Writings of the general word's body

Monday, February 19, 2007

John Kani's Play

Written by John Kani and starring the man himself, Nothing But The Truth is at the Hampstead Theatre, London, until 24 February.

Global Warming: from little acorns...

... do great writer/journalists/environmental activists grow. A love letter to all our futures, written on Valentines Day by 12-year-old Nneka, daughter of entertainent writer and artists manager Azuka Jebose Molokwu. The Molokwus live in the US, as you might gather from Nneka's piece. What the young lady has to say about Global Warming, below...

Nneka Molokwu
Science, 5th Period, 7-3
February 14, 2007
Global Warming Composition

“America has not led, but fled, on the issue of global warming"
- Senator John Kerry.

Global warming is an issue that needs to be faced straight-on. It is not a joke, and will start to affect us in the very near future. In fact, according to UC Berkeley Scientists, “a five degree temperature rise - projected to occur in the next 30-50 years at current rates of carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere - could result in a $15 to $30 billion in annual damage to American crops.” So what do we do about it? How do we stop this, in some sort, ‘monster’ that has the potential to kill us? I feel that it is not that hard to prevent global warming. By simply changing the way we use our cars, we can make sure that less carbon dioxide (CO2) gets released. Trees gobble up CO2 like crazy, but now there are not enough trees to get all the CO2 that we humans exhale. Why not? One word: deforestation. Loggers are cutting down whole forests numerous times a day, and it’s getting to the point where soon, there’ll be no more trees left! If we would just turn off electrical items when they’re not in use, or even find a way to conserve energy, we’d be putting a lot less greenhouse gases into the air.

Many of the cars on the roads now get 35 miles per gallon (mpg). This means that we take more trips to the pump, which increases the price of gasoline. There is a solution. In fact, there are many. For one, you could get a Hybrid car, which is a car that runs on battery power that is generated in the process of driving. Hybrid cars only produce 1/2 - 2/3 the greenhouse gases of regular cars and SUVs. You may also get a tax break if you purchase a Hybrid car. Even if you couldn’t buy a Hybrid car, there are ways you can prevent global warming. By driving 45-60 mph, making sure your car is tuned up, and making sure your tires are properly inflated, you will get the best mileage possible from your car, and produce the fewest greenhouse gases possible. By carpooling with a nearby co-worker, you will keep more cars off the road, keeping less greenhouse gases from getting into the air. Whenever possible, try to walk, bike, or take public transportation instead of driving your car. If everyone would take these small steps, they’d prevent millions of tons of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) from getting into the air.

Deforestation is the process of removing trees from an area of land. Trees breathe in CO2 as we exhale it. By cutting down the trees, we release the CO2 into the air, which contributes to global warming. By planting a tree every 2,000 miles (when traveling by car), you help prevent global warming. By simply growing a tree in your room, you make your air cleaner. Trees make the world’s air cleaner. With deforestation going on, trees cannot make the world’s air cleaner, allowing pollution and the release of greenhouse gases make global warming even worse. There are many ‘Adopt-A-Tree’ organizations out there, waiting for others to join their cause and help stop global warming. Another thing that we can do to help save the trees would be to create an ‘Endangered Species’ sort of list for trees. We do this for animals, and it’s helped bring back many animals from the edge of extinction. Trees are even more important. Also, like animals, there are different kinds of trees that live in different types of climates. This means that one certain type of tree may be being cut down because someone wants to put something there that relates to the climate. For example: say someone wants to build an indoor ski resort in Hawaii. Since there are a bunch of palm trees in the way, that person hires a crew to clear them out. Suddenly, the indoor ski resort becomes a great hit, and they start popping up all over Hawaii, and then start popping up in Jamaica, California, and Puerto Rico. Palm trees everywhere are being cut down, making them an endangered species. Without an endangered species list, we have no way of protecting our trees and preventing global warming.

Did you know that even when you’re not charging your cellphone, your charger is using energy just by being plugged up? Apparently, many people don’t since they waste energy in this very way numerous times a day. If you can’t avoid this, then switch your light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs. These save energy, and make your lights brighter. Did you know, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), replacing 5 of your current light bulbs with 5 compact fluorescent light bulbs is equivalent to taking 8 million cars off of the road? Only 5 compact fluorescent light bulbs! Imagine if everyone had 5 compact fluorescent light bulbs in their homes. Now imagine 10, 15 fluorescent light bulbs! It isn’t that hard to keep the Earth at a stable temperature. This is proof that by doing something as small as changing what kind of light bulb you use, you can help prevent global warming.

Although some people may not like to believe it, global warming is an issue that’s here and is growing stronger. By taking small steps such as: changing the way we use our cars, decrease deforestation, and stop wasting energy, we can help change our Earth positively, and prevent global warming.

