendent, those who opposed him, with the active and subversive support of Great Britain, saw a more narrow meaning of nation.

We must be clear on this, especially in the light of the various revisionist rhetoric that has started to forcefully emerge from certain quarters, which tends to obscure the truth for a new generation of Nigerians, in whose interest it is to know the truth and be freed by it.

For instance, the recent celebration of the centenary of Obafemi Awolowo obscures the fact, in the bid to make him a “nationalist” of the Nigerian mould, that Awo was not part of the anti-colonial nationalist movement.

He was a student in London and a member of the British Labour Party in the crucial period, and he was inseminated suddenly into the nationalist discourse at the very intriguing moment between 1948 and 1951, when the negotiations on the form decolonization would take began after the argument had been won by the nationalists, circa 1945.

In a bid to create politically correct narrative of nation, even newspapers now declare the Sarduana of Sokoto a “Nigerian statesman and nationalist.” He was not. The Sarduana was on record to oppose Nigerian Independence and had no sense of Nigeria as organic and transcendent. Contemporary Nigerian history is based on such utterly laughable revisionisms.

Far little is said now about the Zikists - those who led the agitation for a free nation: Adegoke Adelabu, Saad Zungur, Raji Abdalla, Mbonu Ojike, Aminu Kano, Nwafor Orizu, Olu Akinfosile, Michael Imoudu, Denis Osadebe, Ozuomba Mbadiwe, Humphrey Omo-Osagie, Adeniran Ogunsaya, Eyo Ita - and so many more, who led the agitation for the postcolonial nation, but did not come to power to translate their dreams.

They rallied under the banner of Zikism and gave the British colonialists hell. But it is this attempt to elide the truth of Nigerian history and create great fictions and great fictional heroes out of it that has made it impossible to tar the real anti-heroes with the brush they deserve.

Not all who have come to the national stage and to national prominence deserve the plaudits we now endow on even some of the most criminal elements that have forced their ways unto Nigeria’s national political leadership, ruined the nation, and furthered the course of domestic colonization.

It is imperative for a new generation therefore to actively seek an unveiling of this history. It is also in the interest of this new generation to renew the Zikist movement and its compact to constitute the Nigerian nation and to rescue it from the bondage of ages.

The current situation in Nigeria is clearly the result of the defeat of Azikiwe and his group in the postcolonial period, starting from the crucial phase of negotiations leading towards independence in the 1950s. Kenneth W.J. Post and George Jenkin’s book on Adegoke Adelabu, The Price of Liberty (CUP, 1973) gives a crucial detail of some of the shenanigans at the London Conference in 1957 with the colonial secretary, Lenox-Boyd.

Those who opposed the Zikist vision of Nigeria triumphed, forced the nation towards its current direction, and subverted the dream so central in the agitation for freedom which the leadership of the anti-colonial Independence movement in Nigeria saw as sine qua non to freedom.

It is clear that Nnamdi Azikiwe’s return from the United States in 1935 introduced a systematic agitation in West Africa that rattled the British and the colonial office.

Prior to Azikiwe’s return much of what passed as engagement with the British was beggarly, accomodationist, and impotent. It basically sought elite guarantees; a bit more pork for the elite; parity in senior service positions.

It took Azikiwe to deploy a vast media network and new campaign strategies to mobilize the grassroots, connect with ordinary folk, disseminate an idea of new nation, create a popular movement that fully mobilized the energy of Nigeria for the first and possibly the last time.

This is the lesson that a new, visionary leadership must learn in order to awaken Nigerians from their current stupor. A new Zikist movement must re-engage Nigeria on the terms of Zikism, outlined in his great, catechismal book, Renascent Africa: Economic determinism, Political Freedom, Mental Freedom, and spiritual balance.

Monday, April 20, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The Thing Around Your Neck

Hopes and Impediments

In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new collection of stories, many Nigerians leave their troubled country for safety and opportunity elsewhere. But, Amy Rosenberg writes, getting away doesn’t get them much.

