Sunday, May 30, 2010

I relocated from Lagos because my children were losing touch with tradition –Bright Chimezie

By Nonye Ben-Nwankwo/Punch

Highlife musician Bright Chimezie, a.k.a. Okoro Junior, who used to be quite visible on the Nigerian entertainment scene, speaks with NONYE BEN-NWANKWO about his career and private life. Where have you been all this while? I have been out of Lagos for about seven years. I have been in Abia State; Umuahia to be precise. I lived in Lagos in the 1980s. I even got married here.

Why did you decide to go back home?

It got to a point where my children didn’t know where they came from. My music distracted me. I was more interested in it than anything else. But I later realised that my children couldn’t even speak their language fluently. It used to prick my conscience that my kids couldn’t speak their language.

So you decided to take them home?

Oh, yes. By 2003, when they were old enough to attend secondary school, I decided to take them home. If I hadn’t done so, they would have thought that Lagos was their home. They would have found it difficult to get used to our own culture. I had to relocate to eastern Nigeria in 2003 with my wife, my kids and my band. Since that time, I have been shuttling between Umuahia and other parts of the world.

And have you achieved your aim with your kids?

Yes. I thank God that the kids now understand their language. They know where they come from and they know their environment. They can also come back to Lagos if they wish.

Don’t you think that people should still have known about your activities even in Umuahia?

I still play music. I was just being mindful of the press at the time. I have a 16-piece band. It is live music that has sustained me up until this point. I am not involved in any other kind of business. If I were, the gossip mill would have mentioned it.

We learnt that you have recorded a new album.

Oh, yes. It is titled ‘Because of English’.

Does the title revolve around any true life experience of yours?

Oh yes. Most times, I use personal experience to get my message across to the people. ‘Because of English’ is another story. My teacher in primary school punished me because of English language. The teacher got up one morning and said nobody should speak vernacular on that day. He said he was going to whip us if he caught us speaking vernacular. You know I was born and brought up in the village. It is not easy to divorce vernacular from me. So my classmate, Chinyere, took my pencil. She was always taking my pencil without returning it when I needed it. I told her, ‘Chinyere, nyem pensul mu,’ which means Chinyere, give me my pencil. My teacher heard me and screamed. He shouted, ‘Who said that? Who spoke vernacular in this class?’ The whole class pointed at me. He asked why I disobeyed him. I said, ‘Nna anyi ukwu’ (my boss), I didn’t even realise that by calling him nna anyi ukwu, I was still committing the same offence. Before I could finish explaining to him, he asked me to kneel down and he punished me. Why should my teacher punish me because I didn’t speak English? We should not allow our language to die. Those days, when we were growing up, the Igbo had their own alphabet. The Yorubas have their own as well. But these days, we have defaulted. Kids now find it very difficult to speak their language.

Is that why some of your songs are rendered in Igbo?

Yes. Apart from some songs I recorded in English and Pidgin, the bulk of my songs were recorded in Igbo. I speak the proverb. I thank God for my language. But the younger generation have not inculcated this aspect of our culture. I am afraid that in the next 25 years, many young people will suffer from what I call cultural amputation. I had to come out with this album to get the attention of the people.

One of your songs tells how a white man once said you were commiting suicide because he saw you eating pounded yam. Is that a true story?

People keep asking me if that story is true. That was creativity. I wanted to pass a message across to the people. The best way to do that was to get a story line. To answer your question, part of that song was a true life experience. We have Ogbono soup, Egusi soup and other kinds of soup, and we should wash our hands and eat them with pride. If the Chinese eat with chop-sticks and take pride in that, why shouldn’t we do ours?

We should be proud of who we are and what we stand for.

You are always dressed in traditional clothes. Does it mean you can’t wear English attires?

I am afraid, for the past 30 years, I have worn traditional attires. I am used to them. If I wear a suit now, I may look awkward. This is my style, and it has been so for many years.

What really got you into playing highlife music?

I am a cultural person. Like I said, I grew up in the village. With that kind of background, what do you expect? I was not born in a town. I only started going to town after my secondary school days. My father was a church minister before he passed on. He had a wonderful voice. My mother is still alive and she is a powerful dancer. I have a natural flare for music. I make small moves and people will start clapping for me. That was how it got to this level. I used to sneak out of school and perform at television programmes. I was appearing on NTA, Aba in those days. It was a big deal. People would shout and scream that they saw me on TV. From there, I picked it up and started sharpening my skills until I formed my own brand of music known as Zigima Sound. I have held on to it till date.

If you weren’t born in the rural area, would you have had a different mindset?

I don’t know. God has a way of balancing equations. Any environment you live in influences you. If I was born in Lagos, I don’t think I would have been transmitting on the same wave length.

Some people see your nickname, Okoro, as derogatory. How come you take so much pride in bearing it?

It was quite derogatory. Without sounding immodest, I kind of gave ‘Okoro’ some prestige. When I came into Lagos in the 1970s, people were always calling me Okoro boy. Well, I said there was no problem with that. Okoro is not my name. But because of my afrocentric ideas, because of my trying to protect where I come from, I was dubbed Okoro. I even affixed the name to my real name. I take so much pride in answering it. I don’t see it as being derogatory.

As a young man back then, most people would have expected you to flow with the tide instead of behaving like a traditional man. Weren’t you criticised?

All of us cannot be there. I derive a lot of joy from what I have become. I find it difficult not to be myself. I was born in the village. I cannot push aside that aspect of my life so that women would love me.

So there is nothing Western that you miss?

Like what? Is there anything African that oyinbo man misses? I don’t miss anything! Let me tell you, the fact that I am traditional does not mean that I am archaic. I am a young African man in a modern sense. I still mingle with people. It is just that the uniqueness is there. Once you look at me, it will strike you that I am a serious African man.

Your wife didn’t mind marrying an ‘okoro’ man?

No. She didn’t mind. There are some women who love men that are very deep and men that vibrate. My wife falls into that category. I proposed and she accepted. That was in 1990.

Before you met your wife, would you have been tempted to marry a white woman during one of your trips abroad?

I wouldn’t have done that. It would have been cross breeding. I am not trying to go against people that married white women. Love is a universal thing. But with my kind of philosophy, it would have been difficult for me to marry a foreigner. The white woman can not make Ugba and stockfish for me. Would she have been able to rap with me in Igbo language? One thing that gives me joy is sitting down with my wife and speaking Igbo language without putting a word of English.

Regarding your kids, don’t you think their friends could see them as ‘bush’ people?

No way. Their formative years were superb. They went to the best schools in Lagos before we moved to the East. Even now, their English is impeccable. They speak very well. It was just that I had to balance that. I got married here and I had to take them home when I noticed that something was lacking. I couldn’t allow my wife to go home and do it alone. If I had done so, I’m sure you would have written that Okoro Junior has dumped his wife in the village and is rocking life and frolicking with young girls in Lagos.

How were they able to adapt to the environment at home?

Remember their father is an okoro man. Their papa was there and their mama was there. They were even happy. Kids love nature. They love the natural things in the environment at home. I thank God they were not too old when we moved. They were able to acclimatise very well. I have done my bit. My conscience is now clear.

What if your son wants to become a hip hop artiste?

While I was growing up, we had reggae. James Brown and Tony Wilson’s kind of music was the in thing. Those days, to appear fashionable to pretty young women, we pretended as if we were oyinbo. But after some time, I had to navigate. Coming back to your question, Highlife music, Zigima music, Apala and Fuji belong to us. I will tell him to take these music to another level. The kind of highlife that people before me played was not the same I play. The kids should take what we are doing now to another level. If you check out what these kids sing now, the lyrical content is completely zero. Their attention is on Hummer jeeps. They work with computers and programme their beats and they take it to a DJ to play for them on the radio. We didn’t grow like that.

Is there any chance of leaving your village for the city again?

I wouldn’t say. It depends on the gravitational pull. Right now, I am comfortable. I am focusing on my career. I still maintain my 16-piece band. What would I have used to feed my family? But everywhere is urbanised. There is telephone and there is the Internet. Things are still working well in the village. I have accomplished what I wanted.

Do you still get the attention that you used to enjoy from the public in the past?

It is even higher. Without sounding immodest, I am very unique. I drove into Lagos less than 48 hours ago, I tried walking down the streets, and the people almost mobbed me. The admiration is still there.

Even as traditional as you may be, you still add swag and style, especially in the way you walk and your dance steps...

I am traditional but that does not mean I should behave like an old man. For God’s sake, I am a young man. I am bubbling with life and enthusiasm. I have body movements. I didn’t need to go to any school of dance.

You said you got your royalties from COSON?

I got money! I will not tell you how much they paid me. I was zigimatised! It was in December, 2009. Tony said I should send my bank account number and he wired money into my account, saying it was my royalty. I was dazed. I just decided to identify with them. It has not been happening. I have a lot of CDs in the market. I recorded for Rogers All Stars and I am still recording for him. He still pays me my royalties. I need to identify with bodies that transmit on such wave length so that we go to the next level together.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mary Slessor and history in Osinaike’s drama

By Akintayo Abodurin/234 Next

The debate about the place of history in literature was rekindled at the 28th play reading session of the National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN) held inside Cinema Hall II, National Theatre, Lagos, on April 22.

