All posts by Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

A Captain Investing in the Destiny of Nigeria

Maxim Uzoatu

Captain: In the Storm of Life; A Biography of Israel Ademola Gbadebo Haastrup, D.D., by Olakunle Abimbola; CSS Bookshops Limited and Continental Gold Network Communications Limited, Lagos; 2007; 631pp.

Captain BookIn this age of reading hagiographies of generals who fought no wars, politicians without vision or businessmen who struck it rich by pandering to power, it is indeed a breath of fresh air reading this book, the biography of a genuine entrepreneur written by a journalist and scholar of singular integrity. Not many Nigerians may have heard of Israel Ademola Gbadebo Haastrup, a name hardly heard in the social circuit or on the pages of the many newspapers of Nigeria. The subject of this book happens to be a man blessed with uncommon spirituality who did his work hands-on without crowing for any publicity whatsoever. For Olakunle Abimbola to have literally won over the man’s trust to as it were unburden his soul amounts to one of the great discoveries of Nigerian enterprise. The man’s name may not be on any publicity posters but his business interests in shipping, aviation, real estate, banking and hospitality spoke for him. Haastrup packed formidable financial muscle in Space World Airline; Eastern Bulkcem Company Limited, manufacturers of Eagle Cement; Omega Bank that joined other banks to form Spring Bank; Haastrup Line (West Africa) Limited involved in international shipping; Concord Hotels in Ilesa and Port Harcourt; Haastrup Jetty; Haastrup Industries; sundry real estate etc.

The well-annotated book bearing insightful pictures is divided into three broad parts, namely: Cradle, Career, Charity & Religion. In his foreword to the book, The Rev Canon Segun Agbetuyi writes, “Captain Haastrup is a man whose background and essential build-up is as transparent as an open book inviting others to read… Few years ago, he defied his doctor’s orders for complete bed rest in England and sneaked into Nigeria to attend and support a wedding in his extended family in Ilesa. The wedding successfully over, Captain Haastrup collapsed in exhaustion the same evening and was rushed, under scary conditions, to the University of Ife Teaching Hospital in Ile-Ife, where after being stabilized, he had to be evacuated abroad.” Almost in coma, Haastrup asked a frightened Reverend Agbetuyi where his faith was and promised to be back to the country hale and hearty in one month. He was back to the country in three weeks, strong as ever!

Olakunle Abimbola tells Captain Haastrup’s story in a manner that is stranger than fiction. Combining the form of the novel with the flow of the traditional story and the readability of new journalism, Captain: In the Storm of Life encapsulates a Nigerian life that spanned the course of the major events in the country’s and world history. Abimbola traces Captain Haastrup’s roots to Alatise village in his native Ilesa, a prince born into the age-old Ijesa Royal Family of Oro, one of the four ruling houses in Ilesa. His forebear Kumokun Adedeji who was sold into slavery around 1834 adopted the Haastrup name “after his Danish benefactor, who took him in as foster son from the slave ship, and gave him formal education in Freetown, Sierra Leone.” The first Haastrup would later return to rule the land as Ajimoko 1, and the other Haastrup who ruled between 1942 and 1956 retained the title as Ajimoko II. Even amid the royalty, Captain Haastrup was born into a rather modest family of a driver father and a food vendor “Iya Eleba” mother. But as the full meaning of “Alatise” translates into either “As you lay your bed, you lie on it,” or “Taking your destiny in your own hands”, Captain Haastrup made good by dint of hard-work, unstinting self-belief a faith in God.

Coming from a rich history embodying the Yoruba wars such as the famous Kiriji War, which Abimbola eloquently limns, Captain Haastrup was from the very beginning launched into the maelstrom of event and wonders. His father Lajimbiti was a “stormy master of the commuter”, reputedly the first driver in the land winning the laurel of driving the white District Officer (D.O.) He was said to have magical powers with which he disappeared from the steering wheel even while the vehicle was in motion and could fly over a fallen iroko tree! After his son had qualified as a captain steering ships all over the seas of the world, he asked his father why he did not avail him of his powers only for the old man to forget such an idea “for nothing good eventually came out of fetish powers.”

Brought up in Ado-Ekiti, Captain Haastrup who was fondly addressed as Gbadebo was a frail child who downed mangoes, the forbidden fruits, of the Oke Bareke government quarters in Ado-Ekiti. Educated at Emmanuel School, Ado-Ekiti, and Imade College, Owo, under the tutelage of Principal Michael Adekunle Ajasin, the young Gbadebo was rascally, playful and free; his talent was in mathematics. He stayed out of the boarding house in form four and fell madly in love with the young damsel Helen Aduke who would later give birth to his first son. He had a pathetic pass into form five and perforce had to return to the boarding house from where he studied and excelled such that he either took the first or the second position in class! He still made his school certificate in Division Two after surviving a near fatal accident in form six.

He came down to Lagos to the home of his wealthy uncle Baba Olowogbowo, who would later pay a steep price for supporting Nnamdi Azikiwe’s NCNC as opposed to Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group. The young Gbadebo was a traffic clerk who doubled as a helper in the uncle’s business. He crossed over to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and then applied for cadet marine officer to man the soon-to-be-formed Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) alongside two other jobs. He was successful in all three; he began training as a marine cadet in 1958.

He was a rebel cadet in the Elder Dempster Line (EDL) where he met the ill-fated boatson Patrick Omagbemi who would later die just as Capatain Haastrup made good with his own ship. He defied authority by choosing the School of Navigation of the University of Southampton instead of Liverpool College of Technology. He joined the Ghana’s Black Star Line in 1962 at a time Kwame Nkrumah promoted all things African. At the height of the civil war in 1968 he returned to Nigeria to work for the NNSL which he had to quit on account of intrigues.

His attempt at running a private company with two partners via Kuta Shipping Company made him lose faith in the idea of partnership in business. He was left high and dry; he borrowed N10,000 from a police officer known as Inyang and bought two trawlers that got ruined on the first day! A cement import deal crashed. He ran to England and bought the scrap, MV City of Truth, a 150-ton trawler converted into a small coaster. It took a miracle to obtain the 45 pound sterling needed for the repairs. It took 51 tempestuous days for Captain Haastrup to almost single-handedly brave the elements past the deadly Bay of Biscayne to bring the vessel back to Nigeria.

It was not until he met the Swede Jan Hjalnmarsson, who wept at Apapa Wharf while begging Captain Haastrup to be his partner that true partnership became a possibility. Sadly the Swede died young in 1983, being in the plane shot down by Russia for flying over its territory.

Captain Haastrup would in time relocate to Port Harcourt to make his wealth. His jetty built at great cost was closed by President Shagari in 1982, after only two years of business. The Concord Holiday and Health Farm Resort Limited he set up in his native Ilesa was run down by people he trusted. He ventured into bulk cement packaging in Eagle Cement. He bailed out the ailing Owena Bank into Omega Bank and finally Spring Bank. At age 70, he went farther by starting the Space World Airline.

It is in his treatment of Captain Haastrup’s deep involvement with religion that Olakunle Abimbola somewhat writes yet another book into the main book. Captain Haastrup lost interest in religion after witnessing the racism in the Anglican Church while in England. After more than a decade, he had a vision in which he was asked to pray. He ventured into the Cherubim and Seraphim sect only to run away after seeing a cheat of a priest who was even planning to kill him. Then with his “gift of dreams” he embraced the Celestial Church of Christ where the founder-prophet Pastor Samuel Bilehou Joseph Oschoffa saw him as a son. He built many churches, notably the Rebisi Group of Parishes. He would not shirk from any challenge and wrote epistles following the crisis that sundered the celestial family after the death of Oschoffa.

Captain Haastrup was a devoted family man. He married the Ghanaian Elizabeth Nana Abakah even as his childhood lover Helen Aduke gave him a first son. Nana died in 1995 shortly after returning from Ghana. Captain Haastrup would later marry Gloria Ngozi Okorie, an Igbo, through the help of his friend Eze Vincent Onyeali.

He was the author of the book Demons and Demonic Forces: A Book on the Secrets of the Life and Behaviour of Demons.

Through Captain: In the Storm of Life, Olakunle Abimbola has offered a book that is so necessary at this time that the country is in search of values. Abimbola critically analyses his subject’s business practice, to wit, the lack of necessary delegation and the absence of a succession plan. This is as complete a book as one could get, and the interviews with the subject are most times juxtaposed with the running text to assure accuracy. There are only few errors such as on page 143 where “cause” is misplaced with “course”.

This book, the second in the Modern Nigerian Leaders Series (MNLS), deserves an esteemed place in every department of entrepreneurial studies. It is consummately well-written and indexed in a manner that is rare in these shores; a splendid advertisement of a believer in Nigeria. Captain Haastrup died in 2013.

Letters of recent Nigerian history, By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

The book, Before We Forget: Obasanjo’s Letter To President Jonathan And The Aftermath; Francis Abayomi (ed), came to my table in an envelope as a kind of surprise. The accompanying letter signed by Francis Abayomi goes straight to the point thus: “We have the pleasure to present, to you, a book titled Before We Forget: Obasanjo’s Letter to President Jonathan and the Aftermath.

This publication by Peace and Development Projects (PEDEP) is aimed at documenting history and deepening engagement of Nigeria’s political and governance processes in the light of the popular debate elicited by the letter addressed to President Goodluck Jonathan by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and made public in December, 2013.

We found public engagement of issues around the presidential exchanges very critical to our polity, governance and continuous interrogation of leadership question in Nigeria. By this publication, our objective is to avail present and future generations the opportunity of appreciating the whole account of issues and contentions that dominated the historical debate.”

The drift of the book can be gleaned from the bold capitals of the blurb: “When former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote his ‘historic’ letter to President Jonathan, he probably expected a bouquet of flowers from a broad spectrum of Nigerians, but enlightened Nigerians, including his own daughter, easily saw through him. He didn’t bargain for what he got…”

It is indeed uncanny for a former president to criticize a current president elected from his party. Obasanjo happens to be the exception to every rule. It is not for nothing that many of Obasanjo’s critics see him as suffering from “The Messiah Complex”, that know-all habit of almost always having all the solutions to all the problems. The Vanguard columnist Obi Nwakanma is quoted at the back of the book, to wit: “The remarkable thing about Obasanjo is that he has all the answers when he is not in government.”

Before We Forget is divided into four broad parts, notably: the first part containing Obasanjo’s letter, President Jonathan’s reply, daughter Iyabo Obasanjo’s sending-up of her father, Chief EK Clark’s response, former Senate President Ameh Ebute’s missive, Alhaji Mujahid Asari Dokubo’s diatribe; the second part containing a broad spectrum of rejoinders from the media; the third part dealing with opinions from columnists, bloggers, sundry newspapers; and finally the fourth part compiling comments in various websites and social media platforms.

