Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Nigeria Civil War… Udenwa Lends Personal Experience To A Tragic Past

By Anote Ajeluorou

The past never quite goes away. It is the stuff also of which history is made, and those who forget the past often repeat history, most times with disastrous, tragic consequences. In a nation like Nigerian that regularly falls into the spell of amnesia, of not remembering the past, there are the Udenwas of this world to help the process of collective memory in all its imperfections and ingloriousness that serve as compasses to guide the path to the future.
  That is why after over 40 years after having fought and lost a war, two-time former governor of Imo State, Chief Achike Udenwa, took time to write and expose his personal experiences of that tragic war and the lessons it has for Nigeria’s collective destiny. In his book, Nigeria/Biafra Civil war: My Experiences (Spectrum Books Limited, Ibadan; 2011), Udenwa decides to chronicle his wartime experiences both to offer himself a cathartic release and to educate Nigerians on the need to thread the path of peace.
  The author affirms that a book like this coming from him, and taking into account the part he has played in Nigeria’s political life, would certainly “evoke passions, emotions and comments”. Indeed, it would. His book adds to the already large corpus of materials, both fictional, personal and historical materials, on the 30-month old war that ravaged the country from 1967-1970. This year alone, two fictional accounts have been added. They are Jungle Drumbeats, Tony Monye’s Between a Valley and a Plain and Akachi Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets.
  But already, a comprehensive historical narrative of Nigeria’s political turbulence starting from the first military coupe has been given by Max Siollun in his Nigeria’s Military Coupe Culture (1966-1976). Udenwa’s account is yet another narrative that will cause disquiet among those who were not there but have already read much about the war. For those who were witnesses, it might cause nostalgia and even unease and a quiet affirmation that never again should war happen in the fatherland.
  Udenwa’s account of his involvement in the war started as a student of the prestigious Government College, Umuahia. He was in the cadet, a paramilitary unit of the school, and had trainings with regular soldiers before the war. He and his colleagues were in a cadet camp at Abeokuta during the 1965 political upheavals in the Western Region. In 1967, he missed enlisting into the Nigerian Defence Academy as a result of the outbreak of the war. So inexorably, Udenwa’s path was bound for a career in the military; he was to get it sooner than later, and in full measure, as the civil war was to offer it to him in a platter.
  In this war memoir, Udenwa traces Nigeria’s political development from the amalgamation and the constitutional processes that led to 1960 independence and the fragile political setting that was to explode in the Western Region with Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa lending a hand to the conflagration. This ushered in the first military coupe that was organised by five majors in the army having been disillusioned by the activities of the political elites who had shown themselves to be inept at managing the country’s affairs.
  But things went awry for the five majors, and the killings elicited ethnic colouration to provoke yet another coupe… The rest, as they say, is history.
  In Nigeria/Biafra Civil War: My Experiences, Udenwa traces his long and treacherous battle path in the war while fighting for Biafra. And like all battle narratives, it is the stuff of thrillers as he takes his readers through the battlefronts that easily become quicksand oscillating between both sides of the war until the superior military firepower of the federal side overwhelmed Biafra to occasion surrender in 1970 after both sides had suffered heavy casualties.
  But beyond the battle narratives, Udenwa, with the benefit of hindsight and his active involvement in Nigeria’s political life from 1999, gives recipes for the peaceful co-existence of Nigeria. He charts paths to the nation’s greatness as well in identifying certain factors that have retarded the nation’s growth. They include ‘lack of visionary leaders’, ‘lack of patriotism’, ‘indiscipline’, ‘corruption’, ‘low productivity’ and ‘problems of the Nigeria Delta’. These issues he also extensively treated by recommending what should be done to overcome them.
  It would also seem part self-indictment, Udenwa’s proposition, having himself played a major part in the nation’s leadership cadre as executive governor of a state for eight solid years and federal minister.
  One sore point in Udenwa’s narration, however, is the continuing marginalization that the Igbo race continues to suffer in Nigeria 40 years after the war. It re-echoes daily in the political equation of the country; he simply seeks a redress to it. Yakubu Gowon’s war end speech is comprehensively reproduced but Udenwa argues that true reconciliation is yet to happen to the Igbo race who are short-changed in many areas of national life.
  Although Udenwa’s Nigeria/Biafra Civil War: My Experiences is another addition to the war narrative, it does not really bring any fresh angle to understanding the war beyond shedding light on the battlefronts where the author fought. But this is illuminating all the same, as it will help keep the tragic war fresh in the memory of most Nigerians who will read it, and perhaps give the warmongers something to chew about for sometime. In this, the book will be in service of a memory loss that so easily plagues Nigerians.
  Also adopting a journalistic style, the author interviews individuals in some communities outside the core Igbo areas that suffered the war. He publishes such candid views that damned both sides of the war in the inhuman treatments they suffered in the hands of soldiers from both sides. By this, the author takes responsibility also for the unintended consequences of the war in which he took part in prosecuting from start to finish. His own narrow escape and near-death experiences are told with candour and humanity.
  However, Spectrum Books Limited did a poor editorial job of the book. The narrative is lax; a better editorial handling could have tightened the loose constructions to make the book a better read. A second edition will offer the publisher a moment to redeem itself from the noticeably poor editing work. Nigeria/Biafra Civil War: My Experiences, coming from such an eminent Nigerian like Udenwa, should be such that can sit side by side other war narratives from other lands. As currently published, this may not happen.

