Wednesday, 11 December 2013

LABAF 2013… Telling the centenary, Lagos stories

By Anote Ajeluorou

Already in its 15th year, the Lagos Art and Book Festival (LABAF) has proven itself to be the showcase of a cultural awakening, with regard on how to revitalise the book in the consciousness of Nigerians (particularly Lagosians) for whom the book may long have given up on. But if anything, Lagosians are still hip with the book given the enthusiasm with which they thronged Freedom Park, Lagos Island, venue of the cultural picnic that has books, as its central-showpiece.
  So that even from the pre-LABAF events that started on Monday, November 11, with master-classes in creative writing and an examination of the publishing environment, to the events proper that had Nigeria’s Centenary: The Lagos Narrative, as theme, the book took a handsome pride of place in the affairs of the lives of some Nigerians who still think that the ingredients for their country’s development reside within the pages of the book, a potent tool Nigeria’s leaders have thrown out the window long ago. The attendant result of that insane action has been all too clear for all to see.
  But organisers of LABAF clearly wish and think otherwise. They know too well what the book stands for, and have continued to stick out their necks to promote it year in year out irrespective of the paltry support they get. It’s for this reason that the culturally-committed pair of Jahman Anikulapo and Toyin Akinosho must be commended for never letting the book conversation die. Fittingly also, the 2013 LABAF celebration was aptly in memory of Africa’s legendary man of letters, late Prof. Chinua Achebe, who died in March this year.
  And so, on Friday, November 15, the stage was set for former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, former Director-General, Bureau of Public Enterprises and chieftain of All Progressive Congress (APC) party, Mallam Nassir El-Rufai formally raised the curtain on the festival in a conversation on his controversial book, The Accidental Public Servant, with Mr. Martins Oloja, editor of The Guardian, moderating the explosive session. Indeed, the session lived up to its billing as El-Rufai left no one in doubt about his views on sundry political issues. His session was titled, ‘A Career in the Centenary’. His being confined to his hotel room in Akwa the next day during the governorship election in Anambra State, might not have been unconnected to statements he made at the session.
  Comic star, Julius Agwu, took ‘My Encounter with the Book’ at the mentoring session. His new book, Jokes Apart: How Did I get Here? has been making the rounds and inspiring young people on the need to get education first and be determined in any chosen career path.
  This was followed by the festival colloquium, with the theme, ‘The Nigerian Centenary’ and anchored by Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Indiana University, Bloomington, U.S., Akin Adesokan. His keynote was on ‘Henry Carr in Lagos: A Narrative of Modern Nigeria’. The session had Tolu Ogunlesi and Tade Ipadeola, with Tunji Lardner moderating.
  At LABAF, children’s participation is key in a catch-‘em-young manner, with Ayodele Olofintuade of LAIPO and Shola Alamatu of CATE guiding the children on reading, performance and making of handicrafts for bodily adornments. The Lagos Story and a jazz Night were also held on Friday to mark the start of a great festival.