How much of historical facts can a writer include in a work? Is a writer free to adapt history? If yes, to what extent? These were some of the issues generated from Muyiwa Osinaike’s ‘Mary Slessor: Abolition of the Killing of Twins in Nigeria’, read at the occasion.

Started 14 years ago as a critique session to help playwrights improve their works-in-progress before publication, Osinaike’s script generated healthy debate at the forum. The fact that his subject is a familiar one did not help matters, as people tore into the playwright for his perceived interference with history during the discussion.

Perhaps judging from the title of the work, people expected Osinaike, founder and Artistic Director of Black Marble Dance Academy, to focus more on the activities of the European missionary. His own ‘Mary Slessor’ instead, centres on the abolition of the killing of twins in Okoyong, a village in Calabar. His plot concentrates on the King of the village who discovers, towards the end of the play, that he has a twin brother. The brother, a missionary, walks into the village at the end of the play and causes an uproar because of his tattered clothes. Villagers think their king has gone mad, and started to look for ways to cure him before they realise it is the twin. Osinaike also portrays Slessor as a crown agent, and not the altruistic missionary of popular belief.

Sustain the suspense

Deputy Director, Dance, of the National Troupe, Arnold Udoka, was the first to comment after the reading. He noted that the playwright did a good job structurally but “didn’t sustain the suspense.” He advised Osinaike to re-examine the play’s ending and how the brothers meet. The choreographer also observed that most of the names in the play are more Akwa Ibom than Okoyong. He gave instances: “The use of crown should be Ntinya. You may have to establish Mary Slessor as a character, because she owns the play. Likewise, twins are called ‘Amananba’ and not ‘Amaniba’, which means ‘mother of twins’,” he added.

This is not history

While Udoka’s issue with the play focused on its structure, typos and interpretation of names, Mike Anyanwu, NTN’s head of Corporate Affairs, was concerned about the accuracy of historical facts presented in it. “This is a beautiful Nigerian comedy of errors, but the play falls far short of a play that should be titled ‘Mary Slessor’. It is not about Mary Slessor and she wasn’t a crown agent. This is falsification of history, it’s not true history. Mary Slessor was purely an evangelising missionary, rather than a political exploiter under the British,” Anyanwu said.

He added, “Apart from Mary Slessor, every other character is not drawn from history, they are fictitious. This is not history, sir!” Anyanwu advised Osinaike to change the title “because it doesn’t reflect the true historical activities carried out by Mary Slessor in that region.”

It is history

Chair of the session, Funmi Domino, would, however, have none of that. He defended the playwright saying, “There is no strict order in a work of imagination. The playwright has the liberty to use history as he pleases. A writer has the creative licence to change the turn of history. He may not chronologically follow events as recorded by history. This is not an anthropology text where historians have to record events as they unfold accurately.” He later disclosed that he was also irked by some parts of the play. Domino said he thought Osinaike was an evangelist himself out to preach, with the way he disparaged traditional religion.

Acting Director General of the National Troupe, Martins Adaji, also appeared to support Osinaike, albeit indirectly. “Don’t let’s mix the freedom of the playwright with historical facts. This is a director’s play; it gives us the liberty to embellish and put what you think is good enough. The play has the potential of blossoming into an epic play. If a play has corrected an historical error, it’s a good play,” he said.

Josephine Igberease, another official of the NTN, advised playwrights to “be definitive. Let’s know if you are being historical”, while writing a script.

Artist and scholar, Sola Fosudo, enjoined Osinaike who will direct ‘We’ , a presentation of the Dance Guild of Nigeria for the country’s Golden Jubilee, to consider the title of the play because an average reader would like to know more about Mary Slessor’s history. “The playwright should put more songs in the play and consider some sub-plots to go with the linear plots,” he added.

Film critic, Shuaibu Husseini, wondered why Osinaike changed the original title of the play from ‘Amaniba’ to ‘Mary Slessor’ when there is no link between the missionary’s activities and her eventual recognition by the Queen of England in the play.

But rather than be discouraged by the comments, Osinaike, who wrote the play in 2001 when he went for a research work in Akwa Ibom, took it all in good spirit. “I will go back to the sites and research again and get Mary Slessor right. I’m not going to change the title. I will research Mary Slessor in Arochukwu and in other areas. By the time I finish, I will have a compendium on Mary Slessor. If it’s going to take me another year, I will go.”

A’ level sex 101...

Couples should be sexually compatible –Dr. Ikechukwu, psychologist

By Chris Agadibe/Sun News Publishing

Affable and easygoing, Dr Ikechukwu P. Nwadinigwu is a psychologist with a special interest in marriage counseling. He sees his profession as a calling to help sanitize the society by stabilizing and strengthening marriages. Nwadinigwu, a lecturer at the Department of Education Foundations, University of Lagos is concerned that distrust is ravaging marriages, not just in Nigeria, but all over the world. This, he argues, is reflected in the astronomic rate of divorce.

In his view, no right-thinking person that cares about his marriage should allow a third party to break his home. The father of five recalls how a third party could have broken his home. For this reason, he urges couples to avoid third parties on marital issues warning that they can ruin any marriage. Born in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nwadinigwu is the first child of his parents who have four other children . He had his primary and secondary education in Onisha before proceeding to the University of Calabar, where he obtained his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees. In this interview , he shares his views on some of the realities couples face.

What is your view about marriage?

Well, marriage generally is a union of two personalities who are ready to live together, who relate to each other and despite their differences, accept each other. Generally, when two people decide to live together there is bound to be some ups and downs. When marriage starts it is initially based on infatuation. No matter the length of courtship the two people involved are infatuated within that period. As they live out their infatuation, it becomes consolidated, that is when love in essence manifests. So, you will find that for the marriage to blossom there is bound to be a lot of patience and understanding, accepting that no one is perfect. But most importantly communication is the soul of relationships, because no matter how the two work towards oneness in building a home, if communication is absent the union will not work. There will be conflicts and conflicts may attract third parties .When the couple begin to listen to people who ordinarily should not have a say in their marriage that marriage is sitting on a keg of gunpowder. This may ultimately result in suspicion, mistrust and separation.

At what point should a person abandon a troubled marriage?

There is a popular Igbo adage that before you decide to go into a marriage you should first of all go and train a pig. If you can stomach all the nuances from the pig then you can stomach the problems in a marriage. Many see marriage as an issue of friendship. So when the marriage is troubled you find that couples begin to drift apart. Now, marriage is not like clothes you can put on and off. It is a vow! Yes, there is bound to be conflicts but it is the couple’s ability to attend to those conflicts that matter.

When their relationship is strained, none of the couple is ready to accept the other’s point of view. I have been fortunate not to have that experience in my marriage, because I believe that my wife and I are one despite all the things we have passed through. The relationship between us is all that we require. Even at that, no matter how strained the relationship is, the couple should work towards getting it resolved.

You sound like someone whose marriage is successful. What is your secret?

I will always say that two things make marriage successful. The first is sexual compatibility.No matter how strained, no matter how bad the situation is, when the husband and wife are sexually compatible, most of the conflicts that arise in daytime are resolved at night. Sexual incompatibility is responsible for most separations and divorce. The other is patience. Patience is the name of the game and that’s why I said that before you think about marriage you must undergo a patience test.

That’s why the Igbo say go and train a pig . If you can stomach the nuances of a pig, then you can stomach the troubles of the family. The man has his problems as well as the woman. No one is perfect. The thing is to understand and accept the weaknesses of each other. My wife is my friend, she is my best friend and I owe nobody an apology . My best place is my home .That is where I find peace, but when peace is elusive then there is bound to be problems.

Can you talk about sexual compatibility in marriage?

When it comes to marriage, sex is one area many couples don’t really bother about. A lot of people find it difficult to talk about it. They are only interested when the doors are closed. But what is behind, beneath and around the concept of marriage is companionship and sex is the anchor of the consummation of marriage. So, if the couple have a very active sex life, the problem in the marriage would be half-solved since they will be looking up to that oneness, that consummation of their relationship.

So in essence, when they remember the total joy, satisfaction and peace arising from sexual intimacy, you will find that the issue that could have been problematic is ultimately deflated. That’s why you see some families during the daytime no matter how explosive an issue, before the end of the day they would be laughing. This could only happen where the couple have satisfying sexual relationship, but in a situation where the couple have problems you will notice that most times the man or the woman is not satisfied then it becomes a problem.

Then you see a third party coming to settle the dispute for them and the couple may not necessarily voice out what was actually responsible for the frustration in their relationship. They will think the woman doesn’t know how to cook or she is untidy. These are peripheral issues that neighbours will continue attempting to settle but the core of the problem is never discussed. The following day, the same issue will come up. If incompatibility and lack of satisfaction arise, either the man or woman begins to go out to look for some other person. Immediately the man finds solace outside, this creates problems and he now has divided attention. He would find it hard to accommodate the other partner and the same goes for the woman. So on this issue of compatibility, it takes understanding for the partners to appreciate and understand each other. Once the essence of sex is understood and they are able to explore each other, understanding the erogenous zones of each other, then that problem will no longer be an issue for them.