According to Obasanjo in his letter entitled “Before It Is Too Late”, “Mr. President, you have on a number of occasions acknowledged the role God enabled me to play in your ascension to power. You put me third after God and your parents among those that have impacted most on your life.” The letter “dated December 2, 2013, was leaked to the media on December 11, 2013.” Obasanjo states as a sort of epilogue that he had discussed the contents of the letter with General Ibrahim Babangida, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, General Yakubu Danjuma and Dr. Alex Ekwueme “whose concerns for and commitments to the good of Nigeria have been known to be strong.”

In his reply, President Jonathan states, inter alia, to Obasanjo “that you have done me grave injustice with your public letter in which you wrongfully accused me of deceit, deception, dishonesty, incompetence, clannishness, divisiveness, and insincerity, among other ills.” As it happened back then, well before President Jonathan published his reply, Obasanjo’s daughter Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello had sent a stinker to his father as published by Vanguard. Quoting Menchus, the 4th Century Chinese philosopher, as per “The great man is he who does not lose his child’s heart”, Iyabo dismisses his father as a “Mr. Know it All” who insists on overshadowing everybody, stressing, “… you surround yourself with idiots who will agree with you on anything and need you for financial gain and you need them for your insatiable ego…Nigeria has descended into a hellish reality where smart, capable people to ‘survive’ and have their daily bread prostrate to imbeciles.”

In his letter entitled “Let The Truth Be Told Before It Is Too Late” Chief EK Clark writes: “My dear Obasanjo, your allegation that President Jonathan is training snipers in preparation for 2015, is a diabolical concoction and a figment of your imagination.” For Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, Obasanjo is spearheading a secret agenda.

The publication of Before We Forget may be viewed in certain quarters as serving some interests. What really matters is that this kind of documentation serves the distinct purpose of keeping records in the public domain. This way, Francis Abayomi and his PEDEP team have done us a world of good through the publication of Before We Forget.

Before We Forget: Obasanjo’s Letter To President Jonathan And The Aftermath; Francis Abayomi (ed); Peace and Development Projects (PEDEP), Ogba, Lagos; 2014; 273 pp.

 

Customary Chronicles Of Candid Culture, By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Wisdom Tales Vol. 1

Wisdom Tales: From Grandma’s Hearth, Volumes 1 & 2 by Chinedu S. Agu; Triatlantic Books Ltd, New York, USA; 2008

Stories set man apart from animals. According to Chinua Achebe in his novel Anthills of the Savannah, “It is the story that owns and directs us. It is the thing that makes us different from cattle; it is the mark on the face that sets one people apart from their neighbours.” The pivotal importance of stories in the development of the human race makes it crucial that every race must insist on the rights of telling its own story. Achebe goes further to stress: “It is only the story…that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind. Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather, it is the story that owns us.”

Chinedu S. Agu
Chinedu S. Agu

Chinedu S. Agu in the two volumes of Wisdom Tales: From Grandma’s Hearth digs deep into the everlasting stories of the local lore to teach relevant lessons to the modern world. Her enlightening preface to the first volume deserves to be quoted at length: “In the days when we were children, societal norms were somewhat taken for granted, because they were just there. They were there in the way your parents looked at you, the way your granny talked, in her sagely chiding, punctuated with appropriate riddles and proverbs, in her folktales, rendered each evening around the fireplace. They were also there on your way to the village stream where tender feet created shapes through the familiar sandy paths passed by many long before you. Each footstep, as it fell in tune with wisdom-loaded singsongs, chanted to ease off the burden of long trekking, was a constant reminder of one’s identity. However, in these days of stressful living when parents are more occupied with what to eat and how best to stay alive, this natural way of imparting formal education, especially the norms and values of the society, is being forgotten. This small collection of education and entertaining folktales is an attempt to catch up with that past that is fast fading away; a recap of that rich lore that we once cherished. It is an attempt to showcase to our children, the heritage that makes us a people; to make them benefit from that which kept us on the narrow path of decency and discipline.”

The two volumes of Wisdom Tales: From Grandma’s Hearth by Chinedu S. Agu come highly recommended from the beginning with the first volume having a foreword by the Sub-Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, Dr Charles Ogbulogo who states: “Our age appears to be in so much hurry that our cultural heritage and our cherished values are at the risk of extinction. Our successor generations are denied those veritable avenues for cultivating enduring life styles. Perhaps, more that (sic) any other form of our cultural legacy, our people’s folk tales and mores are neglected. This neglect may explain the rapid incursion of adulterated foreign ideals which breed a hybrid of people who cannot lay claims to any standards of behaviour. One major way to enrich the education and socialization of children is to expose them to the cherished values of our people. This is one of the objectives of this collection. Mrs. Agu has made a selection of tales which may have a universal appeal to different children.”

The current Commissioner for Higher Education in Delta State, Professor Hope Eghagha wrote the foreword to the second volume, inter alia: “Owing to the strong presence of television, the tradition of ‘shortening the night’ through storytelling has virtually disappeared from city life. Even in the villages we wonder whether the young ones still show any interest in stories from the past. Global culture has become a threat to the oral forms of literature of small ethnic groups. Cable television with cartoons and other children programmes are more interesting to kids. Besides parents themselves hardly have the time to tell stories. The culture of working from 8am to 5pm and returning home just in time to prepare dinner and go to bed has not helped the tradition of storytelling. Indeed we can say with some certainty that the new generation of parents themselves may not know many folktales to tell their children.”

In Wisdom Tales: From Grandma’s Hearth, Chinedu S. Agu has filled a very gaping void. She literally reconnects African youths and adults alike to their roots. Her stories are short, sharp and always didactic. In Story 1 entitled “Egwuatu, The Talkative”, the eponymous boastful lad Egwuatu ends up being eaten by the animal known as “The Big One of the Forest” unlike his obedient brother Nwamara. The liberation of the beautiful Mima is a lesson-laden tale to behold. In the story “Ada Agu, Daughter of the Tiger” we learn that Omenka should not have been too difficult to satisfy by choosing from the available girls in his village only to end up getting married to an animal. “Why Babies Do Not Talk” offers the lesson that it is important to be very careful about what we do when children are around because of their innocence which impels them to always reveal the truth. “Mma Yili Ona (Beautiful Like A Ring Of Gold)” warns on disobedience to parental instructions against the background of flattery and pressure from peers. The dictatorial king of the village in the tale “Fufu For The King” gets his comeuppance due to his inhumanity. “Udara And The Stubborn Girl” showcases how a Kite and Hawk saved a girl’s life, thus teaching us that too much of sweetness can do much damage. Of course the Tortoise gets into his usual escapades with the Lion and the like in much of the arresting stories.

As a thrilling author Chinedu S. Agu somewhat ups the ante in Volume Two of Wisdom Tales: From Grandma’s Hearth. In the tale “Aka Aja-Aja (No Pain, No Gain)” the cunning Tortoise is caught up amid his antics only to learn that one needs to patiently work hard from bottom to the very top. “Uwa Alu, The Mystery Prince” tells the story of the great king with seven wives who hated one with a passion only for the tables to turn dramatically. From the story “Why Humans Have Grooves At The Centre Of Their Backs” we learn how the girl Onyeoma got the groove at her back and we are instructed that character matters more than looks in choosing suitors. The importance of the girl-child is at the heart of “Nwangworo, The Cripple”. Kindness and lending a helping hand to others round up all the tales through the story “Mmiri Nworie: A Stream Called Nworie.”

Chinedu S. Agu has through her delightful book Wisdom Tales: From Grandma’s Hearth given to Nigerian folklore a major boost. A graduate of English and Mass Communications, the author worked at Classique magazine, Galaxy Communications, and lectured at ESUT Business School before becoming a banker. She is definitely a writer to cherish, but the American publishers of her book made many editing errors such as spelling “Foreword” as “Foreward” in both volumes. The book needs to be re-edited and published in Nigeria where it should be recommended reading in primary and junior secondary schools. Both volumes will equally serve the needs of Africa and the African Diaspora where our lore is in need of revamping. The catchy illustrations and elaborate glossary make Chinedu S. Agu’s Wisdom Tales: From Grandma’s Hearth a well-rounded package.

Wisdom Tales Vol. 2

Poetic Gani, By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Chief-Gani-Fawehinmi

The celebration of late Chief Gani Fawehinmi was understandably more political than poetical. It is in the realms of politics that most Nigerians would want to situate the mourned one fondly and simply known as Gani. The man’s lifework in the field of law naturally fed into the annals of the politicos, and he happened to be the veritable stormy petrel against bad leadership. Even so, more than any other Nigerian, Gani has proven over the years to be the pre-eminent subject of modern-day Nigerian poets. He was arguably the most celebrated muse of Nigerian poets. A book published in 2003, Celebrating God’s Own Robot: Nigerian Poets and the Gani Fawehinmi Phenomenon by the assiduous scholar Austine Amanze Akpuda attests to this fact. The striking thing is that the book was published when Gani was alive as opposed to other books like Don’t let him die edited by Chinua Achebe and Dubem Okafor in memory of the late great poet Christopher Okigbo, and For Ken, for Nigeria edited by EC Osondu for the martyred Ken Saro-Wiwa, which came out as a result of the death of the personages. Also, Okigbo and Saro-Wiwa were poets and literary types unlike Gani who cuts an entirely different niche. However, Gani somehow finds company in political struggle with Okigbo and Saro-Wiwa who died in the struggle.

According to Prof Afam Ebeogu in his foreword to Celebrating God’s Own Robot, “The resilience with which Gani Fawehinmi resists and fights the tyrannical power in Nigeria is presented in the book as assuming the archetypal. He is not fighting a selfish battle; rather he is merely a robot in God’s wheel of justice, in which what has to be done must be done without compromise, no matter whose ox is gored and even if the life of the poet-persona is always in danger. The author makes references to autobiographical utterances by Fawehinmi, which utterances consolidate the Siamese embrace between the biographical entity and the artistic character.”

amanze akpudaAmanze Akpuda situates Gani’s struggle within the ambit of kindred spirits across the globe willing to give up their very lives toward the emancipation of humankind, heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Agostinho Neto, Thomas Sankara, Walter Rodney, Oliver Tambo etc. The author identifies eight paradigmatic features that resonate “in a typical Gani Fawehinmi-oriented tribute-poem… uniformity and specificity of reference to the subject as exhibited in the symbolic titles of the poems; a parenthetical dedication, each of which often suggests or describes what Gani Fawehinmi means to the poet and, by implication, the rest of Nigeria; background to the need for the poem/setting that occasioned the motivation for writing the poem; descriptions of snapshots of the pathetic spectacle that the freedom fighter/activist presents or experiences; depiction of the psychology of the jailer; illustrations of Fawehinmi’s resilience; praise to the epic heroic personality, comparison with kindred spirits and his legacy; and expression of optimism predicated on the inevitable continuity of the heritage and legacy of the quintessential activist.”

