Monday, 29 August 2011

Rose and Bullets… A love torn to shred by war

By Anote Ajeluorou

Clearly, the Nigerian Civil War will continue to evoke literary interest. Notable gender expert, award-winning author and university teacher, Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo has also joined the discourse. Her narrative is evocative of how war soon turns the tide of love for the worse of human emotions to emerge

Roses and Bullets (Jalaa Writers’ Collective, Lagos; 2011) is the story told from the eyes of a young Igbo schoolgirl, who is caught in the grip of war like all others in the region, while nursing boundless ambition for the future. Ginikanwa is not particularly loved by her stepmother and her father is reserved. She and her only brother, Nwakire, had lost their mother while still young. This fragile family structure soon caves in to the war pressure to widen the fissure.
  But Ginikanwa is consoled in her Auntie Chito and Uncle Ray, where she regularly escapes in Enugu to avoid the censorship she receives at home in Mbano. But as the war drums intensify, her father, Ubaka, is left with no option but to take her home. At Mbano, she manages to make sense of her surrounding. But soon, she is taken to Ama-Oyi, her father’s hometown, where she is to stay while the war rages as her father gets posted close to the warfront.
  But it is here that she comes in close contact with the man, Eloka Odunze, who would mean the world to her. Much against her father’s advice, she marries him. Her brother, whose university education is disrupted by the war, joins up the Biafran Army to defend the breakaway new nation from Nigeria. Nwakire’s father, Ubaka, is devastated at his son’s action against his wish.
  With Ginikanwa leaving home to join Eloka as wife and Nwakire at the warfront, it seems Ubaka’s family is headed for disintegration. Eloka’s father, who evacuated Port Harcourt in the heat of the war, is given a prominent role to play at the local council at Ama-Oyi. He uses his position to ensure that his only son, Eloka, does not get conscripted into the Biafran Army to fight. But after many brushes with the conscripting officers to draft him into the war, and as the war drags on, Eloka, much to his father’s chagrin, enlists to fight. He announces this news to his wife, who weeps her eyes out.
  But there is no changing Eloka’s resolve. Even his dotting mother resigns to fate at her son’s going away to the battlefield. While he is away, Ginikanwa is to stay with Eloka’s family to await his return from war. But this is where her will is put to the test. No sooner had her son gone away, than Eloka’s mother confronts Ginikanwa on whether she is pregnant for her son. On Ginikanwa’s response to the contrary, Eloka’s mother descends on her, accusing her as a useless wife who would not give a man going to war a son while he is away as a possible replacement in the event that he did come back alive.
  All her entreaties that it was Eloka’s wish for them not to have children while the war raged fell on the older woman’s deaf ears. She could not forgive the ‘barren’ wife for failing her son; Ginikanwa had not been the choice of wife for her son anyway. This charged atmosphere proves Ginikanwa’s undoing. As a means of temporary escape from her mother-in-law, and her father-in-law, whose adultery secrets she just received, she unwillingly attends a party with her colleague, Janet, with whom she works at the refugee camp, at an army base some kilometres away.
  By the next morning, Ginikanwa discovers she had been drugged and raped. Not long after, she discovers that the ‘unknown’ soldier had also impregnated her. She is heartbroken and distraught. What will she tell her love, Eloka and his family? What about her own family? After taking Auntie Chito into confidence and enlisting her help, they embark on finding Eloka and to give him the news but this proves dangerous and futile.
  When she tells her parents-in-law, she is thrown out as ‘win-the-war-wife’, one of those loose women soldiers regularly patronised. Her father and stepmother also reject her; they had not sanctioned the marriage in the first instance. As the war bites harder with hunger ravaging the civilian populace, Ginikanwa, Auntie Chito and her children and their grandmother experience the utter hopelessness of war. No news also about Auntie Chito’s husband, who had joined the war effort; where he was posted got cut off from the Biafran heartland.

 Adimora-Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets is one more searing account of the Biafran side of the Nigerian Civil War. This is obvious; the entire infant Biafran nation was the theatre of war. It started out as the narrative of a family at the brink of disintegration. Then the echoes of war hasten the disintegration.
  Ginikanwa and Eloka’s love is a classic case of perfect love torn to shreds by war. Adimora-Ezeigbo’s controlled narrative is remarkable as she fleshes out the emotions of war in this novel. She takes her readers down to the trenches and back. But more importantly is the horrors the civilian population face in a war situation. Adimora-Ezeigbo writes with candour and humanity and she charts Ginikanwa’s progression from a happy childhood to a disillusioned teenager before the war takes its toll. Eloka returns from war to meet his wilted roses in the garden, just as his love for Ginikanwa wilts on the discovery of her unwitting betrayal.
  In the end, only the faith of a foreign teacher on her former student comes to rescue Ginikanwa from a horrible, and from then an upward spiral to the crest of distorted ambition.
  Roses and Bullets is a breath-taking and memorable read with its haunting story of love and war. Indeed, Adimora-Ezeigbo has brought the Biafran story alive again even for those who would wish for collective amnesia. Indeed, the story of the Ginikanwas of Biafra has found a voice in this sublime war narrative…

Why I write on the civil war, says Monye

By Anote Ajeluorou

Although it happened 41 years ago, the horrendous civil war that rocked the nation for 30 months six years after independence has continued to generate intense literary interest