Sometimes, the female partner in the marriage tends to relax and feels satisfied immediately children start coming. It is in such situations that you see the women transfer their affection to the children, turning the man into a stranger in the house. The man now begins to compete for the attention of the wife with the children. Sometimes the woman feels she has arrived. What happens is that all the nice things the man once saw in the woman initially and which attracted him begins to lose value. Maybe the woman doesn’t look after herself again or she begins to look untidy and put on weight.

Before a man marries a woman, there must be something valuable he had seen and in the same way the woman may have seen something valuable in the man. It is that thing that continues to fuel the perceptions of the partners. If those perceptions begin to fade then there is a problem. It is always important to let the two parties know that it takes two to tangle. It is not only the woman that should work for the success of the marriage, the man also has to work towards that and that’s very important.

How should romance be conducted in marriage?

Well as I always tell people I interact with as a marriage counselor, if the man is waiting till night before he makes moves to the woman, that amounts to taking the woman for granted. Sex should start from morning . You have to psychologically prepare the woman’s mind towards the night. It doesn’t mean you have to wash dishes or prepare some food, but you can still create a psychological mood for sex.

Degeneration of Igbo Nation

By Valentine Obienyem/Sun News Publishing

Nigeria as a country can be said to be fast degenerating. Today, we see the encouragement of vices, of despicable behaviour, of mad rush for materialism and the general degeneration of our pristine values. I have deliberately decided to start thus to let you know that it is not restricted to the Igbos. Restricting it to the Igbos in this write up is simply to justify the task I have rashly laid upon myself: self appraisal, self criticism as a stakeholder in the Igbo nation just like every other Igbo man.

In the bygone years, there were a lot of values that were applauded in Igbo land. At that time, excellence was the norm. Igbos cherished and applauded excellence. That was when titles and dignities were conferred and granted to people based on merit and nothing more. As far back as we can pry into Igbo history, we shall find out that it was not in vain that Igbos conferred names and titles such as Diji, Diochi, Dike, Dimgba, di this or that on people. Those people were experts in cultivation of yam, palm wine-tapping, heroism, wrestling and other fields. These people achieved excellence in their fields.
Today, the degenerative looseness of the West and many other extreme factors have conspired to reduce the Igbos, so is some other tribes, to pitiable sight. We are talking about what happens in politics, at social functions, at places of work, etc.

Politics has to do with the science of governance, playing chess with power. This is very critical that a society that wanted to survive allowed its best and most experienced to play this game. In traditional Igbo society, the Okpala, the first son did this because he was regarded as the repository of wisdom and experience. As time went on, depending on the part of Igbo land concerned, it was by choosing the best to man critical sectors. Thus, Diogu, led the war, while Dike was the Hercules of the society and led in dangerous enterprises. Today, we seem to have lost standards of measurement.

The fact of the matter is not that we do not have the best as you could get elsewhere, but they are no longer given opportunities. Politics has become a game of our last eleven, especially those of them that had the opportunity to make a little money, one way or the other. Have you asked yourself why some charlatans can today confidently challenge the Ojukwus in Igbo land, even those barely out of their diapers? All over the place we have little demons that do not have respect for the holy water.

Look around you and all you see is Ukwachinaka, Onwa this Onwa that; Kpakpando this, Kpakpando that; Akuiriri this and that. These titles, like the Onuku in the masquerade genre/world, as masterfully interpreted by Dr. Okey Ikechukwu, actually represent degeneration as Ijeles are in short supply. Most often these are men without pedigree. In the past Igbos preferred a man without money; today they go after money without the man. Today, one Akuiriri could push an Ojukwu out of the way on the reasoning thus: “How much does he have?”

Men of worth always have minimum standards. The Anyaokus, the Achebes and their likes cannot under any circumstance set the patrimony of Anambra State on fire as we witnessed in 2004, but today, our political players can bomb the entire State because they are interested in booties. Look at what is happening in Igbo land today because of money and power, brothers kidnapping one another for money with the clear conscience of nature. Men hirthetho considered as responsible going to Okija shrines naked to swear. In the Niger Delta, where kidnapping started at least, though condemnable, they went after Oyinbo. Today in the East it has become an industry. When people shout about security I laugh, because I do not think other Governors are more concerned for this than the South East Governors. It has to do with values and orientations.

Can somebody tell us the true essence of burial ceremonies? Though different cultures believe in reincarnation or transcendentalism, but in Igbo society, burial ceremonies have great ontological values. Through decent burials the dead are bid farewell to wherever they go and the journey made easier. It was neither to show off nor for Epicurean indulgence. Today, the contrary is the case. These days, it is not even advisable to attend burial ceremonies because almost all of them are assaults to the eyes and desecration of our values.
Have you seen a burial brochure lately? It used to be a handy document that contained order of service and a brief on the dead. Sometimes it was deliberately made to look dull and uninviting to represent the mood of the time. Today, it has become one bogus brochure that most contain pictures of children, grand children, great grand children and all the relative of the deceased.

What for? Today, people do all they can to have the Governors, Ministers and important personalities in the society to send their condolences for publication in brochures. These are vanities and it is agonizing that our people spend so much celebrating vanities.

A friend of mine remarked, rather cynically, the other day on how somebody spent a conservative 400 Million Naira on burial. Our people have recently introduced giving of souvenirs at burials, sometimes television and fridges are given. The argument used to be that some of those doing this might not have even taken good care of the dead. Some who did not own bicycles were carried as corpse in Hummer jeeps, vehicle considered as reserved for Agberoes. But come to think of it, why should somebody spend 400 million on nonsense that has only but a fleeting effect on the people. 400 million is enough to change the face of a small village that will make the village to be perpetually beholden to the benefactor.

We have so many importations into our culture. This degenerative looseness explains the culture of ashebi that has recently become part of the Igbo society. Before now people dressed modestly, especially durinf burials; today, we now see sartorial elegance and a certain show-off mentality among our people. During wedding women are now dressed as showcases of their husbands' prosperity.

Oh, yes, our society is degenerating. The other day, I was told of somebody who had to transport the body of his dead mother by helicopter to his village. Just as one good turn deserves another, vices beget vices. After assaulting the minds of the unemployed youths, some of them are tempted to take to kidnapping. Meanwhile, the man hiring helicopter to transport decaying corpse would not have the good judgment to repair the school he attended in the village that had become dilapidated. Our society cannot grow or develop when people are myopic-minded. If the society has been fair to you, the only way to contribute to its growth is to give back to the society. But rather than be fair to humanity our people take delight in false living and the practice has become cacophonous. Houses today are built as if the occupants are going to live forever and yet these people eat as if they will die tomorrow.

Today, during social events, one sees group of youth playing all sorts of musical instruments, including those used by Adam and running after those that dress well for some wads. When the Igbo society has become this pitiable, grave danger lies ahead. Those that give money to these people are encouraging the culture of laziness. It is part of the degeneration in our society that people take politics as career without looking for something meaningful and edifying to do. This is obtainable because politics in Nigeria has become an open sesame to wealth and renown. Have you read about the richest men in the western world? How many past Presidents and Governors make the list? In Nigeria today I am almost sure that the richest are those that have been in politics one way or the other.

We cannot continue like this and think that our society will become a better place. In Anmbra State we have a Governor who understands the degeneration in the society. Mr. Peter Obi seeks through personal rectitude to force people to think and act wisely. I am happy that it is working rather slowly. I have been in circles where people praised the return of normalcy in the State, attributing it to the Governors personal example. Our society will be better if other Governors do likewise and if those in the position to influence others take a cue from him.

Obienyem writes from Awka.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I have an insatiable appetite for books - Joe Irukwu

By Yemisi Adeniran/Compass Newspaper

For Professor Joe Irukwu, age is neither a barrier. Rather, it is a gracious blessing. Apart from the wear and tear of his physical being, he remains admirable in his indebtedness to intellectual

meaningful and beneficial. While he admits the speedy tickling of the clock of life, especially where he is concerned, he gets more relentless at leaving a worthwhile legacy for generations to come. In this interview with YEMISI ADENIRAN, the learned elder statesman and leader of the Ohaneze Ndigbo, goes down memory lane on his childhood days, his aspirations in life and what he would want to be remembered for.

What is your childhood background like and how did it influence your adulthood and success in life?

I was born into a modest African family with a solid Christian background. My earliest recollection is that as children, we grew up in a typical African village environment in which all families were, in effect, their brothers’ keepers. As children, we were taught the traditional African values of respect for our elders and institutions as well as the importance of hardwork, discipline, education, character and integrity. In those days, families seemed to be in competition in their effort to ensure that their own children were the best disciplined and the most well-behaved in the community since each family was judged on its character and the character and behaviour of its products or offspring. As with all other children of my generation, my family and childhood background naturally affected my adult life in practically all respects.

What childhood pranks would you say you played?

I did not have a long childhood. I was the first child of my parents and they were most anxious to see me grow and become a responsible “adult” so as to influence my young siblings in a most positive manner. As a result, they did not allow me too much time to remain a child and I responded accordingly. The only little childhood pranks that I remember vividly were that I occasionally feigned or pretended to be ill so as to gain some attention, especially from my mother.

What are your memorable moments as a child?

