Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Peju Alatise's social contract with her country

Peju Alatise is a known female artist with a unique artistic vision realized through her architectural background. She has also written a novel, Orita Meta, where she fleshes out some of her feminist ideas that have come to define most of her creative vision. She has a new exhibition, Material Witness… in which she espouses a broadened vision and focus to include issues of political and economic import as they affect Nigerian today. In this online interaction, Alatise told ANOTE AJELUOROU her new direction in this show

Your have new exhibition called Material Witness. What is the concept behind it? 

Material Witness… Pun Intended is the idea that the ‘material’ is the witness. The idea that an inanimate object can be made to speak in a visual composition of its experiences as though it indeed had life and memory. The expression, ‘if these walls could speak…’ comes to mind. ‘If the knife could speak… it would speak about the flesh it has cut’; ‘if your dress could speak… it’s sleeve will tell the tears it has wiped off your face’; ‘if a gun could speak…. it would call it’s victims by name’. At some point, anyone would wish to hear the truth from anything other than the human witness.
  Another idea is that the human witness gives testimony using only material (tangible) evidence. This would be an effective method in a situation where speaking is tedious, dangerous, irrelevant, ineffective or impossible. ‘The evidence will speak for itself!’
  When applied within the context of an art exhibition, Material Witness is a body of artworks and installation projects with several layers of approach to it, all in search of a certain truth; of which no one layer can remain independent of the others as it gives credence to others. The three main layers are the thematic, materials/medium and the technical execution style. The ideas, which inform the theme and instigate my formal concerns are not more important than the mediums and materials used or the composition and overall appearance of the artworks. Every process is an integral part that leads to the other.  

How faithful is this project to your previous themes?
  Material Witness is borne from an idealistic yearning for justice and truth where it seems there is neither fear of retribution in issues concerning corruption nor caution in the infringement of human rights. It has been a three-year journey and the first step taken was an exhibition titled Testament (held in 2010), a prelude to this exhibition, Material Witness.
  Corruption in the Nigerian public and private sectors has contributed to Nigeria’s poor image in international circles. A revolution driven by the people seems inevitable as a result of the lethargic attitude and lack of courage displayed by elites reveling in its spoils. The desire for positive change and development strengthens within the masses as corruption eats into the fabric of the elite of society. The positive empowerment derivable from this body of works in Material Witness will provide energizing ammunition for the people to persevere and make a difference, especially in a world where art has been relegated to mere luxury pieces reserved for the privileged few.
  Material Witness is not an attack against the wealthy and corrupt; on the contrary, it attempts to provoke thoughts against imperialistic ideology, apathetic attitudes and a general lack of consideration for the next person, borne out of ignorance of how to be considerate, which promotes materialistic and selfish behavior in society.
  The situation in my country, Nigeria, has been the inspiration for the themes and the stirring of formal concerns.  My role as an artist becomes the problem-seeker and not the problem-solver. I, like every other Nigerian, seem to know what the Nigerian-problem is, but I am not sure we really understand the Nigerian-problem. It would be presumptuous and even incorrect for me to assume I have a solution, or that I am qualified to diagnose the Nigerian-problem. I want my audience to experience my own Nigerian-problem viewed through my work, maybe to provide a common ground to better understanding of it.      
  Material Witness has three defined formal concerns that both motivate my subject matter and influence the materials with which the artworks are created: They are social/political/religious commentary, the idealistic versus the realistic, and elements of material nature.

Is this project about women/girl issues? What's new or fresh about it?
  Well part of it is about women, but the exhibition is not about women only. As explained earlier, in the past I have done a lot of artwork on women as subject matter, capturing the joys and pains of womanhood as experienced here in modern-day African traditions with their consequences. My subject matter has evolved with my continued experiences, moving focus from advocating the equal rights of women to politics, philosophical inclination and Yoruba mythology.
  Another angle of approach in this show, which is fresh and new from me to my audience, is the use of a variety of material/mediums. The materials used include recyclable glass bottles, plastic containers, newspapers, Nigerian-print fabrics, ropes, treads, wires, scrap metal, scrap wood, driftwoods, sawdust, an abandoned boat, sand, acrylic paints, resin, plaster-of-Paris, and stretched canvas. Most materials were manipulated, recreated and used to their possible limits. There were times the mediums/materials dictated their specific contextual usage. The acceptance of their properties and limitations redirected the end result of a pre-conceived idea.
  With Material WitnessPun Intended ideas, the ‘material/medium’ is the obvious path to the truth. The choice and approach to materials in this body of works are sometimes purposeful and pre-determined; other times it is experimental. It is my intention that the materials and mediums tell a visual story. 