ONE such addition to the body of literary works concerning the war is Tony Monye’s Between a Valley & a Plain (Oracle Books, Lagos; 2011). Although his first work, Monye’s novel shows remarkable maturity in its execution. Yet to be born when the war ravaged the South-Eastern part of the country like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author of Half of a Yellow Sun, also about that war), Monye, a banker, largely sourced his raw materials from listening to stories told about the war by his elders.
  From such intimate tales told by those who witnessed the war, Monye gleamed an undying passion behind the nation’s darkest period. As he confesses, “I am certain you’d be surprised when I say the inspiration came from one of the characters in the book – The Great Lion. Monye was once here on earth and it is the reason why I chose to leave his name unchanged. He was someone I heard his story during growing up years from my father and many uncles.
  “Yes, Monye was the biggest inspiration behind the story. Apart from him, I also would say the environment and the many stories surrounding the darkest period of our national life – the Nigerian Civil War – spurred me. I just brought fictional characters like Chibia and the rest to make up a whole story. I have heard from readers who told me that I have chronicled their experiences during the war without realising it.
  “However, I must say this – the book is not necessarily about the civil war. Unfortunately, over the years, we tend to know or care less about our country – its histories, important dates and events. The lessons from these events are yet to sink in as a result, and we repeat these mistakes all over”.
  Interestingly, war and love have always been intertwining issues in literature over the ages. Monye’s story isn’t devoid of these conjoined extreme emotions as they play out in the lives of the protagonist in the work. For Monye, therefore, “These two ends always evoke strong emotions in man and I think to some extent it was some sort of struggle because I wanted the lines and the expressions of both emotions to come out quite well… So, when I talked about love, I put myself in the moods of lovers and when it was time for war, I imagine man at his worst emotions…
  “The shared love between Chibia and Ijeoma; the affection between Ikenna and Kechi and the one even between Grandma and her grandson, Chibia. I guess the Civil War still evokes strong emotions in our country. I really think we, as a nation and as a group of people brought together by God, should move on. Let me make some confession; it wasn’t an easy swing journeying both ends. I tried hard to get the language right… It wasn’t that easy but I think I managed well”.
  Writing, like every other art form, has long been established as a talent inherent in every individual, and therefore waiting to be brought to public light. Although a banker, Monye has managed to juggle the two, and the result is the manifestation of an explosive talent for writing, and which makes for a remarkable read: He enthuses, “It is the passion for writing. I always love to write. The desire to write Between a Valley & a Plain’ came out at the best moment. I never set out to do a huge book. I found myself punching the keyboard of my laptop… one page, the next and then another page. And, before I knew it, I thought I had something I could call a book.
  “At first, I had many doubts but as the pages turned, belief began to set in. After a time, I just knew there was no going back. And, I am happy it paid off. But I always remind myself that I am an economist by training and God gave me the ability to string words together to form a sentence… and then, a book. On the other hand, I work in a bank. Writing and working in a bank are jobs I enjoy. I dreamt of being a banker as a child because I loved their smart dress code and here I am. I also dreamt of writing for the fun of it and here I am. See!
  “The love of them drives the two of them. Combining both only meant that there would be many trade-offs – yes there were many. I let go social engagements and obligations. I angered friends and hurt family members – people I love most.  I am hardly ever seen at such gatherings. Now, permit me to use this medium to apologise to friends, family and relatives… I fell short here for them. They happen to be my bedrocks. For they have consistently supported me… the sales so far have come from them. A friend buys a copy, he reads and buys for his own friends or he recommends it to another. It is just the same, too, with family members – they have been some huge form of support”.
  Although Monye argues that he didn’t set out to teach any moral lessons, he nonetheless concedes, “If the essence of the book is brought out, anyone striving to move up the valley definitely has some tales to tell – the traumas, the pains, the agonies and the challenges of life of being at the bottom of the pyramid, the sacrifice and on the positive side, the determination, the denials, the discipline, the celebrations of little daily achievements and, above all, the support, goodwill and love of others”.
  The banker and new author cannot fully express his pain at the sad turn of events regarding the flagging reading habits of Nigerians, which make writers endangered species. He, however, counts the passion associated with writing too strong a force to resist in spite of how gloomy the situation may be, saying, “Reading is not one of our favourite pastimes in this part of the world (anymore). It leaves a pain in the heart and a hole in my being. For me, reading is the best human activity second to none. President Goodluck Jonathan and the likes of Wole Soyinka are trying to get the nation to read again. I hope they succeed. I just wanted to write, and that’s all.
  “For me, passion is one of the greatest drivers of most human achievements. So, I will say that the passion fed well into the drive and something good came forth. I took very conscious steps into the world of writers and creative writing not for pecuniary objective or motive but for self-fulfillment. But more strongly, I had a tale to tell…”.