My greatest childhood adventure took place when I was an infant around the age of seven or eight during the 1940s. My parents were passionate about Western education and we lived in a small town, Zonkwa, in the present Kaduna State. There were no schools in Zonkwa and the nearest school was in Kafanchan, about nine miles South of Zonkwa. In their determination to ensure that we do not miss out on our education, our parents sent me and my brother, Sochi Ogan Irukwu, to live with a distant relation who was working as a railway clerk in Kafanchan so as to attend the Anglican Holy Trinity School in Kafanchan. This was our first time of living away from our parents. Following what we saw, in our young minds, as acts of injustice and ill-treatment from our host and guardian, especially his resident girlfriend whom we thought disliked us intensely, we decided to return to our parents in Zonkwa. Encouraged by my brother who was bolder and more adventurous than I, we walked the nine miles journey on the rail track from Kafanchan to Zonkwa back to our parents who had to make other arrangements for our schooling.

Can you lead us into some of the experiences?

I will tell you a particular one. It was that which we suffered from our aunt. When it was time for us to go to school and we were still in bed, you know being children and in a chilly environment, we were bound to cling more to our beds than normal. Instead of waking us up, she would pour cold water on us even when it was the harmattan season.

Why did you choose to become a lawyer? And if you had not become a lawyer, what else would you have been?

My choice of profession was influenced by my early childhood background as well as my basic family philosophy. Our family motto is: Faith in God and Service to Humanity. I settled for the legal profession, Insurance and Risk Management, because of my firm belief that these professions would give me the opportunity to serve humanity in circumstances that provide me a sense of personal satisfaction and fulfillment. As a family, we have an acute sense of justice in the sense that we detest any form of injustice. The independence of judgement offered by these professions have helped me in the pursuit of my professional and business activities in an atmosphere of relative freedom and sound professional judgement. Furthermore, I am convinced that my passion for justice and fair play as well as my family’s commitment to faith in God and service to humanity can best be served by a foundation that rests on a sound legal mind. Incidentally, out of my five adult children, four are lawyers and pastors.

In answer to the second leg of your question as to what else I would have done if I had not settled for law as one of my primary professions, my response is that I probably would have been a policeman, a teacher, a clergyman or an economist. As a matter of fact, before I went to Britain to study Law in the 1950s, I had been admitted to Fourah Bay College in Freetown to read for an honours degree in Economics. I had to abandon the idea when it dawned on me that this was not my real calling.

You once said you loved to be a policeman as a child. What made you change your mind?

When I was a little boy in the 1940s, I was fascinated by policemen, especially the great power, authority and influence that I thought they wielded, in my infant eyes. At that time, policemen were highly disciplined and I thought their uniforms were very attractive so I wanted to be one of them when I grow up. Subsequent events in my early life made me abandon my desire to become a policeman. At the age of 12, my desire to be a policeman had been replaced by my passion and desire to become a lawyer when I grow up.

How fulfilled are you as a lawyer?

I have been a lawyer for almost 50 years, having been called to the English Bar in 1962. I feel a total sense of fulfillment and satisfaction with my choice of professions. If I have another chance in my next life, I will repeat the process. What was your most embarrassing moment. I’m asking this question against the backdrop of the information that one of your lawyer sons wanted to become a barber after school. In the course of our lives, we all go through different kinds of unusual, strange and unexpected, awkward and embarrassing situations. One such awkward situation within my immediate family took place in Lagos when my first son, after a first class education in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, resulting in his having qualified as a lawyer, suddenly announced to me, after his law school year in Nigeria, that he wanted to set up in business as a barber or hairdresser in Ikoyi. To my surprise, his mother and my wife who naturally loved and adored her children, especially her first son, supported this strange proposal. Luckily, God intervened and terminated this strange and awkward desire. Today, this son of mine, after a successful period of legal practice and corporate work in Lagos, finally settled for an excellent missionary work in London where he is being fully used by God to touch many young lives in a most positive manner and to the glory of God.

What has old age taken away from you?

Apart from the normal wear and tear in the form of changes in my physical appearance, age has not taken anything away from me. I am still mentally and intellectually active. I still write my books and I give my lectures periodically in Nigeria and overseas. Next week, I am one of the guest speakers at an important national conference in Kaduna being held under the auspices of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) as part of its 10th anniversary celebrations.

When did you marry and what attracted you to your wife? And how big is your family?

I got married in 1964 as a very young Lagos lawyer. I settled for the young lady I married because she was my kind of woman - from a respectable family with the right kind of values. I met my mother-in-law before I met my wife. She was a great and gracious lady in every respect and I told her that I would marry one of her daughters. She had four daughters and I settled for one of them and we have been blessed with five outstanding children, two boys and three girls.

What would you say is responsible for failed marriages?

Marriages fail for different reasons, ranging from intolerance, immaturity, incompatibility to economic and financial reasons. Also, the absence of mutual love and respect can be responsible. Marriage can be wonderful if you are lucky to get married to your real friend and soul mate who will accept you despite your weaknesses and inadequacies, since no one is perfect. It can also be hellish for the two people if the reverse is the case.

You are intellectually inclined. What’s the inspiration?

People regard me as intellectually inclined because of my visible commitment to the endless pursuit of knowledge and learning. The pursuit of knowledge is a natural way of life for me and I will only stop learning when I die.

Your love for writing books is great. How fulfilled are you and what are your views on the decline in our reading culture?

I have an insatiable appetite for books. I read a lot of books and I have done so since my early teenage years. I also write a lot of books on diverse subjects. My first book on Insurance Law and Practice in Nigeria was published in 1967 by Franklin Book Programmes. Since then, I have written a total of 19 published books on diverse subjects and disciplines. One of the greatest impediments to our national development is the virtual absence of a reading culture in Nigeria and the continuing decline in our reading habit, especially amongst our youth. This is a serious national problem that should be tackled collectively now before we become a nation of virtual illiterates in the 21st century.

What is your view on the current state of education in the country?

In the past, the general standard of education in Nigeria was quite high and favourably comparable to the standard in Europe and America. Unfortunately, like most things, our standard of education has suffered a serious decline in recent years. This is one of the major challenges that must be collectively addressed as part of our national reformation exercise.

What factors are inhibiting the ambition of the youths of today?

One of the prevailing national tragedies today is the continuing decline in the behaviour of our youths on key national issues. Although there are a few shining stars amongst our youths who have managed to overcome the weaknesses of the present Nigerian society and have excelled in their chosen fields, there are many who are content to remain loafers and troublemakers, without any desire to become gainfully employed. Unfortunately, the prevailing high level of corruption, societal degradation and massive youth unemployment are not helping matters and the leadership elite seem unable or unwilling to offer inspirational leadership to these young ones. This is another critical problem that deserves our collective attention before it gets out of hand.

SANship has been described as a cash and carry thing. What’s your view on this?

The elevation of highly accomplished senior barristers to the status of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) is a decent and respectable practice which is in line with the practice in other civilised nations. It rests on the same principles that apply in the United Kingdom in the context of Queen’s Counsel. As a matter of fact, it was introduced in Nigeria when we abandoned the Queen’s Counsel concept with the country’s assumption of a Republican status as the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The first Senior Advocate of Nigeria then was Chief Rotimi Williams, who was already a Queen’s Counsel under the British Colonial arrangement. Over the years, Nigerians have accepted the Senior Advocates’ concept as a respectable and worthy honour enjoyed by deserving senior members of the legal profession. To the best of my knowledge, the vast number of the 300 or so senior barristers that fall into this category are worthy of the honour and prestige attached to the status. Since no human institution is perfect, it is possible that a few undeserving individuals may have been admitted to the group as suggested by your question and as expressed in some of the negative media comments on the subject in recent times. The solution to the problem is not to discredit this honourable institution in totality, but rather to encourage the relevant authorities, especially the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, to note the criticisms and to take positive steps to ensure that only the best who are qualified in every respect are admitted into this prestigious body of Senior Advocates. I understand that this was done in England several years ago when the issue of Queen’s Counsel was the subject of similar criticisms.

What is your view on Insurance and the new move to re-orientate the people and to revamp the industry?

In the context of risks and risk management, Insurance is the most ingenious creation of the human mind. No modern economy based on the monetary capitalist system can survive or prosper without the existence of a viable and disciplined insurance industry. This is why most modern governments attach such great importance to the regulation and control of the performance of their insurance industry. Considering that modern commercial insurance has been practised in Nigeria for almost 100 years, my view is that our insurance industry has not done as well as it should have. The level of insurance awareness and insurance penetration in Nigeria is still one of the lowest in the world. In most developed and some developing nations, the banks and other financial institutions are owned by the insurance companies because of the large insurance funds they generate. In Nigeria, the reverse is the case. Unfortunately, most Nigerians, including most of our policy makers and the political leadership, do not fully realise the full potential of insurance and how to utilise the insurance concept as a vehicle for social and economic transformation.

It is refreshing to note that the present administration has taken an active interest in reforming and restructuring our insurance industry and the regulatory system to strengthen the industry and promote insurance awareness and penetration in Nigeria. We were relieved to note that the minister who was motivating and propelling this exercise was not dropped or reassigned during the recent ministerial reshuffle. I am in full support of the insurance restructuring exercise. As a matter of fact, I was the chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Committee set up by government last year to work on this subject and we sincerely hope that this exercise will ultimately lead to a more efficient and productive insurance industry. To this end, we sincerely hope that the National Assembly will respond promptly and appropriately in enacting the necessary legislations.

