Sunday, 25 November 2012

LABAF 2012 colloquium… Narrating the endless conflicts of a troubled nation

By Anote Ajeluorou

THREE days before the formal opening on Friday last week, CORA Secretary-General, Mr. Toyin Akinosho, had set the tone, when he stated that ‘Narratives of Conflict,  the theme for the 14th Lagos Book and Art Festival, LABAF, encapsulates the nation’s body polity and how very fitting most of the books under review capture the perplexing complexity of Nigeria’s politics.
  The art activist, Akinosho further stated that LABAF is different from other festivals because its organisers always insisted on talking about texts and not just ideas, adding, “we must be addressing texts and examine Nigeria’s issues, situations through texts”.
  This premise appropriately set the tone for the various discussions that eventually took place in three days of intense conversation on various books and personalities in the book and culture industry.

FIRST on the bill on Friday was the Bishop of Sokoto Catholic ArchDiocese, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, whose book, Witness to Justice brought to public domain afresh the Truth Commission set up at the inception of Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999.
  While the commission popularly known as Oputa Panel spiritedly worked to unearth the sundry abuses Nigerians suffered under military rule, its work never went beyond the prime time soap opera it was at the time. For wanting Nigerians not to forget that dramatic episode, Kukah sifted through the dense volumes and brought out a book both for the reader's enjoyment and enlightenment.
  Kukah was concerned that Nigeria’s general amnesia and willingness to forget so quickly had already caught up with the commission he served as secretary, hence his book, Witness to Justice. The Catholic priest and public intellectual, is not happy that Nigerians have not engaged the recommendations of the commission with the seriousness it deserves. What has irked him most is that while he had been invited to several other countries to talk about the commission, it has generally been forgotten at home.
  In his conversation with writer, arts manager, Tolu Ogunlesi, Kukah restated the importance of the Oputa Panel and its result, saying, “The book makes a lot of difference; that’s why we are here talking about it. It has sold well beyond the average. But it has come to me as a great disappointment that there’s no invitation, especially from nigerian universities, where constant research and reflection on the state of the nation ought to be taking place, to ask me what really happened”.
  He confessed to approaching the job with cynicism at the time of his appointment. He said he did not believe Nigeria had the courage to withstand the truth to be unmasked by a commission of such magnitude. He noted, “The book is not about power or here and now; it’s about the future and to address the anti-intellectualism in our society. You get a sense that people are in the universities because they just want to be there.
  “In this country, people come into politics without the barest idea what politics is about. So, the Truth Commission validates the saying that if you want to hide something from a black man, put it in a book. No one has done anything about the report ever since”.
  On the question of victimhood occasioned by the long years of military rule, Kukah argued that the strength of the panel was its ability to have brought together many people of diverse backgrounds to one spot to talk about the evils done to them by the state and its apparatuses. He stated, “What held these people together was that Nigeria was a basket of injustice and evil had become so pervasive. Nigerians now knew that the military had been so corrosive nobody wants it any more; and dictatorship diminishes humanity.
  “Now that we are free, let me put it that way, let’s treasure it and ensure that the military does not come back. Some of us take our freedom for granted. So that when a man says that he became born again in prison, don’t laugh at him; it’s a serious matter. When people have gone through those traumas, they need to talk about them. Unfortunately, we don’t have the platform to tell their stories; no therapy to help them heal their traumatic experiences”.
  He noted that in writing Witness to Justice, he has been able to lend his voice to the voiceless people that came to the commission. He said the commission was as a result of an environment where power runs amok, as it once did in the country, and even in a democracy. He also argued that some of the problems plaguing the country were because of impunity, noting that from the legal, law enforcement to the system all had been compromised.
  Kukah expressed opinion that it was the vacuum of uncertainty and systemic failures in many areas of national life that religion was filling, with its many wrong-headed variants assailing the psyche daily.
  Bishop Kukah also spoke on Chinua Achebe’s controversial book, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, saying reactions to it were that of “a people not ready for things of real value. I have read the book and I don’t agree with some things in it but if you disagree with somebody based on the things he has written, then write your own. But like everything in Nigeria, people are talking about the book because of hearsay. This is why our country will not be able to overcome the troubles of yesterday. Today, our democracy means ability to agree with you always; if I disagree with you, it becomes something else”.
 Sitting with Ogunlesi, on the Concert stage (once a gallow) of the Freedom Park -- which was a Colonial prison on Broad Street -- Bishop Kukah also entertained questions from the public on the state of the nation; and he seemed very much pleased with the enthusiams shown by the secondary students who were in the audience, saying it shows that it is possible for Nigeria to have a politically conscious citizenry in the future.