Triple Fun Club… Nurturing The Creative Power Of Young Nigerians

By Anote Ajeluorou

The grand finale of Triple Fun Club 2011 Literary, Oratory, and Leadership Week came to a close recently at the Atlantic Hall, Hotel Presidential in Port Harcourt , River State.
  With the theme Ambassadors for Excellence, the workshop’s aim was to teach children effective communication (oral and written) and leadership skills, and as a way of drawing attention to childen’s innate skills and the need to harness them for their overall development.
  The colourful ceremony saw children performing in many categories while also showing class in the areas of presentation and comportment. They were also amply rewarded with many mouth-watering gifts.
  Aim of the weeklong workshop was to equip the children with the relevant tools for effective communication (oral and written) and leadership skills. Specific sessions included multiple activities on Reading Fluency and Comprehension, Speech Writing, Public Speaking, Leadership and Career Development. Educational games, role-plays and break out sessions were equally utilised to drive home the point at the workshops. Participants were told to be focused on things that are truly important so as to ward off negative peer pressures. Sound character principles like respect, responsibility, caring for others, etc, also formed part of the character development sessions.
  Participants were drawn from schools across the country including Bereton Montessori Primary School, Montessori International, Kiddies Educational Centre, Early Grip Nursery and Primary School, Bloombreed Montessori Primary School, Dayspring Infant and Junior, Butterstone International, Covenant Child Primary School, Covenant High School, Bloombreed High School, Charles Dale Memorial International School, Nigerian Navy Secondary School, Jephtah Comprehensive College, Surebloom International School, Kings College, Mae Mater, Top Faith International, Faith Academy, White Plains, and Baptist High
  In her address, guest speaker and Chief Executive Officer, African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, stressed the need for children and teenagers to enjoy their childhood and never be in a hurry to become adults since adulthood would naturally come.
  She also tasked children and teenagers to spend more time developing values that would work for them as against those that would hamper their prospects as future leaders, and to justify their parents’ investment in them.
  Event chairman, Mr. Analiefo Nzegwu, spoke on the need for all and sundry to support the laudable initiative of Mr. Chidi Ononye (founder and CEO, Triple Fun Club) through the activities of the club. Nzegwu expressed confidence in the ability of the club to achieve its aims and objectives. He called on organiations to exercise their corporate social responsibility towards harnessing the opportunities the club provided children and teenagers so they could benefit from the club’s literacy, oratory, and leadership programmes.
  Also, Chief Executive Officer, Optima Healthcare, Lagos, Dr. Femi Olaleye, spoke on the ‘Ten Things Teenagers Want Their Parents To Know.’ He tasked parents to spend quality time to bond with their children, saying such bond provided moral and psychological support for children’s growth.
 On her part, a specialist on reproductive health, Dr. Anne Enyi, encouraged participants not to allow their shortcomings hinder their goals and dreams in life, saying they were the only obstacles to fulfilling their dreams in life.
 Founder, Abuja Writers’ Forum and communications expert, Dr. Emman Shehu, who took the secondary school category on speech writing, said the aim was to show the children how to choose a topic, develop it, build their presentations around it and effectively communicate it to others.
  Chief Host, Chief (Mrs.) Victoria Diete-Spiff, who was represented by the head teacher, Bereton Montessori Primary School, Mrs. Esther Oguamanam, commended the club and the values it represented. She stressed the need for literacy development, advising that it should be made an integral part of children’s development, especially since every other pursuit was founded on the ability to read, write, and comprehend.
 Diete-Spiff further called on the appropriate authorities to support the efforts of club founder, Ononye, and also encouraged parents to always make their children available for every activity of the club.
  On his part, Ononye thanked those that had made the year’s event a success. He specially singled out the founder, Bereton Montessori Primary School and Charles Dale Memorial International School, Chief Diete-Spiff, for being an exceptional host and for the numerous support she regularly gave the club.
  He also commended proprietors of other schools for their support. Ononye equally cautioned fathers to stop abdicating their roles at home under the guise of making ends meet. He stressed that children’s upbringing should not be left to mothers alone, saying such behaviour usually resulted to delinquency amongst children in society.
  While advocating a return to traditional family value system, Ononye tasked society to stop celebrating values that are morally bankrupt. He further wondered how orderly and responsible citizens could be produced when uncensored media was allowed to bombard the minds of children and teenagers with contents that promote violence and promiscuity.
  He, therefore, canvassed for more family-friendly children and teenager programmes on TV to aid them. In his words, “It is my wish to reach out to more children. Imagine, in a country of over seventy million youths, we are only able to serve about 5,000 children and teenagers. But then, such is the little we can do as individuals. Just imagine the transformation we will bring about when we have well meaning individuals, corporate organisations, NGOs, foundations, and government establishments supporting what we do”.
  Ononye further expressed satisfaction with the performances of the children and thanked them for a job well done, saying, “These children are simply phenomenal and we are very sure that at this pace, they can stand before anyone and anywhere in the world and clearly and confidently express themselves”.
  Ononye also praised the level of organisation and turnout of participants, parents, resource persons and concerned interest groups at the year’s event and look forward to a better outing next year. 
  For Public Speaking Senior Secondary Category, Chiamaka Nwachukwu came first while first runner-up was Sorbari Lahben; second and third runners-up were Ekemini Udom and Gift Ahaneku. For Spelling Bee Senior Secondary Category, Chiamaka Nwachukwu won, and first and second runners-up were Chinelo Meniru and Sorbari Lahben.
  For Speech Writing Senior Secondary Category, Chinelo Meniru won, and first and second runners-up were Favour Nyoyoko and Chiamaka Nwachukwu. For Public Speaking Junior Secondary Category, Ejiro Emuobo-Eje won, and first and second runners-up were David Udioko and Solomon Akuro. For Spelling Bee Junior Secondary Category, Onyekachi Meniru won, and first and second runners-up were Tochukwu Nwachukwu and Jesse Jehu.
  For Speech Writing Junior Secondary Category, Iniobong Ekong won, and first and second runners-up were Onyekachi Meniru and Jesse Jehu.
  For Public Speaking Upper Primary Category, Daniella Megbele, and first runners-up were Chioma Menakiti and Osinachi Nwankwo while second runners-up were Ugonna Maduabuchi, King Perterside, and King Gbadeyan. For Spelling Bee Upper Primary Category, Amarachi Ekeke won, and first and second runners-up were Itohaosa Isibor, and Onanna Maduabuchi.
  For Reading Fluency Lower Primary Category, champion was Elona Erivon, and first and second runners-up were Daniel Ugoji and Jerry Ugwuodo. For Spelling Bee Lower Primary Category, Roghenema Ofogba won, and first and second runners-up were Daniel Ugoji and Jerry Ugwuodo.
   Winners at the event carted away 14 Electronic Yamaha Keyboards, 7 BMX Bicycles, 3 portable DVDs with screens, 10 Hair Dryers, and 10 Hair Clippers and over 300 story and educational books. Winners will be known as ‘Ambassadors of the club’ for the year 2011/2012.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

At CORA Book Party, children take centre-stage (Sunday, 21.08.2011

By Anote Ajeluorou

In all respects, it was a book feast for children. And they did not disappoint either as invited guests heeded the advice to bring a child along to be part of the celebration of the six children’s authors, whose works made the longlist of books for this year’s The Nigeria Prize for Literature, a prize generously endowed by Nigeria Liqufied Natural Gas (NLNG) company to the sum of US$100,000

