Writings of the general word's body

Sunday, November 25, 2007


That would be me. As well as 20 other writers across the Commonwealth, that is. I got a Highly Commended Award in the 2007 Commonwealth Short Story Competition for my short story, "Trial by Water".

My thanks to readers who have left congratulatory messages for me on several Wordsbody posts over the last week...

The big news of course is that of the competition's overall winner, Zambian Ellen Banda-Aaku, who cleaned the board for her short story, (read Sozi's Box). You can also listen to Sozi's Box online. This also makes Ms Banda-Aaku the Regional winner for Africa. She received her £2000 prize from none other than Terry Waite on Wednesday 21 November in a ceremony held at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. "Winning the competition means a lot to me," Ellen Banda-Aaku reportedly said. "I hope my win inspires other African writers, to enter the competition."

There are 2 other 'Highly Commended writers from Africa - Wame Molefhe of Botwana for her story, "Six Pack" & South African Linda C Saunders for "Never Put Your Hands in a Dog's Mouth" [good advice!].

The competition is administered by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association and has been running annually since 1996.

This year's judges were: writer Donna Daley-Clarke, writer and broadcaster Lucy Hannah, and Nathan Hamilton of the New Writing Partnership.

Hamilton said of the 2007 competition, "In general, the issues that cropped up most often were to do with terrorism or war; childhood; cultural tensions in the family across generations and racial boundaries; emigration and immigration. Environmental concerns were also prevalent. And sometimes entries seemed too preoccupied with portraying elements that may have been assumed to be what a judging panel in London wanted to read. However, each of the winners went beyond a self-consciously chosen issue or theme. They listened instead to the needs of the story and let that guide them."

The 26 winning stories were selected from over 2000 entries. All 26 have been professionally recorded on CD and will be broadcast on radio all over the Commonwealth.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Afam Akeh Workshop

Afam Akeh (front, in white) with members of the Oxford University Poetry Society - at Lincoln College, Oxford, on 29 October 2007. Akeh (author of poetry collections 'Stolen Moments' and the forthcoming 'Letter From Home') led a creative writing workshop with the group. He is the editor of African Writing.

  • Image courtesy of the Oxford University Poetry Society

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Norman Mailer - 1923-2007

"We're meaner and more competitive than athletes... No one understands that writers have personalities quite as ugly as the ugliest athlete."

In January, I began a post about Muhammad Ali with the then very much alive Norman Mailer who, when asked by Vanity Fair which living person he most admired, named 'The Greatest'. It should not have surprised, since Ali had been a hero of Mailer's since ever.

The Observer of Sunday 11 November was chock full of Norman Mailer, and I delighted in reading every word. They rehashed every glory, every failing: he drunkenly stabbed his second wife, almost fatally - she refused to press charges, angering the women's liberation movement; he bit off part of the ear of the actor Rip Torn, which brought to my mind all sorts of dark wordplays concerning the thespian's name - and which, bizarrely, made think: 'Oh, at least Mike Tyson wasn't the only one that did that, and I ought to stop feeling shamed on the uncouth boxer's account'. Who'd have thought Mailer and Tyson would have a meeting ground?

The 'ear-ripping', happily, was the only thing perhaps that Mailer shared in common with Tyson. The great writer's boxer of choice as previously noted, was Muhammad Ali. Mailer said of Ali: "There is always the shock of seeing him again. Women draw an audible breath. Men look down. They are reminded again of their lack of worth."

With all the extraordinary Mailer high-jinks recounted after his death, you felt the obituarists were almost urging you to hate the man. If you dare. But I read with awe, as I expect many people did. Norman Mailer once threw a punch at his great rival, Gore Vidal - and missed - whereupon the latter quipped: "Lost for words again, Norman?"

Nice one. But even Vidal would concede, ultimately, that words never failed the literary pugilist. My enduring image of Mailer is from the Oscar winning documentary of Ali's legendary 'Rumble in the Jungle' boxing match against George Foreman in Zaire (DR Congo). Mailer's anecdotes about his hero and the bout, delivered to the camera by an old man who beamed with the excitement of a young boy at the memory - are a joy to watch. One of the many things that make the documentary, 'When We Were Kings', special.