My vision is to propagate African culture through fashion, art, says Jimi King

By Anote Ajeluorou

Olujimi King is a quintessential fashion designer and artist whose vision of Africa and African ways of life lies in the authenticity of the African motifs. His fashion styles and designs say it all; his art is also an embodiment of everything African. He is a leading cultural ambassador, who has been propagating African cultural ethos to the rest of the world through his unique African fashion and art. Now, after 25 years of African cultural salesmanship, King is rolling out the drums in celebration. He shared some of his unique African vision recently in a vintage conversation

You’ve been in this business of creating unique African fashion in the past 25 years. How would you describe the journey?
  I’ve been in it all my life actually. It will be 25 years this year. We’re going to celebrate next year; we’ve started celebrating already in Chicago, holding fashion shows, art exhibitions and all that. So, we’re looking at 2011, 2012; in fact, I can celebrate 25 years in 15 years’ time, really.
  We’re opening a Modeling and Finishing School, and at the graduation of the six-week course, we will hold a fashion show, an art exhibition; as a matter of fact, we’re doing a monthly bazaar at the back of our building here at Ogunlana Drive, Surulere, Lagos. We have different artists coming to display and sell mixed media from painting to sculpture, and fabrics. We don’t just want to restrict ourselves to folks in Lagos; we want it to be national, even international. So, in a nutshell, we’re planning to do a fashion show before the end of the year to coincide with the graduation of our Modelling and Finishing School.
  The 25 years have been memorable, enjoyable, challenging, stepping-stones; yes, the challenges were turned to stepping-stones. It’s also been a lot of learning curves, and lot of ideas; a lot of borrowing and giving of ideas to the forces, the forces of the ideas. In other words, we borrow from the universe and give back to the universe.
  I started with zero; I started with nothing. So, I had no capital to start, but I was determined to start and represent our culture. And, with God on our side, with God being my partner, God, the she; God, the female, and I asked her to be my partner, and God has sustained us.
IT’S only the Ijaw people that are reputed to have God as a woman called Tamuno. You are not Ijaw; how come your own God became a woman?
  It’s a process of deduction. You can deduce that everything that reproduces on earth, are 99 per cent female. Incubation done by the animals to reproduce is done by the female animals. So, who gives the male specie the right to claim that God is male? It takes two to tangle; so, I don’t feel that men should usurp the right to be God’s ambassadors; no! It’s not fair.
Are you a feminist?
  No; I’m not! (laughs). I’m just a critical thinker, and I like to be fair. You’ve got to be fair to other people; you just can’t keep oppressing people forever. After all, all men came out of women. So, men can call me anything they want, I don’t care.
You really believe men oppress women?
  Of course! There’s no doubt about that, especially in Africa. A simple example; they don’t appreciate the female child. Once a child is a male, they say the father is great; he’s done a good job. Not the mother! Even in some tribes, they let the male go to school, and they push the female child into early marriage. I can give you many examples where women are oppressed by men. It’s about time that some men stand up for women; I came from a woman. I feel that we have to open our eyes and let the truth be told.
YOUR fashion style or idiom is essentially African in nature. Was this by accident or design?
  It was by design because my maternal grandfather, a Sierra Leonian, was a tailor in Sierra Leone; and my grandmother was a textile artist in Abeokuta. I had a textile and a sowing background on both sides. And, I studied Textile Design at the Chelsea School of Design in England. I figured it is better to capitalise on what our ancestors already did; they already finished the job for us. All we had to do now was to take it outside the envelope, push it over the edge and then take it to the rest of the world.
  The Westerners are doing it; the Chinese are copying us. Are we just going to let them continue doing it while we stand aside and watch? Or we need to stand up and claim what is ours? So, that was what informed my vision of trying to propagate African culture. I’ve been a self-appointed ambassador of African fabrics and clothing for over 25 years.
What has been the acceptance of this African fashion style by the African man? Has it been what it should be?
  Fashion is very fluid; it rotates and changes all the time. In some parts of Africa, they don’t even have much fabrics and styles to push forward, to propagate. But we do in West Africa; we have a lot of fabrics, techniques, dyes; different media that we can use to propagate our cultures. But the acceptance is up to the individual, up to me to make my work accepted. But I think if we aren’t accepted, we won’t be here although business was much buoyant in the past; and I know that we’re not isolated. A lot of other designers have closed down because of recurrent incursion of Western styles and techniques into African fashion scene.
Why has the African man failed to embrace that which is native to him, especially fashion? Why is the colonial mentality still so strong?
  The colonial mentality is a permanent feature in our psyche as Africans; as a matter of fact, in the whole world! That small island called Britain or Britania took over the world for a long while, and they penetrated deep into our culture and they were able to convince us to abandon our roots and absorb theirs. If not, you and I will not be speaking English now. To think of it, I paid my money to go and learn this language. They didn’t pay jack to learn my language; they don’t have time for that.
  So, the colonial mentality is engraved in stone in the culture of the world. If you go to China now, instead of the Chinese wearing their own traditional clothes, they are wearing shirts and trousers and shoes that are Western; everybody wants to look Western. It’s their time; it’s a whiteman’s world right now we’re living in. We have to give it to them.
  I’m not saying that the West is our enemy, but in order for you to learn the market you’re trying to penetrate, you have to live among the people you’re penetrating. The whitemen were explorers first; then they came with religion and their clergymen came amongst us. They built castles, and inside the castles, there were churches, where they enslaved people. The missionaries were the spies for them in the villages; the missionaries softened the grounds for the slavers.