Right from start, it was clear organisers, Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), had made the event children-centred. Performance from Segun Adefila-led Footprints of David (formerly Footprints of Africa) opened the show. The young lads did effortlessly what their elder brothers and sisters in Crown Troupe of Africa had come to be known for in the satirisation of the paradox that Nigeria has come to represent. But their innocence perhaps gave their performance added cadence and an unmatched gloriousness.
Thereafter, CORA Secretary, Toyin Akinosho stated the objective of the gathering and why this year’s event was perhaps the most important amongst the previous two, especially as it focuses on children, who invariably hold the key to the nation’s future. But as is customary with Akinosho, he read an excerpt from Bimbola Adelakun’s explosive novel on Ibadan, Under the Brown Rusted Roofs, perhaps to underscore how wayward children had become in a world desperately in search of values but wrongly thought to be on the path of modernisation. It turned out apt for the session.
  He stated, “The Nigeria Prize for Literature this year is focused on children literature. And I make bold to say, early on in the conversation, that this is the most important of all the three book parties we have organised. Children have been a central focus of the book reading awareness that we at CORA have initiated. Our annual Book and Art Festival, which happens every November, is, for a large part, a children affair.
  “There are two reasons behind today’s session. For one, the idea for us at CORA is always to expand the membership of the community of culture patrons. And this book party fits in. We have invited you to a light evening of entertainment of a different kind.
  “But there is another, more urgent, more crucial reason. It is our notion of extension service for the book industry.
  “Everyone knows that we produce remarkably good books in our country. But we also know that we don’t discuss them enough, we are not made aware of them enough. The soft infrastructure of the book reading culture is not aggressively under construction. We at CORA have always felt that books that make it to this level in such a major award system as The Nigeria Literature Prize ought to be known about in every community in the country. We have always maintained that the award is an opportunity for a series of events to really make books look cool; series of book readings and discussions in as many crannies of the country as possible as well as on TV discussions and radio shows. Our ambition is to help that to happen; to extend the star attraction of the award winner beyond the Gala Nite of the award”.
  Performance poet and journalist, Akeem Lasisi took the floor and regaled the audience with the measured cadences of his thrilling lyrical offering.
  Then six secondary school students of Alakoto Senior High School, Ajegunle, led by Lagos ANA chairman and community development leader, Dagga Tolar, reviewed and had a conversation around the six books. While Bakare Salamiat reviewed Philip Begho’s Auntie Felicia Goes to School, Paul Kolawole Thelma Nwokeji’s Red Nest, Femi Folarin Mai Nasara’s The Missing Clock, Francesca Agbasemo Chinyere Obi-Obasi’s The Great Fall, Judith Nwabia Uche Peter umez’s The Runaway Hero and Abel Afolabi reviewed Ayodele Olofintuade’s Eno’s Story.
  After which Deji Toye introduced the six authors and set student intern Korinayo Thompson and publisher, Ayodele Arigbabu, to begin the conversation with the authors. The idea was to mine the minds of the six authors and give the audience firsthand information about themselves and their books. But before they started, six children from CATES Foundation paired up with the six the authors and read excerpt from their works.
  There was another round of performance from Footprints of David before children’s writing expert, university teacher, a former winner of the prize and head of jury for this year’s award, Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, spoke on what it takes to write successfully for children. Former Minister of State for Education and Association of Nigerian Authors’ (ANA) president, Dr. Jerry Agada also lent his voice to the conversation. He was glad ANA was part of the process, and said each of the six nominees was already a winner for having come this far in the contest out of over one hundred entries. He challenged them to be role models for the young ones present in the hall, saying they were already legends in their own rights. He told the children that being an author was a fulfilling experience and charged them to emulate the authors.
  There was also heated and lively exchange from two young members of the audience and two authors on some issues their works. A secondary school student took up Olofintuade when she explained that there were no child witches as some children had been accused in some parts of the country to necessitate inhuman treatment meted out to them as it happened to young Eno in her book, Eno’s Story. Olofintuade insisted that only elderly women belonged to witch cults, as children had no knowledge of it.
  On the other hand, young Onwordi wondered why Umez allowed the protagonist in The Runaway Hero to remain in an orphanage home even though he had shown remarkable transformation in his character. Although Umez said he might consider a sequel, he, however, asked Miss Onwordi if she would have loved to give the protagonist a home away from the orphanage.
  Towards the end, one Mr. Osondu challenged both CORA, the authors and the Nigerian art public to put the works in a digital form so as to wean Nigerian children from the cultural invasion from Disney cartoon films. His argument was that since Nigerians now produced high quality books for children to replace foreign ones, children’s films could also be successfully produced from the books so as to enmesh the minds of Nigerian children in their culture through digital forms for which they have shown addiction.
  Thereafter, the authors began the book signing session.

Garden City Literary Festival Is Fast Becoming A Destination For Intellectual Tourism, Says Kalango

By Anote Ajeluorou

In the past four years, the Garden City Literary Festival (GCLF) has gradually made a name for itself as one destination point for literary activities in Nigeria. As this year’s festival date draws close (September 12 – 17, 2011), preparation are heightened at the Rainbow Book Club company, organisers of GCLF. Its chief executive, Mrs. Koko Kalango, who is currently holidaying in the Caribbean, made out time to field some online questions on this year’s festival and how the festival theme ‘Literature and Politics’ bears out the relationship between the writer and his society