When all is said and done, Norman Mailer lived exactly the way he wanted. How many people live such a wildly varied life, marry 6 wives and sire 9 children and still write 'The Naked and the Dead'? What the hell, he's saying somewhere up above, now.

Cyprian Ekwensi - 1921-2007

Ekwensi in the City

Tributes to the great Nigerian novelist, Cyprian Ekwensi, who died on November 4, 2007, aged 86

Ekwensi’s life is marked by many border crossings: his voyages within the space of the nation speaks totally of a transcendent spirit and a freed imagination whose plural encounters with the cultures that inhabit the space of what is known as Nigeria, gave ,him the courage to speak the truth of fiction. As he once told an interviewer, Basil Okafor, “You can call it social consciousness. You have to be conscious of the people you are living amongst, their likes and dislikes and you respect them and still extract their culture and all that.”

  • Obi Nwakanma, writing in Sunday Vanguard, November 11, 2007.

Ekwensi’s works are set in rural as well as urban centres. These bipolar environments enable him to show up the ugliness and monstrosity of the city beside the idyllic and pristine beauty of rural life. In the rural countryside values such as honesty, industry, and respect for the elders, ancestors and God are held in high regard. But in the cold, foreign, alien and barren wasteland which is the city, people are dishonest, politicians are corrupt and neighbors are at hostilities. It is such a hostile world that the emigres from the rural area are thrust into as prey. In contrast to the beauty and innocence of the country, here they are “daily confronted by wretched filth, decadence, hopelessness, and prevarication.” Thus despite the superficial lustre they might see in the city their hopes of self-fulfillment are always beset with stifling setbacks, For the city has a formidable influence, a magnetic force that brandishes from a distance only its excitement, gaiety, and transient glitter, luring people to either destruction or downfall.


I am deeply saddened by this news of the death of the pioneer Nigerian novelist Cyprian Ekwensi this week. He was 86. Ekwensi, the author of arguably the earliest major novel in Nigeria (People of the City, 1954) and other vastly popular novels--Passport of Mallam Illya, African Night's Entertainment, Lokotown, Jagua Nana, The Drummer Boy, etc--that, as secondary students in Nigeria in the 1980s, captured, intrigued, and liberated our fertile imaginations and youthful fantasies. His simple, uncomplicated plots, while a subject of longstanding critique by literary scholars, was the very reason we read, and re-read his incomparably entertaining works. He was the people's novelist!

While many regarded Chinua Achebe as the father of modern African novel, Ekwensi's first novel, People of the City, published four years before Achebe's Things Fall Apart, was the first work by a Nigerian author to gain international acclaim, and the first modern novel to be published in Britain.

He could sometimes be rather blunt if not brutal, as on an occasion when a student wanted to know what he had in mind when he wrote certain lines in one of his novels, he took an exception to the question and retorted, ‘Have you ever asked Shakespeare what he wrote in Macbeth or Henry?’

Indeed, he encouraged me to put my pen to paper and write The Last Flight To Enugu, a short story that chronicled my experiences as an international election observer in 2003. Chief Ekwensi was a patient teacher and consistently demonstrated a willingness to explain the complexities of this remarkable country, Nigeria to me.

I think it would only be fair to admit that Ekwensi’s books were part of my growing up process, and that I would be the poorer if I had not read them. I don’t know if I have the right to say that I would miss him - not that I had thought so much about him until I heard he died - but reading about his death reminds of my childhood, and of how further I have moved away from those times. And I find myself wondering whether the fact that I am not upset about his death reveals how far away I have moved from the days when I used to stay in my grandfathers library and race to finish two African Writers Series books in a day. I wonder if I should be worried about this. I don’t think I need to add that Cyprian Ekwensi will be missed, most of all by his family, but also by the people he touched through his writing.

Habila on tour

Here's the author of Measuring Time Helon Habila talking at the NuMetro Bookshop, Victoria Island, Lagos, on Saturday 17 November. It was the first date of his book tour of Nigeria, organised by, Cassava Republic Press. Some 80 people turned up to hear Habila apparently, which is a healthy audience for a literary event, even by UK standards.