Found Blogs

  • What do 'Future Nigeria', 'Sons-and-Daughters', Funmi Iyanda's New Dawn talk show and a novel called His Father's Knickers have in common? - read Chude's Blog and find out.
  • Because she posted a one-year rememberance to the late soul singer David Lynden Hall - and many other reasons you best find out yourself, read Jola Naibi's blog.
  • And you can never have too many blogs on Nigerian writing and such like, so why not check Uzezi out?
  • And there's Vera's blog. Why? Because she's 'Verastic'.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


13th February, and I attended a screening of Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako at the very arty Renoir Cinema in Russell Sq. The director took questions from the audience after the film, in a Q&A moderated by Imruh Bakari (in red cap), former director of the Zanzibar Internation Film Festival. Sissako spoke largely in French. His wife and co-producer of Bamako - Magda Abdi Gonji - translated into English. Later, husband and wife met film fans in one-to-one discussions. African on Screen continues till March 18; Sissako's Waiting For Happiness is also on the programme.

Arundhati Joy

Not a typo. 'Joy' was what fiction lovers felt when they heard news that Arundhati Roy, writer of "the great soaring masterpiece of 1997", The God of Small Things - is returning to fiction. In yesterday's Guardian, she discusses some of the reasons for her wonderful about-turn, including the fact the non-violent activism, the kind of which she has been active in in India for the past decade - has failed in her country. She returns to literature, for some respite.

My favourite passage in The God of Small Things, is in the chapter 'Kochu Thomban', and it goes...
"The secret of Great Stories is that they have no secrets... the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably... In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn't. And yet you want to know again."

A bit like Roy's Booker winning novel actually. I was happy to see this passage quoted (to a point) in The Guardian piece. Your many million readers say welcome back, Ms Roy.