In a 1962 radio interview, Chinua Achebe, Nigeria’s best-known novelist, explained that he started writing out of anger over Mister Johnson, a 1939 novel by the white British author Joyce Cary. The title character is an ambitious but clownish Nigerian clerk who blindly and cheerfully enmeshes himself in larceny, graft and murder while trying to gain the respect of his colonial superiors.

Of the much-praised novel, Achebe said: “It was clear to me that this was a most superficial picture of – not only of the country, but even of the Nigerian character. I thought… someone ought to try and look at this from the inside.” Forty-five years later, during a talk at Harvard, another Nigerian novelist explained that she began writing because she was startled, as a young child who had devoured books by Enid Blyton, to stumble across Achebe’s work and realise that novels also could be about black people. “Things Fall Apart is the book that gave me permission to tell my own stories,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said.

Achebe and Adichie’s tales are part of the same story, one that encompasses both Nigeria’s development as a modern, independent nation and the idea of the novel as a force for social and personal transformation. When Achebe made his statement, the Nigerian novel was only about 10 years old; the country had been independent for only two years; and the conflicts that would explode into civil war five years later were just simmering. By the time Adichie made hers, Nigerian literary life had blossomed: Wole Soyinka had won the Nobel Prize, and Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ben Okri and Chris Abani, to name a few, had gained international recognition.

But these achievements came in the aftermath of the civil war of 1967 to 1970, which killed between one and two million people, most of them Igbo. The Igbos, largely Christian, comprise one of the main ethnic groups in Nigeria; the Hausa and the Fulani, mostly Muslim, and the Yoruba, a mix of Christian and Muslim, comprise the others. Massacred during hate campaigns before and during the war, the Igbos seceded, carving out the southeastern corner of their country to create the short-lived nation of Biafra. Following Biafra’s collapse in 1970, Nigeria suffered a series of coups and dictatorships, which ended only in 1999; the democratic governments that have been in power since have been thin in democracy and thick in corruption, riding the revenues of an oil boom that has created a rich elite without redressing the country’s essential problems.

Adichie’s first two novels, Purple Hibiscus (2003) and Half of a Yellow Sun (2007), addressed some of these historical complexities. In the former, a masterful coming-of-age story about a girl whose religious father abuses her while government corruption threatens to destroy the entire family, Adichie acknowledged her debt to Achebe with the opening line: “Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère.” In The Thing Around Your Neck, Adichie’s rich and thoughtful new collection of short stories, the 32-year-old writer turns her attention to the present. The book focuses on independent Nigeria’s grown-up grandchildren – granddaughters, mostly – who came of age right around the time their country adopted democracy, who are middle class or better, but whose lives are rarely comfortable.

For this group, the West beckons; nine of the book’s 12 stories take place in, or are in some way connected to, America. But having grown up in the double shadows of colonialism and failed secession, with the additional burdens of patriarchy and religious oppression, the characters in these stories cannot rest easy with America, even when they are drawn to it. They have too much history for a country that pretends history is irrelevant. The problem is laid out neatly in Ghosts, which features the only protagonist in the book who is not a young woman, a 71-year-old retired mathematics professor nicknamed Prof. He scoffs at his daughter’s campaign to move him from his Nigerian university town to Connecticut, where she lives with her son and works as a doctor. “I will be forced to live a life... littered with what we call ‘opportunities’,” he says. For Prof, there is a difference between American-style opportunity and what he and his generation once had, then lost: “time immersed in possibility”, the hope of creating a new nation for an oppressed minority.

One day Prof runs into a former colleague he thought had been killed 37 years earlier during the war. As the two catch up, a picture of a difficult life emerges. Prof watched his first daughter, a little girl at the time, die during the war. He left his university town when it was evacuated at the start of the war and returned three years later to find that his books had been burnt and his personal belongings defiled. He saw his wife die a preventable death because she was given fake drugs to treat an illness. Each month, he is turned away from the university bursary, where he goes to pick up his pension, because the vice-chancellor is using the pension funds to buy new cars for himself. Still, he refuses to leave Nigeria.