DAY Two of LABAF also recorded a packed programme. As a festival that prides itself for making the book the star rather than the authors, with a proper distillation of the ideas contained in them for societal development, the first collection of short story book in the science fiction genre in the country, Lagos 2060 was presented. With eight contributors, Lagos 2060 is a bold book that envisions what the future possibly holds for Lagosians. Although hard copies of the book were unavailable for the audience to buy, three of the authors were on hand to read excerpts from their stories and to also discuss some of the issues they raise.
  Publisher of the collection, Ayodele Arigbabu moderated the presentation that had Terh Agbedeh, Afolabi Afolabi and Chiagozie Nwogwu. Although Afolabi said he wasn’t a big fan of scifi, he became interested in the genre after attending a workshop where story ideas were discussed; he tried his hands on one and it worked. His story is ‘Amphibian Attack’. For Nwogwu, Lagos 2060 is “a very big thing; I’ve always felt there’s a whole lot of things in my culture that can be turned into scifi”. He stated that by 2060, Lagos and Nigeria would be much the same with very little difference or change, just like it was some 50 years ago or so, with Lagosians still relishing their amala, or the politicians still doing their thing.
  For Agbedeh, however, the idea for a scifi book is exciting, especially the way working towards the current book was announced, particularly the workshop that backed it up. He also said although 50 years from now might be different, yet nothing much would have changed. He said it would also be about romance and a lot of other things, and a way of looking at Lagos of the future but also Lagos of the past.
  However, these three fictional prophets, who have envosioned different things for the future, said they would not feel unease if their prophecy didn’t come true come 2060, as they have merely dealt in the realm of fiction!
  Also, The New Gong Books also made its presentation. Led by its editor and publisher, Mr. Adewale Maja-Pearce, the outfit presented its books comprising of a collection of short stories, with contributions from Molara Wood, Mazim Uzoatu, Igoni Barrett among others. In speaking about his outfit, Maja-Pearce said he was open to accepting all kinds of manuscripts ranging from poetry, short fiction, full-length novels, which could be published on demand (POD) and readily made available to would-be buyers. The session was heralded by a reading by Chuma Nwokolo; he read from his collection, The Ghost of Sanni Abacha. Maja-Pearce also read from the new collection he’s just published.
  It was quickly followed by a symposium on ‘The Key to the Knowledge Economy’ session, that dwelt on a link between books and financial intelligence. Kingsley Moghalu’s Emerging Africa: How the Global Economy’s Last Frontier Can Prosper and Matter, Dambisa Moyo’s How the West Was Lost and Africa Must Be Modern were the books up for discussion, with Okeowo Niran and Tade Ipadeola squaring up while Tayo Fagbule of BusinessDay moderated the session.
  Ipadeola expressed excitement at the kind of economic literature coming from Africa to compete or rival those from the West, saying they were books that deal with cause and effect, with Nigeria as reference point in Africa’s development stride. However, Ipadeola faulted the authors for not taking into account Africa’s long history and that they were usually prescriptive rather leaving the argument open for further and fuller debate.
  In reviewing How the West Was Lost, Niran said the author anchored his presentation on such factors as labour and capital, which he said the West seems to have lost sight of, instead it now delegates its manufacturing needs to China and concentrate on such speculative financial science as hedge funds and debt buying, of which bubbles burst a few years back in 2008 and from which the West was yet to fully recover. He urged African countries to be mindful of these pitfalls in their financial dealings for healthy economic future.
  Niran particularly cautioned the continent to be wary of capitalism and wholesale market economy, as models to follow just like the West. He said China’s guided and regulated market system would seem to be the best given its robust outcome.
  In his opening, Mr. Fagbule examined China as the economic model to emulate with its emphasis on production and cheap labour. He said while America and the West were busy borrowing to finance their huge deficits, China was busy saving huge reserves in America and has become the biggest lender to America. The implication is that while America bequeaths debts to its offerings, China would be investing in every part of the globe with profits from those debts. With its huge reserves, he said, China was reconsidering the one-child policy so it could have enough people to enjoy its wealth.
  Wired Literature took its turn, with Anwuli Ojiugo and Dr. Eghosa Imasuen taking the spot and discussing how e-books and e-devices interfere with the way people normally interface with the book. With such books as Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr and You Are not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier. It was generally submitted that whether we like or not, the internet or e-reading truly interferes with reading. Ojiugo specifically said e-book impacted the level of concentration and robs people of the power of reflection, introspection and contemplation needed for deep thinking, which become lost in the babble of social media.
  Ibadan-based Nelson Publishers Limited presented a collection of short stories, Dream Chasers and a new series for children’s story called Ivana and Daara of Cowrie Creek Series. Some of the contributors like Jumoke Verissimo, Lola Akande and Silver Ifidigbo were on hand to respond to their works.