The 16 poets discussed in the book include Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide, Izzia Ahmad, Okinba Launko (Femi Osofisan), Tony Afejuku, Ogaga Ifowodo, Eze Chi Chiazo, Joe Ushie, David Odinaka Nwamadi, Olu Oguibe, Tunde Olusunle, Chinwe Nzegwu, Akinloye Ojo, Ausine Amanze Akpuda, John Inah Ukam and Akeem Lasisi. The list is indeed diversely representative of the poets currently at work in the various geo-political zones of the country, an apt tribute to the pan-Nigerian reach of the phenomenon named AbdulGaniyu Oyesola Fawehinmi.

Gani’s as ever fighting words kick the book off thus: “I am a robot in the hands of God… if I die, at least, I want it written on my grave that I came, I spoke against injustice, and I died.” The celebrated Ghanaian writer and international journalist Cameron Duodu weighs in with the following words: “For the sheer guts he displays in challenging authoritarian regimes, the man, Gani Fawehinmi, stands head and shoulders above the generality of lawyers that our continent has produced.”

 

The distinguished poet Niyi Osundare in his poem “Letter to Fawehinmi” lyrically wonders on the whereabouts of Gani:

Dear Gani,

I wonder where you are now,

What part of this expansive land

Lays claim to your restless limbs;

How big the padlocks on the lips

Of your door,

How loud the anthem of your jangling chains?

In his own poem, “The Prisoner”, Tanure Ojaide locates Gani in the evil prison in the desert known as Gashua:

They drop him at will in the desert

for sand dunes to bury him alive.

The outpouring of deep feelings after Gani’s death on September 5, 2009 remains an apt metaphor that the non-violent warrior from Ondo can never really die, let alone being buried alive. Even in death, more poems are still being written in celebration of his uncommon life and times. I can attest to this because I have recently received more poems on Gani than my inbox can contain! Gani made himself count while he lived such that his death was turned into a celebration of popular struggle. Recalling Amanze Akpuda’s unique tribute to Gani back in 2003 through the book Celebrating God’s Own Robot underscores the indomitability over the ages of the Gani Fawehinmi phenomenon.

Movie Review: The Legend of TANGO WITH ME

Genevieve & Mahmood-Ali-Balogun

Maxim Uzoatu
Maxim Uzoatu
Shooting on celluloid has over the years been a bridge too far for Nigerian moviemakers. When the ace filmmaker Mahmood Ali-Balogun courageously made public his bid to break the trend in Nollywood by shooting his movie, Tango With Me, on celluloid there were many doubters. Mahmood refused to be deterred, and his resolve was enough to earn a feature story in the esteemed Nigeria Monthly magazine of April 2009. The four-page magazine feature aptly introduced Mahmood Ali-Balogun as “A New Face for Nollywood.”

It is a mark of the belief in Mahmood’s clout as a director that Nollywood’s leading actress, Genevieve Nnaji, embraced the project from the very beginning, and without much ado. Genevieve’s leading man in the film, the relatively fresh Joseph Benjamin, became a marvel to behold. Genevieve and Joseph worked up such an enchanting chemistry that had been brewed in the many days and nights spent in rehearsals.

Film director Mahmood Ali-Balogun was painstaking, starting with the film-script which took more than two years to write. It was indeed a monumental effort in writing and rewriting.

The auditioning of the actors and actresses ensured that there were no stereotypes in the casting, as has been the bane of most Nollywood movies.

The lead actor Joseph Benjamin fittingly depicts the psychological import of Tango With Me.

Genevieve Nnaji emotes the gripping burden of a couple whose greatest dream somewhat turns into a damning nightmare.

As Uzo and Lola, Joseph Benjamin and Genevieve Nnaji offer virtuoso performances of what it takes to see that love outlasts all tribulations.

The brooding sweep of the film owes a lot to the deep psychological drama inherent in the balancing act of faith against the trauma of rape.

The end product is a film that bears testimony to the long years of conception, the attention to details of the script, the rehearsals, and of course the solid direction of Mahmood Ali-Balogun.

The cameraman had to be brought in from abroad because of the lack of the requisite expertise in Nigeria.

The absence of a workable studio for moviemaking in Nigeria led to the using of people’s homes for the shooting of the different scenes. Special care was taken in all the heat to ensure that there was no sweating under the armpits of the actors and actresses as is the drawback in other Nollywood movies.

Tango With Me showcases an original soundtrack unlike what is obtainable before in Nigerian moviemaking.

Director Ali-Balogun had to make travels to Dubai to put the necessary finishing touches to Tango With Me. The director equally travelled to Sofia, Bulgaria for the mastering of the soundtrack.

No effort was spared in putting the lighting in proper perspectives. The shades of light shine forth as each scene demands.

The total ambience makes possible the complementary performances of the film stars on parade.

Genevieve as the raped Lola carries her unwanted pregnancy with persuasive aplomb. The distraught husband, played to the hilt by Joseph Benjamin, lends to the film an elegiac majesty that is quite poetic in its rendition.

The inter-tribal marriage that would have in the hands of unsophisticated directors degenerated to parody ends up adding greater grist to the film through Mahmood Ali-Balogun’s portrayal of the parents-in-law. Ahmed Yerima and Joke Silva are so ennobling even against the background of the sorrows of their daughter.

Tina Mba as the boss of the almost distracted leading man plays with panache the role of a tigress on the loose.

Enveloping the absorbing movie are the arresting utterances of the unseen psychoanalyst and marriage counselor.

In all, Tango With Me holds lofty the light that the movie was shot to make a difference in Nollywood. Filmmaking in Nigeria has been offered a new grand niche with the global appeal of Tango with Me.

The irresistible feature directed and produced by Mahmood Ali-Balogun under his Brickwall Communications production company has scored a first by becoming the first Nollywood movie to secure international release through Talking Drum Entertinment, a UK-based distibution company specialising in black film.

The multiple award-winning romantic drama Tango with Me, starring Genevieve Nnaji and Benjamin Joseph, opened across all the major UK and Ireland cinema chains in the first phase before proceeding on to other European countries.
Incidentally, Tango with Me holds the record of the highest-grossing film in Nigeria in 2011. In the maiden Nollywood Movies Awards, Tango with Me dominated literally in all the categories by taking six awards, notably Best Director (Mahmood Ali-Balogun, Best Film, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Design, Best Actor (Joseph Benjamin) and Best Viewers Female Choice (Genevieve Nnaji).

It is quite understandable why Tango with Me has such a universal pull in that it deals with a timeless issue. The rape of a virgin bride on her wedding night in the presence of her brand new husband is a psychological wrench. The tension heightens because the flagitious rape leads to a pregnancy that the devout Catholic wife would not abort. The pro-life and pro-choice divide becomes writ large. A film with such an enthralling message cannot but engage the attention of all, from peasants to intellectuals.

Tango with Me thus becomes a philosophical and psychological quest into the eternal questions of mankind. The disembodied psychologist in the film lends to it an artistic anchor that bestirs the soul.

Tango With Me bears all the imprints of the making of a classic. As husband meets with wife heavy with pregnancy at the very end of the film the good old message prevails: “Love conquers all.”

Nigeria: Celebrating 48 years of solo drama

English Department NTNU 016

Nigeria’s foremost Mono Dramatist, Greg Mbajiorgu is currently on sabbatical in the Department of English Language and Literature of the Nigerian Turkish Nile University, Abuja, Nigeria. The Maverick MONO DRAMATIST and THEATRE SCHOLAR is an avant-garde of solo performance art in Africa and a multiple award-winning Dramatist.

He is historically acclaimed to be the first African to publish a mono dramatic text. He is also the first Nigerian Dramatist to win the prestigious first prize for Arts and Humanities Research at the National Universities Research and Development Fair (NURESDEF), a biannual inter-universities competitive event organized by the National Universities Commission (NUC).

His seminal one-actor play THE PRIME MINISTER’S SON, written, improvised and published 20 years ago, did a nation-wide tour from 1991 to 2002 and remains, till date, the only African well written and published solo play available in our research institutes and university libraries.

Taking advantage of the one-year sabbatical leave of this Solo icon in the Faculty of Arts of The Nigerian Turkish Nile University, The English Language and Literature Department wishes to host an international SOLO DRAMATIC FESTIVAL in honor of this great SOLO DRAMATIST.

As highlight to this festival, the following activities have been lined up:

(1) Keynote lectures from experts in Solo Performance

(2) Solo Performance Colloquium: Orality, Solo Performance, Spoken Word, Stand Up Comedy and Contemporary African Drama

(3) Lunch Break

(4) Performance by National and international Soloists

(5) Reading Interpretation of selected Solo Performance texts by NTNU students of English Language and Literature

(6) Official public presentation of the 20th Anniversary Edition of The Prime Minister’s Son

(7) Interactive session between the celebrant, other guest soloists and the Nigerian Media

(8) Presentation of our NTNU maiden anthology of solo plays

(9) Award dinner/Command Performance of The Prime Minister’s Son by artistes from the National Council of Arts and Culture

Arrival to the festival is scheduled to be on the 6th of May. The Colloquium and other activities begins on the 7th of May and ends on the same day. Departure date is 8th of May.

English Department NTNU 005
English Department NTNU 005

International Solo Drama Festival and Colloquium at NTNU:

Call for Abstracts and Papers.

Abstracts are hereby invited from scholars home and Abroad on the theme: 48 years of solo drama on the Nigerian stage: from improvisation to the printed text.

Abstracts and papers up to 500 words for individual papers are to be sent to the email address: j.ile@ntnu.edu.ng or ndimuo@hotmail.com by March 15th 2014. Scholars can also send abstract and papers on the following sub themes:

1. Orature and Contemporary African Drama
2. Aesthetics of the Spoken Word
3. Performance and Solo Drama
4. Stand-up Comedy and Solo Performance Aesthetics
5. Solo performance, Spoken word performance and Performance studies
6. Entrepreneurship in theatre studies; the Example of the Solo performer.
7. Audience in a One-man Show
8. The Solo performers Approaches to Theatre and Production Management
9. Theatre management and the burgeoning art of Solo performance
10. The Playwrights in a Solo dramatic context
11. Directing a One-man Show: The Challenge of Conventional Play Directors.