THE  colloquium, which was on ‘Narratives of Conflict’, explored some relatively new texts that highlight the nation’s recent historical march and the part played by these participants in the shaping of the democratic space. The texts include Open Graveyard by Wale Osun, Out of the Shadows by Kayode Fayemi (now governor of Ekiti State), Rose and Bullets by Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo and There Was A Country by Chinua Achebe. The session had Dr. Niran Okewole, Tade Ipadeola, and Deji Toye; it was moderated by Tunji Lardner. One of the authors, Ezeigbo, who was present was also invited to join the panelists.
  These four books dwell on some critical phases Nigeria has navigated in the cause of its 50 years of existence. The books explore the many high dramas Nigeria and Nigerians have undergone; how a promising nation soon found itself floundering shortly after independence and the spirited efforts made to reshape it ever since, with the ubiquitous military that hijacked it for a long time. The stories are accounts of individual encounters with the state might under military rule and the not-so-pleasant results of these encounters both on the psyche of the individuals and society at large.
  For Ipadeola and the other panelists, Nigeria’s failure produced its shock waves on these writers with the result that they have attempted to narrate this same story in their own unique voices that often differ from each other to the point of conflict. So much so that the reader is left open-mouthed as to whether it is the same communal experience, of military rule and dictatorship and the democratic struggles that left many wounded, maimed and dead -- the writers are writing about.
  How then can Nigeria’s story be properly understood if there was no one unifying, single story by the many writers telling her story? Is there a thing as a grand narrative to tell a country’s story?
  Ipadeola submitted, “Achebe, Kukah and Fayemi all seem to be asking: How did a promising country become unprepared for the calamity that was coming? Whether it’s government, civil society, religious structures, things didn’t just happen as they were supposed to. We’re at the danger of isolating the 1990s (the military era) as the dark period of Nigeria’s history, but there have been crises since the 1950s. There’s a lot more that Nigeria can gain by closely studying the writers under scrutiny who were there when these things were happening.
  “Achebe’s a great book but it falls into the error of arguing and not clarifying. I think Achebe knows how powerful his prose is and uses it to argue. Why was there no charge of genocide laid against anyone for the dead or living? Until we begin to have biographies, we will not be able to break out of the traps of untruths, remarked Ipadeola.
  The lawyer, poet, and president of Nigeria chapter of Poets, Essayists and Novelists, Ipadeola also argued that although Achebe’s book is an important one, no African author had risen to write a book as well as Russia’s Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914 to make issues that had been nebulous clear.
  On whether there could be a single, unifying narrative about the country’s history, the panelists differed significantly. Okewole asked: Is there a single narrative in all the stories of conflict? He noted that there could be some flaws in Achebe’s book because it depended on memory, which lapses over time and that memory is also selective. “Now, we should be looking at many narratives rather than a grand narrative and to take a decision as a nation to look at multiple narratives.
  “So, why did the Nigerian project fail? Why did it not happen? Why was the project hijacked? We have to hold the political class responsible for not doing what they ought to do!”
  In her intervention, Ezeigbo said she believed in subjectivity. She argued that people are different and respond differently to common issues. To the Professor of English at the University of Lagos, there is no such thing as a grand narrative of a country’s history, as it might seem limiting. She noted that the “Nigerian Civil War had generated a lot of controversies. Everybody is entitled to his own view. Achebe’s interpretation is his own memory; my narrative Roses and Bullets, though fictional, is based on fact as I saw it during the war as a young schoolgirl in her teenage years”.
  Ezeigbo believes that There was A Country has stirred controversy because it is an Achebe’s. She said  “Many individuals have written volatile books that have gone unnoticed. This is his own interpretation of history. Write your own book if you disagree”.
  The lawyer, poet and dramatist, Toye finds Achebe’s view of Igbo victimhood based on hatred from other ethnic group out of sync with the reality. He noted that rather than a deterministic view of history, virtual history should be the guiding light, adding that multiple narratives of history should be encouraged.
  Indeed, Nigeria, like an over excited monkey, has been dancing on the precipice and neared its tipping point with its many devious acts that have denied it true nationhood. However, Okewole stated that the country's turning point could be just as dramatic as its tipping point. The nation’s turning point, stated the medical doctor, writer, could be the “coming together of a few people who have the courage of conviction to act” in a particularly positive manner for the good of all.

STILL in literary discourse at the festival, under the theme‘My Story, My Country’ the author of Power, Politics & Death, the journalist, Segun Adeniyi took the hot seat and was taken to task on issues surrounding his explosive book, a memoir of his years as spokesman to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. In what was apparent defence of the position he took during Yar’Adua’s ill health and final death, Adeniyi shot off on an emotional note and highlighted the politicisation of a president’s ill health and death.
  Adeniyi, a former editor of ThisDay newspaper before he took the job of Senior  Special Assistant to the President on Media, admitted to having taken some crucial decisions to either avert or set in motion certain events that would have worked negatively or positively to affect the nation or power equation as it was then. First, Adeniyi asserted, “I had no regret taking the job; I never knew my stewardship was going to be that dramatic. The book took me six months to complete at Harvard University where I did my Fellowship”.
  The former presidential spokesperson said he fell out of favour with President Goodluck Jonathan, then Vice President, for failing to call him Acting President at a point when it appeared Yar’Adua had become incapacitated. But he insisted that he didn’t even know the exact state of health of the President to have acted appropriately. But that when he realised his mistake by the unfolding events the following day, he acted quickly by calling a press briefing where he corrected himself. But by then, the political mood had been soured and a purported 'cabal' theory had gained ascendancy.
  In a rising tone laden with so much emotion, Adeniyi avowed, “Nobody knew what was going on; everybody was apprehensive. I didn’t know anything either. It didn’t make any sense to call Jonathan Acting President when the President was in the country. But when I realised it, I corrected myself. There were all sorts of dynamics -- politics, religion; people wanted power to stay where it was. But next day, I called a press briefing and called Jonathan Acting President and because of that thing, people thought there was a cabal and people called me all sorts of names”.
  Adeniyi blamed the uncertainty at the time to apparent lacuna and inability of the Office of the Attorney-General and the National Assembly to advice the President appropriately and promptly on what to do but none of them did anything. He, however, noted that he would rather not blame anybody because of “the nature of our country; next time, we will learn from it. We have learnt from it. The deputy Governor of Taraba State is now Acting Governor as a result of the Constitutional amendment.”

Now that we are free, let me put it that way, let’s treasure it and ensure that the military does not come back. Some of us take our freedom for granted. So that when a man says that he became born again in prison, don’t laugh at him; it’s a serious matter. When people have gone through those traumas, they need to talk about them. Unfortunately, we don’t have the platform to tell their stories; no therapy to help them heal their traumatic experiences.