Endnotes: Muhammed Sule

Nigerian writer Muhammed Sule who passed away on 12th February 2007. A 2005 interview with Sule, conducted by Sumaila Umaisha (for the Nigerian Writers Talking series) - below.
"I wrote The Undesirable Element in secondary School"
~ ~ ~
NNW: Though your name is well known as a writer and the author of the popularnovel, The Undesirable Element, not many people know you as a person. So let’s begin by knowing the man Muhammed Sule.
Muhammed Sule: I’m from Kano, I was born in Kano in 1957 and was brought upthere. The schools I attended include Kofar Nasarawa Primary School and Bayero University, Kano. Then I went to U.K to study Motion Picture Production andScript Writing and Directing. I worked with the Kano State Television Service(later taken over by the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA) and then Kano StateMinistry of Information. I retired in 1988 to set up my own business; Incorporated Links Films Limited. Presently I live in Kaduna.
How did you get into writing?
I was motivated by my love to communicate with people. I would have loved tohave been a teacher. So as that opportunity did not avail itself to me, I ended up writing. And I think that has in some ways satisfied my zeal to communicate and contribute to the development of the society at large.
When did this motivation come to you, was it when you were a student?
Yes, I was a student when I began to write. I wrote The Undesirable Element insecondary school; Government College, Kano. I started it in Form One. And by the time I got to Form Four I had finished it and sent it to Macmillan forpublication. It eventually got published after I had left secondary school. I was actually in London when it got published in 1977.
At what point did you write the second novel, The Delinquent?
I wrote it soon after I had finished writing The Undesirable Element. I thinkI wrote about seven chapters before I graduated from Government College. Icompleted it later on and gave it to Macmillan even when I was yet to know thefate of The Undesirable Element, whether it would be published or not.
How did you go about publishing the books?
I didn’t know how to go about it at that time. But fortunately, I took the right course without anyone telling me. You know, when you work on a book, eventually you get bored with it because you probably have read it over athousand times. When I reached that level I felt I had done enough and wanted toget rid of it. So I sent the manuscript to the Northern Nigeria Publishing Company (NNPC) in Zaria. At that time Macmillan was running the NNPC asco-owners. The management was provided by the Macmillan. The NNPC then had nointerest in publishing English works. So the MD, Mr. Taylor, a Briton, took the manuscript from me and gave it to his wife, who was teaching at the Government Girls Secondary School, Zaria, to go through. And when she had gone through shedecided that since it was the first book in English they had received and sincethere were no such writings from the North, they would take it to London. Luckily, she took it to Macmillan office in London at the timewhen it was planning to start the Pacesetter Series. They decided to include it in the series.
Let’s look at The Undesirable Element closely. What messages is it meant topass across?
One of the messages I intended to pass across is the importance of education. I’ve since realised that education is a key factor in every person’s life, so in all my writings you will find that in one way or the other the importance ofeducation is the central theme. The Undesirable Element in particular is areflection of what obtained in the Northern Nigeria of that period. The situation was that older men who were well-to-do were marrying young girls. And some of these girls were in school. They had to be brought out of school tomarry. That was the social trend that time. It was money. Marriage were based on "I’m rich, I can marry young girls.’’ Once you were rich you could do anything in the North at that time. It was so.
Is the trend increasing now or decreasing?
Socially the North is a bigger trouble now than that time. Now they are not marrying the girls, they are abusing them. The situation is compounded by thefact that the quality of education has collapsed. So even though many girls now go to higher institutions, they are not intellectually and morally sound enoughto maintain self-discipline. And so they are more liable to the evil machinations of the rich men these days.
The Delinquent is centred more on how the children of the rich easily getspoilt by the riches. How would you compare the level of such behaviour in those days with these days?
It has reduced drastically because these days children from rich families no longer think they have automatic ticket in life. They no longer think they don’thave to go to school, their parents’ money would see them through life. That has changed over the years as a result of many instances where children from poor background become rich and influential through education. So it is only in isolated cases that such mentality still exists.
Apart from these two books, what other books have you published?
I have published two other books: The Infamous Act and The Devil’s Seat. And I’m writing another one which will soon be published by Macmillan. The working title is The Libertine.
Is the theme of this one different from your usual theme of corruption?
No, it cannot be different because the situation in the North is still very alarming. As long as the situation persists in the way it is, a committed writerwill continue to pay attention to the social dynamics. We have numerous problems in the area of education, health and so on. And there is poverty everywhere due to the misuse of wealth. I have never seen a place where the rich of that area misuse their wealth like the North. It is a tragedy. You can’t see concrete investments that are capable of relieving the social tension as well astranslating into a huge economic benefit to both the owner of the business and those who lean on the business in terms of working or trading in the product of that business. So the North is a human failure in terms of the wealthy Northerners utilising their wealth for the economic sustainability of the area.
Are these problems the theme of The Libertine?
Not exactly. It is still the same problem of social education. You can view The Libertine as an indirect sequel to The Undesirable Element, it is along thesame line. But here we are not dealing with a secondary school girl. We are talking about a young lady in the university who has to drop out due to poverty. But not simply poverty, she also got herself involved in so many other things.Yes, she is also a delinquent, but in her own case she came from a poor family.And because the society is uncaring so many problems that would have been avoided happened. Nobody cares. And that is the most unfortunate thing about our society.
The criticism against most African writers is that they merely expose the problems rather than propound the right solutions to them. Is this new work in the same old expository style?
Well, whether a writer propounds solutions or not is not the issue. The most important thing is to expose the problem. When you expose a problem and people appreciate the fact that they have the problem, you have achieved about fiftyper cent towards getting the solution. People must be made aware of the problembefore they can solve it. So I think anyone who exposes the problem has done agood thing. The process of bringing about a solution is vast, everybody will play a part in bringing about the solution. In The Libertine I’m very critical of our society’s lack of respect for merit, where very hard working people could not make it anywhere because of certain reasons. Charlatans, idiots, praise-singers and boot-lickers can succeed to no limit because they know the people in the power circle. And the real people could be dammed because they don’t have any link-up to who is who. It is very unfortunate. A situation where the best could not take his or her right place is aterrible situation and we will continue to be in the loo. But the moment we are able to find our way, whereby people will be given their due, so many of the problems will adjust themselves.
Given our reading culture in this country, where those who are creating these problems have little or no time to read, how could the writers really change the ills?