For his daughter’s generation, the story is different. Lacking firsthand memory of a clear cause like the nation of Biafra, reeling from the decades of coups, oil scandals, human rights abuses and hard-grinding life, many younger people chose to move to America, a country where, as Adichie writes in Imitation, “you could drive at night and not fear armed robbers, where restaurants served one person enough food for three”. Members of this generation saw what America had (safety, plenty, possibility) and wanted it too.

But making it to America does not entail the automatic achievement of wealth, let alone carefree daily living and fulfilment. Money is certainly an issue for Adichie’s characters – especially for Akunna, the protagonist of the collection’s title story, a young woman from a lower-middle class family who wins a visa lottery and is sent to live in a small town in Maine – but most of the immigrants described here are students, doctors, art dealers and their wives, not working-class newcomers struggling to get by. As members of the global middle class, they wrestle more with psychological afflictions than material want.

Akunna, for example, moves in with her “uncle” – really her father’s sister’s husband’s brother – who shows her how to apply for a cashier job, enrols her in community college, and attempts to molest her in his basement. She strikes out on her own, taking a Greyhound bus to its final destination somewhere in Connecticut. The story is narrated in the second person, a choice that imbues the tale with a sense of inevitability – an I-know-exactly-how-this-all-ends feeling – and also creates a discomfiting intimacy between the protagonist and the reader.

At the community college Akunna attended in Maine, other girls were curious about her, asking ignorant questions: “They gawped at your hair. Does it stand up or fall down when you take out the braids?… All of it stands up? How? Why?” It is easy to imagine one of these well-intentioned classmates affably asking, in reference to an elaborate African necklace, “What’s that thing around your neck?” But Adichie’s title ends up referring to something else altogether:

“Nobody knew where you were, because you told no one. Sometimes you felt invisible and tried to walk through your room wall into the hallway, and when you bumped into the wall, it left bruises on your arm…. At night, something would wrap itself around your neck, something that very nearly choked you before you fell asleep.”

That suffocating loneliness afflicts many of the characters in the collection, especially the wives who are brought to America because of their husbands’ work, or, more chillingly, who are brought to America, dumped in big suburban houses, and left there by husbands who want to join “the coveted league, the Rich Nigerian Men Who Sent Their Wives to America to Have Their Babies League”. Nkem, in Imitation, is one such woman. Her art-dealer husband visits her and their two children in their house in Pennsylvania for a couple months each year. He collects imitations of ancient Nigerian statues and masks, but the real imitation in this story is Nkem’s life. It looks similar to the lives her neighbours lead —“lives [her husband] often called ‘plastic’” – but it’s filled with suppressed desire for the smells and sights of Lagos, the touch of a dusty harmattan wind. Like many of the angry, sad or lonely women in this collection, Nkem cannot speak about her emotions; she barely acknowledges them to herself. Perhaps she, and some others, have found safety and plenty, perhaps even “opportunity”, but the price has been steep: their dreams, their voices, even their names (as with Chinaza Udenwa, in The Arrangers of Marriage, whose husband forces her to become Agatha Bell).

Adichie offers some respite from her characters’ silence by giving them the power to act. This is true especially for those who have not left for America, as if staying in Nigeria connects them to a source of strength. One young woman throws a rock at the windscreen of her parents’ car rather than explain why she doesn’t want to visit her brother in prison. Another, whose journalist husband has been chased out of the country and whose four-year-old son has been shot by government thugs, turns away from the American visa interviewer assessing her application for asylum and heads to the village burial ground where her son’s body lies. When a young writer on a retreat designed for African writers by a lecherous, white Englishman can no longer stand to be lectured on what is allowable in African fiction, she stands up at the dinner table, laughs uncontrollably, and leaves the room.