How much has issues in your book, Orita Meta continued to shape your artistic vision?
  I started writing the book, Orita Meta in 2003 and it was finished and published in 2006. There has been six years of evolvement to this point. I have new ideas and new experiences. I am currently working on a drama script I hope to finish this year. I think that my writing influences my themes/subject matter. My artworks always tell stories from the writings or stories I am about to write.

What specific areas in women/girl issues that give you the most concern for which you might want to campaign about in a practical manner?
  There is one issue I would like to talk about, that I feel most Nigerians have no concern for; it is the abuse of the girl child.
  A curator once asked me if I was a feminist. My response to her was, “I live in a ‘Third World country’; every woman here would be feminist to survive. Asking to be treated with respect here is feminist. Demanding consideration is being feminist. Of course, I’m feminist!”
  But what ‘ism’ movement is there to fight the atrocities committed against the girl-child? Her abusers and oppressors are everyone else! - from the disappointing moment that she is born to whatever age she thinks she has become a woman.
  I have witnessed a ceremonial wedding of a 12-year old girl marrying a 40-something-year old man. I was told the girl’s family was poor and the groom would be more a caretaker than a husband. I was conflicted with this explanation because it was a lavish wedding and the girl’s family was paying. Yes, the husband would be a caretaker to her but he would also have sex with her that night to be sure his bride is untouched.
  I met a girl who had married four husbands before she turned twenty. I have also met a ‘promiscuous 5-year old girl’. She knew what to do to a penis. I have spoken to men who brag about their sexual conquest with teenager girls. Some of them are the elite of my country. There is also the poor slave girl molested by the woman who employs her to care for the children she is barely older than. There are many city women who employ children as servants and they are terribly molested. There is nobody fighting for this type of child, not even her own mother. After all, she, too, was a child-bride/-servant.
  There are surveys conducted by United Nations Population Fund on child marriages in Nigeria and the statistics are shocking! The government seems to be utterly oblivious to the consequences of this. Everybody pretends they have nothing to do with this.

How would you like to go about creating awareness/campaigning about such serious issues to be able to give young girls a new leash of life?
  As I had mentioned earlier, I stated that: ‘I, like every other Nigerian seem know what the Nigerian problem is, but I am not sure we really understand the Nigerian problem. It would be presumptuous and even incorrect for me to assume I have a solution, or that I am qualified to diagnose the Nigerian problem. My role as an artist becomes the problem-seeker and not the problem-solver. I want my audience to experience my own Nigerian-problem viewed through my work, maybe to provide a common ground to better understanding of it’.   
  My social responsibilities to my country and generation I am very aware of and my own way of responding/contributing is through the arts. I work with younger artists and I enjoy a healthy relationship with them. I am interested in training younger people and holding workshops. This is my current personal project. At the moment, my studio is too small to accommodate more trainees so I am making projections to increase my workspace. I benefited from David Dale, Nike Davies Okundaye, Bruce Onabrakpeya and Susanne Wenger and I want to keep their spirit of service alive. It is a necessity for me to do this. It is my full circle.
  I am aware also of the difficulties the younger artists experience when they are fresh out of college with very little opportunities to practice or gain employment. The peculiar state of the country makes it very difficult for young people to gain financial independence early or easily. I have some young artists who assist in some of my projects. I train young women in handicraft skills and they produce fashion accessories.
  It is a social responsibility for older artist to encourage the younger ones; it ensures continuity and posterity of the profession.