The people who are causing the ills are in the minority while those who are reading are in the majority. So if you are able to reach the majority, if you are able to reach about a million people, they may have different perspectives about the book, but your preaching will get through. And then we are moving forward. Of course, I’m also aware of the poor reaching culture. When I was inprimary school, we had a library where we could read. It was the same in secondary school. And we read a lot. But these days, even some university graduates hardly read. So it is a fundamental problem. But I don’t believe theproblem cannot be solve if all those concerned wake up to their responsibilities.
To be able to write novels while you were in secondary school, you must have read hard and wide.
Of course, we used to read a lot those days. We were dedicated to our studies and were always thinking of what we wanted to be in life. From the start I havealways wanted to be a writer. And I was able to commit myself, and God in His mercy has made me realize my dream. You see, it is important to have a plan. Asat the time you put down the plan there maybe no prospect of achieving yourgoal. But if you diligently and patiently dedicate yourself to it, someday youwill be near it, one day you will be in it and one day you will go higher aboveit. But young people of these days don’t want to strive. They just want themoney. But I don’t know how you can get the money without working for it. Somepeople say there is no such thing as success in life because you have to work every minute of everything you want, so that by the time you achieve it, it isnot success, it is what you are due for. Unfortunately our own society don’t encourage that. But still that is not enough reason not to strive. It is just like when you are on a journey and you need afree ride. You don’t stand by the roadside, hoping that one of the motorists would just stop and give you a lift. You have to keep on moving, displaying a placard announcing your destination. Eventually someone will recognize your effort and stop to offer you a helping hand. That is how the world operates.
Did you read literature in school?
Yes, I did. But that is not enough motivation for one to become a writer. Yousee, writing is very difficult, you need to have very strong motivating factorsto be able to write. It is so demanding that with simple commitment you can never write, the commitment must be very overwhelming, and there must beinterest, pleasure and other factors. The Libertine, for instance, I started writing it since 1993. I planned it for over one and half years, then I went toJos to write it, and I was able to write it within a month. I should havepublished it by now but my editor wasn’t comfortable with some aspects so I had to change it.
What was wrong with the aspect; was it against the government?
It was not against the government. It was against social order, according tomy editor. And the publisher agreed on that. And he decided to send me just thechapter involved. Unfortunately, the chapter got lost in transit. For me toreplace that chapter, it took me seven years.
Seven years?
Yes. Because I have other things to do, and when I decided to write it, Iwrote two chapters instead of one. Now I have finished it. The reason why it isyet to be published is because I want a particular person in U.K. to go throughthe new changes and she hasn’t got the chance yet.
So how soon are we expecting it?
I hope to go to UK soon and get it published.Were your subsequent novels published in the same way The Undesirable Element and The Delinquent were published or they were self-published as it is the vogue these days? It is the same way; not self-published. I can understand those who doself-publishing. If you don’t have the opportunity of being published in the traditional way, why not. But if you have a publisher you are likely to reach out to a wider audience than when you do self-publishing.
How have your efforts in writing been rewarded?
The Undesirable Element and The Delinquent were among the best-selling novels in the Pacesetter series, and they still are today abroad where the series are still being sold. And I do receive my royalties regularly from the sales. So, definitely I have benefited from the books. Though the benefit is not as much as I used to get before due to some problems. One of the problems is that of the inability of Macmillan to bring the books here due to the problem between the headquarters in UK and the Nigerian office. Secondly, the economy has restricted the importation of books; the cost of the books have gone so high due to high foreign exchange. So, even if they are imported here, readers can hardly afford them. And thirdly, piracy has wrecked havoc on the book industry so much that the benefits that should have gone to the writer have been diverted into the pockets of the pirates. Popularity is one of your major benefits. But you would have been more popular especially in the academic circle if you had got your works into the school syllabus.
Why were they not read in schools?
So many schools had The Undesirable Element and The Delinquent on their reading list. Sometime ago Ambassador Kabiru Rabiu who was a commissioner in Kano State during the Third Republic tried to see that my books, as a Kano indigene, is put in the syllabus, at least, in Kano State. Well, I didn’t know what went wrong but somehow that initiative fizzled out when he left the Ministry of Education. But all the same the books have found their levels as best-sellers. So many people I meet tell me they have read the books.
I read them while I was in secondary school.
We thank God for that.
Some writers talk a lot. But it seems you let your works speak for you. Is that a deliberate policy?
Well, by nature, I’m a very private man. And I feel if one has taken the trouble to write, he should let the writing do the talking and create the desired impact that would change the society for the better.
Are you saying that though you are a radical, a moral crusader, you are not an activist?
Well, I don’t know what you mean by an activist [laughter]. But I am a man who simply wants to live in a very good surrounding, and who likes to contribute to his society the little he can. I think it is a sacred duty. If you are in a society where there is a lot to be done you have to contribute the little you can. At least that will console you. But if you are always getting angry at allsorts of things happening and you are not doing anything to advance any course toward the realisation of the solution, then you are part of the problem. And that is what most of the activists in this country are - part of the problem. They are just noise makers. But sometimes it doesn’t require noise, it requires positive actions. If we were making more positive actions than noise we would have changed the society by now.
Does this mean your encounter with the Abacha regime some time ago has nothing to do with activism?
Well, it was in the line of business. Since my leaving the civil service I have been running the business of television documentary. So, what happened wasthat I was arrested while I was doing a documentary on the political and socio-economic aspect of Nigeria. I was interviewing the late General Musa Shehu Yar’adua when I, together with five others, was arrested.
When did this actually happen?
It happened on the 8th of February, 1995. You see, the documentary is not only on the politics of that time. I had shot materials from way back; the Shagari period to June 12. Abacha regime was not the only government I was trying to portray. And I was fair. I allowed everybody a say. Whatever is said against a personality I would go to that person for his own side of the story. The producers who sponsored the project made it clear that they wanted something very objective, and I tried as much as possible to do just that.
Who are these sponsors?
My friends in the UK. I had a sponsorship and support from an organisation in the UK. A friend of mine called Neil, who is a media expert and has a radio station there is the man behind it. He insisted it has to be objective. And like I said, that is what I tried to do. So my arrest was a surprise to me. However,I won’t go into details about it.
But let’s…
No. I’m not going into much details because I have been making my own notes. So at a later date, God willing, I will be able to write a substantial account of what happened. But all the same I must say I was shocked by what I saw that day and the days after. Violence and brutality was brought into a matter which could have been simply sorted out. We had to spend 17 months in detention.
What were the allegations leveled against you?