You are close to your root – Igbo. What’s the affinity?

I am a Nigerian of Igbo extraction from Bende Local Government area of the present Abia State. My family and my ancestors are highly respected in our community. Not so much for their wealth but for their integrity, courage and reliability and we are very close to our roots and our traditional values. The people of my area and their neighbours regard themselves as the traditional custodians of the ancient Igbo Spirit and values of hard work, enterprise, creativity, industry and integrity. From time immemorial, my family has steadfastly related to these values. As custodians of the Igbo Spirit and values, our people are adherents of the ancient principles of Igbo social justice and enterprise. During my active leadership years as President of Ohanaeze, we resurrected and promoted these principles of social justice, which has its roots in the concept of Egbe bere Ugo bere, which simply translates to ‘justice for all.’ And the response from all parts of Nigeria to these principles was quite positive.

Ohanaeze Ndigbo was rocked by crisis when you held sway as the president. What went wrong?

My book titled: Nation Building and Ethnic Organisations – The Case of Ohanaeze in Nigeria, has addressed this issue. Ohanaeze is to Ndigbo what Afenifere is to the Yoruba. Ohanaeze was born early in the 1970s after the Nigerian civil war and its first leader and President General was the great and legendary missionary doctor, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, of blessed memory. This outstanding elder statesman was my own role model. Professor Ben Nwabueze was its Secretary-General for almost 20 years. I was unanimously elected President-General of Ohanaeze in November 2003 and we assumed office in January 2004. I became the head of Ohanaeze at a most challenging period in our national history and at a turbulent period in the organisation’s history. At that time, there were divisions in Ohanaeze primarily as a result of a major disagreement between the two eminent leaders of the organisation, its President General, retired Justice Eze Ozobu, and the Secretary-General, Professor Ben Nwabueze. This disagreement resulted in the filing of a civil action in a Lagos High Court by Professor Nwabueze in which he made several claims and allegations against Justice Ozobu. The crisis mentioned in your question was probably a spillover from this and other earlier crises situations that we inherited. In any event, my election was designed to promote unity and reconciliation within the organisation and beyond. I accepted this leadership challenge primarily for two reasons: The first was to unify the people and to promote harmony and mutual respect within and amongst the Igbo leadership elite. The second was to use the opportunity to build solid bridges of goodwill between Ndigbo and the leadership of other ethnic groups in our overall national interest. On balance, I believe these objectives were largely achieved, despite the divisive effects of partisan politics, visionless and self-centered leadership of ethnic organisations in our political environment today as illustrated in my book mentioned earlier in this interview.

What is your view about corruption in Nigeria?

Corruption is a universal problem, which exists in varying degrees in all human societies. It has become a major problem in Nigeria today because it has reached an alarming and destructive proportion, to the extent that it is now threatening our survival as a nation. It has damaged all aspects of our national life because it exists at all levels of our society in a most destructive manner. Our greatest problem is that some of the leadership elite, instead of helping to curb the negative effects of corruption, are seen by most Nigerians as the primary engines of corruption and promoters of massive corruption directed against our overall national interest. This is an alarming situation that calls for urgent and collective action designed to eliminate or reduce the destructive effects of corruption in the country. In the past 30 years, every administration has paid lip service to the so-called war against corruption. But there are no signs of victory. On the contrary, corruption has continued to increase, to the extent that Nigeria is now being described by the international community as one of the most corrupt nations of the world, despite our many anti-corruption seminars, workshops and conferences.

The only little hope and comfort is that some seemingly serious state agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) have been created to “fight” corruption. But the so-called “Nigerian factor,” an expression coined by our present cynical society, is impeding the efforts of these anti-corruption agencies. It is also heartwarming that some independent national organisations are making more positive anti-corruption declarations. We hope that all these efforts will lead to the practical reduction or eradication of this tragic canker worm.

Nigeria has been described as a terrorist state. Do you share this view?

We may have our political, economic and security problems, but Nigeria is certainly not a terrorist state. Despite the unfortunate and isolated event on Christmas Day (December 25, 2009) involving a young Nigerian from a respectable family, who was not based in Nigeria, which made some people to associate Nigeria with terrorism, no one who really knows Nigeria would rightly describe it as a terrorist state.

Which book are you writing at present?

I am writing two books right now. One on Corporate Governance and the other on Leadership. The book on Corporate Governance is virtually completed and should be available to the reading public before the end of the first half of this year. The book on Leadership will follow much later.

What’s your advice for the nation?

Nigeria is a potentially great nation and under the right leadership, it has the capacity to become a world power. It is one of the most highly endowed nations in the world. Despite our chequered political history, I am convinced that it is in the overall interest of all Nigerians that we should preserve this country as one great and viable African nation. As a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious developing nation, with more than 200 ethnic nationalities, our strength lies in our cultural diversity and the collective strength of the different ethnic nationalities that make up this potentially great African nation. We are now at a critical stage in our national history. My advice for the nation is that we should endeavour to save this potentially great nation from disintegration by working for a true federal constitution that is fair to all Nigerians and one that would create reliable and efficient national institutions that will produce selfless leaders of integrity who will sacrifice their personal interests for the collective good of all Nigerians. At present, the greatest challenges facing the country’s political leadership are the issues of constitution review and electoral reform. How we resolve these critical national issues will determine the future direction of this nation. My hope, advice, prayer and expectation is that God should give our political leadership, especially the National Assembly, the wisdom, not only to adopt the key recommendations of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais’ Electoral Reforms Committee as advocated by millions of well-meaning Nigerians, but also the vital constitutional amendments that would reflect the genuine aspirations of all Nigerians.

What is your comment on 50 years of Nigeria as a nation and 10 years of democracy?

You have just raised two formidable issues and it is difficult for me to do real justice to these subjects in the limited time we have for this interview. Luckily, I have written three books on these subjects in recent years. The books are: Nigeria at The Crossroads, The Challenge to Nigeria; and Nigeria: The Last Chance. I hope you will find the time to read these books. We were students in England 50 years ago when Nigeria became an independent nation on October 1, 1960. As patriotic students, we celebrated our independence with a great sense of achievement and satisfaction. We welcomed with pride, the birth of our own nation, free from what we saw as the indignity of colonialism. We had very high hopes at Independence. These high hopes were inspired by our vision of a great African nation that would be a source of pride to all Nigerians and the African continent. These high hopes, expectations and aspirations were proudly sustained during the first few years of independence.

During those early years, the pattern of governance under the Federal Parliamentary System was simple, dignified and inexpensive. The political leadership protected and respected the interests and wellbeing of the people. The term 419 was only known by lawyers and policemen as a section of the Criminal Code. Violent crimes, ethnic and religious conflicts, abuse of office and social injustice were virtually unknown. As a result, we enjoyed a good measure of political and social stability, as well as national unity and cohesion. Although we were not a rich country and had not yet embraced the “oil boom,” the country enjoyed a measure of social and economic development. Poverty was not a problem then as most ordinary Nigerians were well fed and met their basic needs. Because the quality of leadership was generally high and selfless, the people responded appropriately. The Nigerian society at federal and regional levels, were, on the balance, more humane and better disciplined than what we have today. Quality education with character building was very much a part of our national culture, especially for those aspiring to leadership positions at regional and federal levels and Nigerians were respected internationally.

This is not the position today. Since then the country has witnessed several political upheavals, a vast decline in our traditional values, 30 years of military rule and a destructive civil war. As a matter of fact, the genesis of our political problems was that the democratic process was stifled in its infancy when our post-independence political stability had not been firmly established. As a result, we experienced many traumatic and destabilising political upheavals, climaxing in a tragic civil war. This civil war marked the beginning of our decline as a nation and the virtual collapse of our value system. It was the beginning of the invasion of the country’s leadership by individuals who were not equipped for democratic leadership functions. Fifty years after independence, it would be reasonable to state that we may have witnessed some limited development in some respects, but the truth is that we have not yet achieved the level of social, economic and political development that we deserve, going by our vast human and natural endowments. Furthermore, the truth is that we are still a long way away from the achievement of the great African nation of our dream at independence.

In answer to the second leg of your question as to how we have fared during our 10 years of democracy starting from May 1999, my direct response is that the greatest achievement in this regard is the fact that we have managed to sustain the democratic process and its institutions without the intervention of the military, as was the case in the past. This in itself is a major achievement. But we still have a lot to do before we can claim to have become an efficient and reliable modern democracy. We must strengthen our democracy, especially our electoral process and our judiciary, as well as the democratic institutions to ensure that those who preside, govern and direct our affairs and political institutions are men and women of honour and integrity who will place our national interest and the wellbeing of the people, including the handicapped and disadvantaged, above their personal and sectional interests.

How do you unwind?

I used to play table tennis and walk around before. But now that my house is close to my office, I don’t take such a walk again because of the risk of getting embarrassed by people around. I stopped playing table tennis because once I clocked 70, I realised that time was against me and saw the need to begin writing for posterity sake. That is the only way I believe I can leave a worthy legacy for the generations coming. I only walk when I’m in the village. There, I don’t get bothered by any unnecessary questioning from people around.