Nigerians’ woes in South Africa find literary expression

By Anote Ajeluorou

The current diplomatic face-off between South Africa and its former benefactor and champion of anti-Apartheid system, Nigeria over indignities the latter’s citizens suffer in Nelson Mandela’s enclave is not new. What may be new is that Nigerian officials have decided not to look the other way as before. Indeed, they have begun to do what many had long expected them to do – rise to the challenge of protecting Nigerians citizens wherever they may be residing abroad.
  To aid the new move by Nigerian authorities in stemming the tide of South African’s excesses in meting out ill-treatment against Nigerians is a new literary work, The Kwere Kwere Testament, written by Chukwuka Kennedy Madiebo, son of A.A. Madieba, Biafra war veteran and author of The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War, who lived in South Africa for over 13 years. He has come out with a crime thriller regarding Nigerian and West African immigrants to that country.
  In a recent chat in Lagos, Madiebo’s anger with Nigerian government is palpable. He accused the country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and its embassies abroad for doing little or nothing to protect its citizens against attacks, especially in South Africa, a country Nigerians helped to attain independence from Apartheid regime. He enumerated several Nigerians, who have been murdered in cold blood, with the Nigerian Embassy in Johannesburg making feeble efforts at seeking justice, which fizzle out after a week or two.
  He said in apparent frustration, “Nigeria embassies abroad don’t treat Nigerians seriously. Nigerians are practically defenceless. I just thought that we shouldn’t sweep these things under the carpet. I admit the crimes some Nigerians commit in South Africa. I just want Nigerian, Mozambican, Swaziland and South African governments to get angry enough with what I have written about in this book and come out to effect needed changes. In South Africa, Nigerians are particularly singled out as criminals.
  The Kwere Kwere Testament (kwere kwere being a derogatory name for unwanted blacks, especially Nigerians) is a fictional account about every aspect of how foreigners surmount obstacles in South Africa to survive. Let me tell you, South African blacks hate Nigerians; they will set upon them for the slightest reason. So, it’s a crime book on foreigners in South Africa, how the system rejects immigrants and how they turn to crime to survive”.
  Having lived in South Africa for that long, Madiebo said most of the narrative is derived from personal experience, accounts he witnessed and what he heard. He said Nigerian youths emigrate to other countries because of system failure back home that force them to go in search of the golden fleece, which South Africa appears to readily offer. He, however, noted that such dream soon turn awry and many Nigerians and West Africans take to drugs dealing and other crimes.
  Madiebo also argued that the South African system that swiftly crucifies these criminals is a major culprit, saying the porous system aids and abets these crimes and their perpetrators.
  Madiebo, who bagged a Masters degree in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, said, “I wanted to criticise South Africa system in my book in a subtle way. Millions pour into South Africa all the time through corrupt immigration officials, with the government playing a quiet role”.
  He noted that since 1994, when the country became free from Apartheid regime, the African National Congress (ANC) has created over two million upper class blacks and has built over 1.5 million houses for blacks through the party’s Black Empowerment and African Affirmative Action Plans. Madiebo, nevertheless, pointed out that a large influx of foreigners permitted liberal marriages, which foreigners have since utilised to infiltrate the system to clinch jobs and ranks at the expense of black South Africans, who, most of the time, are indolent as against their enterprising guests.
  He said one remarkable way black South Africans express their xenophobic traits against other Africans, especially Nigerians is how they keep them at arm’s length, saying, “You can live in South Africa for up to 10 years without being friends with them. It’s extremely difficult making friends with them; you can never visit them at home. It’s extremely difficult, but their women are very nice and make living in that country bearable”.
  Madiebo also commented on the recent face-off between Nigeria and South Africa and charged Nigerian government to do more for its citizens so they could remain at home and contribute to the nation’s socio-economic and political wellbeing as away of stemming mass exodus from the country in search of greener pastures.
  He stated, “The recent face-off between Nigerian and South African governments is very important. The South Africans are xenophobic and they refer to Nigerians and other black immigrants as kwerekwere. Kwerekwere being ‘unwanted black man’.  It is debatable who is more hated in South Africa - Nigerians or Zimbabweans? My guess is that Nigerians are most hated because many Zimbabweans are able to slip into the system and are therefore accepted as South Africans. And somehow, for various reasons, Nigerians always stand out, wherever they go.
  “However, South Africa offers the black immigrant a window for survival. All you have to do is organise a marriage and wait for an average of five years in order to become a South African. If a kwerekwere becomes South African, he/she begins to benefit from the ‘Affirmative Action’ and ‘Black Empowerment’ policies that seek to redress the socio-economic injustices of the apartheid era. About 10 per cent of Nigerians have managed to slip through the “glass ceiling” of racism and xenophobia. Nigerians are incredibly competitive people, but they do this sometimes to a fault. Habitually, once a Nigerian crosses this barrier, he steers clear from other Nigerians.
  “Do Nigerians commit crimes? Of course, they do. The kwerekwere is confronted with periods when he is almost starving to death, coupled with the fact that organising your “papers” often comes at some cost and no one can move freely in South Africa without papers. The questions to ask are: Why do Nigerians flee Nigeria? Why are other nations so antagonistic to Nigerians? Why are Nigerians always linked to crime?
  “In Nigeria, 90 per cent of the people are unemployed; about 70 per cent survive on less than $2.00 a day. The end result is a significant rise in the spate of armed robberies, kidnappings and the proliferation of other criminal acts. The situation is being linked, by most of the international commentators, to the wave of deadly terrorist attacks currently occurring in Northern Nigeria. One possible answer is that Nigerians are fleeing the incompetence, maladministration and corruption of past and current governments. When they get into the host countries, they are discriminated against socially and economically. Nigerians often have to face incredible challenges to settle in anywhere they go.
  “The deportation of Nigerians by the South Africans and the subsequent retaliation by the Nigerian government could serve as a catalyst that might encourage policy makers in government and dons in the academia to seek solutions to the reasons why Nigerians flee Nigeria in the first place. As you read this, hundreds of Nigerians are currently taking amazing risks by land, air and sea to get out of Nigeria.
  “If you are a Nigerian who happens to live in The Diaspora, and who has managed to cross the “glass ceiling”, please, endeavour to help as many Nigerians as you can”.
  The Kwere Kwere Testament is due out soon.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Putting out this book now is like sounding a warning to our people, says Onuorah Nzekwu