He Dared… The story of a great African leader

By Anote Ajeluorou

Chronicling the past is not an engagement in which Africa has recorded much credit. In most cases, the past is lost in the fog of oral tradition and general amnesia. With the increasing minimal status accorded oral tradition, it becomes harder to distil some aspects of our past and make any sense of it. But there are some who would not let the past go easily without unearthing some of its milestones that continue to shape our future. This is the serious, historical task Offonmbuk C. Akpabio set for herself in He Dared: The Story of Okuku Udo Akpabio, the Great Colonial African Ruler (Xlibris Corporation, London; 2011).
  In He Dared, Akpabio undertakes a daunting task through oral accounts and documents left behind by colonialists and missionaries to piece together the life and times of one of the illustrious sons of present day Akwa Ibom State, who started his journey before the turn of the last century.
  Udo Akpabio, who later became famous by being among the first to come into the sphere of colonial influence and consequently being an administrator as a warrant chief, a position he effectively wielded with his royal one as paramount ruler of Ukana, was to play a great political and cultural role amongst his people.
  Indeed, Akpabio’s posthumous biography is great tribute to an illustrous African, who wielded much influence among his people and gained respect even from the overbearing colonial officers. It’s an honour to a man who held two offices seamlessly and discharged his duties admirably such that he dispelled notions of imbecility often associated with much of Africa by the colonising West.
SIRED by Umo Ntuen Ebie Emem, founder of Ikot Ide in Ukana in present day Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, Udo Akpabio followed the footsteps of his father in ascending the throne his father literally created. Although he was not the first son, it eventually fell to his lot to be crowned Okuku Ukana or Ukana clan head.
  But Udo Akpabio had a harrowing childhood. He was still young when his mother had twins, a forbidden occurrence at the time. His mother was only saved from being killed because her husband and clan head loved her so much. She was later ostracised and a hut built for her at the outskirts of town. But her children could not live or interact with her.
  She was eventually sold off to the Aro Chukwu slave merchants to underline the gravity of her offence. This was the period before the white people stepped on African soil to stop some of the evil practices among the Calabar people, especially the killing of twins.
  Udo Akpabio had to be taken to his maternal place to be raised. When he came of age, he returned to his father’s homeplace, where he however had an incident that nearly claimed his life. But he had started to distinguish himself as a great farmer and trader in various commodities. Back to Ikot Ide, he became established in his farming and trade and rose to be one of the wealthiest men around.
  As the author narrates, “Udo Akpabio had all the trappings of a great man. He excelled in his trade and was widely respected. His friends and associates spanned through Ukana and beyond. It was, therefore, not surprising that the Afe Nkuku (council of elders) decided to make him the Obong Isong, otherwise referred to as the Okuku in Ukana clan”.
  While trying to consolidate his hold on power, neighbouring Otoro people started a war against Ukana Ikot Ituen over a land matter. This war was to test his skill as leader and his people. It ended in his favour, but after he got wounded.
   Coincidentally also, this was the period when the TransAtlantic Slave Trade had been abolished in England and America, but a few elements still carried out the trade on both sides – African and European – particularly the Aro Chukwu people.
   The British people had also begun to make incursions into the coastal planes and had made war with both the great Benin Empire and destroyed it in 1897 and the Aro Chukwu people, who were prominent in slave dealings at the time.
  Eventually Udo Akpabio and his people, largely out of fear and uncertainty of the intentions of the advancing British and in order to protect their territory, came face to face with the British military might. They lost the war and soon came under the British influence that was stationed at Ikot Ekpene.
  When peace returned and a leader was being sought by the British in the form of a warrant chief to help administer the local people, Udo Akpabio was thrust forward for the exalted position from which he exercised great authority both to the admiration of his people and that of the British.
THE author, a third generation Akpabio, has, with this remarkable biography, given a strong and sweeping voice to the history of a period that would otherwise have been beclouded with distance of time far removed from her own time. She tells the story of her great, great forebear with remarkable faculity, relying on oral narratives and accounts kept by white missionaries, especially of Rev. Grooves, who had written about her grand forebear and had recorded Udo Akpabio’s thoughts on a vast array of objects.
  While dwelling on the great life and times of Udo Akpabio, the author also uses the canvas of He Dared to paint what was the real first encounter between the African population and their visiting colonisers. Through this narrative, we see first-hand the various administrative transitions and reforms that took place and how the locals responded to the ever-changing times they lived, not least the tensions between imported values – like the abolition of slave trade, the stoppage of the killing of twins and the practice of human sacrifice in the event of the death of a king or titled men in the community.
   As leader mediating between the alien, white man and his people, Udo Akpabio went to great length to make his people respond to the changing landscape from the political, cultural and social dimensions, from their otherwise secure ways of doings things.
  His ability, even as an uneducated man, to see far ahead of his peers and decide on the right causes of action to take endeared him to many.
    Married to 29 wives and fathering many children, Udo Akpabio was first to send his children to the white man’s school to learn the new tricks being foisted on them. Even at that remote period, he had the foresight to allow one of his daughters to go to school; she was baptized Elizabeth and became a great teacher in the mission schools of the period.
  His sons read wide and some travelled abroad for further studies while others promoted Western education to the point of setting up scholarships to enable aspiring young people to gain education. This was in the 1920s in the Calabar region.
  Udo Akpabio sired many illustrious sons, who later became prominent in Nigeria’s socio-political and cultural life.
  The author meticulously chronicled these sons and grandsons and great grandsons in He Dared. Some of these grandsons include a judge of the Federal High Court, Lagos, the late Akpan Eukinam-Bassey, the late Justice (Senator) Nsima Akpabio, Isong Ibanga Udo Akpabio, Paul Usoro among others.
HE Dared provides a grand sweep of historical, cultural and social materials of the time Udo Akpabio lived. The customs, traditions, festivals and the general ways of life of the people are presented in a memorable manner. The author’s painstaking attention to details is remarkable and commendable.
   With this book, the lineage of the Akpabio clan, of which the current governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, is a member, is preserved for generations.
  For generations to come, the Akpabio clan and many others in Ukana clan will remain grateful to the author who has brought her storytelling talent to recreate an otherwise forgotten but remarkable episode in the history of the region and the role their forefathers played in shaping the colonial experience of southern states of Nigeria. It’s a book researchers will find treasurable.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

‘Why I Wrote About Okuku Udo Akpabio, The Great Colonial Administrator’