Habila is touring 5 Nigerian states, appearing in both Nassarawa & Abuja today, Wednesday 21 November. He moves on to Jos tomorrow Thursday 22nd; with 2 events in his home state of Gombe on Friday 22nd (see details on flyer).

The Dilemma of a Ghost

Ama Ata Aidoo 's play, 'The Dilemma of a Ghost' has been touring the UK since 26th October - and is currently at The Africa Centre, Covent Garden, London.

Directed by Michael Walling of
Border Crossings, the production marks 50 years of Ghana's independence as well as the bicentennary of the Slave Trade's abolition. In the play, Americanised Ato returns to his people in Ghana with an African-American wife in too; and ghost from the slavery era wonders whether he should go to Elmina or Cape Coast... amongst other things.

I went to the Africa Centre to watch the players in rehearsal at the Africa Centre in October, and interviewed one of the leading players, actress Dzifa Glikpoe, who is the Artistic Director of the National Drama Company of Ghana. My interview with her is now available online. Other players in the production include
Adeline Ama Buabeng, the leading Ghanaian actress of her generation. Trained by playwright Efua Sutherland, Buabeng is famed for the landmark roles she's played in Ghanaian theatre, including the title role in Sutherland's 'The Marriage of Anansewa.

Was at a performance of the play at the Africa Centre on 6 November. The night also saw the launch of the special edition Border Crossings book published to coincide with the production, 'Theatre and Slavery'. The book was launched by Buabeng (director Michael Walling had become 'Africanised' enough to call her "Aunty Ama"). Also there was the scholar James Gibbs. A specialist in African Theatre, Gibbs (who attended the performance with his wife, Patience) is one of the contributors to 'Theatre and Slavery.

  • The Dilemma of a Ghost is @ The Africa Centre, London, until 24 November.
    ~ ~

"Why Will you have 'Marriage of Anansewa and you go and do Shakespeare?" - Out-takes from my interview with DZIFA GLIKPOE

On the Mboguo (songs in-between stories in plays)
Dzifa Glikpoe: The Marriage of Anansewa for example has a story where Anansi sent photographs to four prominent chiefs promising to give his daughter to them in marriage and each one sent money and gifts, unaware of the existence of the others. Then when they were coming for the marriage ceremony, Anansi told his daughter to play dead. And one of the songs says: You are dead but you are alive; we will see how your funeral will be conducted! The Mboguo is there for a reasons, to advance the plot.

On Ama Ata Aidoo
Dzifa Glikpoe: I read one of Ama Ata Aidoo’s works, a novel, titled ‘Changes’ – centred on women’s issues. One woman - married, well educated, high position - and thinks she knows her rights. The husband says I want sex and she says, ‘I’m not ready’ – and it becomes a tug of war. And the other woman - uneducated, also married but she accepts her position as a wife. The uneducated woman looks at the educated one with envy. The educated woman leaves her marriage and acquires a boyfriend but he’s married – so when you need him, he’s not there. So you end up frustrated. But the way [Ama Ata Aidoo] handled the issue of marriage, and women’s rights... I fell in love with the book. So I asked her if we could adapt it into a screenplay so the film could reach more people who don’t normally read novels. And she agreed, although I’ve not found the time to do it yet.

Anything like the Nigerian Nollywood film phenomenon in Ghana?
Dzifa Glikpoe: Unfortunately, no. I was talking to a producer the other day who claimed Nigerians learnt the ropes from us (Ghana) and I said fine, but they’ve overtaken us! I came to Nigeria to do a production with Liz Benson and I saw the way they went about it. They were very particular, very meticulous. There was a house they wanted to use but had to wait 10 days for the owner to give permission. 10 days of waiting. Because the house was ideal – the character was to be a high class lady and must appear in a certain way, they would not compromise until they got the house. They went and bought costumes, rented some – all for production. But while you have a lot of money, we don’t... And no matter how much they sink into the production, they are able to recoup it. Someone asked if we do films every week in Ghana, I said: ask me if we do them every month! We don’t have that in Ghana, because our market is very small. But we patronise Nigerian films a lot in Ghana. The producers... it’s more economical for our producers to buy the rights from Nigeria and sell copies in Ghana – that way they don’t have the productions costs. And so, our own productions are suffering now.