Born in Kafanchan, Northern Nigeria, Onuorah Nzekwu first trained as a school teacher and taught in schools in Onitsha and City College, Lagos for several years before he joined Nigeria Magazine after a researched article he wrote on his native Onitsha found its way to a top shot at the magazine. Thus began an illustrious writing career that culminated in four novels, a boyhood novella and two historical, non-fiction works. After the Nigeria Civil war, he had the task of setting up News Agency of Nigeria (NANS). Nzekwu recently launched Troubled Dust, his fictive narrative of the troubled events that led to the Nigeria Civil War and the actual war. In this interview with ANOTE AJELUOROU, Nzekwu traces the trajectory of his career, both as a civil servant and a writer and states how troubled he is that Nigeria is regressing in spite of the bitter lessons of a tragic civil war yet to be fully digested. Excerpts:

It’s been 50 years since you set out writing. How would you describe those 50 years?
It’s been 50 years of adventure, of moving from one place to another, and yet another and another. Sometimes, it’s because you want it; other times, it’s because something compelled you to, like going on transfer because your employer wants it because he thinks you’ll give your best from there. Then the Nigeria Civil War came and compelled a lot of people to leave Lagos. Well, it was the war really; it was the circumstances that brought the war that forced us to move from Lagos to the East. Then, it was regarded as transfer from one section of the federation to another section of it, Eastern Nigeria Service.
Then, the war came. We moved from Enugu; first, one wasn’t sure where one was going. When you kind of settled and asked questions, you were told to go where your colleagues have gone; you then went after them. Eventually, we ended up in Umuahia, then in Aba, and at Aba, and the war was getting closer and closer, and you kept finding little enclaves where you managed to survive the war. Then we came back to Enugu, the headquarters. And from Enugu, we moved back to Lagos, to find out how things were shaping. And they told us, ‘you’d better come because your positions are still waiting’.
  That was very magnanimous of them. We said, ‘alright; give us a few days to go and bring back what we had’. And what did we have left after the war? (a deep chuckle). So, we came back and I was in the Federal Ministry of Information, Nigeria Magazine Division before I left. When I came back, the posts in the Nigeria Magazine Division were filed. They sent us back to Information Division and our designations were adjusted. I was now Senior Information Officer. From Information Division, Iwas asked to go and start News Agency of Nigeria (NANS). Then they sent me to National Theatre.
  The division that had been given that job of starting NANS a year before could not complete the assignment. At the end of one year, they were asked to give a report of what they had achieved. The Permanent Secretary then called me to say they were making ita personal issue and said, ‘you give us a news agency in the remaining six months; one year has already been wasted’. I was stunned by the announcement from the Perm Sec and remained rooted to the spot when I left his presence until a fellow tapped me in the back to ask why I was lost in thought. The kind fellow took me to his office. I explained to him my encounter with the Perm Sec. I explained to him that I had never worked in such environment before. He sat me down and gave me a beer to calm me down.
  He told me how at the Federal Executive Council meeting they had been ordered to meet the one and a half years deadline and the Perm Sec is convinced you’re the man who will perform for him. But I protested that I had never worked in a news agency before, so how was I going to do it. He strongly advised me not to reject the offer. He then explained to me some of the things I might need to accomplish what seemed an impossible task for me, including the constitution of the board with the NTA, Radio Nigeria Directors-General and Director of Information on it. He said these were people I could go to in case of any difficulties. He then advised me to pick up the appointment letter from the Perm Sec the next day as instructed.
Well, I picked up me letter the next day and headed for the National Theatre. When I arrived, I gave the letter to man who was there. He was from Radio Nigeria. He brought two files and handed them over to me. He gave me his telephone number to call him if I was in difficulty. I took the files and started pouring over them; it took me two and a half hours. Then I called a messenger and asked him who and who his oga usually dealt with. He said ‘Okpo’, who used to be at Information Division. When he saw me he said, ‘ah,Nzekwu na you?’ I said I was the one. He went and gave me two more files.
  So, I applied myself and on October 1, 1978, the News Agency of Nigeria came on stream. I saw the people already employed – journalists, technical people. What remained was for them to get technical training; they had not worked in any news agency before. So, we arranged some, with the active support of the board. Eventually, we missed our deadline by 24 hours. Instead of October 1, our first news cast came on October 2. Once that was done, the rest was a matter of getting to know how other news agencies worked and that enable me know what areas to concentrate on, what areas to pay attention to, what areas to cool off on. So, that was how we started. Eventually, we started doing our jobs. We started going on tours to see what other agencies were doing to improve on what we were doing.