  That is the same thing I did; that is the same thing I’m doing. I go into those countries that have oppressed us and try to show them what our batiks are, what our clothing’s are, and try to convince them to buy, just like they convinced us to buy their arms. I’m doing it with my heart.
How much have you succeeded in this endeavour?
  Fantastic! That’s how I’ve been able to raise my children. I have children in college, and give scholarship to one or two people; that’s how I’ve been able to sustain my business. When business was slow in Nigeria, I was able to repatriate some funds to pay my bills, pay my staff, and I’m still in business. It’s not easy but once you’re determined, the sky is the limit.
If you were to rate between Nigerian men and women, who patronise local fashion the more?
  I really couldn’t say categorically that one does it more than the other. Five years ago, I used to see a lot of men wearing Ankara, but that trend is diminishing. Nigerian men are wearing more Western look now. The women have gone nuclear; they want to look like Beyonce. The older ones still wear the Senegalise boublou and iro and buba; but the younger ones, except they are going to a party where there’s aso ebi, where everybody has to look uniform, then they go cultural otherwise, it’s not for them. Look at the streets these days, majority of the people that pass by are wearing Western styles, both male and female.
  So, the trend is going towards more Western.
Is it that designers like you who are in the business haven’t done enough to propagate African dress styles for the majority of the populace to embrace?
   I can speak for myself. If you look at the 1990s, there were several of my friends in this business. They are chasing contracts now or doing furniture or something else; there was no incentive from the quarters that incentive should have come from. Let me give an example; when Felix Houphouet-Boigny was alive in Cote d’Ivoire, he had a competition for designers called the Golden Scissors. Designers and people had something to look forward to at the end of the year. They competed amongst themselves; there were new fabrics, new styles all the time.
  But no such thing is happening in Nigeria; no encouragement. Let me give another example; Mobutu Sese Seko, former president of former Zaire, now Congo DR, boosted the music industry in that country. I’m not saying they are not promoting music here, but Mobutu financed Papa Wemba, Sukons Stars; he opened the door to the world for them, and they were able to push their music to the world. Who is pushing Fela’s Afrobeat except Femi and Seun? Who is supporting them in the background? Nobody is saying, ‘look, we want you to do a tour of the world’. I’m not saying only government can do it; even individuals that appreciate art should be able to come up and say, ‘look, let’s put our money where our mouth is’.
  Our culture is the richest instrument, the most vital instrument that we have that we can sell to the world, but we’re so engrossed with oil money that we’re abandoning our culture for the West or we’re letting the West dictate our culture for us. Very soon, our culture will fade away; other cultures have faded because of abandonment. I used to have three weavers that wove aso oke; they all left. One said her knees hurt, and doctor said it’s the weaving; another said there was no money in it.
  For several reasons, the art of weaving is dying. That’s just an example. There are so many ways that we can propagate our cultures to the rest of the world that are being abandoned for the Western culture.
  But I think I’m doing my best to keep alive African fashion styles. I know what obtains in other parts of the world; that is why I gave you those two examples. In England, the fashion industry is subsidised greatly. It’s not easy to import clothes from other countries to the U.K. Over here, it’s not the same. Nobody is encouraging us to export our art, different art media outside the country. I think I’m doing my best; I’ve hung on for 25 years. That’s a lot, 25. I’m getting ready to become a grandfather; that’s something. I give myself credit.
  It’s not all about money; some of us get to a fork in the road, we paved the road that was uncharted instead of going the easy way. But we leave a mark; if you take the easy way, you don’t leave a mark. You make a lot of money but you may not be able to sleep well. With some of us, we’re like our forefathers or foremothers; we leave a mark so the next generation can have something they can depend on, something they can tap from.
  I’ve put a lot into my work; I think properly and tap from all over the world to make my fabrics and my designs. Our aim is to make African fabrics and styles more attractive to the world. So, we’re doing styles in African fabrics that are Western and we’re using Western fabrics to do African styles. So, we’re reversing the trends. A lot of the Japanese designers, Kenzo, Isimiaki, they had financial backing from the Japanese government; nobody is backing us except God. In a nutshell, that’s what it is.
  You have to have a backbone. And because there is so much fraud in our system, there is no trust. It is not easy for the government and the banks to trust people to say, ‘ok, we guarantee this loan’; that’s what the Chinese are doing. All the Chinese industries are small-scale industries operating out of small places like garages, and exporting all these things we buy here; they get funding from government or several organisations. So, there is a certain per centage of their profits that they repatriate into the system by law. You commit a major financial crime in China, you’re dead.
  You get a loan from a bank in China and in weeks you’re leaving office, you’re dead. You can’t do that. But in a country where you just do things because people forget easily, there is no future. It’s been predicted that we have three more years as a country and we’ll be gone. Nobody loves this country; people just love the money and do all they can to get it for themselves and their children. There’s no passion for Nigeria. The company called Nigeria is a limited liability private company; that’s how it’s being run. It’s not being run like they care for the masses; they care for themselves. I’m sorry if I digress…
You also do visual art…
  Yes; visual, flat art, fibre. I turn my fabrics into art; I paint on anything: on bottles, on paper, anything that got a surface, I paint on. But no exhibition; I’ve got over 150 pieces in my place in Atlanta, U.S.