All papers must reach the email address below on or before the 15th of March 2014. For more information, contact the HoD Department of English Language and Literature, Nigerian Turkish Nile University, Abuja

Email: j.ile@ntnu.edu.ng or The Secretary: blatee101@yahoo.com

Minorities as Media Masters, By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Maxim Uzoata

There is the argument that writers who are interested in style are those who really have no burning issues to pour out. Jimanze Ego-Alowes is a controversialist who lets it all pour out without bothering about the niceties of the style of writing. His latest book, Minorities as Competitive Overlords, published by The Stone Press Limited out of Festac own in Lagos, addresses the germane concerns of why and how the Nigerian media and banking moguls are literally all from the South-South minority.

It is my contention that Jimanze should have only focused on the minorities matter instead of adding Parts 2 and 3 of the book which had originally been published in his “The Turf Game” column of the Daily Sun. The issues treated in the second and third sections include: “ABC of Transport: It’s Sociology of Business Stupid!”; “Brand Deconstruction: Is Branding the Last Portal of Imperialism?”; “Why the South-West Dominate the Soft-sell Magazine”; “Attorneys General as Fools and the Rise of Para-History”. These additional chapters are downers after the initial section on the minorities. Maybe Jimanze was thinking of somewhat fattening his offering to the size of the so-called full-length book. A proper student of history ought to understand that it is actually the smaller books, even pamphlets that change history, such as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense that launched forth both the Soviet and American revolutions! Jimanze Book Cover

In Minorities as Competitive Overlords, Jimanze Ego-Alowes states at the very beginning: “Were it not for the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War, it is almost certain that neither Raymond Dokpesi of Ray Power/AIT, John Momoh of Channels TV, Ben Murray Bruce of Rhythm Radio/Silverbird TV, on one hand, nor Sam Amuka of Vanguard, Alex Ibru of The Guardian, Nduka Obaigbena of ThisDay, Frank Aigbogun of BusinessDay, on the other, would have been the successful media moguls that they are in the print or the electronic formats.” Jimanze posits that the “dominant ownership, control and reach of the Nigerian media are not an accident of geography or a conspiracy of South-South irredentists, as has sometimes been foolishly and ignorantly canvassed.” For Jimanze, the dominance is “simply put, a dynamic of the sociology and changing patterns of that sociology.” Jimanze’s trumping of the so-called “sociology of business turf advantage” needs to be properly intellectually queried.

In his preface to Minorities as Competitive Overlords, Dr. Boniface Chizea has high praise for Jimanze’s output thus: “This opus comes well recommended to all those who are in search of knowledge and fundamental truths underpinning the realities of life in Nigeria which could be deployed to gain competitive advantage.” In Jimanze’s thesis, the minorities use “the brace factor advantage” as the ring to connect or brace the big tribes of Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba which constitute the three legs of the Nigerian tripod. Jimanze avers that the majority players all want to be really regional while pretending to be national for political correctness. The author deposes that the nearest people to a national and nationalistic group happen to be the South-Southerners.

Jimanze delves into Nigerian early nationalism, the Azikiwe-cum-Awolowo carpet crossing controversy and the concomitant sacking of the minority leader Eyo Ita by Zik. He ups the ante with the vitriolic roles of Daily Times and New Nigerian during the civil war as the newspapers turned Ojukwu into “the number one hate figure in Nigeria.” According to Jimanze Ego-Alowes, “From Gowon to Murtala, no New Nigerian or Daily Times editorial and reporter ever wrote a line on oil spillage. Yet they all gathered over the open graves and despoliation of the oil bearing regions, to build Lagos and Abuja into mega cities.”

In the wake of regional rage, Jimanze cites the instance of General Babangida who is dismissed as the vilest despot because his government annulled the election won by Chief MKO Abiola. “Anyway  it is on record Babangida could not have been Nigeria’s worst despot,” Jimanze writes, acidly adding: “That very dubious honour goes to General Yakubu Jack Gowon, who is one of Africa’s top ten genocidists. But since a mass murderer didn’t kill one Yoruba, he is counted a nationalist even a saint.”

The gnawing fear of the bloodbath ahead is laden in the loaded questions of the spokesman Sanni of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) who asks: “How do you justify the fact that most of the banks are owned by the people from the South-South? How do you justify the situation where most of the media houses are owned by people from the South-South? You think that they are the hardest workers?” Jimanze retorts with his own posers thus: “Whoever stole more power or money than Nigeria’s military despots? Is any one of those a South-Southerner?” He then supplies the analogy taken from Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God where the priesthood was given to the weakest village of Umuachala. Jimanze has very harsh words of the Nazi-Jewish dimension in replying Mallam F. Bello, Chief Executive of Unity Bank, who damns the Igbo in the bank domination business alongside the Deltans.

The softer side of the book dwells on how and why the Warri dons dominate the comedy business in Nigeria. Jimanze stresses that “Warri is Nigeria’s only and truly pot-pourri city. More than Lagos or any other Nigerian town, Warri has the curse or blessing of not having any aboriginal population of any critical size.”

Jimanze Ego-Alowes has written a very compelling, if provocative book, in Minorities as Competitive Overlords. He delves into issues less courageous writers would always run away from. But then, as he pours it out, Jimanze is served poorly by his editors. There are some misplaced words and punctuations, and the organization could have been more streamlined. Even so, Jimanze Ego-Alowes deserves kudos for going into the very heart of the matter with consummate aplomb.

Country of Coups, By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Maxim Uzoata

Fellow Countrymen: The Story of Coups D’etats in Nigeria By Richard Akinnola; Richkonsult, Abuja; Revised Edition 2013.

Military coups and Nigeria used to be Siamese twins. It is one of the wonders of the modern world that Nigeria has stayed all of 14 years without witnessing a coup. It is very obvious that the khaki boys have lost the plot. In the absence of new military coups, Richard Akinnola has done us the great duty of chronicling the history of coups in Nigeria in Fellow Countrymen, the catchphrase used to introduce every coup d’etat. Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN), a First and Second Republic Minister, sees Fellow Countrymen as a must-read book which he champions thus: “I have read this book from cover to cover. This is a fantastic book. It is a great and historic book. It looks like a horror film. I want us to find a way to ensure that as many Nigerians as possible read this book. I recommend this book to all universities and secondary schools so that they can know how we got to where we are now.”

Richard Akinnola has earned his pips as the conscience of his age, having worked as a journalist for more than 30 years, helping to found the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), and authoring some 15 books on Law, the Media, Human Rights and Politics. Akinnola’s courage is frightening as he takes on all comers no matter how evil especially as showcased in his book Murder of Dele Giwa – The Answered Question.Akinnola book

In Fellow Countrymen, Akinnola undertakes, in the words of Clem Richardson of New York Daily News, “A stirring, dramatic accounting of the men who almost ruined Nigeria.” The author deservedly dedicates the book “to all victims of military dictatorship,” praying very fervently that “their struggle would never be in vain.” The book was first published in year 2000 and had to be thoroughly revised in 2013, that is, the copy we are doing justice here. According to General Ibrahim Babangida whom Akinnola dubs as “the grandmaster of coups”, there is the cautionary tale about late Ibrahim Taiwo who was in the company of IBB in a plane when they saw a younger officer reading a book entitled How to Stage a Coup. Taiwo advised the young officer by opening up the chapter on the consequences of failure, saying: “By all means read this book but when you get to this chapter, cram it.”

General TY Danjuma had stirred the hornet’s nest when in an interview he averred that Chief Obafemi Awolowo planned the first coup in Nigeria. SG Ikoku who was a stalwart of Awo’s Action Group stressed too that they actually planned a coup. Given the controversial nature of Awo’s trial and jailing for treasonable felony, the jury is still out on the matter. Akinnola reveals that the first treasonable felony trial in Nigeria actually took place in 1961 when Joseph Tarka and four others were charged, discharged and acquitted in a Jos High Court.

The January 15, 1966 coup that ended the First Republic threw up the stirring words of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu: “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand ten percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circle (sic); those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian calendar back by their words and deeds.”

With the pattern of killings against the North, given the murder of the Sardauna of Sokoto and Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa etc, the North revolted with a counter-coup on July 29 in the selfsame 1966 in which the Supreme Commander General Aguiyi-Ironsi was murdered in Ibadan with his host Lt-Col Adekunle Fajuyi by Danjuma and other Northern soldiers.

General Yakubu Gowon who took power over the body of Ironsi was himself ousted on July 29, 1975 in a coup made broadcast by his close ally Brig. Joe Garba, thus putting Murtala Mohammed in power. The military struck once more on February 13, 1976 in an abortive but bloody “dawn to dusk curfew” coup led by Lt-Col Buka Suka Dimka that ended the life of Gen. Murtala Mohammed on  a Lagos street.

General Olusegun Obasanjo who got into power after Murtala’s death organized the 1979 elections that transferred power to the civilian regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Civil rule only lasted four years with Gen. Muhammadu Buhari taking over on the last day of 1983. Then there was Gen. Babangida’s palce coup of August 27, 1985 that sent Buhari packing. Babangida then announced he had foiled a coup led by his bosom friend, the poet Gen. Mamman Vatsa, who was executed along with the other plotters even as Nigeria’s eminent writers Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and JP Clark had pleaded with Babangida to spare the military poet’s life.

Babangida also survived the April 22, 1990 revolution led by Major Gideon Orkar which culminated in Babangida moving house to the safer grounds of Aso Rock in Abuja.

The annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by Bashorun Moshood Abiola led to multiform crises that forced Babangida to quit power in disgrace. The lame-duck interim regime led by Chief Ernest Shonekan which Babangida put in power was overthrown on November 17, 1993 by the Gen. Sani Abacha “Child of Necessity” coup. Of course Gen. Abacha dealt with his opponents in the “phantom” coup and then the “set-up” coup before dying mysteriously, leading to the coming into power of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar who organized the 1999 elections that brought Obasanjo from prison to the presidency.

Akinnola in Fellow Countrymen delves deep into the problematic aspects of the coups to tell a compelling human story. Mamman Vatsa’s lament is indeed heartrending: “By the time you finish with me, my children will forever be afraid of the system.” Captain Tolofari of the Orkar 1990 coup writes his mother Inyingi on the eve of the coup thus: “If you are reading this letter, it means I am dead…” Tolofari justifies the coup’s excision of some Northern states with a quote from the Bible (Matthew 5:30) about Christ’s advice that if your right hand should offend you, it should be cut off!

The torture of Lawan Gwadabe as arranged by Zakari Biu is horrendous. Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua met with horrible death in Abacha’s gaol while Obasanjo was somewhat saved from sure death. Gen. Oladipo Diya is alive today only but for the grace of God. What Akinnola’s book teaches is: never again should the country bow the knee to military rule. No matter the imperfections of democracy it still trumps against the cast of evil demons of military rule and coups as adroitly exposed by Richard Akinnola in Fellow Countrymen.     