You have organised a literary festival in the past four years. What has been your experience so far?
  When the Executive Governor of Rivers State, the Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, sent for me in 2008 and gave me the assignment to organise an international literary festival, I had no idea what I was getting into. Nevertheless, it has been a challenging and rewarding experience; challenging because I had never organised an event on this scale and I had no example to follow.
  But, since we began, I have attended the London Book Fair and, on a British Council sponsorship, the Edinburgh International Book Festival and I have been encouraged that we are on the right path. It is rewarding when one gets feedback from participants. There is, for instance, a young man in Port Harcourt, Annah Dornubari, whom, after taking part in one of our workshops, got inspired and published a poetry anthology titled Tears for Ogoni.
  He has won recognitions including one by the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). Ochogwu Abbas Onoja is another example. Onoja, a law student at the Plateau State University, got spotted by Prof. Wole Soyinka at the maiden edition of the Garden City Literary Festival (GCLF). With Soyinka’s help, Onoja represented Nigeria at Ghana’s Legon University where 90 Debaters from 30 nations converged for the preliminaries of the World Debate Institute. He emerged as one of the four best speakers from the continent and the first Nigerian to qualify for the World Final International Tournament.
  At the grande finale in London, where 170 universities from around the world took part, Onoja was acknowledged for his oratory skills and returned home to a hero’s welcome. He was received by his State Governor and on behalf of President Yar a’dua by the then Minister for Education. In 2009, Kyle Wanberg, an American student from the University of California, who was writing his doctorate on Nigerian Literature, came all the way to attend.
  Therefore, the GCLF provides a forum where we discover, nurture and promote literary talents. It is also becoming a destination for intellectual tourism.
What particular challenges do you face yearly in putting the festival together? And how did you overcome them?
  Putting together an event of this magnitude takes tremendous logistics and planning. I am blessed with a great team who go beyond the call of duty to ensure we deliver a good festival each year. The greatest work is the brainwork and I enjoy that. Once I am able to conceptualise the event and articulate a plan in my mind, I download to my team, get them to see what I see and we play out the script.
You have worked with various writers from various parts of the world. How has this enriched the content of the festival?
  Indeed, we have hosted writers such as Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ghana’s Koffi Awonoor and American writer Petrina Crockford. This year we expect Ama Atta Aidoo from Ghana, Ms Lisa Combrink from South Africa and Mr. Ilyas Tunc from Turkey. Having writers from other parts of the world participate opens up the festival, making it not just a local or national event, but an international one. It gives our writers an opportunity to rub minds with their counterparts from other cultures, providing a forum for intellectual intercourse that would lead to the birth of ideas for the betterment of society.
Writers, like most artists, are sometimes difficult to work with. Have you had any untoward experience in relating with them?
  In every human relationship there is bound to be friction, an event like this is no exception. But I think I have come to understand what I call ‘the temperament of the artist’ so I am never really taken by surprise. We want to believe that with wisdom and maturity, we are able to scale through any rough patches.
The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Politics and literature’. What informed the theme, and in what way is it timely given Nigeria’s democratic experience in the last 12/13 years?
  We felt that literature in general, but especially African literature, is, in some broad sense, always aware of, or even concerned with, politics. The earliest African writing - and I'd go back to Olaudah Equiano's narratives - was interested in the big political issues of its time. African writers have focused on political and moral issues as slavery, colonization and other exploitative practices, disparities between different nations as well as between different sectors of given societies and, increasingly in recent times, environmental matters. Literature offers us some of the most insightful, subtle and complex ways of looking at political issues.
  The choice of the theme of ‘Literature and Politics’ is clearly pertinent to our current efforts to define our society, set ourselves new goals or ways of achieving old aspirations, and also to deepen our democratic culture. Writers have a lot to say about this ongoing effort to realize our deepest national dreams and to create a society that gives each citizen a sense of belonging and humane fulfilment.
Who are the principal guests at this year’s festival and in what direction would their presence influence the festival?
  Our keynote address would be delivered by Prof. Chinua Achebe. He would, however, do that via video conferencing, as he will be unable to attend in person. Other main speakers are Rev. Jesse Jackson, who would be addressing us on “The African Struggle for Democracy: Lessons from the American Civil Rights Movement".
  Also, Amma Atta Aidoo would speak to us on "Gender Spaces in African Politics and Literature". Invited to discuss politics and the Niger Delta are Ken Wiwa, Chimeka Garricks, Michael Peel (author of A Swamp Full of Dollars, an insightful expose on the Niger Delta militancy). Intellectuals such as Prof. Molara Ogundipe-Leslie and Prof. Maduka of the University of Port Harcourt would also be on hand to tackle discussions around the theme.
Right now only a few invited guests visit the festival from abroad. What efforts are you making to position GCLF as a global festival of ideas?
  We are growing the Garden City Literary Festival to become the number one literary gathering on the African continent. We believe that with the quality and variety of its different components, the calibre of writers we invite and the topical issues we tackle, GCLF would truly become a global festival of ideas. Already, we are being contacted by people from other countries who are interested in attending.
  Also, our visit to the London Book Fair and the Edinburgh International Book Festival presented an opportunity to network with people doing similar work in other countries. In Edinburgh, for instance, I met Elizabeth Weinstein, who works at the PEN American Center in New York. So this year, I was excited when PEN Nigeria approached us to partner.
  We are also taking full advantage of social media: facebook, twitter, You-tube and our World Wide Web ( and, to create awareness for the festival.
Are there plans to seek or source partnerships, local or international, for its onward march?
  Working with partners is an important part of our strategy. Our main partners are the Rivers State Government and the University of Port Harcourt. Sponsorship partners have been SHELL and TOTAL and Le Meridian, Ogeyi Place. Other partners include the Reading Association of Nigeria, the British Council, the Alliance Francaise and the Association of Nigerian Authors. This year, PEN International, the oldest organized body of writers worldwide, comes on board.
The Garden City Literary Festival has grown these many years. But how can it be made to truly be a grassroots festival to attain its objective of deepening literacy in the country?
  We realise that before we can take the festival to the world, we would have to gain strong roots at home. I would say our impact is primarily grassroots and our host society benefits the most from the variety of events that the festival presents: A book fair, interaction with authors, book readings, forums where upcoming writers can read from their works, talent hunt, drama presentations and so much more.
  The visioner of this event and governor of Rives State, the Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, has also promised to build a model, world-class library in the state. This is a fall out of this festival and it would put books at the reach of the inhabitants of Port Harcourt.
You organisation Rainbow Book Club has been campaigning to get Nigerians reading again. There are some who would argue that the campaign seems elitist in nature. How can millions of other Nigerians truly benefit?
  On the contrary, the majority of the students we have worked with over the seven years of our running the ‘Get Nigeria Reading again!’ campaign have been from public schools. For instance, whenever we have taken role models (like Governor Amaechi, Governor Fashola, etc.) to read to children, we always go to public schools.
  Our strategy in the first seven years was to raise an alarm, to draw attention to the lack of a reading culture and the high cost we would pay as a people if we do not read, hence we enlisted the support of high profile authors and other members of society. To an extent, I think we have succeeded. The next step is to implement our plan to sustain a reading culture; that is why we have been advocating for the establishment of libraries across the nation. We are working on another very interesting project, which we plan to enfold by World Book Day in 2012.
Rivers State Government has been a keen supporter of the festival. How can other bodies be persuaded to come to the aid of the arts? In other words, how can the arts be sellable? What are the drawbacks in being able to sell the arts for sponsorship or support?
  I must commend Governor Rotimi Amaechi for coming up with the idea for this festival and his support in general for the arts. Perhaps, our greatest impediment to marketing the arts to the moneybags is that we, artists, are not business people. I would recommend that artists enlist the help of business-minded people to scout for funds at a commission!
  That way we all win!