By Anote Ajeluorou

She is his grand daughter-in-law, who found the life and times of her grand father-in-law such colourful and rich subject she undertook to write his biography. Indeed in the book, He Dared: The Story of Okuku Udo Akpabio, The Great Colonial African Ruler, Ofunmbuk Akpabio, a lawyer and writer, paints the panoramic political, economic and cultural landscape in which the father of former Premier of old Eastern Region, Ibanga Akpabio, grand father of current governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, and other prominent sons, who was a Warrant Chief for the colonialists and leader of his people in Ukana clan operated. The book will be launched on December 20, 2012 in Uyo.  In this interview, she gives insight into her fascination for her subject:

The book is something that came about as a result of curiosity. I was really curious because there is so much about the legend, because his is a legend in our part of the world. So, I decided to find out more about him just beyond the stories that were being told about Okuku Udo Akpabio.
  One sad thing was that I couldn’t really find a book that chronicled his life and times unlike in the West, where you find so many things about great men, so many articles and books written about George Washington, for instance. But we couldn’t find much; just a few materials in the Calabar Museum, where I found an excerpt from a book written by one Margery Perham; she was a British writer. She stayed in Nigeria in the early 1920s.
  She wrote a book about 10 Africans and she wanted to find out about the most remarkable Africans who had done so much for their people and for the British. So, she earmarked 10 Africans and out of that was Okuku Udo Akpabio. So, there is an excerpt of her book at the Calabar Museum and a photograph of Okuku Udo Akpabio.
  So, I started poring over the articles, books and journals of these colonial administrators to try to find who knew him at the time he lived. So, that is just about how the book came about. But the book actually is on a man who lived in the late 19th century and early 20th century. This was a man that dared where others dreaded. He was somebody who had intriguing insight; he was someone who was filled with wisdom and was able to steer the affairs of his people very cleverly and acted as a bridge between the indigenous people, the Anang people and the colonialists.
  So, they found him very remarkable and useful in terms of maintaining the peace. Before he became a Warrant Chief, a chief by government Warrant, he was already a Paramount Head or clan head in Ukana. He was able to steer the affairs of his people remarkably well.
  Now, what was remarkable about this man was that he had this leadership quality right from when he was small. He was not supposed to be the clan head by lineage, but because of his wisdom and interaction with many other groups because of his business interests. When it came to choosing a leader, the people felt that this was a man that had traveled widely and gained a lot of experience in dealing with people and that this was the man they wanted to lead them in the clan.
  So, they made him a clan head and he was able to manage things very well. Remember, we’re talking about the time of slave trade. Despite the fact that this man wielded so much influence, he refused to be sucked into the greed of the slave traders. While the British and Americans had abolished slave trade, it became a hot commodity; you know, anything that is contraband sells more. So, the slave traders that were coming from the Oyo axis and the hinterland wanted to get more slaves to sell to the unscrupulous white men and local collaborators still doing it.
  One or two of them approached him urging him to use his great influence to do the business; but Udo Akpabio told them he would never lay his hands on another fellow human being and sell him or sell his brother for money and he made sure that nobody did that around his enclave. He completely frowned against it, preached against it yet he was not even a Christian or moved by Christian beliefs. He was moved by the traditional beliefs that one must be the others’ keeper.
  Ironically, although he was not educated, he encouraged his sons to gain Western education. He was intrigued by the white man; he felt that if the white man is somebody that know so much, then he saw the sense in his sons learning the ways of the white man. The governor is not the first prominent Akpabio we are having; he is building on history. If you remember Ibanga, the Minister and Premier in the former Eastern Region, who passed the motion for the setting up of University of Nigeria, Nnsuka, when he was the Minister for Education in the Eastern Region. Akpabio Hall is named after him in that university. That was one of the man’s direct sons.
  There are several Akpabios, great professionals; I just wanted something of a legacy, what makes this family thick. In my opinion, the Akpabios are the largest stock of one single entity with great professionals, with leadership qualities and attributes in everything that they do. So, I’m saying to the world, ‘look at the man, look at what he did’. He was a farmer, who had a lot of farmlands; he cultivated them and traded with the produce.
  But what made him great was that he was a leader; he was Justice of the Peace; he was a judge in the colonial court. The colonialists wanted someone who had a structure already on the ground, who could influence people and they made him the President of the Native Court. He was the first Paramount Ruler of Ikot Ekpene area; indeed, he was a very powerful man.
  He dared because these were things that were not common, not usual at the time; he wasn’t hindered by boundaries. He wanted people to move beyond the frontiers and embrace Christianity; his children went to Methodist School; he dared because he rose beyond the traditional norms. He strengthened these institutions for his own use. The book also talks about the traditional institutions at that time. How did they work? How was the culture of the people shaped? It’s a book that talks about the advent of the British and how the people managed the advent of the British.
  A biography talks about a person; this is my own perception of the man from the materials I have gathered. I just told the story as I know it. The book is not all about his greatness; it’s also about his weakness as a normal human being. He had challenges and many ups and downs. The larger picture is that this was a man that left an enduring legacy, which you can see today in his offsprings.
  Writing a biography is very challenging. Fortunately, the Aro people have more books written about them. So, what I had from them and from Rev. Grooves, a white missionary of the Methodist extraction, who came during the time of Okuku Udo Akpabio; he had a very detailed account the Africans. I took Rev. Gooves’ book and those of the Aro people; I didn’t make any judgment about what happened. I just wrote the account about what happened. I just want people to look at this book and make their own judgment about it.
  But more importantly, I just loved Okuku Udo Akpabio because at that early time, he saw the need for education and he encouraged his people to go to school. You see that it has helped. He inspired people to go to school; even one of his daughters at that time went to school in spite of the ridicule. He had the insight to do what was right.