There were so many allegations, some of them very wild. So you don’t know which one to believe. The main thing is that they thought I was being sponsored by Yar’Adua to portray the regime in a bad light abroad. But it was share stupidity, for Yar’adua didn’t even know when the production started. His only relevance to the documentary was that he happened to be a political actor at that time.
Seventeen months in detention is definitely a hell of time. Does it mean all this while none of your friends came to rescue you?
Which friend can rescue me from Major Hamza Al-Mustapha? (the Chief Security Officer to Abacha). Mustapha was responsible for it and he was like a tin-god; nobody could talk to him about anything of that nature.
Who were those who stood by you in your days in detention?
So many people and organisations readily come to mind. Military police cellguard Corporal Oneya now Staff Sergeant who received me at Yakubu Gowon Brigade of Guard’s camp, my detention centre with human courtesy. And who a week later outrightly refused to take over duty because I was not given access to medical treatment for my uncountable open bleeding wounds by no other person than the officer in charge of the Guardroom, Military Police Major Adamu Argungu, who has since been retired for his excesses during the alleged Diya coup. I was destined to survive the rigour of those unfortunate days when, by some twist I met police S.P. Dr. Charles Ugbomah also detained for something to do with late Chief M.K.O. Abiola. Dr. Charles saw the state of my bleeding wounds and warned me that I need Anti-tetanus injection. He agreed to write prescription for me but refused to inject me. I got injected with ATS a week later through the intervention of Corporal Oneya. Only then did Major Adam come in person to escort me to the next door clinic for the treatment. I cannot help but compare the incivility of the great Professor of Law, Awalu Yadudu, who was then Legal Adviser to late Gen. Abacha. Yadudu was brought to the ceremonial gate of the Aso Villa where I was kept after my baptism with brutal torture on the expressed order of the CSO Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, CSP Abba Suleiman, who I did not recognize then brought me before Prof. Yadudu, the human right gladiator of that regime. My disappointment to date was that the Professor of Law could not even ask me why I was there? My pleasure of seeing him in my very woeful condition was shortlived as he looked at me with hatred and disgust, saying, "shine wannan?" meaning "is he the one?"in Hausa. Abba Suleiman confirmed in affirmative. As we stood there his eyes were smouldering as though he would spit on my face or I believe if he had a dagger in his hand, he would have mercilessly stabbed me to death, going by his expression. Only for me to meet Corporal Oneya, the following day and see the difference between a decent man of the other rank, not an officer, yet behaving unsavagely. That episode was an eye opener to me in my behaviour towards all people ever after. I must thank people like General Magashi; he really showed interest in helping us out. But, of course, the power-that-be did not allow him even though he was senior to those people. Also Mandy Ganner in collaboration with Babara traba of SWISS-German Ren Centre that arranged for me to leave through the NADECO route for exile. And also Civil Liberties Organisation contacted Toucher International Switzerland who provided tickets for me and my family to leave but I did not. Olu Akerelle, late Chief Abiola’s Personal Assistant joined us at Yakubu Gowon camp detention centre and we remained together for months. He was later to shoulder so much burden for me and many others. My professional associate in the UK Mr. Neil Kenlock was a formidable support. So was my publishers, Macmillan, who approved so much money as advance for me at that time, apart from their moral support. Mandy Ganner of international Pen London was a source of enormous inspiration and support to my family in my absence. Most of the awards I received came through the activities of Mandy Ganner. So was Mr. Innocent Awachukwu of Centre for Law Enforcement, Mr Richard Akinola, Tunde Rahaman of Centre for Free Speech, which I am in its Advisory Board, Clement Nwankwo of Constitutional Right Project, Barrister Okoye of Human Rights Law, Umaru Apai, Kabir Yusuf Ali and a host of other great humanitarian minds that I will ever remain grateful and thankful to. And finally I must mention a man of tremendous courage and guts, Umar Faruk Musa, former BBC Abuja correspondent now with the Bureau Chief of VOA Hausa Service, as the man who brought me out of the doldrums to the real world. This is a man I cannot find words to ever thank.
In general, who were those responsible for your succeess in life?
First of all, I am thankful to Allah for being alive and in good health and the many more of His endowment to me as a person and the humanity. I am also indebted to my parents for all their good work towards making me a decent person; their sacrifice, their endurance at difficult times and their patience had all rubbed on my person. We were so close that I will certainly never free myself from the nostalgia of missing them until my own death. May Allah grant them eternal rest from an appreciating son. My teachers at all the levels of my schooling are also worthy of mentioning. Career wise, I recall the wonderful contribution of Alhaji Mohammed Ibrahimn, former NTA Director-General. He is the traditional ruler of his area now. He employed me as the then General Manager of Kano State Television Service and he was instrumental to my winning Kano State scholarship to study abroad. There was also Alhaji Mahmoud Yazid, my Director of Information in my days at the Kano State Film Unit and Mr Edet Uno, the then state director of Information who gave my career a real push. It was a rare privilege to work with Alhaji Ibrahim Ismail, a post Second Republic Information Commissioner. I have learnt a great deal through the confidence he had on me as we worked very closely at that timeand even afterwards.In terms succeess as a writer, my family has most of the credit for their support and understanding, especially my wife and children who were deprived of my company due to my chosen passion to write. Over the years I have also built good relationships with a number of good people in the Macmillan outfit. My friend and co-writer, former executive of Macmillan Nigeria, Mr Agbo Areo. Ms.Lizmet, the first Macmillan official I met in 1976 to discuss my royalty contract, Ms. Ann Price who edited The Undesirable Element and The Delinquent. Ann is still a good friend who was so kind to come to London to greet me after my ordeal with the Abacha regime. The MD/CEO of Macmillam, Mr Christ Harrison, a kind man and a long term supporter of relationship with his company, and indeed Mr. John Weston who took so much trouble to locate me in my most difficult days. Aman, who makes it a point to meet with me whenever I was out there in the UK or when he comes round here. And he does that often. I remain grateful to all of them.
How would you describe the literary scene especially in the north?
I think there is progress. All over the country new writers are coming up and many of them are doing well. There are a lot of potentials. There are so many writers in the North also. But many of them will never get published in the system we operate now. Things can only get better when the system is changed and the big publishing companies come back to play the roles they used to play. But for now, writing is only an aspiration to so many young people. It is unfortunate. The most terrible tragedy of writing in the North is that there are so many educated people; professors, doctors etc who would have at least by now flooded our schools with their works, but because of lack of organisation what we read in the North come from outside. If the system were working, local governments could decide to introduce in primary and junior secondary schools syllabuses books by writers in the locality. And this would have impacted positively on our children because their understanding would be enhanced as there is an interelationship between the writer and the reader. The benefit is all-round. The writers will benefit, the local publishers and bookshops will benefit, and the students too.
Amidst this chaotic situation, what is your advice for young writers?
Well, it is good to have the ambition. It is good to write. I’m sure soon the situation will improve. Nothing is forever, change will come somehow. And it isbetter to be found there waiting for the change. So writers must find a way of nursing their talents.
  • Words and image are courtesy of Sumaila Umaisha, and the blogger thanks him.