An encounter with General Prince Yormie Johnson, By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Maxim Uzoatu

Recall the gory video scene of the killing of then President Samuel Doe of Liberia. There was the beer-guzzling Prince Yormie Johnson sitting in judgment over the captured and tied up Doe who was begging for his life: “Yomi, two people fight, one win. Spare me, please.” The selfsame Yormie Johnson used to live in exile in Ikoyi, Lagos, and I had a memorable encounter with him.

No appointment was fixed with the former warlord. No telephone calls. Nothing. I simply appeared unannounced at the frontage of the man’s Ikoyi home one hot Tuesday afternoon, and settled on a white plastic chair by the door of the bistro that leads into the compound. I ordered a drink from the dark and tall barmaid who would later introduce herself as the cousin of the man I had come to meet.

It took 30 or so minutes for the man to manifest. General Prince Yormie Johnson appeared as simple as the boy next door. I sprang to my feet and greeted. He shook hands as though not having a care in the world. I told him I came to give him a book I wrote for the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) and that I expected to have the book he had just published in return. Meantime, two itinerant newspaper vendors entered the bar. Prince Johnson nodded at them, went out to the car parked outside and soon came back with seven books which he gave to the vendors to sell for him.

He autographed a book for me, and said he was now a born-again Christian who drank no alcohol. One could hardly reconcile the new Prince Johnson with the boozing and woman-chasing new exile in 1994 who had bitterly complained then that a beloved consort had left him brokenhearted through the chicanery of some friends! Nobody would again report that Prince Johnson collapsed drunk behind the steering wheel of his car on a busy Lagos road! Now Prince Johnson was the complete picture of the family man who dutifully undertook school runs.

“My dream is to set up the Africa Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution and Children’s Rehabilitation,” said Prince Johnson, casually flipping through the pages of his book entitled The Rise and Fall of President Samuel K. Doe and sub-titled “A Time to Heal and Rebuild Liberia.”

The then 54-odd-year-old father of 12 children planned to become “father of the fatherless and president of the homeless.” He no longer had any time for war and hoped to devote the rest of his life to reconciliation rather than vengeance. “Attempting to solve problems by force of arms only ends up opening more wounds,” he submitted, adding, “We must uphold the Constitution and respect it. It is lack of democracy that leads to armed struggle and unconstitutional change. Power becomes like glue for any man who has stayed too long on the throne.”

According to Prince Johnson, “When I broke from Charles Taylor, he wanted me dead. Taylor was planning Vision 2024 without knowing that God will kick him out. Taylor said he would only give me amnesty after Vision 2024 but God thought otherwise.”

Prince Johnson revealed that he had completed his memoirs which runs up to 935 pages. It’s his firm belief that anybody who removes an oppressive system should not compensate himself with power. “A man who operates a machine-gun may not know anything about statecraft,” Prince Johnson stressed.

“When you have God, you fear nothing,” he said. “I used to go to Babalawo before. Now all I know is God.” He narrated how he lacked money to buy diesel one day only to wake up after a prayer to meet a boy who had come back from Cyprus after serving under him in Liberia. The guy from Cyprus gave Prince Johnson enough dollars to buy diesel and pay his children’s school fees. Also, when the Peugeot given to him by General Sani Abacha was always breaking down, he prayed and then President Obasanjo promptly came to his aid. Prince Johnson did not hide his love for General Ibrahim Babangida whom he always drove to Minna to see.

Likening himself to ants that gathered what they would eat during the rainy season in the dry season, he said, “Have you ever seen ants moving in the rainy season? They gather their food during the dry season.”

Prince Johnson was at peace with himself having reconciled with the widow and son of the slain President Samuel Doe at Prophet T.B. Joshua’s Synagogue Church of all Nations. Prophet Joshua had earlier cured Prince Johnson’s daughter, Amy, of “kidney disease and protruding stomach”. In Prince Johnson’s words, “Christians who suffer are people who don’t have faith.” Counting himself as a detribalized African, he stressed that ethnicity remained a major problem in Africa. “For now I want to reconcile all Liberians. If ever in the future I should contest elections in Liberia, if I don’t win I will go back to my village, to the farm.”

An Essay on Nothing, By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Maxim Uzoatu

Nothing can be more jarring than discovering at this moment when one is congratulating oneself on having written on everything only to instantly discover that one has written absolutely nothing on the subject of nothing.

Come to think of it, a writer who has not written on nothing is an abject non-start, a nothing in fact! Nothing can be sweeter than properly starting the writing life from nothing. That’s exactly what I want to do now: write about nothing! In short, it is my considered opinion that any writer who cannot start from nothing has learnt nothing and has thusly written nothing! But did I say the writer had written nothing? No, he has not written nothing is more like it. It does appear writing on nothing is doing some damage to my grey matter…

Yes, there are so many nothings scrambling my brain. The fire that burnt my house the other time thought it would leave me with nothing not knowing that it could not burn one particular book in my library entitled The Quotable Nothing Book, and subtitled “Being a Book of Quotes about Nothing and Nothingness” which was published at $3.95 in 1980 by Running Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

This so-called book actually contains nothing save a quote on top of the left hand side and at the bottom of the right hand side of it, thus leaving the entire page blank.

The largely empty “nothing book” which bears no page numbers such that one cannot even talk of odd and even number pages was given to me in Canada by two lovers, Mike Anderson and Tina Novotny of 350 Dundas Street, London Ontario, Canada N6B 1V7, and they wrote the following words therein: “Send us stuff you write in here!”

Since the book contains nothing but quotes from some wags and philosophers and suchlike who enjoy writing only about nothing, I felt it amounted to indulging in nothing writing back to my friends Mike and Tina; until now that nothing is inspiring me to write on nothing!

The Quotable Nothing Book gives the definition of nothing taken from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia thus: “NOTHING (nuth’ing), n. 1. No thing; not anything; not something; something that is not anything. The conception of nothing is reached by reflecting that a noun, or name, in form, may fail to have any corresponding object; and nothing is the noun by which its very definition is of that sort.”

Given this kind of nonsensical, if complicated, definition of nothing, little wonder Paul Valery has this quip: “God made everything out of nothing. But the nothingness shows through.” And who am I not to trust Socrates when he says: “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.” Soren Kierkegaard of course echoes the master: “The something which I am is precisely a nothing.”

Against the background of the father of philosophy and his sons knowing nothing and being nothing, Ambrose Bierce defines Philosophy this way: “A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.”

Bear with me, for as Edward Dahlberg knows, “It takes a long time to understand nothing.” After all, this exercise in nothing is only a thousand-word piece as opposed to an entire book of umpteen pages written by Joop Berkhout entitled What Men Know about Women which contains nothing but blank pages to show what everybody already knew: that man knows nothing about woman! The great Lord Byron sums it up thusly: “A book’s a book, although there’s nothing in it.”

Genius has a lot in common with nothing, as Gertrude Stein opines, “It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.” The fear though is that “there may not be no nothing”, as H.L. Mencken declares. Jonathan Edwards ups the ante in this wise: “That there should absolutely be nothing at all is utterly impossible. The mind, let it stretch its conceptions ever so far, can never so much as bring itself to conceive of a state of perfect nothing.”

Frederic Amiel has this different take on the subject of nothing: “Almost everything comes from almost nothing.” And wallowing in nothing, Madame du Deffand declaims: “I hear nothings, I speak nothings, I take interest in nothing, and from nothing to nothing I travel gently down the dull way which leads to becoming nothing.” Alas, the words of Henry Fielding ring true: “To whom nothing is given, of him nothing can be required.”

As though inspired by nothing Mussolini sums up his foreign policy this way: “Nothing for Nothing.” Jean Paul Richter would rather have it thus: “A variety of nothing is better than a monotony of something.” For Penelope Gilliat, “There are times when nothing has to be better than anything.” Trust good old Jonathan Swift to get into the nothing fray: “He asks for nothing; and thinks, like a philosopher, that he wants nothing.”

Crucially Lady Morgan asserts the inevitability of nothing: “Nothing’s new, and nothing’s true, and nothing matters.” The mathematics of nothing engages the attention of Joseph Glanvill: “All the ciphers of arithmetic are no better than a single nothing.”

“What then is man?” asks Edward Young, and he supplies the answer: “The smallest part of nothing.” The politicos who hold the world by the jugular are deep into the nothing game, as Oscar Wilde explains with aplomb: “It is to do nothing that the elect exist.” Beaumarchais weighs in with this choice admonition: “People who wish to make nothing of anything advance nothing and are good for nothing.” Of course before opening the mouth to condemn me for wasting the time of the world on nothing it is crucial to remember the words of Charles Caleb Colton: “When you have nothing to say, say nothing.”

I have dabbled in this essay on nothing mindful of Edmund Burke’s immortal words: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” As I take my leave with nothing, the Good Book beckons at The First Epistle of Paul: “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out.”

Features: A place where the blind can see

VTC Library

Miracles do not come any greater than giving vision to the blind.

The Nigeria Society for the Blind (NSB) at its Vocational Training Centre (VTC), Oshodi, Lagos deserves support and celebration for giving vision and mission to the blind. The fear that going blind amounts to the very end of life has been defeated, as I can attest to, after paying a visit to the centre.

My friend, the distinguished journalist, Lanre Idowu, decided to celebrate his birthday at the centre on Friday, July 19, and took me along with a handful of the Young Men Christian Union (YMCU) from St Jude’s Anglican Church, Ebute-Metta, Lagos.

It was a brave new world that one discovered at the centre that is adjacent to the Armed Forces Rehabilitation Centre, Oshodi.

The Nigeria Society for the Blind is a voluntary, non-governmental and not-for-profit organization established in 1955 under the charge of Justice Adetokunbo Ademola with the main objective of training and giving hope to visually handicapped adolescents and adults in Nigeria.

The Vocational Training Centre is in its 56th year, having been founded in 1956, and well over 2,000 blind men and women have benefitted from the superbly-guided training.

It is a testament to the success of the VTC that some of the graduates are now in gainful employment.
According to the rules of engagement, “The period of training is two years.

Students with a minimum educational attainment of Primary Six do the Handicrafts course, while those with a higher standard of education and who show enough aptitude are trained in Braille Reading and Writing, Touch Typing, Telephone and Dictaphone Typing (audio typing) and Computer Training. Extra-curricular activities include Home Economics.

The female trainees also do Home-craft, Knitting and Cookery. Counseling on the social effects of blindness is also given regularly.”

This way, the society prepares trainees to be self-employed, and equally solicits employment opportunities with organizations and governments where the skills learned could be put into effective use. The NSB needs help “to be able to give scholarships to undergraduates and post-graduate students in Nigerian universities.”