But there are issues with the quality of a lot of Nollywood movies
Dzifa Glikpoe: Yes. Some are good. I particularly am always worried about the violence in many of the films. A Nigerian friend was saying: “I have been in Accra for seven months, and no one has offered to take me to their home, I don’t have accommodation.” But the films may have discouraged people in Ghana, because these are supposed to be a reflection of the society and so give a discouraging impression of Nigeria as a very violent society. But I’ve been to Nigeria before and I didn’t see that. We went to Enugu to shoot and everybody was nice. And so I want to think that there would be good stories where there is no violence, or the violence is very minimal – to give a more representative view. So there are very good Nollywood films, and there are very bad ones.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

LABAF 2007

Literacy As Democracy Dividend

CORA ADDRESS AT THE 9TH LAGOS 9BOOK AND ART FESTIVAL By Toyin Akinosho, Secretary General, for and on behalf of The CORA Collective

[The board of trustees of the Committee For Relevant Art hereby calls for a moment of silence in honour of the novelist Cyprian Ekwensi].

[Read the Dedication To The Novelist of Our City.. ]

The Lagos Book and Art Festival was first convened in September 1999, as our country returned to the current phase of democracy.

The anxieties of the time were reflected in the theme: Read To Freedom, which argued that a well informed citizenry would ensure the sustainability of our hard won democracy.

Eight years later, the first major elections have happened, and it is the quality of our literacy that determines the robustness with which we question the adequacy of those elections.

Some of our friends have argued that phrases like Democracy Dividend sound like what politicians use to hoodwink the citizenry; afterall, they argue, the United Nations regards education as a fundamental human right.

To these comments we respond that our theme looks at a bigger picture. A brilliant engineer who doesn’t read outside the interpretations of the laws of physics cannot contribute effectively to strengthening our democracy. So we’re not just about basic education.

Whenever we question the level of readership in Nigeria, we do not comprehensively address the role of the infrastructure of reading, outside the walls of the school.

This festival is interested in how Nigerians are engaging and interrogating Nigerian writing and hopes to be able to feature, every year, the widest expressions of our collective authorship. This is why we insist on a long programme of discussions of material that’s inside the Nigerian book.

A significant number of our countrymen talk about what Mallam el Rufai has done in Abuja. But if they’ve read T. M. Aluko’s novel, Conduct Unbecoming, they’d realize that there was some hardier expatriate public servant in Lagos over forty years ago, who did things to people’s buildings that even Rufai could not have attempted. But Conduct Unbecoming is a rollicking read that you could finish in few minutes on the beach, not a difficult textbook on History of Lagos.

Those who say they prefer reading Business books to show them how to create wealth don’t know what they miss in simpler, non business texts. On the surface, Kunle Ajibade’s Jailed For Life and Chris Anyanwu’s Days Of Horror are regular reportage of what a journalist goes through under the military and the prison notes of political prisoners. Look at them again: one book shows that a business founded on partnership survives one individual’s incarceration while the other reveals how a one man business collapses because of the absence of the founder. What more could you expect from a good business book?

We believe that a book fair is nothing if you don’t engage the contents of books and that this engagement helps to increase readership and thus improve the understanding of our place in the sun. Our colloquium Constructing A Nation: Stories Out Of Biafra looks at six books that were inspired by that war. The moderator of the panel, Dr Chidi Amuta, says that one of his objectives is to find out why no other single event in our history has brought forth more authorship than the civil war. As the Niger Delta crisis deepens, we see a change in the tone of the literature coming out of the lived experiences in the creeks. The celebration of the environment in J. P. Clark’s The Bikoroa Plays and Okara’s Call Of The River Nun have hardened into works like Hard Ground by Ahmed Yerima and Tanure Ojaide’s protestant novel The Activist. Discussions of the contents of books such as these are what we’d do in MENDing The Damage; The Emerging Literature of the Niger Delta.

The opening of the last eight years have boosted the country’s literary output. We find that when we say we are telling the Nigerian story; it no longer is about a boy growing up in Kaura Namoda. More often, a British girl who has lived all her life in Kent Road, daughter of second generation Nigerian immigrants, can tell us a very interesting Nigerian story.