Political Circus

Saturday 10th February, and I went along to this media event where London-based Naija journos got to put questions to Governor Orji Kalu of Abia State who fancies a shot at the Nigerian presidency in the April poll on the PPA ticket. Some of us media people are lined up in the black & white pic below (the 2 ladies at the ends of the line-up aren't journos; they're organising 'Nigeria's Next Top Model' in the UK. You mean like the Tyra Banks thing? I asked. No, it will be a one night thing. Does the lady get to become a model though? I enquired further. They said: yes). Heading there on the day, I suddenly remembered I'd written a less than complimentary piece about the Governor back in 2003. Sometimes I thank God for the refuge of the arts. Politics is so much more cut-throat, whereas one can still be as political as hell with art. And I asked myself on the day: flirting with politics here? Well, maybe just for one day. Oh, alright then...
In the photos above, I was more interested in the industry of the modest media event - the setting up of the shots, the milling around of people, and the recording later at BEN TV - see Gov. Kalu below with television presenter Adora, and BEN's top man Alastair Soyode.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Odia's Abuja Feast

It's been performed in Lagos and now it comes to Abuja. Odia Ofeimun's dance drama, A Feast of Return - is at the National Centre For Women Development in Abuja on February 15, 16 & 17 2007.

Publisher's Pride

No one can accuse Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's UK publishers of not being proud enough of their wave-making author. "When beauty shines through, everyone sees it" - goes the bold statement on adverts for the new paperback edition of Half of a Yellow Sun. This (left) is a poster on a platform at Green Park Station - right there as you wait for the rush hour tube train. You can't put it plainer than that. The ad also announces the fact that Adichie's book is a Richard & Judy Book Club selection for 2007 - something which is certain to lead to sky-rocketing sales - and which will bring the author onto the Richard & Judy TV programme on March 14.
So there I was last week in the Wembley Asda store - to buy carrots, cereals, chicken legs and such like. I could hardly believe it when I saw right there on sale among the usual publishing suspects - Half of a Yellow Sun. No more talk of not being able to find this African writers' book in Books Etc..., Borders, or what have you. This one has broken the supermarket barrier in the UK! Which is to say it will be bought by the bucket loads. Which is to say our girl has "run past the bend in the road" - as I like to say. Well, never mind that I already have a hardback copy, I just had to have my own certified Asda, Richard & Judy approved copy. So I plonked it into my shopping trolley.

~ * ~ *

Meanwhile, Giles Foden, author of the book from which The Last King of Scotland is adapted, reviews 2001 Caine prizewinner Helon Habila's 2nd novel, Measuring Time, published this month in the UK by Hamish Hamilton - and later this year in Nigeria by Cassava Republic. Foden writes:

"Given the way the country has gone, Nigeria now being a byword for scheming selfishness and corruption, it seems no accident that twins should play such a big role in the late renaissance of the Nigerian novel, as illuminated by Helon Habila, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Helen Oyeyemi... Habila... author of the acclaimed Waiting for an Angel, has also written a novel in which twins and history are central. It is a very subtle piece of work in which the story of a family and community in northern Nigeria in the 1980s and early 90s is woven into a wider sociopolitical narrative, touching on education, responsibility, the colonial inheritance and the mythic substratum of folklore." - Read the review in full.


Ogunlesi's Poetry Prize

Congratulations to Tolu Ogunlesi, who has won a $1,000 award in the 2006 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize. The prize awards 1,000-25,000 USD annually to poets under 40 judged to have written the finest lyric poems celebrating the spirit of life.

Ogunlesi is one of 12 winners in the $1,000 category, and he did it with his poem, Visiting the Yellow River - below.

Visiting the Yellow River

How can you (without a pang of conscience) my host
And guide, say that you have suddenly fallen short
Of enthusiasm? What will happen to my dreams
Of seeing the Olumo Rock; and to the beating heart
Trapped in my feet, waiting to drown
Itself in the muddy waters of the Yellow River?