ORGANISERS of LABAF 2013 couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate way of tagging the session on The Caine Prize for African Writing, as The Caine Prize for Nigerian Writing? In its 14 years of existence, Nigerian writers of the short fiction genre have won it four times. This year alone, the five shortlisted were Nigerian writers! So, indeed, it might well have been established for the pleasure of Nigerian writers, who have dominated the prize so far.
  On hand to discuss the explosive session were 2012 winner, Mr. Rotimi Babatunde and one of the shortlisted writers for 2013 edition, Elnathan John; it had activist and poet, Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo moderating.
  The session plumbed such contentious issues as African writing needing validation from the West and the cultural and institutional power that still resides with the West and how it determines the type of writing coming from Africans for them to be accepted and rewarded.
  The session dovetailed into a master-class on New Writing: Writing for Young Adults. It was moderated by publisher/editor, Sarah Odedina and had two British authors, Alan Bissett and Matt Whyman to tackle the subject. They submitted that considering an audience before writing a book could be a tricky issue and that each writer learns to do it as best as he could.
  After which the books of 2013 session came on. Four authors and their books were up for celebration: Tade Ipadeola, with his prize-winning book, The Sahara Testament, Iquo Eke’s shortlisted, Symphony of Becoming, Igoni Barrett’s Love is Power, Or Something Like That and Sammy Sage Hassan’s Dream Maker. Of the four, only Hassan was absent, and it turned out a fairly humorous session with Ayodele Olofintuade moderating.

IT was evening already. And time for Festival Arthouse Party, with Prof. J.P. Clark-Bekederemo, who will be 80 next year; Mrs. Francesca Emanuel, who was 70 recently; Dejumo Lewis, 70 and Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi. Clark came with his adorable wife, Prof. Ebun. The citation of these illustrious Nigerians was performed by inimitable actress, Taiwo Ajayi-Lycett. When it was dancing time, Emanuel, Ajayi-Lycett, Lewis and Gbadamosi all took to the floor. But it was Emanuel that show real class as she rocked!

DAY Three turned out to be a celebration of the documentary medium in telling Nigeria’s centenary story. A combination of unavoidable absences cancelled out the ‘The Book of Nollywood: Nollywood Insider, which are Till November: Memoirs of a Nollywood by Charles Novia and Shaibu Hussein’s Moviedom… The Nollywood Narratives. Instead, documentaries on Nigeria’s centenary and how the book meets film on the live of Nigeria’s foremost Yoruba language author, D.O. Fagunwa were shown.
  First was Naij: A History of Nigeria by Jide Olanrewaju that traces Nigeria’s tortuous history culminating in the current democratic system. Another documentary that the audience saw was A Journey to Amalgamation, which traces the country’s journey to 1914, which is fitting as Nigeria celebrates that landmark event next year. It was, however, commissioned by the Federal Government and contains a high dose of praise of those who should be held for some of the woes the country suffered in the past.
  But more illuminating was the documentary D.O. Fagunwa: Literature, Language and Literalism, which gave the famous novels their proper contexts, as no less literary luminary than Profs. Niyi Osundare, Femi Osofisan, Tunde Babawale and others opportunity to examine his works. Fagunwa’s fictive power and place in Africa’s literary corpus could not have found a better outlet than this documentary. There was another also on some of the important luminaries that have shaped the history of the country.
  The visual art section was no less captivating, as Jelili Atiku and his colleagues gave installation art another meaning. The exhibition stood on its own throughout the festival.
  A poetry slam and reggae splash concluded proceedings at the weeklong festival that was easily a collage of ideas distilled from books. No less was the plenty of beer that flowed on the food court of Freedom Park, a park that proclaims the sheer delight of freedom in artistic, cultural and pluralistic expressions.
  However, LABAF events were too packed together that there was hardly a moment to take a breath. It would be proper to space out the events for guests to experience every aspect of the loaded programme. Otherwise, LABAF 2013, just like previous editions, will continue to be star venue to lovers of books and the ideas contained in them!

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