Its this perspective of Nigerian Life elsewhere that we examine in Writing In: Tales From The Diaspora tomorrow at 2pm. Ladies and gentlemen, the assemblage of all these; the book exhibitions, the discussions, the live music, the drama skits, make up the package we have for you these next three days. We hope you have as much fun lapping it all up as have had in putting up the show. Thank you so much. Enjoy.

The Ninth (9th) Lagos Book And Art Festival runs from November 9-11, 2007.It's a most culture picnic for the whole family.For more details call:jahman 08022016495,juwon 08023900326 0r chuks 08065290744
  • The Lagos Book & Art Festival continues today and tomorrow. Visit the CORA blog for details.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Wasafiri 52

The new edition of Wasafiri dropped in the post a couple of days ago and, though I am yet to read much of it, I can already tell this is going to be my best issue for a long time. The theme is 'The Book in the World' and features readers, writers and publishers.

15 writers talk about the books that changed them. Hence Biyi Bandele and his editor, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey share the same page as they discuss the books that changed things for them. I reasoned very much with Bandele's choice of early 80's Nigeria reading of numerous titles by James Hadley Chase - "an English writer now completely unknown in England (in nearly twenty years of living in London, I'm yet to meet a single British person who admits to having heard of him)." Tell me about it, Mr Burma Boy! Coulda said the same meself! Who'd have thought it, all those years we were chomping down James Hadley Chase? Still we were hooked on the stuff (my own early teenage reading went in stages: some 400 Mills & Boon titles from which I graduated to James Hadley Chase from which I graduated to Harold Robbins - with Sidney Sheldon and Jeffrey Archer stuck in-between; and when I left each stage, I could never bear the novel that marked that stage again. It's a good thing I read my fill of populism before the age of 16, because I couldn't abide populist novels from then on). I digressed. We were talking of Bandele's impression of James Hadley Chase novels, some of which he names: Like a Hole in the Head, You're Lonely When You're Dead, This Way for a Shroud, The Doll's Bad News, The Way the Cookie Crumbles, Well Now My Pretty, An Ear to the Ground, & The Vulture is a Patient Bird. Funny, I read them all too, though I don't recall the 'Vulture' one at all. I was somewhat disappointed Bandele didn't mention, Tell it to the Birds, Miss Shumway Waves a Wand and the one that had me completely gobsmacked all those years ago, 'Believe This and You'll Believe Anything'. Ah, bless!

Blake Morrison's choice would probably be mine, if asked - Midnight's Children. And here's how I discovered Salman Rushdie's 'Booker of Bookers'. The writer was just someone I knew from TV bulletins including words like 'blasphemy' and 'fatwa'; none of which particularly made me want to rush out to buy his books. And so I was on a Bakerloo Line tube train in January 1992 and there on the seat beside me in an empty carriage, was a brand new copy of Midnight's Children. Finders Keepers, ehn? Dear blog reader, I alighted the train with the book, and it's as if I've seen the world through perforated sheets from then on. I still have the copy.

Anyway, back to Wasafiri, which embraces all of those Journals any reader worth his or her salt in Africa ought to read these days: Kwani?, Farafina... there's even an interview with Chimurenga 's editor, Ntone Edjabe.

And there's a short story by Nigerian Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, 'Cemetery of Life'. I've read the story and I'm intrigued by it, seeing as I love all that magical-mystery stuff. I remember E.C Osondu telling me in an interview, that 'Jimmy Carter's Eyes' was his own "attempt at allegory". Perhaps 'allegory' would describe Uzor Maxim Uzoatu's offering in Wasafiri. Loved it, but still scratching my head as to what it really means...

Meanwhile, I'm off to read more of the magazine.

On Kalabash Nigeria

Was at the Kalabash Nigeria event on 18 October. Fela, Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Niger Delta and all things Nigeria were on the agenda – and the night proved so popular that the room spilled with people onto the stairway. Many more couldn’t get in. Which should at least give the Kalabash group a sense of what audience capacity they should work towards when next they want to focus on Nigeria.