Adichie is at her best when she’s with these characters, the ones who haven’t left yet. Her descriptions of their lives are suffused with tenderness and longing – perhaps the longing of a writer who has crossed the border to the West herself (Adichie currently lives between the United States and Nigeria). In the stories set in her home country, the pace picks up, the sentences breathe more freely, the nuanced simplicity with which Adichie writes becomes less simple, more nuanced. This quality builds throughout the collection, so that the final story feels almost like the climax of a novel. It takes place entirely in Nigeria, and it’s the only one that shifts its gaze fully from the present to Nigeria’s colonial past, spanning from the late 19th century to the 1970s. It recounts the life of a village woman who sends her son to a missionary school and lives to regret his subsequent harsh Christianity – his turning away from her and their African way of life. At the end, however, the woman’s granddaughter simultaneously moves forward and turns back to the past. She defies the expectations of family, friends and Church by earning a university degree, studying in London, divorcing her husband – then returning home, writing a book about a reclaimed history of southern Nigeria, and changing her name from Grace to Afamefuna. She embraces her homeland, and, in doing so, she finds a kind of modest empowerment that has eluded many who left.

BOOK REVIEW: The Thing Around Your Neck

By Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

Reviewed by Bernardine Evaristo, The Times

This stunning collection of short stories confirms Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's position as one of Africa's brightest new literary stars. She is the author of two important novels about the Igbo people of Nigeria - Purple Hibiscus and the Orange prize-winning Half of a Yellow Sun - yet her writing is even more poignant when applied to the short story: crisp, succinct, vigorous and loaded.

Adichie was born and raised in Nigeria and now lives in America. These slice-of-life stories straddle both countries and dissect the imbalance of power and moral corruption in a wide range of relationships and settings. The first story, Cell One, shows a descent into lawlessness and police brutality that we've come to expect depicted in Nigerian literature. Yet in Adichie's hands it is seen afresh. The writer's cool, intelligent, observant, female antennae are sensitive to the subtleties of how people behave, and why, in this story about the interplay of motherhood and teenage waywardness. Set on a university campus, its young men belong to gangs who steal, fight and kill: “... eighteen-year-olds who had mastered the swagger of American rap videos were undergoing secret and strange initiations that sometimes left one or two of them dead on Odim Hill”. The female narrator's teenage brother, Nnamabia, is arrested by the police after one such gang has run riot, shooting students and escaping in a professor's car. As his mother's spoilt only son, it's unclear whether he is guilty of the shooting but he is imprisoned without charge and left to the mercy of corrupt policemen. It is to Adichie's credit that her writing is so understated that at the end of the story the reader is left to imagine what happens rather than being force-fed the gory details. Her endings are always unpredictable and suspenseful.

In A Private Experience two women take refuge in a shack in the middle of a riot carried out by Hausa Muslims against Igbo Christians in northern Nigeria a few years ago. One is an Igbo medical student, the other a Hausa market-trader, and their brief interaction affirms the power of humanity to resist and survive tribal warfare. All Adichie's stories are suffused with evocative atmospheric detail. The riot-torn streets outside the shack “smell like the kind of sky-coloured smoke that wafts around during Christmas when people throw goat carcasses into fires to burn the hair off the skin”. And there is plenty of quirky detail too. What do these two refugees from the riot talk about? Well, the Hausa woman thrusts her naked breasts at the medical student with the plea, “My nipple is burning like pepper”.

In her stories about immigration to the US, Adichie highlights the adjustments required when you arrive in the world's most powerful and pervasive country. She invites us to ask whether it is really worth it. In Imitation, a bored Igbo housewife, Nkem, has been deposited in a smart American suburb by her businessman husband while he lives in Nigeria. Despite being part of the “Rich Nigerian Men Who Send Their Wives to America to Have Babies” league, she is still a powerless “Bush Girl” who gets her English tenses mixed up. But finding that her husband has installed a mistress in their Nigerian home galvanises her inner warrior and she takes control of the situation, rendering him mute and compliant.

Patriarchal attitudes are kicked in the groin in several of these stories. The Arrangers of Marriage shows a new wife arriving in Brooklyn to be treated by her dictatorial husband as something merely to use and abuse. She plans to leave him. In The Thing Around Your Neck an “uncle” who has enabled a young woman to live in the US expects sexual services in return. She refuses. Edward, the organiser of a workshop and prize for African writers in Jumping Monkey Hill, is pompous, lecherous and patronising. He also considers himself the arbiter of what is authentic in African fiction - despite being white, English and clueless. He gets his come-uppance.