From far, far away, beyond the eye of the river
Have I come, possessed with the spirit of one held host-
Age, that I might in oceans of chivalry plunge and drown;
Knowing how blest it is to be short
On fear and long on the courage that steels the heart.
For what is fear if not a song trapped eternally in a cage of bad dreams?

Perhaps you have never numbered your dreams
Nor marvelled at the joys that spring like a river
Therefrom. The overall effect is like an upgrade of the heart
Or like sanctifying yourself with the host
That proceeds from the blessed hand of a priest. Cut short
At once your song of fear. You can learn to drown

Your doubts, just as the wine that fills your cellar learns to drown
Your sorrows. It is a shame when a man has no living dreams
Left to fatten. We shall cut his silken hair short
And leave him to gnash his teeth by the rivers
Of Babylon. Do you want us to sing for you, beloved host,
That the pillars of your manhood are weak of heart?

And it is no use pleading with me to take heart,
And to give you another chance, another time. I’d rather drown
In the lake of fire than pass up this chance to join the Heavenly host
(The roll call of souls who have chosen to die dreaming big dreams).
And don’t even think of warning me that the Yellow River
Is haunted by spirits. To accept anything short

Of a pilgrimage in the Yellow River will be to short
Change myself. I will not relent. Even if my heart
Ceases to beat, my blood will continue to be a river
That never grows silent, never ceasing to drown
Cowardice. For what could be worse than a dream
Visited by slumber, but too spent to play the sprightly host?

The heart beat of the gods still animates the Yellow River
Which is why my favourite dream is of me learning to drown.
Alas, I have a host who is a bad talisman, and my time is now very short …

  • Poem reproduced with permission.
  • Images of Olumo Rock and River Ogun - taken in Abeokuta on 22 August 2004 © M.Wood

Sunset & Snow

I photographed this sunset in mid-January. You can see the steel arch of the under-construction new Wembley stadium in one image. In the same month as these 'sunset' views, snow hit - allowing for these postcard scenes below, taken from my kitchen window.

Bottom left - snowy scene taken in January.
Bottom right - similar scene taken February 8th.

And right now in London, it's raining non-stop. If it's not one thing, it's another...

Africa On Screen

Tonight @ the Curzon Mayfair in London, the actor Danny Glover attends the Gala screening of Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako. The event is sold out - if you don't already a ticket then don't bother.

Bamako is described as an African parable of injustice in which a civil trial is set up in a courtyard to try the World Bank and IMF. Bamako opens a new season of films by African film-makers. Tagged Africa On Screen, the season is ongoing until March 18th.
At 3 London Cinemas - The Curzon, The Renoir & The Ritzy - you can catch Bamako and films including: Abouna, Ousmane Sembene's Xala, Touki Bouki, A Letter From My Village and Waiting For Happiness.


Books of Last Year 4

Sade Adelekan
Becoming Abigail (Akashic Books; 2006) by Chris Abani: This book stayed with me long after I finished reading it. Abigail is a broken girl who lost her mother and had a troubled father who never really recovered from the death of his beloved wife. Abigail is shipped off to England to live with a family member and presumably to a better life which turns out to be one of cruelty and betrayal that leaves her forever scarred. The poetic prose and short abrupt chapters are
very effective in bringing you immediately and viscerally into Abigail's world. A moving tale.

Selah's Bed by Jenoyne Adams: This is the story of a young woman struggling with herself. She is married to a pious husband who is not there for her emotionally especially after learning she was pressured into having an abortion earlier in life. She looks for love and solace in the arms of the different men she photographs and struggles with a grandmother addicted to prescription medication. Adams has a lyrical style and writes with a lot of empathy, giving you a glimpse into the life of Selah and so allows you to root for her.
Segun Afolabi - author of A Life Elsewhere
26a by Diana Evans (Chatto & Windus, 2005) - The Hunter family lives at 26 Waifer Avenue in Neasden, North London. Twins Georgia and Bessi inhabit the loft they’ve nicknamed 26A. Along with younger sister Kemy, older sister Bel, their tortured Derbyshire father and their homesick Nigerian mother, the twins face the minefield of growing up and inevitably apart, complicated by a serious assault on Georgia during a visit to Nigeria, which she hides from the world.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton, 2005) - Smith's homage to EM Forster's Howard’s End is set in an archaic and insular university town in New England. At the centre of the piece are the Belseys: Howard, a world-weary academic, his warm-hearted African-American wife, Kiki, and their three spirited children – Jerome, Zora and Levi. Add the Kipps family to spice up the academic rivalry, and some shabby morals, and you get a terrific comedy about the mind, race and above all, love.
Ikhide R. Ikheloa
I read several books this year including Wole Soyinka’s You Must Set Forth at Dawn, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun; Sefi Atta’s Everything Good Will Come and Ike Oguine’s A Squatter’s Tale. My favourite is Half of a Yellow Sun. No other book has been so successful in anchoring the reader in the condition called Nigeria . I loved Atta’s Everything Good Will Come (Farafina; 2005). On a recent plane trip my family read passages in the book and we had fun. That book should have been aggressively marketed. The sister can write.
Austyn Njoku - author of Scents of Dawn
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (Faber; 2005), is one novel I read recently, and I enjoyed it with heart-fluttering trepidation. His simple and accessible diction, his capacity to give everyday words new and terrifying meanings, the depth of his imagination and mastery of craft, all point to the creation of a masterpiece. Never Let Me Go explores the depths of rootlessness and aloneness with such palpable subtlety that only Kazuo Ishiguro could command.