Our culture is the richest instrument, the most vital instrument that we have that we can sell to the world, but we’re so engrossed with oil money that we’re abandoning our culture for the West or we’re letting the West dictate our culture for us. Very soon, our culture will fade away

The African in Christianity, according to Joshua

By Anote Ajeluorou and Laolu Adeyemi

For those who still hold the notion that Europe Christianised Africa or converted Africa from pagan worship to Christianity in Tiebet Joshua’s new, revelatory book, Africa, the Origin of Life and Black the Colour of God (Volumes 1 and 2) provides a shocker. Although Joshua is not a theologian, he says his deep study of the God’s word from the Bible has revealed a contrary view on how races in the world should be viewed in relation to godliness.
  Joshua made this revelation recently in Lagos while presenting his two new volumes of biblical expose as a measure of restoring the lost glory and dignity of the black race.
  From his biblical expose, not only did Africa become the first Christianised continent, God’s colour is actually black and so superior to any other skin colour on earth. From his study, Joshua says he has successfully proven from God’s written word, the Bible, that Africa, Ham’s continent, is the most favoured and should not succumb to the racist blackmail from Europe that it is inferior, and by extension, its people under the curse of poverty and everything dark and evil.
  For Joshua, a little elementary exercise would suffice. While Europe believes Africans are backward and not capable of any mental thinking and reasoning or philosophy, most Western philosophers, especially Plato from Greece, studied in Egypt before passing such knowledge through ancient Rome to parts of Europe. He, therefore, counters the notion from European scholars such as David Hume that Africa has not contributed to the pool of world knowledge.
  Citing biblical Noah’s curse on his son, Ham, the father of Africa, for the continent’s under-development and backwardness, Joshua says that curse is misunderstood even by Bible scholars. Such error in interpretation, he says, has caused the continent its prestige and pride, therefore opening it up for abuses and despolation from Europe.
  In his two volumes’ study, Joshua says he has clearly shown that both Adam and Noah were black men from Egypt, hence black is the original colour of man or the first race of mankind to be created. Again, contrary to general belief that Africans were idol worshippers from the beginning, Joshua states that Africans or Ham’s children, were the ones that preached the gospel of repentance to Abram, the idolater, and got him converted before ordaining him a servant of God when he went to Canaan from Iran.
  For Joshua, therefore, it is Africans and not the Jews that first professed God; and they also gave birth to Christianity in Antioch before ordaining and commissioning Paul, the Apostle, to take the Christ’s gospel to Europe, saying Europe was the last to see the light of God.
  According to Joshua, Ham, the father of Africa, suffered sin just like any other man but that he had since been forgiven and restored to his original place of pre-eminence and glory. The seeming great zeal to worship God the Christian way by Africans that has greatly manifested itself in recent years both in revivalism and Pentecostalism, he says, are a mistake or newfangled. Rather, it is Africa’s way of demonstrating that they had found what was originally theirs, and so has no difficulty in responding with great thirst and devotion to Godly worship. Now, he argues, it is Africans that are taking Christianity back to Europe after they had reputedly brought it to Africa. He says Europe merely used it to oppress Africans for their economic gains both in colonising and plundering the wealth of the continent.
  Joshua says his aim in writing the book is to help Africans develop a deep love for God. He also says that of all the continents of the world, Africa is the one most richly endowed, a clear sign of God’s love for the black race as the place He put the first man He created in His own image!

Public speaking made easy

By Anote Ajeluorou

Public speaking is one activity that gives a lot of people real scare; they feel they are not cut out for it. They just cannot manage it essentially because of lack of confidence and inability to face an audience with confidence. But for those who have mastered the art of speaking in public, there is no telling the immeasurable pleasure it gives.
  However, for those who still grapple with the how, what and where of public speaking, help may have come in the form of a practical, hands-on book for them to master the delicate art. A London-based Nigerian, Kolarele Sonaike, trained in the field of philosophy, political science and law, has released How to Give A Great Speech (Great Speech Co, London; 2010).
  Although only a few copies of the book have come to Nigeria, Sonaike said in a recent conversation that even those copies sold faster than he had imagined. This has motivated him to come back home to really promote the book as a way of filling a void in the area of public speaking. It was also his desire to fill this void, which he saw while carrying out his mentorship work as an attorney that started him out in the first place.
  Although, Sonaike was sceptical about the success of How to Give A Great Speech in Nigeria, he, nevertheless, spoke about the flare Nigerians have at getting up to speak at the least prompting, which he attributed to confidence and self-assurance. “Genuinely” he argued, “Nigerians like to speak. In terms of day-to-day ability to engage the audience, the level is higher here in Nigeria. I attribute it to confidence. We as a people, as a nation, have much confidence; we are much more willing to stand up and speak. Nigerians like to speak; they are willing to speak in public. But how can we make the art better so we get the right things said and in their proper place? The weakness is that we may not have something valuable to say when we get the chance. People may be talking but not really having anything serious to say. The book tells how to make what we want to say three times more powerful”.
  As a barrister and a mediator, Sonaike stated that he found himself in situations where he has had to make a lot of speeches. Also, being the vice president of 100 Black Men of London, a global mentoring group, he has had to mentor and anchor training to a lot of young people and adults alike. His role involves “teaching them how to speak, give speeches in different contexts; and people ask me to write speeches for them to deliver.
  “So, writing and giving speeches just developed as something natural for me to go into, and as a useful alternative to being a barrister. It also enabled me to try something new”.
  But Sonaike has also further equipped himself for his second role in speech writing and speaking as he yearly receives training as a barrister. He said he has also read other masters in the field of public writing and speaking to have developed himself fully enough to be a seasoned mentor.
  But it was while trying to equip himself in the art of public speaking that he perceived a void in the field. He could not find a books that spelt out how to start writing or speaking, where to finish if you manage to start, and the in-between the start and finish. Moreover, some of the book in the field appeared too academic or pedagogical for the average reader to take the trouble to read. It was his quest, therefore, to fill this void that led him to write this easy-to-read steps on how to write a great speech and deliver it successfully.
  The book is divided into three sections starting with how a speech is prepared, how to write a speech and how to deliver it effectively. Sonaike is confident about the value of his book, saying, “There is no book on specifics of speech writing out there for anyone to use. My book is about how to start, and things to do. There isn’t any book that is as detailed as mine, that takes the reader through the steps to take to writing and delivering that great speech”.
  He affirmed that his book is targeted at a global audience, and that he has used examples from Europe, where he is based, the United States and even Nigeria. To him, the elements of public speaking are essentially the same everywhere.
  One enchanting thing about the book, according to the author, is the manner he has presented his materials for the readers. “I tried to write the book in a way I want to read it, and to entice people. The chapters are short and the points laid out nicely”.
  The first 100 hundred copies he sent ahead of him got sold out in three months. Now, Sonaike said he was convinced there is genuine interest in such mentorship materials in the country; and together with his ‘The Great Speech Consultancy’, he is willing to set up sh

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Koyi… Profiling Nigerian leaders from 1900 till date