Fela’s law I guess. The Fela Anikulapo-Kuti documentary, Music is the Weapon, was the victim of a technical hitch on the night, and so could not be shown. Kalabash have promised to have it on again soon. So who’s to replace the father, if not the son? The Afrobeat king’s musician son, Femi Kuti, was going to be on the programme anyway, and so his documentary, ‘Suffering and Smiling’ played first. You could say with Nigeria, you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying sometimes – and so the audience took it upon themselves to prove the truth of the film’s title (taken from Fela’s classic, Shuffering and Shmilling) and laughed at every new item in the country’s endless litany of woes. But there came a time when for many, it wasn’t funny anymore.

I suppose the documentary allowed me to understand Femi Kuti more. But his sister Yeni is pretty arresting when she's on film, speaking truth to power (at least on camera) such that one almost regretted the fact that she never took the microphone to sing too (who said the Afrobeat legacy was only for Fela’s sons?). In one scene, the family has bought crates of drinks for the throngs that come to the New Afrika Shrine daily. But it all turns into chaos, because the people would not be satisfied with helping themselves to one bottle in an orderly fashion. They’s rather take six each, robbing others of a drink. Yeni looks from the balcony in despair, saying the people have become exactly like their leaders. But it’s difficult to watch Ms Kuti for long; her pessimism is almost catching. You shudder and hope, as we Naijas oftens say, that “Nigeria go better”.

After the Femi Kuti film came Nigeria’s Oil War, a 20-minute documentary that erased all laughter. There's a darkly hilarious moment however, when warlord Asari Dokubo is supposedly possessed by - is it the Holy Ghost or some other spirit? Then it was time for the panel, including myself, Eki Gbinigie of the ALISC (African Liberation Support Campaign) Network, Ben Amunwa of the Remember Saro-Wiwa Organisation, and Inemo Samiama, a musician and Niger Deltan. Moderated by Kate Glinsman, one of the organisers of the event, the panel stood; the room was that full. What emerged during the panel discussion was how seriously members of the audience took this opportunity to air and share views on Nigeria. One young man delivered a blistering speech even as he made his way from his seat through the crowded room for the exit. As I told a fellow panellist, it was a performance.

Ben Amunwa informed the audience of a surprise match involving the Ken Saro-Wiwa memorial landing in front of Shell headquarters on October 23rd, urging all those who could make it, to come along. And Eki Gbinigie (who I first met earlier this year at the Chima Ubani tribute event at SOAS) had brought along copies of Kilombo, a Pan-African Magazine on activism.

A successful evening overall, made only better by my running into 2007 Caine winner Monica Arac de Nyeko outside the venue afterwards. Now, what were the chances of that? We simply had to pose for a couple of pictures to believe it ourselves.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

New Reads

How about this story by Wale Okediran in the current issue of Black Biro, which I love for the fact that it could well have been written by a woman. What with it's theme of what some African men would do to have sons - or what they'd consider if they didn't have sons! Luckily, for Okediran's protagonist, Allah is merciful.


Once in awhile, Kudirat would get up and place a comforting hand on her daughter’s contracting stomach before wiping the sweat from her face with a damp towel. Kudirat would then use a small calabash to take some water from the nearby earthen jar and offer the expectant mother a drink.
'Courage, my daughter, courage. Everything will soon be over,' she would admonish before going back to her prayers. Just then, the wicket door swung open and another elderly woman entered.
'A-Salam-a-lekun' (Peace be unto you'), the woman greeted. 'I hope she’s doing well'.
'A-lekun-a-Salam,' Kudirat replied. 'She broke her waters a few minutes ago. Anytime now, the new one will arrive Insha Allah (by God’s grace)'.
'Well, let’s hope it is a boy this time. After three girls, I am more than ready for a grandson who will be as strong and hardworking as Rasheed.'
'By Allah’s wish, it will be a boy,' Adiat quickly replied.
After the woman left, Kudirat let out a loud, long hiss. 'Stupid woman. She said it as if we have any control over these things. Is she not a woman herself?
'How can she be so tactless as to come and talk like that here? Wasn’t it five girls she, too had before she finally gave birth to Rasheed?'
'That’s all right Mama. Instead of getting annoyed, why don’t you go back to your prayers?' Adiat said.
Suddenly from outside came the deep rumble of thunder, as the wind picked up speed and started howling. In his hut a few meters from his wife’s, Rasheed glanced up from his bamboo bed. Since his second and favourite wife went into labour more than three hours earlier, the forty-five year old cocoa farmer had not been able to sleep. Now as the rumble of thunder grew louder, streaks of lighting dived into the hut, bathing the room in an eerie blue light. And as he detected the smell of rain in the wind that swept into the hut, Rasheed’s heart sank. It was going to be another girl!