In recent time, you have come to be identified by your cap. Why the sudden attraction?

For many years, I have noticed that a lot of people take me too seriously. So, I decided to tone it down my own way. The intention is to divert people’s attention from that seriousness to the hilarious part of me. To make them think that I have some sense of humour. I have them in different colours and I guess they are just good for me.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Remembering Zik in a Season of Mourning

By Max Amuchie/Business Day

On Tuesday, May 11 Nigeria was in a mourning mood. Many official activities had been either suspended or scaled down to observe the one week of national mourned declared by the government for the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, who died five days earlier in Aso Rock.

May 11 every year is set aside by Ohanaeze Ndigbo to remember the father of modern Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe, who died on that day in 1996. This year’s Zik symposium organized by Ndigbo Lagos took place at the Lagos Resource Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, a smaller venue compared to the more elaborate outing that the Zik memorial has been known for over the years.

Kalu Onuma, administrative secretary of Ndibgo Lagos, explained that the organizers opted for the Lagos Resource Centre instead of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) in diference to the mood of the nation. Before Mbazulike Amechi, a member of the pre-independence Zikist Movement, who was guest speaker, mounted the rostrum, there was a film show on Azikiwe’s exploits as a nationalist and sports man. At the end of the film, many people in the audience shook their heads apparently disappointed about how Nigeria has followed a wrong development trajectory different from the dreams of the founding fathers like Zik. Amechi’s lecture was thought provoking as it was magisterial.
Nnamdi Azikwe

Amechi, popularly known as the ‘The boy is good’ in the days of the fight for Nigeria’s independence, talked about Zik’s background and how his cosmopolitan upbringing shaped his worldview. “Because he was born in the North, educated in the East and the West and could speak Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and Efik Languages, Zik grew up and saw himself simply as a Nigeria child. We may mark this for Zik’s liberal attitude towards One Nigeria and his consuming passion for the unity of the country. His taking part in congregational prayers and modes of worship in the different Christian dominations also helped to prepare him for an enlightened liberal attitude to religion and human relations. Infact when he assumed the mantle of national leadership, he took time to study the Islamic Q’uran and he could quote the chapters and verses of the Q’uran as Muslim Maitama Sule of Kano can quote the Christian Bible.

“After his secondary education in Nigeria, Zik found his way to America in quest of the golden fleece. After harsh and daunting experiences in Storer College, Pittsburgh, he studied at the Howard and Lincoln Universities where he acquired degrees in political science,” he said.

He told the audience about Zik’s contribution to Nigerian journalism with his chains of newspapers. He declared: “Dr. Azikiwe returned to Nigeria in 1935 after a brief spell in Ghana (then known as Gold Coast). In Nigeria he found out that the people lacked education and political consciousness. In order to arouse the political consciousness of the people, he proceeded to set up newspapers. He established the West African Pilot in Lagos, Southern Nigerian Defender in Ibadan, Eastern Nigerian Guardian in Port Harcourt, Nigerian Spokesman in Onitsha, Daily Comet in Lagos (later transferred to Kano to aid nationalist Aminu Kano’s NEPU) and the Eastern Sentinel in Enugu.”

He said Zik picked youths who had no experience or formal training in journalism and trained them to run the newspapers. Most of them rose to become the great names in Nigerian journalism, including that one can find printed in letters of gold in the annals of journalism in people like Increase Coker, Ebun Adesioye, A.K. Blankson, A.Y.S. Tinubu, Abiodun Aloba, Stephen Iweanya, Herbert Unegbu, M.C.K. Ajuluchukwu, Tony Enahoro, Magaji Danbatta, Za’adu Zungur, Peter Osugo, Babatunde Jose and A.K. Disu. “This core of pioneer journalists represented the entire geography of Nigeria and reflected no ethnic or regional boundaries. This is a strong evidence that Zik saw Nigeria as one large family and not the hazy contraption of not very friendly tribes and tongues as we have now,” Amechi said ruefully.

The guest lecturer delved into the political history of Nigeria, how Zik teamed up with the late Herbert Macaulay, founder of Nigeria’s first truly national political party, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (later National Council of Nigerian Citizens NCNC) and how Zik took over leadership of the party when Macaulay died in 1947

He took audience on the memory lane on the carpet crossing in the Western House of Assembly in 1952 that denied Zik premiership of the Western Region when legislators elected on the platform of NCNC crossed the carpet to join the defunct Action Group founded by the late Obafemi Awolowo.

Amechi talked about how Zik sacrificed the position of prime minister of Nigeria in order to persuade the north to vote for independence in 1960 because the British had said if any region voted against independence they would delay granting Nigeria independence on October 1, 1960. The north, according to him, had given as condition for going along with the south on the independence question the concession of the position of prime minister.

He talked about Zik’s effort to become president in 1979 with Shehu Shagari as his running mate and how that effort was thwarted by opportunists who convinced Zik to dump the agreement already reached with the National Movement which transformed into the defunct National Party of Nigeria, the ruling party in the second republic. He called on Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization to organise a befitting burial for all Igbo heroes who died in during the Nigeria Civil War

Amechi received a standing ovation after his lecture. Raph Uweche, president of Ohanaeze said there had had been effort in giving Igbo heroes burial. He thanked Amechi for his inspiring lecture.

Ben Obi, vice presidential running mate of the Action Congress in the 2007 election, spoke about Nigerian politics and the efforts he made to get Igbos in the scheme of things when he was special adviser to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Other speakers talked about the need for the elderly in Igboland to groom the youth to be future leaders.

Nigerians take seats in British Parliament

By Tosin Sulaiman/234 Next

Three politicians of Nigerian descent will take their seats in the British House of Commons tomorrow, following hard-fought campaigns in the recent general election.

Helen Grant of the Conservative Party was elected in Maidstone & The Weald in the south east of England; Chi Onwurah of the Labour Party becomes the new MP for Newcastle Central in the north east; and Chuka Umunna, also of Labour, will represent Streatham in south London.

They are the first candidates of Nigerian heritage to be elected to Westminster and will join more than 600 other MPs when the House of Commons formally reconvenes tomorrow. Their presence and that of 24 other minority MPs means Westminster has never been more diverse. In the last Parliament there were only 14 black or Asian MPs.

The new faces include the first three Muslim women to win parliamentary seats, one of whom is also the first Bangladeshi MP. In addition, the Conservative Party has its first two Muslim MPs and its first Asian female MP. The number of women elected to Parliament also increased from 126 to 142, although women now make up only 22 per cent of MPs.

Ms. Onwurah, who was born in Newcastle to a Nigerian father and British mother, polled 15,692 votes, almost twice as many as her Liberal Democrat rival who came second with 8,228 votes. The Conservatives were third with 6,611 votes. The turnout was 56.4 per cent, down slightly from 57.3 per cent in the 2005 general election.

Ms. Onwurah, an engineer by profession, is the first black woman to represent the north east of England, as well as the first female MP of African descent in the House of Commons. Her father is from Awka in Anambra State and served in the Biafran army shortly after she was born.

After the results were announced, she said: “I want to thank, above all, the voters of Newcastle. Tonight they have chosen a message of a positive future.”

Mr. Umunna, an employment law solicitor, received 20,037 votes, with the Liberal Democrats in second place with 16,778 votes and the Conservatives in third place with 8,578 votes. The turnout rose by 22.4 per cent to 62.8 per cent.

Speaking after the results were declared, Mr. Umunna said: “this has been an extraordinary night.” Addressing his opponents, he said the campaign had been tough on all the parties.

“We have really been tested in this campaign, which has been perhaps the toughest for us since 1992,” he said, referring to the year in which his party took the seat from the Conservatives. Since then, it has been a safe Labour seat.

Getting emotional

Mr. Umunna ended by thanking the people of Streatham, saying: “for me, it’s quite an emotional thing I suppose. I was born and bred in this constituency and the fact that so many of my neighbours, my close friends and people that I’ve known in the community for a very long time have chosen to entrust me to represent them is something that makes me deeply humbled.”

Mr. Umunna is of mixed Nigerian, Irish and British descent. He told NEXT before the election that he was inspired by his late father, Ben Osi Umunna, who stood for the governorship of Anambra State in the early 1990s but narrowly missed out.

Mrs. Grant, who is the Conservatives’ first black female MP, helped the party retain Maidstone & The Weald with 23,491 votes, compared to 17,602 for the Lib Dems and 4,769 for Labour. The turnout was 68.9 per cent, up from 65.8 per cent in 2005.

Brought up by a single mother on a council estate, Mrs. Grant, whose father is Nigerian, went on to study law and set up her own firm, Grants Solicitors, in 1996. She joined the Conservative Party in 2006 after what she describes as a “brief flirtation” with Labour. On her website, she attributed her election victory to “two and a half years of good old-fashioned hard work and positive campaigning.”

The Conservatives’ other Nigerian candidate, Kemi Adegoke, failed to capture the safe Labour seat of Dulwich & West Norwood in south London. The seat was held by Tessa Jowell, a former government minister, who polled 22,461 votes, against 13,096 for the Lib Dems and 10,684 for the Conservatives.