By Anote Ajeluorou

One critical aspect of the nation’s national life most Nigerians express sadness is the sheer absence or dearth of information or archiving in the country. Either public records are poorly kept or not at all. But one man, Folu Koyi, a former journalist, has brought out a timely book, Profiles in Leadership: Spotlighting Nigeria’s Outstanding People and Professionals since 1900, and it’s due for public presentation on Tuesday, October 11, at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) at 10am.
  Although he started researching for the book since 1997, Koyi told The Guardian he was able to finish it only recently. The principal reason for this time lapse, he stated, was because it was difficult sourcing materials about some of the personalities in the book on account of dearth of information about them. For him, therefore, this was a major void his book would fill in making accurate information about certain Nigerian public officials readily available for whoever wanted materials on them.
  He said information is a principal handmaiden to development and that Nigeria had treated the concept with much levity for the country’s own good. He said, “I started researching for the book since 1997. The chief constraint was dearth of information. It’s quite unfortunate that Nigeria’s public figures have little or nothing about them in terms of records or information. It was a lot of problem getting information about them. There’s too much secrecy about our public figures. Why come to the limelight if there’s so much secrecy?”
  However, Koyi’s choice of subject for his book would arouse the interest of cynics, who already have an entrenched disdain for the kind of leaders that have come out of Nigeria, and whether they are worth the attention he has given them in his remarkable volume. But Koyi insisted that the concept of leadership in Nigeria is viewed only in narrow political terms and at the expense of other forms of leadership in daily operation. This one-sided view, he contended, is narrow and unhealthy as leaders are in all aspects of life.
  “People are always talking of political leadership alone in our national life,” he argued. “But there are leaders in all facets of our life. Political leadership is one aspect of it”.
  In this regard, Koyi stated that his book, Profiles in Leadership: Spotlighting Nigeria’s Outstanding People and Professionals since 1900, is divided into nine parts with religion and education coming on top. He said this is understandable because of the far-reaching consequences of the two in pioneering a new orientation in the country. These are followed by politics and governance. Then, there’s gender activism, which Koyi said has three prominent women - Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Margaret Ekpo and Gambo Sawaba – as leading light. Then, there’s entrepreneurship, arts and Literature, sports and international relations, then the 17 professions he spotlighted in the book.
  In all, Koyi stated that there are 111 personalities profiled in his book, saying they are also symbolic as they each represent each year from 1900 to 2010, when the book rolled out of press. He also stated that each section is preceded by the historical background of that particular section so as to facilitate easy referencing.
  He stated, “For each part, there is a historical background, the history of that particular thing dating back from 1900, when the British took effective control of government from the Royal Niger Company; then to 1906, when the Northern and Southern Protectorates were declared, and to 1914, when Nigeria was created.
  “In the professions, I tried to be chronological: Journalism comes first as the first organised professional practice in Nigeria. Not many people know that the politician, Sir Herbert Macaulley, was the first registered surveyor or engineer in Nigeria”.
  His chief aim of writing the book, Koyi said, was for young people to learn from the personalities profiled so they could imbibe the virtues of hard work, bravery, conscientiousness and similar qualities they symbolise. Of importance to Koyi is also the need to consider the good sides of leaders, no matter what, adding that leaders are humans, too, with their own fault lines. For all the faults of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, for instance, Koyi said he was able to get Nigeria a clean bill of health from its international creditors, and advised that the good side of people should not be forgotten so easily.

A Life Of Moral Virtue Still Possible, Says Nwagwu

Prof. Mark Nwagwu is a retired professor of Zoology specialising in Cell and Molecular Biology. However, his love for academics did not end with his departure from the Premier University. Now at Paul University, Awka, Nwagwu has found a new love in writing. He has three works to his credit: Forever Chimes and its sequel, My Eyes Dance, and a collection of poetry Helen (Not-of-Troy). In this online interview with ANOTE AJELUOROU, Nwagwu talks about the need for moral regeneration and how his latest novel, My Eyes Dance, so embodies this wholesome African philosophy fast receding for a dubious globalising, modern one

YOUR recent work is deeply philosophical about African culture. How can this worldview be made universal as you proposed?
My Eyes Dance, expresses African culture in a manner that encompasses the world. Yes, in the book, I did propose that aspects of our culture could be borrowed by the West for the latter to survive. To me, Western culture, apart from the academic education it fosters, is in decay, and not worth copying by any one. I may be wrong here but the West is getting more and more materialistic with the slow, and sometimes rapid, abandonment of morals and the spirit.
  Whatever one feels comfortable with, one can pursue. How would I make African culture more universal? I think I’ve done the most important thing first, and that is to write a book. What we now need is to get the book better marketed in the West. The first edition is all sold out; and we’re coming out with a second edition soon. With my publishers, BookBuilders Editions Africa, we shall make the book more available in the West through some international publishers. It would be quite invidious for me to give any names at this time.
Do you think the West will embrace such notion?
The disdain of the West may not be restricted to Africa. It is much more than that; anything of value with a high moral content is not regarded very much. I have a recent quote contained in an article ‘Christmas Tree’, by Ben Stein, a presenter of America news network, CBS, expressing his anger and disgust that the White House calls the Christmas Tree, Holiday Tree. 
“Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her 'How could God let something like this happen?'      (regarding Hurricane Katrina)..   Anne Graham gave an extremely       profound and insightful response.  She said, 'I believe God is deeply      saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to      get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of       our lives.  And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed     out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if         we demand He leave us alone?'”