Six authors, one prize… Mastering the delicate art of children’s writing (Friday, 19.08.2011

By Anote Ajeluorou

Last Sunday, the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) organised its yearly Book Party to celebrate the six authors, who are nominees of the Nigeria Prize for Literature this year. The prize was endowed in 2004 by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) to grow literary engagements in the country. But there was so much fanfare at the book party held at Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos. Remarkably, children made up about 60 per cent of the audience. This was deliberate; this year’s edition of the prize is on children’s literature. Invited guests had been urged to bring their children along to be part of the celebration, to meet and interact with the six authors.
  All the readings were done by children while the authors looked on in admiration. Children also asked the authors interesting and probing questions about their works. These questions generated so much attention and excitement amongst the adult audience. After all, the book feast was theirs and the children took ample advantage of it. It also showed that the authors had done their best, and could only wait for the verdict of the judges, which would come sometime in early October, when the prize is given out.
  Notably, however, the question of how difficult it is really to write for children came up; and, indeed, what it essentially took to write for children. Children writing expert, a former laureate of the Nigerian Prize for Literature and university teacher, Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, who won the prize in 2004 and is head of jury this year, was first to point the way on mapping the delicate art of writing for children.
  She said, “To write for children, is not as easy as some people think. To write for them, you’re thinking of content, the level of children you have in mind; how they can understand your writing. You’re thinking of relevance; what children will take interest in. Then you’re thinking of form; the technique and style. Then, of course, you’re thinking of editorial standard, a work that would be without blemish.
  “Also, you think of plot and dialogue. Is the dialogue suitable? Then, of course, there is the vocabulary control; what level of words to employ. Words should not be too hard; but give them something to look up in a dictionary to help build their vocabulary. Then plotting the characters; then the morals a child should take away from the book or story. A child should take away something from the characters in the book. There should also be illustration to make the book appealing to them”.
  The six laureates later recorded their individual experience thus:
Thelma Nwokeji (author of Red Nest)
IT wasn’t easy at all. You’ve got to choose your words; you have to pay attention to your language, and the things that are morally good enough for them; issues that could hook up with their minds and that could educate them. You also have to write on the issues that would grip them; otherwise they wouldn’t have interest.
  Interestingly, I have five children, and I can say I know a lot about children. I know what they feel, and so it was easy to enter their minds from what I see of my own children. But, of course, that didn’t mean I sourced my material from any of them; characters from my work are different from them though. I just used children’s reasoning as raw material.
  This is my first published story; I have other manuscripts in waiting. Although I’m an architect, I actually wanted to educate children more. I would say this particular book is timely. Stubbornness amongst children, child labour, kidnapping, poverty as it relates to children, are among the issues that confront children these days.
  Actually, why I chose to publish this particular one is because I have noticed in society that a lot of children are no more interested in education. They are no more as interested in education as children of those days were. They are now more materialistic; they want to go into yahoo (419 or scam). They just want to make money, even without working for it. So, this book will teach them moral values, that there are much more valuable qualities to seek after than wealth; instant wealth, for that matter.
  It will teach them honesty, benefits of hard work and sincerity as values that ennoble human beings. And, I think I have a fair chance of winning the Nigeria Prize for Literature. The book is well-written, well-illustrated, and the story is gripping.

Uche Peter Umez (author of The Runaway Hero)
I THINK, generally, writing for children is difficult. Indeed that, writing generally is very difficult because you’re trying to recreate something that doesn’t have any reality. So, I still find writing for children very difficult even though I have written a couple of books. When you write for adults, you don’t look at age limit, but when you write for children, you have to determine if it’s for easy readers or the older category. When you write for adults, you’re not too mindful of the language; you’re not too mindful of the figurative expressions you use. In writing for children, you try to make it a bit easier for them to read; that is, you reduce the kind of metaphors and figures of speech you use.
  In my book, characterisation rather than content proved trickier to deal with because I wanted to create a boy who is so convincing, a boy you don’t need to like because he isn’t a good boy; he has a lot of rough edges around him. The boy is headstrong, naughty and gets into trouble often. So, my biggest challenge was trying to paint this kind of character, who is not likeable but has something about him that you can’t help admiring.
  As for the prize, I don’t want to think about chances or about expectations. All I want to think about is trying to be a very good writer and mastering the art and craft of writing, and then complete my adult novel. For now, I don’t want to think about the outcome so I don’t get unnecessarily anxious or uneasy over the result.