And in Amran Gaye's 'What To Do When You Meet A Girl In Traffic, Crying', a woman still grieving the loss of her own daughter, sees the announcement of another missing girl on TV...

She had seen the girl that day, on her way home from work. There had been a traffic jam, and she had been caught in it, her chauffeur shouting at the other drivers in the confusion of traffic outside his window. She had sat and looked distractedly out of her window, feeling the heat and the sweat running its way down her back, almost irritating, yet soothing the areas of skin it passed. She was thinking of this quality of sweat, of how it made you stink and look flustered, yet ultimately gave you relief, when she saw the girl. There were hundreds of other girls passing, on their way home from school, but what drew her attention to this one was the tears running down her cheeks. The way she cried: silently, standing at the side of the road, eyes red and wet, sniffing back snot. The way the tears made her an island in this traffic of people, no one noticing her, everyone passing her on the road and walking on without a backward glance. The way she stood, patient, independent, not expecting any help from anyone, self-sufficient in her misery.

Okediran @ BAI

It’s ANA’s Conference season (the 26th annual convention is on in Owerri, Nigeria, this weekend) presided over by the ANA President Wale Okediran. What better time to recall some of the ways in which Okediran represents the Nigerian writers’ body on trips to Britain? And so to something that ought to have been blogged long ago (the words ‘good intentions’ and ‘pot’ come to mind). I tagged along when on 21st June Okediran paid a visit to the offices of Book Aid International (BAI) on London’s Coldharbour Lane. There he was met by Karen Edwards (Programme Manager for West Africa, the Horn of Africa & Sri Lanka) and 3 other members of BAI staff, including Nelly Temu Williams.

Book Aid International works to promote literacy by creating reading and learning opportunities for disadvantaged people with limited access to books and library facilities. The organisation works in partnership with groups in 18 countries, 16 of which are African nations.

As Karen Edwards informed during the visit, BAI’s Nigeria programme is its largest, with 52 requests for books from different organisations in the country between January to June alone. BAI has been working in Nigeria since 1964; the most populous African nation gets over 75,000 books a year – half a million in the last 6 years.

Unsurprisingly, for anyone who knows anything about Nigerian Ports, clearing the books on the Nigerian end can be a challenge. These were some of the issues on which BAI was looking to work more closely with bodies like ANA (Association of Nigerian Authors) in order to smooth the process. Okediran discussed these challenges with the team and also shared information about initiatives back home including the Nigeria Reads Project.

Nelly Temu Williams of the BAI Policy & Advocacy Team took Okediran on a tour of the Book Aid International’s warehouse. The organisation does not receive government funding and depends on private donations. Volunteers help vet the books received, and publishers who donate are asked to send high quality books covering many topic, so that the warehouse has sections for textbooks on many subjects as well as fiction. All are high quality, contrary to the popular view that initiatives like BAI are just a way to dump poor quality books on Third World Countries. At BAI, books that don’t meet the required standard are sent to the recycle bin. The tour ended with a viewing of crates reading for shipping to many counties, including Nigeria.

The Karaye Prize

Karaye Prize for Hausa Literature Debuts

Thursday, 25th October, 2007 was a special day in the annals of Hausa Literature, as the maiden edition of the Engr. Mohammed Bashir Karaye Hausa Literature Prize was awarded to the winners. In a colourful award ceremony, jointly organized by the awards committee and the Abuja chapter of Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA, at the International Conference Hall, Abuja, three writers were announced as the winners of this year’s edition of the annual prize.

The three winners emerged from a total of nineteen contestants. The first prize was won by Ibrahim Sheme, first editor of ‘The Write Stuff’ and currently the editor of Leadership newspaper, for his novel, ’Yartsana. The second prize went to Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, a Kano-based writer and film producer for her Matar Uba Jaraba, while the third prize was won by Maje El-Hajeej Hotoro, a Kano-based writer, for his Kankana.