My second pick would be No Sense of Limits by Araceli Aipoh. Here, she weaves the tragic tale of four women who all but one, have no sense of limits. Linked to these women is the mysterious character, Greg. Aipoh deploys an uncanny power of observation, suspense and clarity to narrate a riveting story of love, betrayal, power, lust and dust, situated in the amorphous city of Lagos. One comes out of No Sense of Limits knowing for sure that one cannot buy love, but ultimately pays for it!
Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi
My two books would be: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and The Dewbreaker by Edwidge Danticat (which I read for the first time this year). Half of a Yellow Sun presents the human tragedy of the Biafran war: the pogroms that preceded it, the duplicity of the elite, starvation as a tool of war, ethnic bigotry on all sides of the conflict, and also manages to serve up some of the most complex Nigerian female characters I've seen in years. The Dewbreaker, which presents the life of a Haitian tonton macoute and the victims of his torture gives a poignant portrait of love, loss, forgiveness and leaves the reader wondering about redemption - just how much can a human being change in a lifetime?
Wumi Raji - author of Rolling Dreams
Njabulo Ndebele: The Cry of Winnie Mandela - I yearned for more when I finished reading this novel. And this, perhaps, is where my problem lies. I don’t know whether it is because I enjoyed the novel so much that I feel that Ndebele could have done more with the materials at his disposal or whether, genuinely, he really needed to do more. This 120 page novel is so different, so unusual, so wonderful. Yet, something in me believes that were the same materials to be given to Ngugi wa Thiong’o, he would have come out with a 700 page novel, with every single word, every single sentence serving as a memorable experience. But I will need to read the novel again.

The Cry of Winnie Mandela (David Phillip; 2003) is concerned with the experience of waiting women. It spins off from the story of Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey who, for nineteen years, waited for the return of Odysseus, her man, and who throughout the period, stoically resists the advances of the numerous suitors who lay siege on her house. Ndebele links the experience of this woman with those of four fictive representatives of hundreds of thousands of South African women who waited as their husbands disappeared for all kinds of reasons during apartheid. The women relive their experiences and hold imaginary conversations with Winnie Mandela, the prominent one who waited as her husband languished in jail. And, together, the five women seem to demand a reason as to why different societies demand unqualified fidelity from their women. While he does not, in the end, excuse the multiple crimes she committed, the acts of violence she perpetrated, Ndebele seems to canvass for an understanding for the sexual scandals surrounding Winnie Mandela.

Gabeba Baderoon: A Hundred Silences (Kwela/Snailpress; 2006) - I don’t think I will ever be able to capture adequately the impact that Baderoon’s third collection of poetry has on me. The work is so smooth, so sonorous, so satisfying. No, Baderoon’s themes are never grand – at least not always. Rather, her focus is always on small things, on little things that hardly receive attention, otherwise: like chirping birds suddenly falling quiet in the trees, like the impact a mouse makes on a tree as it runs through its branches, like the private laugh of a couple in their bedroom, like the anxiety in the hearts of two lovers on the eve of their wedding, like the experience of filming swans at sea, like the little lessons an individual receives when s/he goes picking mushrooms with a friend in the garden, like… I am totally awed by Baderoon’s power of observation, by her gift for recalling details, by the confidence with which she converts minor matters into poetry, and by the patience and talents she applies in honing her lines.

Kola Tubosun - author of Headfirst Into The Mettle
No Sense of Limits by Araceli Aipoh: I must say that I was not at first moved to read it being unreasonably finicky about book covers. But I did. My in-law told me it is the next big book in Nigerian literature. I like the story which was like watching an interesting Nollywood flick. It is hard to imagine that the story set in the crannies of Lagos was written by a non-Nigerian. The plot is engaging, and the style greatly used. It read at times like Soyinka's You Must Set Forth at Dawn and Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code that I read only days before, where all or most of the action takes place within the course of the persona's journey through flashbacks and gradual disclosures. In Soyinka's case, it was a flight back from exile while in No Sense of Limits, it was the femme fatale's drive through Lagos on a course of revenge. I'm glad I read the book.

The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler: With so much hype about this book, I finally got a copy, and read it in one night. I must say that I was not much impressed to equal the hype raised by critics. I am not a feminist. I read the book for information, and pleasure. And I wasn't disappointed. I think my best part was the funny/sad narration of a woman whose husband slept around ostensibly because the wife would not shave her pubis. My friends joke about a riposte, in form of The Penis Diatribe. But mischievous humour apart, it's always nice to read literature that seeks to defy conventions, and to shock. Great work.