Ayodele Olofintuade (author of Eno’s Story)
IT was a bit tough because I was talking about a topical issue happening in Nigeria right now, and I wanted to talk about it in a language children will understand. It’s  a deep, dark subject (witchcraft); but I didn’t want to make it too scary for them. I wanted to make something that would be interesting and funny for them, but at the same time teach them the moral around it. So, I had to find the balance because of the nature of the story itself. So, I can’t say it was so easy for me to write it.
  I won’t lie to you; it was tough being that it’s a complex subject fit for adults. It was tough because I had to be sure of my language; the way I use my language. I had to be sure of things, the context, and situation in which child witches are said to be prevalent.
  And also, I hadn’t quite been to Akwa Ibom State, where child witches was a scourge although I had lived in the South-East for a while, about three years and I did a lot of travelling. And I have a lot of friends from the South-East; so, I had to research the names and locations but I don’t know the places. A friend of mine, Esther, a Calabar girl; she was very fantastic. She gave me background and explained things to me. I did a lot of research so I don’t misrepresent things; you don’t want to write about something you don’t know much in an authoritative way. See?
  And then, I was looking for the magic way to best put things and make it memorable for children. So, when I got to where the father and the daughter were talking about witchcraft, I was looking for a word that would qualify a person that talks about something that he doesn’t know anything about, and I wanted a word that is catchy, a word children can easily identify with, and I was stuck for a while; and one day, my son came home and said, ‘I met an ignoramus today’. And I said men, that’s the word! I think my son and so people were arguing about music or something and one was talking about what he did not know. And I told him he had just brought home my ‘word’. My son’s name is Alexander; he is 13 years old; but he was about 11 when I wrote the book.

Chinyere Obi-Obasi (author of The Great Fall)
 I’M sure you heard Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo talk about children’s book not being very easy because of language. If I’m writing for adults, and they don’t understand a word, they go and look it up in a dictionary. But when you’re writing for children, you have to get down to their level; you have to think like they think. Children don’t think the way adults think; they have this child-like innocence, and that innocence has to appear in your book.
  But that is easy for me because I have five children, who are between 5 and 15; so, I do a lot of observation: Watch how they talk, how they do things so I can make it part of the book that I write.
  In any case, it gets to a point where you don’t see it as easy or difficult; writing is your vocation. So, you don’t even complain.
  For me, who is a lawyer and works in a bank and have five children, when I wake up to write at night, I don’t think of it as being difficult or hard; it’s something you must do. Your name cannot appear on a book unless you write it. You must write; so yes, it’s not easy; it’s not hard. It’s just there.
  In my book, there are characters in it that are close to home. There’s an Obinna, who eats a lot; a Suzan, who asks very innocent, stupid questions that her sisters ask her to shut up. So, naturally, you have all those characters; there are three characters in the book, but it’s not as if I lifted them straight from my own children. But I’m sure that when my children are reading it, they might be able to point themselves out in it. It’s not that it’s them I set out to write about; it’s the possible things that they can do as normal children.
  My word for Nigerians is, time has come for us to believe in our own writing, especially writing for children. Those who import or use only foreign books in Nigerian schools should begin to change and use local books like the ones we have gathered here today to celebrate. The trend is fast changing even for adult books; local is the preferred. And if a group of eminent judges (all of them professors of English) pick out six books out of the over one hundred that entered for the Nigeria Prize for Literature, then it’s something we should take special interest. I don’t see why anybody should hesitate to use or recommend such books in his or her school. Unless they are saying that the people who chose the books don’t know what they are doing.
  So-called elitist schools should start using Nigerian books for Nigerian children. Importantly, these books are localised: Names of places and people, objects and content in these books are things children are familiar with. You use these foreign books and they are talking about snow or Father Christmas or talking about alien things to the children. But when you’re using a book that is localised, the children’s culture and everything he knows are there to aid the child’s learning and understanding.
  I think with time, elitist schools will understand and begin to accept and use our books to teach our children. With time, it will happen. The gap lack of publishers created needs to be filled; with these publishers doing what they are doing now, things will change; so, it’s a gradual thing. But then, we need government’s intervention. Not because my book is there, but the Ministry of Education should be able to call for these books and make them part of the curriculum. If these judges recommend these books based on certain strict criteria, they should use them. When schools that believe in imported books are forced to take them by the education ministry, they will begin to see the merit in these books.

Mai Nasara (author of The Missing Clock)
WRITING for children is not straight-forward. Well, I suppose I got luck here because I’ve always been working with children. But it’s not a world adults get into easily. To get it right for children at all means you’re getting it right not just for children but for adults as well. So, it has to be good for children and adults. Think of all the classics for children and the phenomenon, Harry Potter series; it’s done for children, but because it’s so good, even adults like it. But if it was done solely for adults, children wouldn’t even bother to pick it up. But I’ve found that they speak to fundamental issues of our lives.
  Children’s writing takes us back to the things that really matter without the outer coating. They give us a rude awakening. Most people think, ‘oh! You write for children; you couldn’t have done it for adults’. They are actually missing the point. To write for children at all, you’re a child, thinking like a child, entering their world; it’s something that I have enjoyed because I work with children in Sunday School in church and working with them in camp creating awareness.
  So, we’re filling a void by bringing to the public domain children’s books authored by Nigerians. What the NLNG is doing by endowing a prize for Nigerian literature, I believe, is to call attention to the authorities that, ‘look, charity should begin at home because charity does begin at home otherwise it’s not charity.’ These works will stand not just the test of time, but of space, as in terms of wherever you take them to; they will stand the test of time. So, look at them; they reflect our realities and their characters are such that our children can relate to. The legendary Chinua Achebe talked about taking up writing for children because he wanted to write stories for his children because there was no African book to reflect African reality for them.
  Chimamanda Adichie also talked about how she grew up reading characters in books that were unlike her, about things like snow that were not part of her reality, and so felt challenged to write stories that reflect her reality, African reality. We have written stories, my friends and I that reflect local reality. They are local content, but for global audiences. So they are about local realities, local experiences but globalised. I believe these are stories that may be adopted in Canada, America or Europe before they are adopted in Nigeria for the school system. They understand that there’s strength in diversity; they understand how to take from all cultures to enrich their own.
  Already, with the spotlight beamed on us, I won’t be surprised if they are first to request to have our books before we even do so here at home. They have libraries over there; we don’t have libraries here. Their public libraries work but not so here. We’re cut off from the stream of humanity in not knowing what others are doing, the stories they are telling, how their cultures are being transmitted through stories. It’s stories that make us human beings; we’re not human beings by default. Stories people tell do, indeed, take care of them. Stories can be more important than food; they sustain. Dying starts from the inside, and without stories to reconstruct the past and nourish the soul, people die. Stories build courage for people to live for another day, and yet another day. We need stories to grow into global citizens, who can take on the world with renewed courage.