The centre has no subvention whatsoever from either the State or Federal Government.

The class of people who go blind through unfortunate circumstances later in life and who are in dire need of rehabilitation with the support of philanthropists, corporate organizations, religious bodies etc. are given a new lease of life.

The Chairman of the Executive Council of the NSB, Mrs. Biola Agbaje is full of praise for Lagos State Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) who surprised the society with a visit on his birthday, June 28, 2012, made promises and “has delivered on all the promises.”

In this light, “tuition fees for 60 students for 2013 has been paid through Lagos State Scholarship Board… the funds for the renovation of our State of Art Workshop have been provided by the Lagos State Government.”

The amiable administrator, Ms Ivy Bassey, iterates the needs of the centre thus: “Our Staff Quarters, Administrator Block, Fence, Gate and Classrooms are begging for renovation. The entire compound needs to be properly and totally landscaped. These renovation works will cost a whopping sum of 20 million Naira. We need sponsorship for local and overseas Staff Training Programmes.”

The centre needs seed money to be set aside “for disbursement to our deserving trainees on graduation to provide them with credit facilities.” She informs that “this Micro-credit scheme has not been actualized because the banks we have approached seem to feel our money is too small for them to administer.”

Inside VTC Oshodi
Inside VTC Oshodi

Subscription to become a member of the NSB goes thus: N2,000 for students, N5,000 for annual adult dues, N50,000 for life subscription, and N250,000 for corporate bodies. One can donate to the society a dedicated amount every month. Also, a dying person can leave clear instructions so that his or her cornea can be given to the society to give sight to someone after passing.

The maiden edition of the NSB Membership Day was held on Sunday, October 21, 2012 at VTC, Oshodi. The get-together was for all registered members of the society who had the privilege to bring along their families and friends. The VTC students performed drama and supplied music to make a jolly good day.

Awards were given to supporters of the NSB, notably SNEPCO, Kakawa Discount House, Standard Chartered Bank, First Securities Discount House, Dupe Have a Bite, Sokoa Chair Centre, Cathedral Church of Christ Marina, MTN Foundation, Guobadia Foundation, Bible Socety of Nigeria, RT Briscoe etc.

Miss Chisom Anozie, who was posted to do her primary NYSC assignment at the centre, narrates in the NSB magazine published by the centre that she was full of sadness when she was posted there but ended up enjoying the VTC for setting her “on the road to a lifetime of illumination.”

The Annual Inter-House Competition held at the UNILAG Sports Stadium on April 4, under the distinguished chairmanship of Victor Gbolade Osibodu, Chairman of Vigeo Holdings Ltd and Chairman of Special Olympics Nigeria. The students competed for honours in 50 metres race, long jump, 3-legged race, walking race, rounder’s game, searching race, shot put, skittle game, tug-of-war, Tor Ball etc. According to the principal, Sola Ogunsiji, “The students were very excited and have had a change of thought of their self concept and worth.”

Miss Modupe Kafayat lost her sight in 2010 after graduating in Law from the University of Ibadan. She then enrolled in VTC in 2012 to learn Braille writing and reading, the use of the computer with the help of speech software and mobility etc. She subsequently performed excellently at the Nigeria Law School, Lagos Campus.

Chidozie Obianyo lost his sight to glaucoma in 2007 after passing out of secondary school and sitting for JAMB in the bid to study Medicine. He was made to stay at home for all of six years, almost giving up on life, until he got to know of VTC, Oshodi in November 2012 and was admitted into the centre in January this year. Now he has been able to travel from Lagos to Anambra State all on his own!

Miss Adesope Latifat Adeleye obtained an OND in Business Administration from Osun State Polytechnic, Ire, but, in her words, “on the morning of 30th December 2011 while going for my prayer, acid was poured on me by an admirer whose advances I had refused to acknowledge.” She lost both eyes, and after her discharge from LASUTH she found succor at VTC, Oshodi. She was able to travel home alone during the April break and intends to study Mass Communication at the university.

The library at VTC is a sight to behold, being the best of its kind in all of West Africa. Braille books are printed readily and we witnessed a printing by the hardworking librarian.

In short, after being at VTC, Oshodi, I discovered that I had been blind, and I was given new vision as I encountered the magnificent work being done there. Now I have reason to believe and see!

A Global Garden for Mandela in Nigeria, By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Mandela Garden Prototype

The whole wide world is stark awake, day and night, waiting for the Mandela hour. But there’s no escaping the fact that even in life or death Mandela trumps all. It is indeed with bated breath that the global village looks ahead to the great one’s 95th birthday on July 18. Of course that date has been universally fixed as Nelson Mandela International Day, or Mandela Day for short. The epochal day was officially declared by the United Nations in November 2009, and the first UN Mandela Day held on July 18, 2010. The Mandela Day celebrating the icon’s 95th birthday on July 18 will be marked specially in Asaba, Delta State with the World Press Conference proclaiming the establishment of a garden of 95 trees to be known as “The Mandela Garden of 95 Trees.” The celebrated environmentalist and conqueror of the Sahara Desert, Dr. Newton Jibunoh, as the Chief Executive of Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE) will partner with Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan and the Delta State Government to make broadcast the well over 134,000 square metres of prime land within the Asaba International Airport complex, designed to build “The Nelson Mandela Garden of 95 Trees.”

The conceptual design of the Mandela Garden is in the shape of the map of Africa, featuring a life-sized bronze statue of Nelson Mandela, 95 trees symbolically planted as the Robben memorial, freedom mini-gardens, well-landscaped terraced fences made of hedge plants, concrete walkways, state-of-the-art restrooms, adequate parking, Nelson Mandela playground and park for children. The Mandela Garden is due for commissioning in August with members of the Nelson Mandela family, led by Ndaba Mandela, flagging-off the planting of the 95 trees.

Newton Jibunoh, the brain behind the project
Newton Jibunoh, the brain behind the project

Dr. Jibunoh in his drive toward greening the environment through FADE always had the abiding dream of planting the trees. It has been a life-long passion, culminating in the FADE Wall of Trees planted in Makoda Kano in the spirited bid to arrest desert encroachment. He then followed up on January 1, this year when he was accompanied by Governor Fashola of Lagos and other dignitaries to plant 75 trees in Lagos to celebrate his own 75th birthday. The 95 trees Jibunoh is partnering with the Delta State Government to plant in Asaba to mark Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday is the climax of his lifework. He plans to retire to the Mandela Gardens to manage it by himself.

“I will run the park for the rest of my life as the keeper,” Jibunoh says in his Lagos Island Didi Museum office, adding, “My family will have to come and visit me there. They know my passion. It helps that the project is situated at the airport. They can always fly in and fly out. I believe Asaba provides a conducive atmosphere batter than Lagos, London or New York!” He then adds this info: “I’ll build myself a small hut where I will live to keep it.”

Governor Uduaghan will lay the foundation stone of the keeper’s lodge while the enquiry office will also be in the initial works.

The lack of maintenance that almost always bedevils most Nigerian projects would not be the lot of the Mandela Gardens, Jibunoh avers, stressing, “Not only will I manage it fulltime, I will put a succession plan in place devoid of governmental bureaucracy. They will run the place better after my time. Governor Uduaghan gave me 100 percent control over the place.”

Jibunoh revels in the drive of Ndaba Mandela “to mobilize over a billion people all over the world to key in to the Nelson Mandela inspiration.” The Nelson Mandela mystique is seen as an eternal legacy that is forever compelling even if Madiba dies.

“We have to use Mandela to inspire people,” Jibunoh says, pointing at the legend’s picture on the wall of his office. “We used to have Kwame Nkrumah. There is no other Mandela anywhere. He gave the world all he had. He went to prison for 27 years and came out with nothing. He ruled South Africa for only one term of presidency and came out with nothing. That’s the legacy!”

It is therefore incumbent on Dr Jibunoh to mobilize people of the world to think like Mandela. “What did this man not go through in the fight for freedom?” Jibunoh rhetorically asks, shifting on his chair.

Jibunoh feels quite fulfilled that he has a green-loving governor in Dr Uduaghan who supports wholeheartedly the placing of the Mandela Gardens in Asaba. “We are looking for a global institution, and the site of the gardens at the international airport in Asaba gives it the strategic global appeal,” Dr Jibunoh informs.

For Jibunoh, the term “Charity begins at home” was done in reverse order. He was heavily involved in improving other places, notably the Sahara Desert and places like Kano and Lagos before returning to his home locale of Delta State. He mentions the Igbo term and name “Nkeiruka”, stating that what is ahead is greater than the things done earlier. An irrepressible optimist, Jibunoh believes that security challenges such as kidnapping can be solved to make Nigeria a tourist haven, starting with the Mandela Gardens in Asaba.

“There are so many things to challenge the world in Nigeria,” he affirms, nodding. He argues that he had seen it all, from the days of colonialism through the Apartheid years and the Nigerina Civil War. He believes that Nigeria deserves celebration for leading the charge for the freedom of Nelson Mandela and South Africa.

“We lost Barclays Bank and British Petroleum in the Mandela fight,” he says. “Nigeria was a Frontline State. We cannot now be a minor player. This project will re-establish Nigeria as a Frontline State. Our fight was not in vain. Through the Mandela Gardens Mandela will live forever! It will put Nigeria in a different platform.”

Jibunoh points at the irony that people thought that Mandela was only fighting for black Africans, only for it to be discovered at the end that the whites benefited more! According to Jibunoh, “The whites who saw him as a terrorist are now the ones benefitting from Mandela the most!”

To mark the first global celebration of Mandela Day on July 18, 2009, to wit, Mandela’s 91st birthday, a series of educational, art exhibits, fund-raising and volunteer events leading up to a concert at Radio City Music Hall on July 18, were organized by the 46664 Concerts and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Then in November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly formally declared July 18 to be “Nelson Mandela International Day”.

Born Nelson Rolihlahla Dalibunga Mandela in Mvezo, a village near Mthatha in the Transkei, on July 18, 1918, to Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Henry Mgadla Mandela, the man popularly celebrated all over the world as Madiba spent all of 27 years in jail for fighting Apartheid South Africa to a standstill. His head was never unbowed until he was released from prison and won election as the first President of a free South Africa. On the historic day of May 10, 1994 that Mandela was inaugurated as the democratic President of South Africa, the great man said, “We dedicate this day to all the heroes and heroines in this country and the rest of the world who sacrificed in many ways and surrendered their lives so that we could be free. Their dreams have become reality. Freedom is their reward. We are both humbled and elevated by the honour and privilege that you, the people of South Africa, have bestowed on us, as the first President of a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist government. We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world. Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfil themselves. Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign.”