Kukah, Ezeigbo confront Nigeria’s distorted politics through books

By Anote Ajeluorou

The Lagos Books and Arts Festival (LABAF) organised by Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) informally opened on Tuesday with a ‘Book Trek’. Usually held at the University of Lagos, this year’s Book Trek was held at Quintessence, Falomo, Ikoyi, Lagos, because of the school’s closure. However, the paltry audience that turned up almost defeated the organisers’ noble efforts; the ‘Book Trek’ could have been taken to another campus within the city, but this did not happen.
  Nevertheless, the organisers would be consoled by the quality of discourse the two critics - Mr. John Uwa and Mrs. Adaobi Muo - doctoral students of Literature of the Department of English, UNILAG under the supervision of Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo brought to bear on the two books, Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets and Bishop Hassan Kukah’s Witness to Justice. The two books, one fictional and the other factual, are accounts about Nigeria’s brutal and rudderless politics since independence. London-based Bubbles FM anchor man, Lukman Sanusi moderated ‘Book Trek’.
  Bishop Kukah will hold vintage conversation with Tolu Ogunlesi about his book today at the festival ground at Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos, starting from 11am. He will speak on, ‘My Experience at the Reconciliation Room’.
  In his opening remarks, CORA Secretary, Mr. Toyin Akinosho, restated the festival theme, ‘Narratives of Conflict’, as it encapsulates the nation’s body polity and how very fitting the two books under review capture the perplexing complexity Nigeria’s politics has turned out to be. He noted that the two texts interrogate the national question that keeps recurring, especially Kukah’s Witness to Justice that brings with it that critical, journalistic and popular account that is lacking in the nation’s discourse, which lays bare the absence of critical interrogation that shapes the fortunes of nations elsewhere.
  Akinosho also said although many attendees would be disappointed that critics rather than the two authors would be discussing the books, he noted that books would amount to nothing if only the authors talked about them, since books become public property once they are published. He indicated that the books typify the Narratives of Conflict and singled out Witness to Justice, which he said qualified to be called Book of the Year, as a “storyteller’s account that lasts; the books chosen are chosen because of their elegance of prose in the conflict narrative”.
  Akinosho further stated that a book was as good as the number of people that engage in it, noting, “That is why LABAF is different from other festivals; we insist on talking about texts and not just ideas. We must be addressing texts and examine the issues, situations through texts. But we’re still not doing a good job of it because audience (attendance) is still poor”.

Readers as leaders: Bane of ignorance

The worrisome issue of book readership in the country came to the fore, as it became apparent that not many Nigerians – politicians (from the President to governors and legislators), academicians, journalists, civil society people, opinion leaders, clergy and many other Nigerians – have not yet read Bishop Kukah’s seminal book, Witness to Justice based on his insider account of the Justice Chukwudifo Oputa Panel, a Reconciliation Commission since it came out early in the year. For Mrs. Muo, this is a disturbing trend that has dogged the nation’s heels and every effort to move the nation forward.
  She frowned at Nigerians’ level of consciousness to the basic issues that confront them. She argued that unless Nigerians found a sound basis for spearheading the so-called constitution conference being canvassed with a measure of intellectual depth, nothing much would be achieved, noting, “Our level of consciousness is worrisome. How many people, intellectuals have read Kukah’s book? What we don’t know is that leaders are readers. Do you listen to those leading us in this country talk and hear their grammatical errors, their poor sentence construction, and their level of thinking that is so porous? And did they listen to President Obama’s acceptance speech?”
  She noted that Nigerians had degenerated to the level of a people only interested in looking for food with the politicians using poverty as a weapon to keep them down; so much so that Nigerians were just looking for a means of survival. She queried, ‘How can such people rise beyond the poverty to higher needs, ideals? Right now, the politicians are training their children to lead our children unless we do something really urgent to check them’.
 On his part,  Uwa said Kukah uses Witness to Justice to engage Nigerians in a socio-political dialogue, and recounted the nation’s buoyed optimism before independence and the hopelessness that soon set in after independence, which has continued till date after over 50 years. Uwa called for some form of dialogue where Nigeria’s fortunes could be discussed so as to define the essence of the togetherness of the different nationalities that make up the country as a realistic basis for equity and justice.
  Uwa expressed the hope that someday, the people would have the courage to look at the issues contained in such documents as Witness to Justice or even the submissions of Oputa Panel and insist on having them fully implemented, as a way of saying ‘enough is enough’ of the ongoing madness that has kept subverting the people’s will and wishes for a genuine nationhood. “A time will come when bold men will reference these books and do what is needed to be done,” he affirmed.

War narrative: Roses and Bullets

ALTHOUGH the two books under review are diametrically different in that one is fictional and one factual, however, they both mirror Nigeria’s tragic historical march from independence in 1960. Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets is a war novel, but it provides the setting that gave birth to the narratives that form Kukah’s Witness to Justice. With the civil war fought, won and lost on the Nigerian and Biafran sides, the military became the inheritor of a vastly wealthy nation, which they promptly began to plunder with their civilian cohorts with marked impunity, with a rash of human rights abuses that necessitated the setting up of Oputa Panel of enquiry on which Kukah’s book is based.
  In effect, Kukah’s factual account is a validation of Ezeigbo’s fictional narrative. Ezeigbo’s is a war narrative, of the brutality of war, its effect on innocent civilian population, especially women and children. The protagonist is a teenage girl, whose sheltered world is shattered upon the outbreak of the war. She stops school, had to relocate several times due to the shifting landscape of the war and the desperate times that enveloped Biafra, including the loss of innocence and a people’s psyche that was badly traumatised.
  For Muo, Ezeigbo’s narrative is a relentlessly haunting one as Ginika and everyone around her confront the horrors of war. Uwa sees Ezeigbo’s narrative as her contribution in mining the psychological distortion the war wreaks on all. Also, that even in war-ravaged situations, something as mundane as love still finds expression; here also, Ezeigbo finds expression for her feminine ideals and presents the suffering woman as the recipient of man’s brutal nature. From her father to her husband, Ezeigbo makes Ginika to drink from the dregs of men’s mad brew in the name of war.
  Ginika is repeatedly raped by men from both sides of the war and finally becomes pregnant for one who is not her husband. She is finally rejected by her husband after returning from the war. Her brother, who also went to war, kills Ginika’s husband for leaving her vulnerable and then rejecting her. But Ginika triumphs at the end as she overcomes her ordeals and goes back to school after the war through the kind help of her former school teacher. This Ezeigbo’s vintage feminine manifesto narrative as the two reviewers argued.
  Muo argued that although Ezeigbo believes in complimentarity of the sexes, she retains a nagging suspicion about men and she distorts the male characters such that so endows them with one form of flaw of the other that grates her female characters. From Ginika’s father to her husband, women will find reason to be wary of men.
  But is Ginika too perfect a character in Ezeigbo’s hands? Uwa thinks so and said Ezeigbo unnecessarily enriched Ginika almost to the point of super perfection in her unrelenting portrayal of her seemingly unjustifiable suffering in the hands of the men in her life. But Muo thinks otherwise, saying that although presented as a near-perfect character, “Ginika represents the consequences of the war. A writer is like God that creates and has prerogatives. Although Ezeigbo ennobles her, she manages to show her rashness – she talks rashly to her father and goes out partying at night in a military barrack as a married woman and gets raped in the process and becomes pregnant. Ezeigbo shows these flaws in her heroine”.

