Sunday, 13 November 2011

Echoes of Arab Spring Revolution at Lagos book reading

By Anote Ajeluorou

It all started in Tunisia early in the year when youths of that North African country rose against dictatorship, tyranny and bad governance. President Ben Alli was forced to flee into exile. That singular uprising has so far seen the exit of two heads of governments and the tragic end of one, and still rising

REFERRED to as the Arab Spring Revolution, its echo reverberated in Lagos last weekend at the Pulpfaction Book Club’s Book’n’Gauge monthly reading event at Debonair Bookshop at Sabo, Yaba, Lagos. Journalist and writer, Sam Omatseye and Chuma Nwokolo were guest authors at the event and read excerpts from their works. The occasion was the club’s contribution to the on-going effort at energising book reading believed to be on the decline in the country.
  Although Omatseye’s The Crocodile Girls and Nwokolo’s Diary of a Dead African and Memory of Stone are not cast in revolutionary mold, the two spoken word srtistes that performed, Efe Paul Azino and Jeffery Plumbline, expoused strong revolutionary, thoughtful lines that set the audience thinking.
  Plumbline’s ‘Dead President’ traced Nigeria’s tragic history starting from the death of the first Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, with the first coup by the five Majors that eventually went awry to culminate in a bloody 30-month civil war.
  Plumbline showed the sequence of national failures that had since trailed that death and how the nation’s history has become checkered. Azino, on the other hand, expoused overt revolutionary lines in his new poem, ‘Justice Kidnapped’, which he tested on the audience. He stunned the packed Debonair Bookstore with the freshness and originality of his spoken words, ‘Justice has been kidnapped in my country…’. The corruption, the bad governance, the poor quality followership by the citizenry and all the other anomalies that have worked against Nigeria’s advancement found expression in Azino’s radical poetry.
  He also read his signature poem, This is not a political poem, which has earned him fame as a poet of choice.
  Indeed, the performances capped an already glorious afternoon of literary engagement that was fast becoming the hallmark of a rejuvenated quest for a rediscovery of the book as a national pastime. Following these poets’ performance, the question became inevitable: Could the Arab Spring-type Revolution be possible in Nigeria, where bad governance and corruption are unabating?
  For Azino, what a country like Nigeria needed was to talk itself out of a situation that could bring about such a revolution. However, Azino was skeptical about whether Nigerian youths had what it takes to usher in such violent change of government by standing up and demanding good governance and justice from their leaders. To his own question, he asserted, “I think they (youths) can demand good governance and justice from their government.
  “There’s always a tipping point beyond which their endurance can be tested and tried. I hope we don’t get there. We can get to the tipping point like the Arab Spring thing. But personally, I hope we don’t get there”.
  Azino further submitted that a revolution in a nation like Nigeria would be constrained by tribal sentiments. Rather, he argued that there is a need to engage the system constructively while also seeking personal social responsibility and accountability as possible models to follow.
  Nwokolo, however, argued that the Arab Spring Revolution has been a tragedy that ought not to have happened in the first place, saying, “Revolutions don’t discriminate in whom they claim as victims, including innocent people with the remotest ties to those in power. I don’t want that kind of thing in Nigeria. What happened in Tunisia, where it started was a tragedy.
  “Ben Alli was a revolutionary when he came to power in Tunisia and later became a tyrant; Mubarak was a revolutionary when he also came to power in Egypt. Muammar Gaddafi was a revolutionary in Libya before he became what he later became. Those who are intelligent should first think through things. What exactly do we want as a people? Government won’t get things right; governments never get things right. We need to think about what system to replace the current system with before whatever we do”.
  Nwokolo further advocated that the citizenry should show courage to demand what it is they want from their government, saying the Nigeria’s citizenry showed too much cowardice in the face of the bad governance that threatened their collective existence. He painted the incidence, where a handful of armed robbers usually held motorists to ransom for hours without respite, and argued that such cowardice is what those in power capitalised on to mortgage the future of the entire nation.
  He submitted, “What we need to do is change the way we do things in a transformational way. I have advocated a law that created capital punishment for corporate bodies to be liquidated; that will help solve our problem”.
  Omatseye, on the other hand, stated that the way Nigeria is constituted would make the Arab Spring-type Revolution impossible to organise. He argued that Nigerians were an opportunistic, hedonistic bunch of people that groveled from one extreme in shameless cross carpeting not possible in an environment seriously yearning for a change. He argued that what Nigerians needed was the Egyptian-type revolution that would force the leaders to see the need to change things quickly in favour of the masses.
  For Pumbline, a unionist, aggression, in a revolutionary form, is something to be avoided, as it does not have foresight. Instead, he argued that just as revolution comes in different guises, so also should it be pursued in its different molds, especially in its ideological type. He stated that Nigeria should find a model that best suited her and pursue it to create a better environment for the people.
HOWEVER, before the revolutionary talk, issues about the vexatious lack of reading in society took a sizeable part of the discourse. Omatseye believed that the Nigerian society is currently philistinic and opposed to reading and everything book or intellectual. He said he had a father, who had books and was always reading, and he’d talk about the books he’d read to him, and this made him want to read while he was young. He wondered how many fathers did that to their children these days to stimulate them to reading.
  Also, Omatseye ecalled that there were bookstores all over the place while he was growing up and that he used to walk a long distance to get the books he wanted to read. He confessed to having read Thomas Jefferson before he really knew who he really was. He lamented the absence of infrastructure in society, saying such lack create problems for the effective distribution of available books to those in need of them.
  To lighten up the event, musicians like Rubby performed Bob Marley’s Redemption Song and her own single, Okay.
  A book auction was also held to help raise money for cancer awareness. Two books, Teju Cole’s latest novel, Open City and Kenyan’s Bnynvanga Wainaina’s One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir were auctioned in the unusual 1k for Cancer campaign and to support the Pulpfaction Book Club reading events, where each bidder paid the amount he or she bided for on the spot before another person bided.

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