Adiche pokes fun at US middle-class parental angst in On Monday of Last Week. Kamara, the nanny of the son of a neurotic father, describes the contents of their fridge: “The shop shelf was stacked with plastic bottles of juiced organic spinach. Cans of herbal tea had filled that space two weeks ago, when Neil was reading Herbal Drinks for Children, and before that it was soy beverages, and before that protein shakes for growing bones.” Yet the story also touches on lesbian desire. When the mother of the boy finally appears, Kamara falls prey to the power of the woman's ambiguous, flirtatious sexuality. A closet gay Nigerian man makes an appearance in The Shivering. Such sightings are rare in African fiction.

While there is a sense of anger at the injustices that Nigerians have to endure in their home country, these stories also question whether life in the US is any better. Many of the immigrants' stories are driven by loneliness and alienation and some do decide to return home - for better or worse. Adichie offers insights into both worlds and, like all fine storytellers, leaves us wanting more.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Aniebo: Nigerian literature and the absent critic

By Obi Nwakanwa, Vanguard Newspapers

I speak with two clear bona fides: as a professional writer and a trained theorist and literary critic. As a literary critic, both in the popular press - meaning literary journalism- and in the academic sense of it, I have grappled with the question of Nigerian literature as a late modern development in world culture.
I have watched with distinct constipation the diminution of the field of literary activity and cultural criticism in Nigeria, both as an academic and a popular venture. This is at the very core of frustrations expressed by Nigerian novelist, I.N.C Aniebo, who recently turned 70, and at this season of his autumnal offered a lament for the absence of engaged Nigerian criticism. First, let me congratulate I.N.C Aniebo on his 70th birthday. Aniebo was the example of the intellectual soldier of his generation.

Educated at the elite Government College Umuahia, where he was classmates with Tim Onwuatuegwu, Aniebo also chose the path of the soldier. He trained as a military officer in Cadet Schools in Teshie (Ghana) and in England and was commissioned Lieutenant as an Artillery officer. He later trained in Marine Warfare in the United States at the Command and General Staff College at Forth Leavenworth, Kansas.

Aniebo’s advents into modern Nigerian writing began with his sallies in the Nigeria magazine then edited by the novelist Onuorah Nzekwu. One of his earliest and more remarkable statements was made in that magazine as critic of Chinua Achebe, in his review of Achebe’s Arrow of God when it appeared in 1964.

In Aniebo’s critique, “Novelist or Sociologist: A review of Arrow of God” which appeared in the June 1964 edition of the Nigeria magazine he raised the questions that challenged Achebe’s aesthetics and its production of value.

He literally consigned Arrow of God to the corners of anthropology. It was a remarkable response, more so because of its provenance: Aniebo was then not an academic or a professional critic; he was a young military officer, albeit one who was making more than a hint of the emergent shape of modern African literature.

His early critical voice was eloquent. Achebe’s rising stature at the time as his generation’s star writer already drawing the significant attention of an international as well as local audience was certainly not hurt, but Aniebo’s perspective further complicated or if you like, muddled the calm waters of fawning criticism that greeted Achebe’s work.

Aniebo began thus to draw attention to himself as an emerging writer, writing very interesting short stories and publishing mostly in the Nigeria magazine, and in other outlets and increasingly using pseudonyms to avoid the military censor. He gained early attention with his short stories and has been referred to by his early critics as the “master of the Nigerian short story form.”

I am of course yet to see the architecture of that form called the “Nigerian short story” since no critic or scholar of that genre has come to clearly map its characteristics, or even show that such a thing exists as a uniquely formal category called the “Nigerian short story,” different in its texture and textuality from, say, the “Russian short story” or the “Gaelic short story” or the short story from any other Anglophonic tradition.

The charge or challenge for that kind of mapping would be to reveal an authentic form of practice that would situate an autonomous Nigerian imagination. The point of course is not, and would never be, that there are no Nigerian writers of the short story.