Philip Begho (author of Auntie Felicia Goes to School)
THERE’s no work that’s easy or hard in that sense. First of all, it’s the work you’re cut out for; so, it isn’t hard. It takes diligence and hardwork. There’s a way that children’s writing is difficult and not at the same time. If you don’t have interest in children, don’t live in their world, or have left their world, grown out of it, it’s going to be hard for you. In writing for adults, which is a complicated world, you have to do research. You must know a lot before you can write about adult world, but not so in children’s writing where you have to cut out some of the details. I have an informal playgroup for children; so that helps in relating with them and entering their world easily.
  I came into writing as a mandate from God! Working with children has been God’s calling. And children’s writing became my ministry because of the talent they have got and how parents don’t take care to spot such talents and help their children nurture their talents. I was a successful lawyer, banker, lecturer and all that but I didn’t enjoy being any of those; I was frustrated. I got the calling to be a writer and left for England without a dime. These jobs didn’t give me satisfaction or joy. I knew within me I wasn’t doing what God created me for. In fact, I wanted to commit suicide.
  In England, I began to clean toilets just to survive and get the training I need as a writer. In the midst of so much frustration, I had to look for God, my maker, to seek my purpose in life. And until you find that purpose in your life, you can’t find joy. So, I found Jesus! You see, I quit law for writing even if I didn’t know how to write; it was God’s mandate. I went to libraries to read. Needed money but got a job as a cleaner; then began to read reviews of writers in newspapers I found abandoned in the train I commuted to work daily…

Agu’s poetic treasure for teenagers

By Anote Ajeluorou

POETRY helps unleash powerful emotions. This is true of youthful Onyedikachi Dawn Agu in her first collection of poems, On the Crest of Passion (Eagle and Joy Educational Publications, Umuahia; 2011. Her poems mirror a mind constantly seeking an outlet to pour out feelings.
  In these poems, Agu oscillates between a keen awareness of her surrounding and her desires to learn about the seemingly confusing world around her. So, sometimes, she shows deep insight; at other times, her naivety shows as she tries to grapple with the extremity that love and hate present to confront her youthful world.
  But it is this stream of innocence running through the collection that makes it unique. ‘Dawn’s up’, the first poem, shows her awakening to a new world with its many surprises, of beauty, brightness and the possible ugliness that it can also harbour. Her middle name, Dawn, also shows her own awakening to life and its many possibilities. This is the essential stuff Agu’s poems are made of. Life holds so much beauty, so much wonder, so much pleasant surprises; yet, there is so much pain, so much badness, so atrocities and ugliness; humanity is appalled by it all.
  She writes, Outside? Look for it/The brightest star/Inside? Out, look for it/Out! Out, look for it…/It’s a bright morning, which requires a bright smile…/ But when reality hits you,/You remember what an ugly world/We live in.
  In this opening, just as in the other poems in the collection, many possibilities offer themselves for humanity. To get the best, Agu prods man, ‘Out, look for it…’ Humanity craves brightness, a bright smile as the bright morning beckons to Agu and all others, but in the heart of that brightness, ugliness rears its unsmiling face to mare everything. Humanity is therefore plunged into unrelenting darkness, which unleashes pain, suffering, betrayal of love, lovelessness, faithlessness, bitterness and negative emotions humanity never bargained for.
  In this section tagged ‘Relationships’, Agu surfs through those happy emotions that man craves: happiness, love, goodness, and friendship. But because there is always a flip side to the coin of life, there is ‘Breakups’, where love is betrayed and oneness is banished.
  And for those who have departed this plane of existence, Agu sings her elegies. There is a painful reminder that life is short, and there is a need to make the most of it while one can. She evokes pain, tears and agony at the loss of a loved one, as Agu sings, Tears filled my eyes/As I sat and cried;/God! Not again, not me/Another hope crashed into pieces/Big ideas and images gone with the wind… Colours of beauty turned grey/Expectation turned useless and hopeless.
  And when the ever-present problems of life confront Agu, she writes in the section, ‘Challenge’, I’m on the edge of the world/So confused and don’t know/Where to turn to…
  Other sections include ‘Philosophical’ and ‘Meditative’. Agu’s poems mirror slices of life as she ranges from one extreme of emotion to another. She is like a bird foraging for flowers in the wilds of life. Agu’s poems are written in a simple language; sometimes, they appear downright prosaic. But this does not remove from the inherent, innocent beauty in them. The range of her thoughts is also admirable.
  One major flaw in the collection, however, is the explanatory notes and review questions provided after each poem. This should have come at the end of the book; it is a distraction and it hampers the flow of reading. Besides, the poems are explicit enough and could have done away with such needless distraction. Teenagers, children and adults alike will find pleasure in reading Agu’s On the Crest of Passion.