In Uyo, writers beam light on security, social media, literature

By Anote Ajeluorou

Last week, Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State played host to writers under the auspices of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). It was the yearly convention, the 31st edition. It had as theme Nigerian Literature, Social Media and Security with Canada-based Nigerian scholar, Prof. Pius Adesanmi as keynote presenter.
  The yearly gathering of Nigerian authors has come to symbolise the indomitable spirit of the country’s literati in its march forward in spite of the many odds confronting writers and writing in a country that has gradually become anti-intellectual, where books are no longer the staple diet of a vast majority.
  Yet these writers gather yearly to reflect on the question of nationhood and how to make the country work better for its citizens.
  Chairman of the opening ceremony and notable poet, Odia Ofeimun captured this indomitable spirit of the Nigerian writer when he averred that the oneness usually expressed by writers in the country in their yearly gathering was a source of hope that all was not lost.
  Ofeimun noted that writers’ commitment to their cause and to each other was something the Nigerian polity would need to emulate to move forward, saying that no mater the challenges facing writers, something good still managed to come out of them for the benefit of all Nigerians.
  He reasoned, “We are opinion leaders, future leaders who have made Nigeria look like a country; without writers, Nigeria will not be a country.”
  However, in his postulations, Adesanmi submitted that literature may not necessarily provide security in the physical sense of the word but noted that literature does secure memory, a vital aspect of nationhood that must be kept intact for future generations. His submission becomes more relevant especially in a society like Nigeria where history as subject has been removed from school syllabuses. Indeed, even history is sometimes seen as a poor repository of memory, which only literature aptly chronicles amidst the dins of the present and memory retrieval from the fog of the past.
  In fact, Adesanmi noted that literature may not even secure the individual writer from state persecution like it happened to such eminent writers as Wole Soyinka, who was imprisoned in 1968 for calling for cessation of hostility between Nigeria and Biafra, or Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was murdered on November 10, 1995 for championing the rights of Ogoni people.
  Indeed, Adesanmi rephrased his subject to read, “What Does (Nigeria) Secure?” in order for him to properly situate the problem. For Adesanmi, therefore, “Every society tells and records the story of their march in history, of triumphs and travails, of failures and successes, of reversals and progress, of ups and downs, of heroism and betrayal, of war and peace, of love and hate.
  “Fictional truth secures these memories and acquires an authority superior to other modes of recording. This trans-temporal authority of fictional truth is the only reason why we view Ancient Greece today largely through her arts, mostly her literature and architecture. Think of the trials and tribulations of that society during the years of the Peloponnesian War. Think of The History of the Peloponnesian War, a magisterial account of that war written by the great historian, Thucydides, and ask yourselves why our civilization, looking back at Ancient Greece today, prefers memories of that war and era secured by the fictional truths of the Greek tragedians, especially Sophocles and Euripides. Why does our current civilization prefer to gaze at Ancient Rome through the fictional truths of a Virgil than the documentary accounts of an historian like Tacitus?
  “I am saying that a thousand, two thousand years from now, a future civilization will look beyond the archives constituted by disciplinary history and privilege the truths secured by Nigerian fiction today as a window into how we negotiated our march towards the mountaintop, the roads taken and the road not taken (apologies to Robert Frost), how we lived, laughed, loved, and hated. How we kidnapped. How we bombed. How we killed. How we pogromed. If, as it is tempting to predict, given our talent for self-inflicted national injuries, we somehow never make it to the mountaintop, we need not worry. Our literature will secure that failure against forgetting.
“Why do people privilege the security offered against forgetting by literature and the arts? Does it have something to do with the aphorism that when the chips fall wherever they may, literature and the arts are the only evidence, the only trace that a civilization truly leaves behind? Civilizations whose skeletal remains defy even radio carbon dating have left us the marvel of rock paintings. When the artist, Victor Ekpuk, looks for what remains of his forbears, the only window he has left to reconnect with them is the scribal art that has defied time, Nsibidi (art).
  “Does the privileging of the security offered by literature and the arts have something to do with man’s fundamental instinct of self-preservation? Does a civilization disappear, confident that evidence of its passage through time has been secured by the scribal talents of her writers and artists?”