As I have stated, I.N.C. Aniebo has frequently been described as a real master of that form. His career seemed all set for the army, where he was apparently headed towards an exciting military career and towards the Nigerian High Command, when the volt of violence shocked and shattered the boundaries of the old Nigerian federation.

In 1966, just returning from military training in the United States, the Nigerian crisis ensued. Many of Aniebo’s colleagues were killed in the putsch of July. Aniebo was saved by a happy twist of fate. He fought on the Biafran side, although he was also later detained by the Biafran authorities during the war.

At the end of the civil war, with his career in the army ruined, and with the help of some of his old friends in the Nigerian Army, Aniebo secured admission to schools in the United States, and opted for the University of California in Los Angeles, where he studied, and worked under the late historian Boniface Obichere. Aniebo’s debut novel, the Anonymity of Sacrifice appeared to some acclaim in 1974. It established Aniebo’s claims as a writer, especially in its exploration of the immediate sense of trauma following the civil war.

Aniebo’s novel is without question, among the finest stories that came out of the Nigerian civil war, including V.C. Ike’s Sunset at Dawn, Cyprian Ekwensi’s Survive the Peace, Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Sozaboy, Eddie Iroh’s Forty-Eight Guns for the General, Elechi Amadi’s Sunset in Biafra and even Achebe’s collected stories, Girls at War among the more prominent. Aniebo returned to Nigeria in 1979 after studies in the United States and taught Creative Writing from then on in the English Department of the University of Port-Harcourt.

Aniebo’s grouse - and it is justifiable grouse - is against contemporary critics of Nigerian or African writing. Aniebo has felt himself and many others unjustifiably ignored in the critical enterprise that tends to elide the work of writers not sanctioned, in his reckoning by some “western” or metropolitan critic writing out of New York or London.

Aniebo has incidentally been colleagues to some of the giants of modern Nigerian literary scholarship, including the late Wilfred Feuser and the poststructuralist critic Sunday Anozie as well as Charles Nnolim. But Aniebo’s sense of the Nigerian critic is that he is profoundly faddish and unoriginal, except perhaps in his own radical exception of the novelist and critique, Isidore Okpewho.

Aniebo’s exception declared in his remarks at the events marking his birthday raises certain important questions. Among the most central is the state of contemporary Nigerian humanistic education, with its anchors in literature, language, history, and philosophy.

There is a thorough absence, it seems, of the professional Nigerian critic in the formulation of ideas governing either the shape of the canon of writing in Nigeria or the shape of ideas structuring the discourse of that canon.

The era of the great critics in Nigeria seem to have passed and there are no more great literary critics of power in the Nigerian horizon of the stature of Ben Obumselu, MJC Echeruo, Emmanuel Obiechina, Abiola Irele, Isidore Okpewho, Sunday Anozie, Kola Ogungbesan, and so on.

This first set of Nigerian critics who established a tradition of literary criticism in Nigeria do not seem to have successors. The contemporary Nigerian critic is absent, and the discourse of ideas of nation and of its formation through its cultural texts – those archives of its lived experience in literature - is increasingly a lost art in Nigeria.

Aniebo’s lament is justified: for example, there is something to say against a critic of the culture of nation, who is unaware of the range and the dimension of cultural production of the nation in its current form.

That is the situation of the critic today in Nigeria: an edgy ignorance mediated by a certain hardness of heart, and an unwillingness to discover or explore.

The contemporary Nigerian critic of the new writing is also mostly a ventriloquist doing what I would call “follow-follow criticism”: as Aniebo indeed laments, they now write about Chimamanda Adichie, for instance, only because she has gained some currency among critics and reviewers in Europe and America. Yet, long before Half of a Yellow Sun was the Anonymity of Sacrifice. The Nigerian critic is lethargic and unoriginal, or indeed, mostly alienated.

It is this alienation itself that also characterises Aniebo’s own declaration of ignorance: his lack of awareness of any other writing by a contemporary generation of Nigerian writers, whom he has in is own confessions, not read, and therefore could never talk about with the authority of the scholar of writing and literature.