Where did your tours take you?
  The first tour I did was in Ethiopia; they had their news agency well established in Ethiopia. My going there was tied to a meeting of news agencies in Africa. All the others had set up; we were the youngest. There, you met other people; you ask questions and they asked questions, too, about what you doing were back home. They brought papers from their agencies to distribute. By the time I got back, I had a collection of papers talking about the various news agencies belonging to African countries. So, with those papers and the experiences our editorial staff had gathered going to work in those news agencies as part of their training, it was easy for us to do, to make progress.
  Luckily for me, all the boys I had – those I recruited and those recruited for me – were cooperative; we all worked hand in hand. That was how we started.

So, from the fear that you were being thrown into the unknown, you realised you were actually in a familiar terrain…

What would you say was the most significant points of your career at NANS?
  There were challenges every day because when a problem develops, or even a suggestion comes, we noticed that we did not have communications link between here and there and there; that we needed to establish some kind of things. And when the links got there, we needed men to man those links. You needed technical crew, you needed journalists. The first link that we established was between Lagos and kaduna. Kaduna because we didn’t have enough staff; we didn’t want to over-work the system we’re establishing. We needed to have one wire link between Lagos and Kaduna. Gradually, we had three other links – Lagos/Ibadan, Lagos/Enugu – these were regional capitals, and Lagos/Benin City. The editors that were employed came from these regions.
  So, we trained the Benin man for Benin; we trained an Ibo man for Enugu; we trained a Yoruba man for Ibadan, and the chap who was in Kaduna was Hausa. They had the additional task of just getting news and giving the news out to papers in their regions, but also looking for able hands, because very soon, it will become necessary for them to travel around. And when they’re not around, who mans the office for them? That was how we started growing. Then we had an engineer who was sent to us from NITEL. He helped us design our network. Occasionally, we held meetings to look at our designs. We expected editorial and administration to make their inputs. It wasn’t a matter of you concentrating only on your department; no, the departments were interlocked. Apart from knowing your own unit, you needed to know what obtains in the other units so you can organise your unit in such a way that you can interact harmoniously.

What is it necessary to have a place like NANS when other newspapers, radio and TV have their own journalists doing the same work?
The radio hasits editorial staff,its news covering unit. Now, they work with their eye on things that radio stations are interested in. The TV work concentrating on the things their audience are interested in. Now, the news agency is a wire service, which attracts news from other agencies, foreign and local sources. When we first started, we weren’t giving news to media houses.When we started developing and making progress – remember I told you that on the board of News Agency of Nigeria, we had D-Gs of Radio Nigeria and NTA, the Director of Information and one or two journalists from the newspaper houses – these members of NANS board were interested in their own establishments getting whatever news NANS had to give them.
  They knew that their own men were on the field, but that their scope was limited. Whatever they got from the news agency, they added up to make fuller what their own people had assembled for the day. So, it was a matter of you widening your scope and getting news from far and near as much as possible. Each of those organisations had their own networks, but the news agency widened the scope of their news area.