He gave the perfect example to sit-tight leaders in Africa and other parts of the world by serving only as a one-tenure President when he had enough goodwill to rule South Africa for life. He handed over voluntarily to his vice-president Thabo Mbeki in 1999, thus laying a solid succession plan for building the South African project. Mandela gave solid support to another stalwart of his party, the African National Congress (ANC), Mr. Jacob Zuma who succeeded Mbeki after winning the South African presidential election.

Mandela lost his father early in life, in 1927, and this made him to take stand to fight like his forebears for the liberation of his homeland. Mandela wrote in his acclaimed autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, that his teacher gave him the name Nelson in his first day in school.

Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment on June 12, 1964. He would spend some 27 years in prison. In March 1982, after 18 years, he was without any explanation whatsoever transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town. In December 1988 he was moved to the Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. It was from this prison that he was eventually released on February 11, 1990.

Mandela refused to compromise with the offers of the apartheid regime while in prison, believing that only free men can enter into contracts. After his historic release, in 1991, the first national conference of the ANC held inside South Africa. Mandela was elected its President while his lifelong friend and comrade, Oliver Tambo, became the ANC’s National Chairperson.

Mandela was awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize together with FW de Klerk. The end of apartheid happened on April 27, 1994, when Mandela “voted for the first time in his life – along with my people.”

 Of course Mandela was inaugurated as the first President of a free South Africa on May 10, 1994. He set an example for other leaders by stepping down after one term in 1999. In retirement, he is still the toast of all across the globe. He has set up three foundations: The Nelson Mandela Foundation, The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and The Mandela-Rhodes Foundation. Until very recently his schedule has been relentless.

Mandela married Graça Machel, the widow of ex-Mozambican President Samora Machel, on his 80th birthday in 1998. Mandela can hold his head high for turning South Africa from an erstwhile pariah state to a destination of choice for all humankind. During his tenure the unheralded South African football team, just emerging from a worldwide ban, won the esteemed Africa Cup of Nations on home soil in 1996. The country also won the World Rugby Cup. It is a testament to Mandela’s reach that South Africa successfully staged the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The legend of Mandela can hardly ever be exhausted.

The global icon Nelson Mandela richly deserves the “Mandela Garden of Trees in Asaba” initiated by Dr Newton Jibunoh and supported by the Governor Uduaghan-led Delta State Government.

The Unsung Book World of ABIC in Enugu

ABIC Books published Chinua Achebe's "The University and the Leadership Factor in Nigerian Politics", an interesting 26-page monograph published in 2006

Book publishing in Nigeria is in dire straits. It shook me up like a charge of electricity that there is one Nigerian East of the Niger, largely unsung, devoting his entire life to the nobler details of book publishing and distribution. My knowledge or lack thereof of the publishing of books in Nigeria is largely restricted to the Lagos-Ibadan axis, that is, until a recent visit to Enugu during which my brother, Isidore Emeka, took me to 20 Edozien Street, Uwani, Enugu, the home of ABIC Books & Equipment Ltd, where the avuncular C.N.C. Asomugha presides.

Asomugha established ABIC Books back in 1987, and in the intervening years, the company has published authors such as Chinua Achebe, Esiaba Irobi, Emeka Nwabueze, GPI Oluka, Chimalum Nwankwo, Mekinzewi, Ngozi Omeje, EC Nwodo, Ebele Maduewesi, VV Levtchitch, Emmanuel Attamah, Osondu Odionu, Chibuzo Asomugha, Chuks Okolo, Okey Anyichie, Rina Okonkwo, CH Spurgeon, Roland Timi Kpakiama etc.

According to Asomugha, “Our vision has been to share with all human beings, aged between one and 100 years, the unique African experiences recorded in books and in other means of publication. Today, we publish and distribute books from and to all ends of the world and provide access to information and publications from Nigeria in a way that has not been done before. This is our mission.”

Sales outlets of ABIC Books almost span the entire Nigerian States, notably: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Benue, Bornu, Cross River, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Imo, Kaduna, Lagos, Niger, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, and Abuja FCT.

Asomugha takes pride of place as some of ABIC Books “have won the most coveted prizes in Nigeria.” For instance, the late Esiaba Irobi’s play, Cemetery Road, emerged winner of the 2010 Nigeria Prize for Literature endowed by the NLNG. Irobi’s Cemetery Road “is a play about living, loving and dying for the things we hold dear. It reveals the narrow purviews of the Nigerian nation, constructs deeper insights out of our social logjams, relates with the residual heritage of the nation and rises above the penchant for tragedy which the socio-economic situation in our country predispose every concerted consciousness. It is socially relevant in an ironically refreshing way. The dialogue crackles. Its theatricality is variegated.”

The office at 20 Edozien Street, Uwani, Enugu also houses a bookshop in which latest bestselling titles such as Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah are on display. Books published by ABIC share shelf space in healthy competition with offerings from other publishers, local and foreign.

The bookshop trade discount at ABIC Books stands at a competitive 20 percent, while institutional discount goes for 10 percent. The company’s publishing orbit spans Drama, Education, Engineering, Young Adult Fiction, Adult Fiction, Football, History, Languages, Library Science, Literary Studies, Management, Medicine, Motivational Books, Music, Nigeriana, Poetry, Reference, Research & Experimentation, English Storybooks, Igbo Storybooks etc.

At ABIC Books, there is the mantra: “This is not a Joke. You are Dead without Books.” This way, Asomugha champions the cause of books daring all the odds like poor power supply, atrocious transportation, printing woes, unreliable clients and sundry suchlike.

Its vision as “a unique African concept” stands ABIC Books in good stead toward reversing the odds against mother Africa in telling the total global story. Asomugha astutely leads the charge through committed publishing, books & journals distribution, educational equipment, and literary agency.

An interesting 26-page monograph published in 2006 by ABIC Books is Chinua Achebe’s The University and the Leadership Factor in Nigerian Politics, which is partly the late lionized author’s response to criticisms of his insightful classic The Trouble With Nigeria.

When the Arrow Rebounds: A Dramatized Recreation of Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God by Emeka Nwabueze lends to the classic novel a new lease of life on the live stage.

Mr. Asomugha has, through his ABIC Books, given the literati of the country reason to believe. He deserves celebration.

Tony Akudinobi Awakens Africa in Designs of Beauty

Hammerhead collection

“The works of art presented here are coded in furniture of utilitarian types that are simply alluring.”

The ambience at Shell Club in Port Harcourt struck a note of genius. The designs of Tony Chidi Akudinobi held the scores of Nigerians and expatriates gathered in the hall spellbound. Emeritus Professor Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa, an eminent supporter of the Awakened Africa project of Tony Akudinobi, strongly believes that African design must reach deep into the resources of history to make a mark in the world.

For Dr. Jude Akudinobi, the elder brother of Tony who teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “The Awakened African is about emboldened dreams and richly textured cultural imaginaries. In this project, Africa is repositioned, quite confidently, to unfurl the philosophical, social and political significance of its intricately diverse cultural forms and ever-expanding representational realms.

In exploring the links between modes of expression and social identities, for instance, it is a marked intervention and, crucially, about engendering the capacities to dream anew. The project, in its surefooted standpoints, richness of details and understandings, does not depend on a paradigm ordained by the ostensible high priests of art.

Remarkably, it is about eschewing the generic, mapping new terrains of possibilities and fostering dynamic relationships between imagination and cultural patrimonies, embodying a consciousness which questions incarceratory ideas of what it means to be ‘African’.

In this, it is not an issue of dressing up older forms in new guises. If anything, its subtle explorations of shifting relationships between genealogies and progenies, myriad inspirational streams and imaginative sensibilities, is, in African manners of expression, a palpable parable for the present times. Notably, the project contests the extraneous hierarchies of art, taste, and value which cloak African creative impulses in moth-ridden fabrications and costumes.

It seeks to take African art out of museums, especially ‘natural history’ museums. It seeks to foster cross-cultural fields in which the African is a primogenitor not curiosity or an artifact. The Awakened African is not a repository of exotic fantasies or patronage.

Driving the project is a desire to open up prolific spaces and reference points with which to engage the eclectic verve and nuanced meanings of art on the continent. With its conceptual framework of renascence, the project aims at reasserting and celebrating a dynamic process of rejuvenation.

Alagoa, Akudinobi, Amene, Ugiomoh, Nsikak
Alagoa, Akudinobi, Amene, Ugiomoh, Nsikak

Given the inextricable roles and relationships of art in African cultural systems, the Awakened African presents a veritable wellspring of narratives, aesthetic trajectories, and subtle roots. Just as important, it insists on projecting autonomous identities and promoting new understandings of ‘Africanness’.

In reinterpreting certain elements of tradition, the project encourages integration of the complex tissues and textures of African creative drives in contesting certain normative expectations. Without qualms, it contends that African art, however it is defined, exists because the resplendent imaginative sparks exist in Africa. As a project that positions Africa in the present, rather than as a grotesque archive, the Awakened African is about going beyond clichés to the larger history of Africa’s creative proclivities.”

Prof Frank Ugiomoh of the University of Port Harcourt avers: “The works of art presented here are coded in furniture of utilitarian types that are simply alluring. They are in tandem with the African spirit where the works of art are products of imaginative creative powers that are at once utilitarian as they are decorative and loud; desiring and demanding that we appropriate them because we value them as products of our ingenuity. The value of these designs is the abandonment of the synthetic world induced by modern technology.

In many furniture catalogues we confront furniture made with same technology as Akudinobi’s designs. They are an assemblage of various works that include the textile and leather artist, the machine operators and a host of diverse interests that lead to an end product.

Where Akudinobi’s designs appear rustic and bucolic they all the same define a strength that is adequate to their function. Their rustic nature which relates them to the past is mediated by available technology but leaves their origins intact. This is where their renascence is located.

Inspired by diverse extant and extinct traditions of design, these contemporary designs stand as eternal bridges that hold the flow of time with cheek; demanding that we revaluate their origins while identifying what we should hold onto as our identity or remnant of self. Within an African worldview sturdiness belongs to these designs in their diversity.”

In the view of the iconoclastic Chike Amene, “The awakened African is a thinking mind! The awakened African therefore must think on his very own frequency which is his symbols, signs, signals and totems in order to create, maintain and sustain a culture that will push his civilization! What do we get from the culture that overwhelmed us with decrees and commandment they never regards if not putting us to sleep? We are sleeping because our frequencies have been shut down or blocked by man assuming ‘God’.”

The last word of course belongs to Tony Chidi Akudinobi: “The Awakened Africa shines in the distance as we step on the rosary that tells the beads of our journey to rediscover our sun setting in our own rainstorm. Within the boundaries of each nation’s wilderness, which carries the inextinguishable definitions of its mutations and the rigors on the journey of self-discovery, lie its salvation, emancipation and otherwise which become etched in facial marks like ICHI. The deep incisions and the free flow of blood through the rites of passage mark the arrival at the gates of the Awakened African paradise.”