  So, the disdain of the West is a problem for us all. I have lived in the United States, which is why it is quite practical for me to place Chioma in Maryland, an area I know well and am extremely fond of. I find several attractions in the U.S. but, like Chioma, I have problems with their way of life and, as a person, I would be a lot happier here in Nigeria, knowing that the moral values of great concern to me still engage the attention of us all, even if we do so little to practice them faithfully.
  We are hopeful. Who could have believed that the immortal message of Martin Luther King would come true within fifty years of his Washington address: that one day we would be judged not by our colour, but by the moral content of our character. But there you are, we have an African-American, Barak Hussein Obama, as President of the same United States, a first generation American, born of an African father, a Kenyan.
  You know of a good number of successful African writers in Europe and the United States. I was extremely excited when Chioma Okereke, daughter of a dear friend of mine, Dr. Titus Okereke, visited Nigeria to promote her debut novel, Bitterleaf, short-listed for the Commonwealth Prize in the First Book Category. America, I understand, is mesmerised by the book. I do not quite know how things go in the United States but I’m hopeful that, if all goes well, My Eyes Dance will receive the sort of attention that Chioma, in the book, would love.
What exactly did you set out to achieve in My Eyes Dance?
I created Chioma as a complex character and the centre-point of my new book, My Eyes Dance. Her life, as you know, begins in my first book, Forever Chimes. Living a life of simplicity, Chioma is immersed in the world of her ancestors and their gift to her in Uzo, The Way, the prized heirloom of the Akadike’s from time immemorial; her vocation of apostolic celibacy in Opus Dei, for the kingdom of God; her devotion to her friends; her Chi; the way she teaches philosophy out of her African life as a great grand-daughter of Akadike, living Igbo traditions and virtues, making all this unique; her friendship with her students, who would love nothing better than to live in her soul, in her Chi; her students belief that the only way for them to be like Chioma would be to travel to Okeosisi, to live with her Chi  right there in the Akadike mystique.
  And we must not forget her persistent struggles to overcome her multitude of defects. These are all elements of character which anyone, boy or girl, can adopt. But Chioma is a girl, so her life would speak more eloquently to girls.
  Thus, the central theme of My Eyes Dance, is that a talented young woman can assiduously strive to live a simple life of virtue in the world with great joy and peace, fully immersed in her African culture, and joined with her great grand-father. Furthermore, there is grandeur in the ordinary circumstances of everyday living, be they of the indigenous culture of one’s African background or of the West’s.
  To marry one’s African culture and noble values and moral strength of truth and honour in everyday hard work, accepting the vagaries of life as instruments of a spiritual transcendence with American fervour for knowledge, seeking and providing answers to questions, and providing fresh questions, can be beautiful. My Eyes Dance tells us through Chioma that the real essence of life in the world is to be whom you are made to be by God; to serve him in the ordinary events of everyday, turning what seems humdrum into heroic virtues, not leaving wherever you may be, whatever you do, as long as it is honourable.
Most African youths would view Chioma as an eccentric, especially as they are in a hurry to embrace Western lifestyles. How can Chioma’s Africa be entrenched all over again in the minds of African youths?
You’ve clearly stated a major problem bedevilling our society, inside out; and it’s not only the young who are the way you describe; even some papas have joined the bandwagon of cultural abandonment. Certainly, this is a problem that Chioma takes on in the book.
  You know, many years ago, in 1975 I think, my wife and I were in Accra to visit a close Ghanaian friend of ours. I shall never forget this incident: we had just stepped into a hotel for some drinks when our friend, Reggie Anteson, accosted a young man who wore a T-shirt sporting New York Jets. My friend was infuriated and asked him what he knew about the Jets, and he said nothing, that it did not matter.
  Reggie is normally cool and calm and does not say much but on this occasion he let the young man have it – how he despised his own culture while accepting another’s that he knew nothing about; that he was unworthy of being called Ghanaian, and so on. And this was at the time of Murtalla Mohammed in Nigeria, a time of spirited cultural pride in Africa. Now, what do we have? More and more of this tomfoolery masquerading as a cultural acceptance to what you term, ‘modernising society’. People who have not seen Lagos, not even the slums of Tolu, can be seen touting wears that advertise foreign companies, goods, clubs, or even foods. God help us!
  Yes, Chioma could be considered an eccentric for wanting to fully live the life of an African in her noble traditional values. We have many problems. When you interviewed me after the presentation of My Eyes Dance, on January 11, this year, a date our late daughter, Mrs. Onyema Eseka, to whom the book is devoted, would have been 40, I told you that after my retirement, I did not want to teach, ‘at all at all’, as we say in Nigeria.
  The last 20 years or so of my teaching-life at Ibadan had been totally consumed in post-graduate research on trypanosomes and malaria. I could not see myself in front of ‘salad’ undergraduates! I was burnt out and wanted to devote my time fully to writing. But when the call came from Paul University, Awka, my wife and I now find ourselves teaching again, and first-year undergraduates at that!
  How is this related to your question of Chioma being regarded as an eccentric if she still proudly enunciated her beliefs in the African way of life? I would say, a lot: if we abandoned anything, whatever it is, because we find it unsuitable, or undesirable, then who would attend to it, and make it better? If we all left Nigeria because of the moral squalor of corruption, and the perennial no-light, no-water, no-hospitals, no-schools, no-universities, or no-anything, then who would put something there?
  Surely, our culture is in dire straits. As far as I can make out from my readings especially, the culture of a people is maintained by the elite – and here by the elite, I mean, the intellectuals and persons of goodwill who see what is good and try to preserve it. Intellectuals, as you know, are not necessarily the academia; no, they are people who think, enjoy thinking, and strive to find the meaning of things. As I was saying, our culture is being swept away by the wind of a senseless adoption of what is Western, and, therefore considered ‘modern’.
The book makes American youth to see Africa differently through Chioma. Is this even remotely possible in non-fictional situation?
The answer is a simple one: because it is extremely desirable, it is possible. Now let me tell you why I say so. The important personality of change and transformation here is Chioma herself. You may, therefore, ask the question, can one person change the course of events? I am sure you will easily answer yes to this question because you know of individuals who in history have produced change where this seemed ‘remotely possible’. The scripture is replete with such individuals.
  But let’s leave Christ and the apostles and saints aside for now and let me ask you directly. Is there anyone alive today, or has there been anyone you know, or have known, or have heard and read of, whom you would follow wherever this person lived, wherever they went, that you might live as they live, attempt what they do, or did, and, thus, change everyone else around you according to your new conditions of living? I believe you have and I believe many people have too.
  I would follow my good friend, Prof. Louis Munoz, wherever he went; I would attempt whatever he does, and did; and I would want to create a whole new world that would suit his taste in tradition and traditionality, in the virtues, and in transforming the ordinary events of my life into heroic virtues. He is a remarkable man. And there’s another. In fact, as I think further I can easily think up four or five names in this rare category. Life is for us to ever strive to overcome our limitations and soar to the moral heights of honour and love – love for everyone.
  Yes, Chioma is simply spectacular. You don’t have to read my book too closely to understand this; but if as you say the book is deeply philosophical about African culture, then you will have so many questions to address; and though the answers are all there, we may need a fine tooth comb to discern them and pull them out of our conscience and consciousness.
  Kindly remember also that though I wrote the book, the characters themselves emerged out of the very pages of the book, and they have a life of their own and much of what I’ve done is simply to listen to their voices, their cries, their feelings, their aspirations, and above all their weaknesses that make them so human and, in a sense, admirable. So, I, Mark Nwagwu, did not, as you say, ‘convert a bunch of American youth to see Africa differently through Chioma’.
  No; what happened is that a bunch of American youth taught by Chioma and impressed by the style of the African teacher, developed such liking for her and trust in her character that they felt like adopting her personality and were convinced that the only place where their teacher, Chioma, really came alive was in Okeosisi the land of her great grandfather.
Don’t you think you are being over-idealistic?
This is the simplest question for me, or anyone in my position to answer. I am an optimist and everything good must come (as Sefi Atta reminds us in her novel of the same title). Again, Chioma tells us in My Eyes Dance,
Nothing good ever dies
what’s abandoned is not lost
nature’s pot’s eternal joy. 
  And I’m a university teacher ever seeking the truth about things.