Mrs. Grant, Ms. Onwurah and Mr. Umunna will be among 232 new MPs in Westminster following a general election that resulted in Britain’s first hung Parliament since 1974. It forced David Cameron’s Conservative Party, which received the most seats but not enough for an overall majority, into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who came third behind Labour.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My E-Conversation with Esiaba Irobi


By Nnorom Azuonye/Sentinel Poetry

Dr. Esiaba Irobi (left) with Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka (Center) at Wshington University, St. Louis in 2002


Somebody stands next to you in a bookshop, by a shelf, he is reading aloud from a play 'Hangmen Also Die' written by Esiaba Irobi "...and we do what we do because we know we have no future, because we know, no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, no matter how high we aspire, there is something waiting in the atmosphere to destroy us..." then the reader thinks aloud, "Who is Esiaba Irobi?" What would you say to him?


He is from the Republic of Biafra and has lived all his life in exile in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the USA.

Everything he wrote in Hangmen Also Die has come to pass including the hanging of the boys, the killing of the chiefs, the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa in a prison in Port Harcourt. The recent revolt by riverain women against foreign oil companies in Nigeria reminds us strongly of Tamara in the play and also resonates with the reason for the iconoclastic philosophy of The Suicide Squad.

Hangmen Also Die is the most prophetic of all of Esiaba works. It is a picture of the future. Our future as a country: Area Boys. Bakassi. Armed Robbery. Anarchy! The worst is yet to come. Nigeria will break apart like a loaf of bread in water, it will capsize like a leaking canoe on the River Niger!

Hangmen Also Die, as an apocalyptic, Nostradamic text belongs in the same category of intuitive and prophetic insight as A Dance of the Forests, A Man of the People and Come Thunder. It addresses Franz Fanon's injunction that "Every generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfil or betray it. "


Writers like yourself in one way or the other have written without ceasing in condemnation of jaundiced political practices, religious bloodletting, academic impoverishment of universities, and the dumbfounding paradox of excessive poverty in a world so well-endowed with human and natural resources which you have also addressed through your plays and poems. So why is nothing changing? Is it perhaps that intellectual terrorists like yourself are being over-academic about the realities of the simple people of the world? How can writers, especially, Nigerian writers one of whom you are, evolve from torrential theorists to practical, real and positive catalysts of change and progress?


A writer or even activist like Noam Chomsky preaches to those who do not know the truth. People like yourself who we believe can change things. Younger generations. There is no point preaching to those in power who already know the truth. Who perpetuate the truth and who, in turn, reap September elevens. Bush and Blair and Obasanjo.

Soyinka, as you know, stayed and tried to be pragmatic in his quest for democracy. What happened? His house, built with his priceless Nobel money, was vandalized. A helicopter hovered above his house twenty-four hours a day. (Soyinka told the military that he had the power to make the helicopter crash!!!) And just before Nemesis got rid of Abacha via viagra pills, Soyinka had to cross the border by night, ON FOOT, to escape into the West. He could have been dead by now. Does this scenario make sense to you? And Christopher Okigbo, what happened to him? And Ruganda in Uganda? Jack Mapanje in Malawi - for writing Of Gods and Chameleons. Ngugi WA Thiong'o? Why is he running from country to country?

My interest now is to tell the story of my people (people of the African Diaspora) and my generation in exile. That is what The Intellectual Terrorist, my forth-coming novel, is all about. The three plays that I am presenting in Moscow next year -2003- are also about: the bliss and the blisters of our exile.

We are like the Sower's seeds in the Bible.
After we were scattered into the air,
some fell on rocks, some on thorns,
many on shit. Infinite mounds of shit.
A few lucky ones, like Lucifer,
after he was driven out from heaven
fell into the arse of a penal colony
called the British Isles. "inglan is a bitch!"
There we are still wriggling and spawning
like wretched spermatozoa
in the fallopian tube of a barren prostitute.

What will be our fate? Only Amadioha can tell!


It seems to me that the fountain pen is no longer enough. Well this angle of thought is not new to you, is it? Members of "the suicide squad" in your play "Hangmen Also Die" were the best brains and academic products of their time, but then they resorted to violence because they were not being given a chance to contribute their own quota. Achebe, Soyinka, Okigbo, Oguibe, Fatunde, yourself - have spoken so eloquently. You are writers. You have contributed your quota by writing so fearlessly, but the guns of tyrants have always seemed to rule. Perhaps, we, the younger generation must set the music of words aside and try the machine gun, will this make a difference? Or shall we always end up defecating down our pants dangling from the hangman's noose if our feet fail, with speed to hop into exile? Should this essentially be the lot of African writers?


What is needed is methodical and strategic insurrections. Insurrections aimed at change. Permanent change. What the Irgun Stern gang did in Israel to the British. What the Mau Mau did in Kenya. Kamikaze pilots. Suicide Bombers. Coups. Against Nigerian leaders. What Nzeogwu did. What Sankara did. What Jerry Rawlings did. For example, Obasanjo and all the ministers and senators and local government chairmen and cheerwomen should be shaved upstairs and downstairs and put into a leaking boat and pushed into the Atlantic Ocean. Or members of the top military brass should be invited to meal/feast and fed from a pot laced with generous quantities of cyanide

All the while, the younger generation should have alternative ethical and moral and progressive and visionary leadership - nobody should be above 40 years age- to take over and save that country from extinction. As a matter of truth, I don't think that Nigeria as an entity will or can ever survive. It will at some point disintegrate like all good shit in a toilet bowl. That country has never worked. I don't think it will ever work. The British know what they did. Never you underestimate British intelligence. Look at all the trouble spots in Africa and the world. Can you or can you not see the expertise of the British, their political genius? And never you underestimate as well, the imbecility of African leaders. Look at the new monkeys on the stool. The new donkeys of democracy. The magnificent arseholes. The pimps of politics. The twats. We are fucked up Really well-f**ked up. Only the young with some vision can save us now.

What is a visionary?
A visionary is someone who sees what is not there.
What is it that is not always there?
The future!!!!


Sorry to take you back just a little bit. When you say that your interest now is to tell the story of your people (people of the African Diaspora) and your generation in exile. What can we expect? Can there be a truly African Diasporic literature and what might its defining features be?


This will need a Ph.D. dissertation. You may have to wait until my book: Theatre of Elephants: African and African Diasporic Performance Theories and Aesthetics is published. It puts everything together from both the perspective of performance as well as orature and literature. I have been teaching this course or arguments central to it in the USA since 1997. I am also publishing a book on the subject very soon . It is titled: BEFORE THEY DANCED IN CHAINS: African Metalanguages in African Diasporic Performance Aesthetics. The lecture "THE BLUES AS AN AFFIDAVIT OF AFRICAN -AMERICAN CULTURE: The African Connection and the Menace of Western Appropriation" which I gave at Washington University, St Louis, this year, alongside my great hero, Wole Soyinka, is taken from the book.


Let me re-phrase the question. What is the core relationship between literary products of Africa and those of the African Diaspora, and how do these differ from those of other cultures?"


The core elements are similarities or continuities of African ontology, teleology, semiology and narratology. Concepts and notions of creativity and performance, ritual and festive models were translocated to the new world during slavery and these elements helped our people to negotiate new identities and create new syncretic cultures. We see some of these elements of African orality in the works of Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, the music of blues and jazz musicians and most vividly in the African-American gospel music and worshipping style - a direct echo of our indigenous ritual performance, invocations, chants, ululations, yodelling, etc.

In a sense, Africans in the Diaspora, have, perhaps made greater and more creative use of African orature in the new world, than the bone-gnawers left behind who only drink Guinness and eat peppersoup and cannot translate Things Fall Apart into Igbo since 1958. Skunks of the intellectual universe.


The art of poetry seems to constantly need redefinition, meaning different things to different people at any one time as people exercise their poetic licences and experiment with forms. If you were required to propose a definition of poetry, what would it be?


Poetry is the energy that moves the world. It is that inexplicable force that brought the universe into being and which will also destroy it. The Ocean has its own poetry. The desert as a well. The forest. Crowds. Politics. Cities. Towns. Villages. Football. Basket ball. Religion. Sex. Murder. Love. Food. Academics, all have their own poetry. An African market (not supermarket) is the finest example of true poetry.

Poetry is not verse. Verse is the linguistic residue of poetry. Orature is the most valid and most accessible and most universal as well as relevant form of human poetry. Not Verse. Verse is for eggheads, intellectual runts and middleclass cunts. Orature is what is used to regulate the world from Gregorian chants to through Ohafia War Songs to Rap.

Poetry, by definition, is that phenomenal fusion of music and imagery that creates life and propels life forward in the world. It is a regenerative dynamic that is reflected not only in human language/speech and writing but also in the heave and swell of the ocean, the wind in the trees, the seasons and their verses of leaves with changing colours. Life and death. The child's first cry. The last breath. Life and Death. Metaphysics. Verse is our vain human attempt to capture this force, this magic, this occult force. The best poets in every culture go as near as they can towards this mystery through written and oral crafts. But poetry, real poetry, can only be found in the speech of nature, the power of landscapes, the terror of the dark, the forest and its hallucinations, when Amadioha, the god of thunder, clears his throat and voice, sexual intercourse with its bizarre noises screams and ridiculous positions.