ON the role of literature as memory bank for the future, Adesanmi further argued, “Writers are the world’s window into a culture. In essence, those looking back at today’s Nigeria a thousand years from now will detect evidence of our literature’s attempts to offer the security of a predicted future. They will read Wole Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests, Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People, and the Menippean satires of T.M. Aluko, especially Chief The Honourable Minister, and glean evidence of the errors of the rendering.
  “They will gain insights into how fictional truth imperils the artist ironically through its own vatic function. Let’s not forget the reaction to A Dance of the Forest by a political establishment, which, like the dog, failed to hear the hunter’s whistle and perished in the forest of postcolonial anomie.
  “If it is clear from the foregoing that Nigerian literature offers the security of memory and the armour with which to shatter the carapace of forgetting, it is equally pertinent to add that the vatic essence of fictional truth is an attribute which makes it a very dangerous truth indeed. This truth places a double-edged sword in the hands of the writer. Tell the truth and be damned; don’t tell the truth and be damned.
  “In the attempt to secure memory and social history with this double-edged sword, the writer often discovers that the security, which his work guarantees for the social body, is hardly ever coterminous with the security of the writer. There is often a terrible opportunity cost: secure memory and forego your own security. This is true because society hardly accords the writer the privilege of value-free, personal remembering.
  If you examine the social memory inscribed in the poetics of my generation from the perspective of what it sought to secure it from – or against as the case may be – you will discover that the idea of which nation’s memory is being secured becomes quite fuzzy, quite uncertain, shorn of a unifying centre, such as ritual or mythopoeia, which had tied the works of earlier generations to project nationhood. No matter how expansive and how ambitiously itinerant the imagination is, it is always possible to detect a silhouette of either the national or the ethno-national centre in the poetics of Achebe, Soyinka, and Clark; in the restless social realism of Osundare, Osofisan, Obafemi, Okediran (what a succession of Os!) and Iyayi, whose novel, Violence, typifies this trend. To the question – was there a country? – the work and praxis of the generations before mine had an answer: yes, Nigeria”.

Nigerian literature and social media (Best novel on 419 by a Canadian)

ON literature and social media, Adesanmi’s said, “being a very active member of literary cyberia (my neologistic contraction of Cyber and Nigeria), I could understand and relate to the social media part of the theme”, saying, “the rise of Cyberia poses the question of border security in a very real, literal sense. The phase of Nigerian writing which houses writers I don’t even ever have to meet face to face to feel like I’ve known them my whole life, largely because they have social media personas, is an interesting phase indeed. It is an age where literature has been nervous about losing the book form, as we know…, and now to the efflorescence of forms of literature associated with blogs, Facebook, and Twitter”.
  He listed young Nigerian writers, who have seized on the magic of social media platform to ply their literary trade to include “Richard Ali, Tolu Ogunlesi, A. Igoni Barrett, Ifedigbo Nze Sylva, Jumoke Verissimo, Chinyere Obi-Obasi, Egbosa Imasuen, Uche Peter Umez, Ukamaka Olisakwe, Paul T. Liam, Su’eddie Vershima Agema,Onyekachi Peter Onuoha, Rosemary Ede, Saddiq M. Dzukogi, and so many brilliant writer-citizens of Cyberia face border security problems beyond the simple threat to the book”.
  Adesanmi expressed the democratic license Cyberia offers its users such as writers, noting that with the advent of social media, defining a writer within a particular geographical locale becomes an increasingly difficult task. He noted thus, “There is a democracy that comes with social media and it has radically transformed the idea of the writer. Everybody with a blackberry and a blog is now a potential writer. We may wax puritanical here, declaring that we know who a writer is; the problem is with cultural shifts in the West that seem to validate the idea of a nomenclatural borderlessness when it comes to who is a writer in the age of social media.
  “It is in this expanded context, where literature is increasingly determined by very loose understandings and definitions, that our emergent crop of writers must try to secure not just the social memory of their own generation. This new cultural context challenges their very ability to own stories devolving from our national experiences, good and bad, in the global marketplace of creativity.
  “What does it mean, for instance, that one of the most powerful accounts of South Africa’s attempt to exorcise the ghosts of Apartheid through the truth and reconciliation framework has been written by an American? I am sure you have heard of the blockbuster novel, Absolution, by Patrick Flanery? What does it mean that the novel that will probably settle the argument over the national origin of 419 is not Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani’s I do Not Come to You by Chance but a novel recently published by a Canadian writer, Will Ferguson’s 419, which has just been awarded Canada’s biggest literary Prize, the Giller Prize worth $50,000? The ownership of stories South African and Nigerian by an American and a Canadian writer has been facilitated largely by social media. We live in days and times when a Tibetan Monk can write an authentic Nigerian story, in an authentic Nigerian voice, after spending a year on Twitter and Facebook”.

  WHILE summing up, Ofeimun restated the function of memory in the make-up of nationhood, noting that memory was like a limb, which, if lost, would imperil forward movement. He said, “If you loose your memory, you loose your country. If we want to remake your country, we must start by remaking our literature.”

Writers remember Saro-Wiwa, as Mimiko bids to host in 2013
A moment of silence was observed in honour of slain former president of ANA, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was killed on November 10, 1995 in Port Harcourt by Gen. Sanni Abacha’s brutal regime for agitating for the rights of Ogoni people, whose land was and is still being polluted by the activities of oil companies.
  Also, governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State, who recently won a re-election, through the state chapter of ANA, bided for the hosting of ANA 2013 convention. Ondo State last hosted in 2010 and ordinarily should not be eager to host again considering the financial costs involved. But as patron and in order for governor Mimiko to launch the near-completed new arts centre, he intends to host Nigerian writers again to showcase both the new arts centre and to share his new vision for cultural production.
  While some congress members cheered the bid, others were skeptical and wondered what the motive was. Kaduna State also bided to host the yearly gathering next year. But with new ANA rules, hosting rights would have to be vetted through visits from the national executive to be sure of preparedness of such states; thereafter, congress would vote online before the final right is awarded.