The winners went away with a cash prize of 300,000 Naira; 150,000 Naira for the first prize, 100,000 for the second and 50,000 for the third.

The event also featured fund raising for the sustenance of the award.

Chaired by Professor Iyorwuese Hagher, the occasion had in attendance prominent personalities particularly from the judiciary. They include the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, and two former Chief Justices, Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais and Justice Salihu Modibo Alfa Balgore. The presence of these august guests could be seen as a gesture of solidarity with the founder of the prize, the Executive Secretary of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, Hajiya Bilkisu A. Bashir, who instituted the prize in memory of her late husband, Engr. Mohammed Bashir Karaye. But more importantly, it could be viewed as a solidarity with the effort to promote Hausa literature. For, as the chairman of the occasion rightly pointed out in his speech, there is no much difference between literature and law as both are born out of man’s quest to resolve societal conflict.

The chairman expressed appreciation to all those who contributed to the event, which is aimed at reviving interest in Hausa literature, and congratulated the winners of the prizes.

Earlier in his welcome address, the chairman of the Abuja chapter of ANA, Dr. Emman Usman Shehu, highlighted the efforts of the chapter in promoting literature, of which this prize is a part. According to him, the Karaye prize came into being through the association’s proposal to Hajiya Bilkisu.

Dr. Shehu disclosed the chapter’s future plans, including having a writers’ cyber café, a proper office, a meeting facility for writers, a literary agency to help negotiate contracts for writers and a writers’ residency programme. To this end, he called on all concerned to "help us build an effective support network so that our literature, whether written in English or our indigenous languages, will have a consistent world-class quality".

In his own speech, Justice Kutigi noted that Hausa is the widest indigenous language spoken in West Africa, hence the need to promote it. He commended ANA and Hajiya Bilkisu for instituting the prize. He called on all to donate generously towards sustaining the prize and urged the winners to continue to write.

The keynote address was delivered by Anthony C. Oha of Benson Idahosa University, Benin City. Titled ‘Making Literature a Tool of Immortalisation: Reflections on the Karaye Hausa Literature Prize’, the paper featured a brief history of Hausa literary prizes, the importance of Hausa vis-à-vis indigenous literature and the role of the Karaye prize in the scheme of things.

Oha began by commending the efforts of those who were instrumental to the setting up of the prize. He specifically mentioned Patrick Oguejiofor, whom he said provided the link between Hajiya Bilkisu, who is his boss, and the
Abuja chapter of ANA for the much needed partnership for the institution and administration of award. He then traced the history of literary prizes in Hausa literature to the colonial era when the Education Department of Northern Nigeria organized a creative writing contest in 1933. Stressing the significance of prizes in Hausa literature, he said the development and use of indigenous African language is of great advantage since the masses who do not understand foreign language could have access to the indigenous literature. He observed that the Karaye prize is the most outstanding prize in indigenous literature in Nigeria today, and commended ANA and Hajiya Bilkisu for making this possible.

The judges for the competition were Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu of Bayero University, Kano, and Malam Bello Sule of the Nigerian Television Authority, Abuja. Professor Adamu, who was the chairman of the panel of judges, explained the criteria used in assessing the entries for the contest. In a paper titled ‘Global Media as the Message: Hausa Prose Fiction in the Age of Technology’, which also highlighted the history of Hausa literature and Hausa literary prizes, he said cultural representation was one of the major criteria. According to him, "In this criterion we were looking at how the Hausa universe was portrayed in the novel". Other criteria included the author’s handling of the theme, the narrative structure and the character development.

Professor Adamu, whose paper was read on his behalf, because he had to hurry back to Kano due to the sudden death of his mother, expressed appreciation for Hajiya Bilkisu’s courage, determination, fortitude and intellectual foresight in instituting the award.

The Karaye prize is the first non-governmental intervention in the history of Hausa literary contest. It will run in a three-year cycle, covering fiction, poetry and drama.

Engr. Karaye had, before his death in October last year, held a number of top positions in the public service. He was commissioner for Information in Kano State.

  • Words by Sumaila Umaisha; published in the New Nigerian Weekly, 27 October, 2007, p17.
  • Images courtesy of ANA Abuja