Dramatic offerings at Garden City Literary Festival

By Anote Ajeluorou

ECHOES of this year’s Garden City Literary Festival (GCLF) that ended two weeks ago, continues to linger. Not only were there-conversations around literary themes and workshops held for aspiring writers in the various genres of fiction, drama and poetry, as well as on journalism, all anchored by seasoned resource persons in the various areas, drama also took a prominent position.
  In all, four dramatic persentations took place to the delight of those who were privileged to attend. But of the four, Ola Rotimi’s unpublished play, Man Talk, Woman Talk, was one offering that blew the audience. Two reasons were responsible for its huge success. First, Rotimi was one of Nigeria’s finest dramatists until he passed on a few years ago. Two, students of University of Benin that performed it knew what was required of them and they gave their all to ensure a breath-taking performance.
  It was Tuesday, day two of the opening of GCLF, and participants were just warming up to the rhythm of the festival that had a mix of old and young writers getting ready to take the various podiums and display to the Port Harcourt audience the stuff their writings were made of. There were such big names as Profs. Molara Ogundipe, Akachi Ezeigbo, Femi Osofisan, Karen King-Aribisala and a host of local writers and critics from University of Port Harcourt. This array of scholars and writers was later joined by Ghana’s female author, Ama Ata Aidoo, whose presentation was on gender politics in Africa.
  Others were Wole Oguntokun, Segun Adefila, Tade Ipadeola, Kaine Agary, Chimeka Garricks, Ifeanyi Ajaegbo, and even former CNN reporter, Femi Oke.
 Others whose presence added colour to the festival of letters were Nigeria’s legendary writer, Prof. Chinua Achebe, who was represented by his son, Dr. Chidi Achebe; and also favours American civil rights activist, Rev. Jesse Jackson. Of course, Rivers State governor,   Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who was the chief host, made his presence felt as he took part in the literary discourse, whose theme, ‘Literature and Politics’, he helped designed.
  Held at the mini theatre of Hotel Presidential, Man Talk, Woman Talk, with its campus setting, played up all the familiar squabbles between male and female students and their interrelationships with each other; and lecturers.
  A well martialed discourse on masculinity and femininity and how both sexes have used and abused what they have that also set them apart, the play was a cliff-hanger that took both the performers and the audience to unbelievable heights of dramatic possibilities in seasoned argumentation.
  First, the hall was split into two. Women sat on the left side while men sat on the right side. The two antagonists sat or stood to the side they opposed. Thus, the male student was on the left side where the women sat while the female student was on the right side where the men sat. With the director’s injunction that the audience should not laugh and thus gagging them, the stage was set for an explosive journey of wit and brains between the two antagonists who came at each other with the viciousness of bull-fighters.
  Indeed, the female student held her own side firmly and gave the male student no quarters to intimidate her. She countered every of his verbal assault and responded with her own counter-claims that stunned even the secretary recording the proceedings of the fact-finding commission of enquiry. It was so intense that the secretary could not even step out a second to pass water even though he was desperately pressed to do so. It attested to the resounding success of the play and its sterling performance.
  INDEED, while the craftsmanship of the late dramatist, Prof. Rotimi, deserved to be applauded once again, the performance of the cast took the thrill all the way. For such a hugely successful performance, only a small hall like the one at Hotel Presidential could be found to host it. Another run at the big auditorium at University of Port Harcourt could have done just as nicely for the academic audience, especially for the students that turned out in their large numbers to be part of the festival symposia.
  Instead, it was the rather tame and uninspiring adaptation of Achebe’s A Man of the People that got two performances. A Man of the People is Achebe’s satirical novel on Nigerian politics during the first Republic and shortly before military intervention. Prophetic for its ending that swept away the first civilian government after independence, Governor Amaechi has found in the book his political inspiration, of how not to play politics of entrenched self-centredness at the expense of the majority. It was probably at his instance that the novel was adapted for stage production.
  Its first performance was at Government House Banquet Hall. With a performance area that was the same level as the audience, it could only boast of a craftily managed set design that also served as scene change once it was moved or rotated, as its strong point. Clearly, it was Governor Amaechi’s idea; and, he must have been thrilled by it. The second performance was at Hotel Presidential on a proper stage, but it was the same rowdy outing with little dramatic effect.
  Lastly, school children performed Aidoo’s Dilemma of a Ghost at Hotel Presidential to the delight of the author, who was guest of honour. She was so touched that she poured encomiums on the little performers, students of Port Harcourt International School, for giving so much life to her characters at their age. Aidoo hugged them all and took photographs with them as keepsake of her journey to GCLF 2011 in Nigeria.
  The festival came to an end on the evening of Saturday, September 17 with poetry performances. Elder artsman Lindsay Barrett led the train with poet and journalist like Akeem Lasisi surpassing himself, even as he went on the over-kill with a sublime act. Turkish translator of African poets into Turk language, Ilyas Tunc, joined the performers alongside Ipadeola in one of Gabriel Okara’s poems. He read his own poem, too. Prof. Karen King-Aribisala persented a short story in rare poetic fashion that got the audience stunned in her dramatic, almost hypnotic rendition. Obari Gomba and a few others also performed to cap a weeklong festival of literature.