And then NANS new complex was named after you to honour you. How did that feel when you heardit?
They didn’t contact me when they did that; I didn’t know anything about it until I got a note from the Managing Director inviting me to the opening of the complex. I was looking at it when I got the invitation because I was aware that a lot of work had been going on in that vicinity. All the news agency buildings were prefabricated, and that was how it was from the day I set it up to the day I left. No doubt, there was one or two touches, but then many years after, the current MD started doing things to the complex. And we were proud; I was particularly proud that it’s now becoming a solid establishment, more solid than whatever I left there.
  Now, coming to be told the complex is named after me took me by surprise because I wasn’t the first person who started a new thing. Other people started other new things and it worked under their watch, but they weren’t named after them (laughs). In all things, they say, give thanks to the Almighty! That was how I saw it.

You started writing 50 years ago, including the iconic childhood novel, Eze Goes to School. Could you tell us a bit about the experience?
Eze Goes to School was not my first published work. My first published work is a full length novel, Wand of Nobel Wood. Thereafter, the second full length novel was published a year after. Wand of Nobel Wood was published in 1961 and the second was published in 1962; that was Blade Among the Boys. It was afterBlade Among the Boys was published that Eze Goes to School was published. Eze Goes to School was written before those two, but was published after them. Why? Because wherever the manuscript went - then publishers were abroad not in Nigeria – wherever the manuscript went, the man to whom you sent it rejected it. ‘Eze’ and ‘fufu’ were not for children in England; English pupils wouldn’t read that sort of thing. So, ‘write about Jack and Jill’, something they will understand.
  So, 12 publishers saw Eze goes to School; 11 rejected it. It was the 12th that said ‘all right’, because he had intention to come here (to Nigeria), that was African University Press. That was how Eze Goes to School came to be published because European looked at it and said ‘no, this is not for our environment; this is not for own children’ and rejected it. They weren’t thinking of African children. But this particular man (I think he may have come here before) talked to schools, went back to England, got the manuscript, read it and decided to publish it. But he wasn’t going to publish it for England or English audience or children, but for the new market he wanted to establish in Africa. So, that’s how Eze Goes to School came.
  But after Eze Goes to School, I did another full length novel, Highlife for Lizards. Those were the three full length novels I had published; the current one is Troubled Dust just launched into the market. There are other books, but they deal with Onitsha history and culture; that is my place. they are The Chima Dynasty of Onitsha (1998) and Faith of Our Fathers (2002).

You were inside Biafra throughout the war. How did you translate that into fictive experience?
  Well, that’s the story in the book…
Interesting, but why did you decide to publish now over 40 years after the war?
  People have written about the war. A lot of those who wrote wrote from the military point of view. Now, a few civilians have written; I wrote a long time ago. Circumstances have not favoured me to publish earlier. There were a couple of times I thought it was time for me to publish. But either I didn’t have the resources to accomplish the task or the circumstances were not quite right. I started thinking of publishing some three or four years back, but sometimes you have money; other times, you didn’t have backup. But last year, I thought, well, ‘you better publish or you forget about writing and publishing’! (chuckles)
  So, I went to work, looking through the manuscript, doing the final corrections. And then God sent me a backer…

Some might still ask why now? Don’t you think Troubled Dust might arouse negative emotions regarding the war?
No! Like I said before, I thought of publishing it before but things weren’t quite right. But this time, I had assistance, and the moment I went to press the situation in the country began to kind of call up things in the book, and at a point, it occurred to me that putting out this book now will be like sounding a warning to our people, ‘look, the path we’re treading, we treaded it before; don’t go any further because it didn’t lead us anywhere’. My people say that a child, who’d never seen war does not know that war is deadly. If you don’t want to die, don’t disturb war; don’t toy with war.
So, it’s kind of saying, ‘you’ve gone this path before, take it easy and pull back from wherever you’ve reached now because it’s not going to help us’. This is one country made up of different ethnic groups, different interests; if God didn’t want you all to live together, he wouldn’t have brought you together. But if you decide that you’re going to challenge Him, whatever you get is what you deserve.

Nigerians are not very good at listening to advice, especially at the leadership level. What are the chances they will listen to your advice?
I do not think everybody who picks up this book or reads it will take the lessons it contains. Some will take the lessons; others will simply say, ‘what does he know; what has he done?’