Towards a feminist theatre, by Okoh

By Anote Ajeluorou

THE inaugural lecture delivered by Prof. Julie Okoh (a professor of Theatre Studies, University of Port Harcourt) last Thursday at the University of Port Harcourt was most auspicious. It came in the heels of the yearly Garden City Literary Festival that ended a fortnight ago in Port Harcourt for which she was also a panelist dissecting feminine issues.
  The title of her lecture was also instructive as it both echoed and amplified the theme for the festival, which was ‘Women in Literature’. Her lecture with an equally telling title ‘Towards a Feminist Theatre’ also situates women’s issues in the domain of critical literary and intellectual discourses.
  Indeed, feminine issues could no longer be brushed aside. Their urgency has become such that skeptics are beginning to take another look, as the women are advancing hard arguments and evidences to prove that rights otherwise denied them could no longer sustained in whatever guise.
  And so too did Okoh sought once more to reaffirm what has long become obvious to many: that women’s rights are as important as men’s rights and those traditional or patriarchic institutions or even superstitions that seek to deny women their rights ought to have been thrown away long before now. Indeed, in her numerous theatrical works such as Edewede (2000) and In The Fullness of Time (2000), Okoh has vigorously been deconstructing the patriarchal paradigms that seek to perpetuate women’s subservience through such rites as female genital circumcision, women’s right to education and positions of power, demeaning widowhood rites and relegating women to second class citizens’ position.
  Okoh holds the view that such concepts as sexism, which refers to the discrimination against women on the basis of their sex, with its attendant reinforcement of behaviour and attitude based on the stereotypical roles people play in a society and patriarchy, which is societal control through the rule of men that have combined to keep women down the social ladder. Therefore, for her and many like, feminism is a reaction against patriarchy and sexism. She insists that patriarchy is not a natural phenomenon but a social construct. So, she asks, ‘When and how did it begin? Why did women have to agitate for their entitlement to basic human rights?’
  In her lecture, Okoh takes a long historical journey through the ages to unearth some of the reasons behind feminine agitations for their rights and how these practices became entrenched overtime and the many battles women have had to fight to free themselves from the shackles society has placed on them over the centuries.
  Okoh argues that sexism is still prevalent in Nigeria, noting, “What is the status of women in contemporary Nigeria? Do they enjoy their basic human rights? Do they have equal opportunities with their male counterparts? Do they have protective laws against gender discriminations? How many of them can boldly make their own decision and stand by it without being afraid of intimidation, humiliation, condemnation, ostracism and persecution? Today, women in America and Europe have the same social, political, financial and legal rights as any man, even though there still exists to some extent ‘glass ceiling attitudes’. Are there provisions for women in Nigeria to enjoy the same fundamental rights with men?
  “Nigeria is still basically rooted in patriarchal social structure. And as such, violation of women’s basic human rights is prevalent. It is a stark reality that affects a large percentage of women across the country and it cuts across boundaries of age, culture, religion, wealth and geography. It takes place in the homes, on the streets, in schools, at workplaces, in farms, in the markets, in religious places. One only needs to flip through the pages of the daily newspapers to be confronted with gory stories of violation of women’s rights in the country”.
  She then enumerates certain dominant varieties of sexism in Nigeria to include sex trafficking, fake maternity clinics, dubbed ‘Baby Farms’ or ‘factories’, which she says are springing up everywhere across the country notoriously in cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu and Aba.
  Okoh further argues that it is these evils perpetuated against her kind that she has been fighting as a theatre teacher and practitioner, particularly with her many expository dramatic works, stating, “In consonance with the above objectives, the plight of women in contemporary Nigeria constitutes my major concern. That is why in my critical essays and dramatic work, I examine, analyze and evaluate all those unwritten laws and practices converging to restrict and frustrate women from gaining access to their basic human rights, freedom and empowerment.
  “As a literary critic, I have written more than thirty articles, both in English and in French, some published in Nigeria, others outside Nigeria. The majority of the articles treat women’s issues. As a theatre practitioner, I have systematically used the theatre to speak against such crude practices as widowhood rites, gender discrimination, child abuse, sexual harassment, childlessness, and female circumcision. On the issue of female circumcision, I have written two major plays: Edewede (2000) and In The Fullness of Time (2000), articles and a book. 
  “Another traditional practice that has been vehemently challenged by me is the widowhood rites. Widowhood violence is one of the major problems faced by most women in contemporary African societies. Apart from FGM, it is the most sinister and subtle instrument for reinforcing gender inequality in Africa. The experience may assume different forms in different communities, but the effects remain basically the same.  The affected widows suffer injustice and psychological trauma.
  “Widowhood rites are also still practiced in many communities Nigeria and many Nigerian dramatists have treated this topic with great angst: Zulu Sofola in Wedlock of the Gods (1977), Felicia Onyewadume in Clutches of Widowhood (1996), Stella ‘Dia Oyedepo in On his Demise (2002), Uche Ama-Abriel in A Past Came Calling (2004), Ahmed Yerima in Aetu (2006) Jonathan Desen Mbachaga in Widows’ Might (2008) to name a few.         
  “In the play Our Wife Forever, I emphasize that systems such as widowhood rites, property inheritance, levirate law associated with widowhood may have had validity and relevance in pristine time. But today, in the face of modernization, globalization, Christianity and internet connectivity, the structures that served to enforce such cultural practices in traditional societies in Africa have been dismantled giving way to capitalism and individualism.
  “The subject of female sexuality has been dramatised in my plays from different perspectives. A high percentage of young women and little girls experience sexual harassment, rape, incest, especially paedophilia everyday in this country, yet there is no law against such crimes. So nobody takes the crimes seriously. This is because the lawmakers and their law enforcement agency, those who control power, are sometimes the perpetrators. While treating her plays such as The Mannequins, Closed Doors and Cry for Democracy, these regrettable ugly experiences encountered by girls in contemporary Nigeria, I dissect and analyze the psychological trauma suffered by the victims as well as illustrates to them how they could overcome their predicaments and assert themselves in life.
  Okoh points out feminist philosophy of existence in her plays to include a commitment to advocating cultural equity and progressive social change with emphasis on women’s empowerment. In her plays, while condemning the negative elements of African cultural traditions, she examines their impact on the lives of contemporary African women. By so doing, the audience is made to realize that most of the traditional practices are mechanisms instituted by society to repress women’s liberty and to control their bodies and lives.
  But Julie Okoh encourages African women to reject this debilitating situation. That is why most of her female characters, instead of negating themselves, are often found striving to transcend their state of immanence in order to gain their status as independent, self-conscious human beings determining and executing their own actions. But they are unable to attain this position until they critically appraise their situation, overcome that crippling fear in them, fear of their master.
  The need for women to overcome that obstacle to personal growth is a recurrent motif in Okoh’s plays as could be seen in the plays: Mask  (1988), The Mannequins (1997), Edewede (2000), In the Fullness of Time (2000), Aisha (2005), The Trials (2008), Closed Doors (2007).