Fine Boys… Upbringing in adversity

By Anote Ajeluorou

THIS last quarter is turning out a perfect moment to journey back in time to unearth memories of the past, especially in the coming-of-age class of writing. Unoma Azuah (author of Skyhigh Flames and a new work, Edible Bones, due to be presented on December 17, at the National Library, Yaba) and Dr. Eghosa Imasuen, are two writers whose works explore this theme. But it was Imasuen that came to town with his new work, Fine Boys, last weekend.
  It was during the launch of the book’s digital format on a wholly Nigerian portal, Hibuzz, at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos. Imasuen’s second novel, Fine Boys, though taking a new turn from his first, To Saint Patrick, a science fiction, still echoes his first work in its down-to-earth thematic preoccupation.
  While To Saint Patrick is utopian writing on what might have been, what could actually be, and the sort of socio-economic development that Nigerians rightly deserve to have on account of oil wealth, but which they are yet to have due to a systemic failure in the polity, Fine Boys deals with the reality of university campuses in the 1990s when Imasuen happened to be a student, and a continually deteriorating system over two decades later.
  The launch was also Farafina’s first romance with the digital format, and Fine Boys is its first book to enjoy a global social media network fully developed by an African for Africa and a global reading audience.
  After his utopian, sci-fi work, To saint Patrick (published in 2005, and said to have sold out, although both publisher and author remain mum about exact figures so far sold), Imasuen’s dream of a better Nigeria has remained what it is – a dream.  Not even after 10 years of democratic governance has anything of significance changed to bring the country any closer to the author’s dreamed of utopia.
  And so, Fine Boys becomes a consummation of that subsisting anger that a dreamed of utopia couldn’t quite heal. Therefore, while To Saint Patrick is how things could be but are not, Fine Boys examines how things really are and the need to change them otherwise.
  For Imasuen, therefore, “There’s a bit of anger in the system that easily makes one into being cynical…” It is out of this anger and cynicism that he has written Fine Boys in his bid to trace the root of the rust that has crippled the system, and why his dreamed of utopia may just take a bit longer in coming into reality.
  He stated, “Fine Boys is a story I have to tell; it’s about growing up in the ‘90s and seeing my friend being killed. My friend was a naughty boy. I felt I want to tell the ‘bad boy’ story. I examined the time and what it meant growing up then. There’s nothing as compelling as tragedy. There’s the tragedy of our nation. The anger I feel is that history is repeating itself in our country”.
  SET against the backdrop of the military era of the 1990s that spawned cultism on university campuses and the heady days of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, Fine Boys is Imasuen’s response to the tragedy that has since befallen Nigeria, and from which she has not fully recovered. Yet Imasuen’s faith is boundless, believing that Nigeria’s solutions lie within reach.
  One such avenue of solution for the nation’s malaise, according to him, was for decision-makers to re-evaluate the position pro-democracy group, PRONACO (of restructuring the polity through a Sovereign National Conference of ethnic nationalities), held during the period while it dangerously tangled with the military to wrestle power from them for civilian rule.
  On his writing, Imasuen stated that his voice has matured over time since he came out with his first novel, To Saint Patrick. Now, it isn’t how he would write but what to write about that is his concern, adding that sci-fi gave him boldness. “I’ve mature in my writing,” he said. “My voice is smooth, confident, and bold.”
  Also, Imasuen said he is pleased about the explosion that has happened in Nigeria’s literary space in the last two years, saying it was his hope that it would provide enriched content for Nigeria’s home video films. He also hopes that film producers would approach writers for adaptation of their novels into films, saying it would provide another avenue for writers to make money.
FOR Kachifo, Farafina parent company, it was history in the making with the digital launch of Fine Boys on the Hibuzz platform. It stated, “Fine Boys will be the first Nigerian e-book to be published by an indigenous mainstream publisher on a Nigerian platform. The print version is slated to appear by January 1, 2012. Hibuzz, Kachifo’s chosen distribution platform, is the first digital distribution channel of its kind in Africa, created by Africans and dedicated solely to the promotion of African-generated media.”
  However, another writer, Myne Whitman, has challenged the claim by Kachifo, saying that her work, A Heart to Mind, an e-book published in March 21, 2011, indeed preceeded Kachifo’s release of Fine Boys.