But then the circumstances back then in 1966 and now are not quite the same, or are they?
The circumstances that are not the same could be quite true. Obasanjo no longer heads the Commando unit; so, he will not be involved in war now as a soldier. All the men who fought in the war are no more; those of them who are still alive will not be interested in going to fight again. It’s a new crop, a new breed of people that will be involved now. It’s a natural thing. But the cause of the one that we had, those causes are still there.
All right, take one single example. When killings started in 1966 or 1965, it started in the North and it was Southerners that were being attacked. It was essentially Easterners, Igbos. Now, this one has started. What is happening? It’s the Igbos up North that are being attacked. In the process of killing the Igbos, you kill people who are not Igbos. Some of them tend to react more quickly than the Igbos will react.
  You see the similarity between then and now?Boko Haram as they call them; who is Boko Haram destroying? Most of the victims are Igbos or people from the East. Yet, they are not Moslems; they are victims. So, you find that things are happening now that are similar to things that happened then. And if care is not taken and things degenerate, you might have exactly the same kind of result like then. This is one area. The Nigerian dust, the dust in Nigerian territory is disturbed, is troubled; and dust is the land. So, if the land is disturbed, what do we get?

Odumegwu Ojukwu, the man at the centre of that storm in the past just passed on and he will be buried in a matter of weeks. Could you reflect on the man a bit?
  (after a long and meditative silence) What do you want me to say? When you read the book you will see what you need to see...

Nigerians not reading enough, not inquisitive enough, says Mosuro

By Anote Ajeluorou

THE Booksellers Limited, where Mr. Kolade Mosuro presides as Managing Director, is a supermarket for books. It’s not just for its size, but also for the volume of human traffic. Men, women, the elderly and children find the Magazine Road, Jericho, Ibadan location a Mecca of sorts as they stroll in, make a purchase and saunter out to the expansive parking lot and drive away. In Lagos and many other Nigerian cities, it’s only a supermarket stocking household items that can match it. Yet, the shoppers are not there to pick up an exhausted item in the kitchen for breakfast or dinner.
  They had come to buy a book! Before you forget, Ibadan is still an academic city, Mosuro reminds.
  Yet, the boss of The Booksellers Limited insists Nigerians do not read enough. He should know, presiding as he does over, unarguably, the largest bookshop in the country. This would seem a surprise; his bookshop bears a semblance of testimony to Nigerians as avid readers. So, he says, “Yes, Nigerians read, but not enough; not enough. You called it a supermarket; a bookshop is really a market for books. So, in a sense and because of its size, The Booksellers Limited is a supermarket for books.
  “As you well know, books are infinite because there’s no limit to human imagination, no limit to ideas. And so, there is just about a book in every subject at The booksellers Ltd. We try to cater for the reading public, from the kindergarten to the professionals and the general public, and that makes it a big bookshop, perhaps the biggest bookshop in the country”.
So, indeed, has Nigerians’ love for books actually waned? And how far badly has the country has gone as a consequence of their apathy to books? Mosuro argues, “Well, it’s reflected in just all we do. The level of discourse has dropped; the quality of graduates, from primary, secondary schools or university, the quality that we have is questionable. And, if we want development across the country, it has to begin with the development of the head, the intellectual development; this is where we’ve got to lay our emphasis. The more we do that the better for the country, because at the end of the day, it’s the head that will lead the nation.
  “Nigerians don’t read to the extent that the people who visit the bookshop, there are some weekly visitors, some come fortnightly, some come in monthly, and there are some that come once in a year. But on the average, if we’re to ask people around, how many books have they read in a year, you’ll be disappointed with the kind of numbers they will come up with. That’s what I mean by we’re not reading enough; we’re not inquisitive enough, and we’re not making the efforts to enrich ourselves enough. Reading is a lifelong exercise for individual and national self-development, and something we have to do continually for the rest of our lives. And, it’s not limited to our professional reading; it should be just about every interest. If you have any interest, there’s a book to match that interest.
  “So, you have books on football, on knitting, baking, the scientist is trying to find better answers in his lab; books that are related to his specialty. That is what bookshops and libraries are meant for”.
  Perhaps one remarkable thing about Mosuro’s bookshop is its catchy pay-off line, ‘Books are stunningly beautiful’ with a woman with a seductive smile reading a book. One wonders then why books have failed to seduce Nigerians. Mosuro says, “It’s not just a catchy line; books are indeed beautiful. They represent us; they represent our beliefs, our opinions and our varieties. Books are sold in the bookshops, and you must say, human beings are beautiful because of the depth of their imagination; there is a beauty in there, that if you desire anything, just about anything, there is a book that will catch your interest.
  “I believe we’re still struggling with a lot of mundane things in our society and we’re not using books enough the way we should. For students, books are just meant for examinations; yes, indeed, they are. But books go beyond that. When we begin to embrace books beyond their examination values, then we will begin to see the beauty that we refer to much earlier. I think that for the moment, students are just reading to pass exams, and once that is done, they stop. But the moment you stop reading books, you rust. We need food for our physical development; equally, we need for our mental development, and it’s got to be lifelong.
  “I don’t imagine I could do any other thing. I’ve always loved books, I supposed. When we were in school, even when we did science, the headmaster emphasised literature; we didn’t see it so then. Much later, we discovered books. And I think, books have always sheltered me in the sense that I’m intensely private, and books give me the privilege to be by myself, to see the world through imagination, to meet other people, to enjoy thoroughly, and the process, the more I get involved in, the more I realise how deep the world was and how I need to search for more. So, it’s been a continuous exercise.
  Anybody that has a background to schooling must be able to have the background to read and use books. You’re what you eat. Similarly, you’re what you read! Book is a trust. It’s beyond business for me because my passion comes across. I enjoy books, like I say. In spite of my schedule, I make out time to read at least a book a week. And, I have manuscripts coming regularly and we go through them. So, I make out time to read because I’m trying to have a better bookshop, trying to be a better man”.
  Mosuro’s passion for books is infectious. But beyond passion is a business sense to his mind-nourishing enterprise of making books available to Nigerians who desire to make themselves better through books. Mosuro says there is a need to reverse the anti-intellectual trend in the country and get Nigerians to love books again.
  Mosuro says, “We have to constantly be abreast of the things that are relevant. We have to search journals, search bibliographic materials. We ourselves are passionate books lovers, and to some extent, it’s a scholarly assignment, and we do it with a passion. But of course, it’s a business and we operate it on basic business principles; that is how we acquire the books, through constantly searching.
  “To get change things, you’ve got to start from the primary school; you really have to start from the beginning all over again. We have to, so much so, that even in the primary school, we’ve got to ensure that they have what is called ‘Literary Hour’, a moment where the student on their own, can search and read on their own just anything, for them to discover their own bliss. We also have to have teachers groomed over again to show students how to use books and to share books to them, to introduce them to literature, to use books for their subjects. Teachers can only teach so much; right from youth, you must know how to use books to complement; you must know how to use books at the end of the day. Almost like an addiction, you must be dependent on books; and as you grow older, it becomes second nature; because as you grow it, the discipline to sit down becomes second nature.
  “And, as you develop along the line, you’ll be self-propelled. All of this will add to shaping collective performance to the nation. Not just give one book and make so much ceremony about it and it stops; it’s a continuous process”.