Again, the market. Festival. Ritual. Sacrifice. Communion. (Poetry is a spiritual experience!) Public executions. War. Courtship. Love. Childbirth. The tatum tatum or tiko tiko of sexual intercourse! Prayer, invocations, perhaps, are the finest exemplars of true human poetry. Farting is also a good example. Anal blasts. Read most of modern American and British verse and you will understand what I am hinting at here. The poets seem to be farting from their mouths and arses with the same frequency and in the same mass producing position. They think poetry is fish "n" chips or McDonald hamburgers or cocaine or beer. They do not understand what poetry is all about. Poetry which is not connected with the metaphysical will always fail.

How Poetry was born.
In the beginning, there was nothing
Absolutely nothing, no universe, no cosmos,
No galaxies. Only Amadioha,
the god of thunder, lightning and rain,
Amadioha, playing with himself , with his right hand.
Friction of frenzied hand on nodding penis.
Stroking the piston, titillating the glands.
Hoarse breathing. Orgasmic abracadabra.
The big bang. The universe. The cosmos.
The galaxies. Human beings. Ululations!
Imitations of the language of a god playing with himself.
That's how poetry was born.


You have advocated in several places about the need to see poetry as fundamentally a performative art. Could you shed some light on the relationship between poetry and performance?


Until the tyranny of typography, poetry was fundamentally an oral and aural experience. Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey" were all recited by Greek bards amidst empty bottles of wine. "Gassire's Lute" was recited by Malinke warriors and written down by the women. Children in Egypt recite the Koran from cover to cover. Irish seanachies recited whole epics as entertainment for their communities at evensong. It has also been discovered by the Irish that piranhas in the Irish sea do not eat the bodies of drowned poets or fishermen who have memorized huge amounts of poetry. Fish revere such bodies. This means that poetry is a bodily experience, throatal , vocal, gestural, facial, tonal and consistently aspires towards song. This is what T.S.Eliot meant when he said that he wanted his poetry to have the lyricism and musicality of "primitive" poetry. He meant "oral" poetry. (Don't mind the classic ar**hole. He was always a retarded political blockhead who mangled verse like an idiot. His initials are an anagram for toilets.) Every modern poet, my mother used to say, is a frustrated musician.

Compare the number of people in the world today who can recite the poetry of Pablo Neruda or Yehuda Amichai with those who can recall lines from T.S. Eliot and you will see the relation between poetry, politics, the vital regulation of a people universe and the FUNCTIONALITY OF AN ARTFORM. Speech, you see, is a performance. Utterance. Incantation. Invocation. Chant. Ululation. Prayer. Even breathing is a performance .(That is why sometimes we snore heavily in a play to indicate - in the context of our make-belief - that we are asleep.) The meaning and subtext of any given word is determined by the inflection of the voice. In Igbo language, the tone /accent determines whether utu is the fruit or the penis. Those who mix up the pronunciation or tonal performance of such a word never go unpunished.

Poetry, primarily, is a mode of communication with the self , other people and God. It is intrinsically a performance. Writing disembodies this process. Writing also weakens the capability of the human memory to retain huge quantities of poetry. I know many poets who cannot remember their own verses. And a thousand lecturers /professors of poetry, especially in England today, who can recall the colours and sizes of their students' underwears and condoms than remember or recite any poem in totality. Writing, alienation, individuality and the valorization of the written word over the spoken word - especially in Western universities where poetry commits suicide daily on the cement floor of the lecturers' obduracy and desiccated critical sensibilities, - have diminished our facility for memorization, recall, recitation and the validity of poetry as code of conversation and human communication. Our brain cells are dying. Together with our spiritual selves which always feed on poetry.

This is a destitute time for poetry, an artform that has always served as currency for the most profound attempts made by human beings to communicate with nature, god, the spirits, deities, or the dead. This is why African-Americans, who are still holding on to the vestiges of their orality before they totally lose it to computers insist on calling their own definition of poetry SPOKEN WORD to differentiate it from verse.

Personally , I am writing an essay titled : Poetry versus the Ivory Tower : The Revenge of African and African-American Orature and Rap on American literary poetry.
Everything I have said above, unfortunately, cannot
invalidate the necessity, accessibility and permanence and importance of poetry as written literature or verse. What is crucial is for all of us to realize that the "tatum tatum" of verse, written poetry, is oral device. It is not a written mechanic. When we read : "Turning and turning in the widening gyre" (Yeats) or "He clasps the crag with crooked hands, (Coleridge) or "Jack and Jill went up the hill" (Anonymous) or Twenty froggies went to school (nursery rhyme) we must always remember that in that very straining for a musicality or memorable lyricism is an attempt to facilitate the power of memory towards remembrance and PERFORMANCE. Any African who thinks of poetry first as a written experience, then a vocal or performative one, is lost . He or she should be put in pond filled with frogs to croak until he or she regains his sanity. The Aim, as Frost put it, was always SONG!!! Derek Walcott puts it beautifully in his poem : "Forests of Europe" when he sings:

What is poetry , if its worth its salt
But the bread that men can pass
from mouth to mouth
From hand to hand, across the centuries,
When systems have decayed…
when the prisoner circles his prison cell
chewing the one leaf whose music will outlast…

I forget the rest. But will check it out tonight.

Also read Zbeignew Herbert's poem: Episode in Library . It articulates most vividly and dramatically how poetry commits suicide in departments of English Literature all over the world. On the pages on the New York Book Review and Times Literary Supplement. Happily, there is a rumour going around that departments of English literature will soon be closed down or submerged under cultural studies. What a happy day that will be. It will teach the academic motherf**kers to ossify a living art in between the pages of a book with notes hanging out like the paragraphs of their own genitalia when they open their thighs like the pages of the books.


Some poems are undeniably attempts by poets the exorcise personal demons. Other poems are just opinions written in a self-conscious, self-important fashion prescribing interactional models for the society. What do you think is the highest motivator of poets? What makes you, for instance write a poem and what factors influence your choices of subjects and the way you treat them?


If it was not for poetry I would have been in prison, in the asylum or in the grave by now.

The primary mechanism of poetry I believe is that it is a facility that allows you to live out the contradictions of your life , to balm the restlessness of the human spirit through language and imagination. So many things can trigger of the poetic process. The bitterness of exile. Memories. Memories of an ugly place like Nigeria, the only country in the world that has existed since independence without a government. Maicuntri, the ultimate miracle of the twentieth and the twenty-first century.

Other catalytic factors for great poetry include, a cantankerous girlfriend,. an unfaithful lover. A stupid or absent-mined penis that refuses to rise to the occasion unless you light a black candle and a stick of sasarobia incense. . These are all little irritations that can trigger off the mechanism for writing poetry.

There was a time when I wrote my best poems with full erections. That was when I was walking on the forthcoming collection : The Cry of Orgasm which as you will see when it is published later this year is full of spunk. Then, at a time I could only write when I was depressed. Why I Don't Like Philip Larkin came that way. I was broken open again by pain in Great Britain where everything rhymes with pain. Friend, the four years I lived in Liverpool were the four saddest years of my entire life.

I have just finished a collection titled : Hanging out With Dead . It is about war and death. It also contains the great controversial epic: I Know Where Osama Bin Laden is Hiding. I think that Tony Blair will like the collection very much.

Finally, a poet's greatest demon is an inherited or inexplicable obsession with language. Language as a communicative and occult force. Language as an incantatory force. Language as verbal magic! And an important qualification or credential for being a poet is to have that self- destructive perfectionist streak that makes you want to panel beat language into a shape accurate and broad-shouldered enough to carry the full weight of your experiences. That is the primary similarity between a poet and a mad man . The difference is that the mad man knows that he cannot do this and so escapes into his sophisticated schizophrenics. But the poet keeps trying to tame language until his or her mental ribbon snaps. . Think of John Berryman who waved to the people on both sides of the river before he jumped off the bridge to his death by water.

Personally, I have never contemplated suicide. Except once. When I was teaching in Liverpool. But I quickly remembered that Igbo culture does not tolerate such a luxury so I decided to cut of the head of the man who made me think of suicide. He was my HOD i.e. Head of a Donkey. His name? Messiah DePhallus Snodgrass. My plan was to use his head to dance at my father's okwukwu i.e, second burial. But the Christian part of me took control and I forgave the arsehole his numerous racist iniquities.

A good number of times, I have forgotten money at cash points after withdrawing them because I was reshaping the stanza of a poem in my head. I will walk away and somebody will call me back and say : "Are you alright? You withdrew 20 pounds and forgot it in the till and walked away . Are you on drugs?"

Poetry , in the end becomes the pearl the oyster produces by secreting a jell over the itch in its soft sensitive squid-like body. The oyster as you know has no hands.

I see myself as an octopus. An octopus, as you know has three hearts and eight hands. It is this quality, this gift that allows me to handle my experiences in the way that I do. Like a juggler who performs in water. . .


Esiaba, thank you very much for this first part of my planned tripartite electronic conversation with you. I truly appreciate that you have taken the time to chat with me on a variety of issues. Goodbye for now, but we will surely talk again.