ON President Goodluck Jonathan’s Bring Back the Book campaign, which he launched last year, Mosuro states, “With all due respect, the president has shown his passion. It’s now up to the people in the Ministry of Education to grow it from; it’s not the president’s responsibility, really, to be involved with the nitty-gritty. He gives a broad outline, and the people in the ministry and those involved in education then embrace it and design what’s best for different areas in the country and have ways in which to measure that indeed that we can evaluate performance. It’s not just about reading books; we want our students to be better students; we want our citizens to be better citizens. So, it’s a whole lot more encompassing than just a student reading a book.
  “Many university students really don’t use books the way they should. It’s part of it. Classes are all contracted; it doesn’t leave much room for library and book usage. The teaching process is such that the teacher teaches and students have to regurgitate in exams. We’ll need far more than that; we’ll need analytical thinking. Well need students to search on their own. We’ll need them to create; we’ll even need to go astray, just wonder on their own and use all the necessary tools, including books”.
  While it’s all right to blame students for not reading enough, the absence of books or libraries for easy access to books is a source of worry to many book campaigners like Mosuro, who also part of a group that organizes a reading event in Ibadan.
  Mosuro says, “There have been a lot of donor projects in the past few years. Unfortunately, we’ve done the projects in a holistic manner because some of the people handling them have not looked at the whole educational system the way it should be done. There are people in senior positions who really do not know the difference between publishing and printing; there are people in high positions who really do not know what bookshops are meant for.
  “And so when you have project by which you’re trying to feed books to into the system without giving due consideration to the publishers, to the author, to the booksellers, the distributive aspect of books, you only give, you do not grow.
  “And, when you have given, that is the end of it. So, there no cord that will take people back except those that they are given.
  “The Ibadan Book Reading Forum has been wonderful and it’s been going very well. Ibadan is academic; Ibadan is cultural. We do this every other month, trying to create a platform for new and old talents, to share their creative works. What every creative artist wants the most is an audience. So, we give them that platform for them to present their works. And we also have a critical audience to enjoy and make suggestions”.