Humanizing Governance According to Governor Fayemi, By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Maxim Uzoatu

Back in recent time, when gubernatorial mandates were brazenly stolen in broad daylight under the watch of the imperial presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, I once saw Dr Kayode Fayemi at poet Odia Ofeimun’s book launch at MUSON Centre, Lagos, and grandly greeted him thusly: “His Excellency, Sir!” Fayemi whose mandate was then in cold storage had his trademark hearty laugh as he shook hands with me. When I was summoned to the high table to read my poem “We Shall Vote With Stones”, dedicated to General Babangida, I extended the “His Excellency, Sir!” compliments to Rauf Aregbesola who was sitting by the side of Fayemi. An elderly man in the hall warned me that I could be arrested by then President Obasanjo for addressing as “His Excellencies” men not yet sworn-in as Governors.

I told the old man that I was much larger than Obasanjo’s arrest because General Abacha who in his time had arrested Obasanjo was not large enough to arrest me; so why on earth should I fret about being arrested by a man Abacha once put in the cooler? I do know I am worse than useless in Mathematics, but it simply did not add up that I could be worsted by Obasanjo who had been worsted by Abacha – a man who was unable to worst me! Of course the old man dismissed me as a madman, not minding my logic that stood as clear as calculus!

Be that as it may, I was idling away the other day when my phone rang. The voice at the other end introduced itself as that of “Kayode”. I answered back with a poser: “Which Kayode?” The voice lingered for a split second before spilling the beans: “Kayode Fayemi, your friend.”

“His Excellency, Sir!” I screamed, nearly making a double take. I had not been in contact with Governor Kayode Fayemi ever since he reclaimed his mandate from the goons of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It’s my bounden principle that one owed it as a duty not to disturb friends who had been elected into high offices, because asking for favours and suchlike almost always derailed the men in power.

It was therefore surprising that Governor Fayemi could personally place a call to me out of the blues. He told me he was then reading my tribute in the newspaper for a fallen colleague Ashikiwe Adione-Egom, the celebrated Motor-Park Economist. A man of ideas, Dr Fayemi always enjoyed the contestation of issues with fine minds like Adione-Egom. Over the phone, Governor Fayemi thrashed out issues on the passing of Adione-Egom in a manner that clearly showed that he was still abreast of all the matters at stake not minding his high office.

It is our forte in these shores to always look abroad for politicians with fine minds such as America’s Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama, not realizing that we have our own examples such as Dr Kayode Fayemi, the Ekiti State Governor. Dr Fayemi’s grooming stands him in good stead to elevate the art and act of governance to the humanizing levels celebrated in the exploits of the likes of Clinton and Obama. Incidentally Governor Fayemi equally has a formidable spouse in Erelu Bisi just as Bill Clinton has his Hilary while Obama boasts of Michelle! I remember once running into the couple in London, England, and the very personable Bisi talked of making arrangements for me to visit with the many Nigerians in British prisons so that I can bring the news in bold relief back home. The couple started out with rendering service long before becoming Governor and First Lady.

For a champion of democracy who took all of three-and-a-half years to reclaim his stolen mandate, Governor Fayemi has taken to governance as fish to water without showing any bitterness over his erstwhile travails. A very consultative leader, Dr Fayemi has doggedly tackled issues of education, healthcare and poverty with consummate application. His social welfare policy to the elderly folks has endeared him to the rural and urban masses who daily hail him across the myriad routes of Ekiti State that he has onerously lifted through intertwining tarred roads.

His 2005 autobiography, Out of the Shadows: Exile and the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Nigeria, lucidly portrays Dr Fayemi as a fervent defender of democracy who staked his life for the restoration of democracy following the annulment of the June 12 1993 presidential election won by Bashorun Moshood Abiola. It is indeed remarkable that Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka wrote the foreword to the book, asserting to the clout of Dr Fayemi. He played a pivotal role in the establishment and running of the opposition radio station, Radio Kudirat, with which the democratic struggle came up trumps.

The humanization of governance by Governor Fayemi is an object lesson to all who see power in the sense of overbearing bossiness. The common touch is what makes Governor Fayemi to stand out as the way to go. He is ready-made for higher spheres.

The Example of Owei Lakemfa, By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Maxim Uzoatu

The news caught me in the web of the post-okada-ban heavy Lagos traffic jam: Owei Lakemfa has been elected the Secretary-General of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU). I quickly eased myself out of the traffic logjam to have a cool celebration in the nearby watering-hole. As a coalition of trade union movements in various African countries with its headquarters in Accra, Ghana, OATUU could not have boasted of a better champion than Owei Lakemfa who was elected into office on Friday, December 7, in Algiers, Algeria.

Journalist, trade unionist, human rights activist, author, Labour historian, and revolutionary, Owei Lakemfa through the epochal feat thus succeeds the founding president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the legendary Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu as the OATUU helmsman. Owei’s election at the 10th Congress of OATUU under the presidency of Professor Ibrahim Ghandur of Sudan alongside 12 other officers is for the initial four-year tenure. Some 43 African countries took part in the congress that lasted from December 1 to 7 with the theme: “Pan-Africanism and Africa’s Socio-Economic Development.”

Owei, in his acceptance speech, said: “We are committed to the unity and solidarity of workers in the continent; this will require discouraging further fragmentation of national labour centres, and the encouragement of united actions and unity amongst national labour centres with the ultimate aim of merging them into stronger organisations that can withstand internal and external pressures as well as defend the working people. We also pledge to promote women and youth workers as that is a sure way of building a formidable labour movement in Africa. Another major objective we are committed to is the fast-tracking of Africa’s economic integration, increase in inter-African trade and the adoption of basic needs development programmes as alternative to the ruinous neo-liberal economic policies. Also, we will work for the consolidation of people- empowered democracy in Africa. On the international arena, we pledge, in accordance with the OATUU commitment to international co-operation to work assiduously for the unity of the international labour movement. We shall continue in the OATUU principles and traditions of struggling on the side of all oppressed people and nations denied their right to nationhood like the Western Sahara (SADR) and Palestine, or people whose fundamental right to live in peace without harassment as in the case of Cuba. Comrades, apart from soliciting your individual and collective support, we ask that you pray for the success of this new leadership because we will like to be worthy successors to our predecessors.”

Owei Lakemfa

Owei Lakemfa’s landmark achievements as the pioneer Labour Correspondent of The Guardian, Labour Editor of Vanguard and scribe of the NLC are generally well-known. But for me what stands Owei out is that he earned his plaudits from his formative years. As classmates in the Dramatic Arts Department of the then University of Ife, Owei stood out as a born leader and organizer. He was fearless. Known as “The Bouncing Prefect” in his secondary school days, he carried his leadership and motivating qualities into all he did in all his endeavours.

There is no better analyst of international politics that I know than Owei. An avid reader, he buys all the books and encourages everybody around him to be very hungry for knowledge. He would borrow me a book for one to get abreast of something, and when I deign to return the book he would ask me to keep it as he had bought another copy for himself. In short, when my library got burnt some years ago I found out that many of Owei’s books went down with the inferno especially the book on evolution that helped me to write the novel The Missing Link. Owei has the courage of his convictions such that he could in class tell the lecturer, for instance, that the man’s not exactly teaching what the celebrated Marxist literary critic Raymond Williams wrote in his book!

On a recent visit to Germany, Owei made it a point of duty to visit the grave of the great playwright Bertolt Brecht, as he related to me. We had studied Brecht as our “Special Author” in Ife, only then to find out that the German great wrote too many plays, all of which we were expected to read. Owei alongside all our other classmates decided to confront our Head of Department, Professor Wole Soyinka, with the issue of whether we were studying for a Ph.D or an ordinary first degree. Soyinka tactfully told us to take our war to Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi whom he said was the lecturer to blame for the curriculum overload.

In inter-personal relationships Owei was nonpareil. When I could not fix my accommodation in school he simply asked our friend Deolu Ademoyo that they should join their two beds together to create three spaces. The three of us slept on that large bed for the entire session. It was such fun travelling with Owei from Ife to visit his mum in the Mile Two area of Lagos, a very amiable mother who told us that half of the people milling around in Oshodi were spirits!

A good number of Ife students who wanted to be friends with Owei were somewhat too scared to meet him, believing quite erroneously that he was “too strict”. Even now a lot of people out there are still to get to grips with the personable Owei, a friend and brother who always gladly hands over his salary to me anytime I’m broke, which happens to be always!

Owei took his destiny in his own hands from very early in life, forming revolutionary friendships with the likes of Dapo Olorunyomi, Femi Falana etc.   His clarity of vision is exemplary. Knowing him, he will deliver as the Secretary-General of OATUU. Africa has found a leader in Owei Lakemfa.

INTERVIEW: Nollywood will soar to unimaginable heights — Asharifa Johka, African-American film producer

Asharifa Johka: "The future of Nollywood is limitless. It will soar to heights that are hard to imagine now"
Asharifa Johka: “The future of Nollywood is limitless. It will soar to heights that are hard to imagine now”

How were you introduced to the Nollywood film culture?

My introduction to Nollywood was sparked by a few things. First, I’ve worked in the film industry for over ten years and, for a significant part of that time, in the field of acquisitions and co-productions for a Hollywood studio called New Line Cinema. At New Line, I was responsible for soliciting, screening, and reviewing independent films from around the world for distribution consideration. My personal interest led me to aggressively seek out African films for distribution. In 1997, this quest led me to a small makeshift video screening house in Accra where I saw my first Nollywood film. Unfortunately, I do not remember the title and, quite frankly, it was not the actual film that perked up my interest. Instead, it was the overwhelming positive and enthusiastic response the audience members (approximately, one hundred people sitting on plain wood benches) had toward the film that grabbed my attention. There and then, I knew I was witnessing something very special. At the time, though, I had not heard of the term Nollywood and had absolutely no idea what the future had in store for this budding industry. Years later, my interest in Nollywood was solidified during my first trip to Nigeria, which occurred in March 2006.

What was the reason for your trip?   

I was invited to Nigeria by Amaka and Charles Igwe whom, I’m sure you know, are the organizers of BOBTV in Abuja.  I should mention that coupled with my work in acquisitions and co-productions at New Line Cinema, I also held the post of story editor at Fine Line Features, where I was responsible for developing screenplays into shooting scripts for production. Due to my experience with developing screenplays, I was asked to conduct a workshop on screenwriting at BOBTV. It was conveyed to me that there is abundant talent in Nigeria and, for the most part, the filmmakers were interested in furthering their skills in screen-writing; especially, to create stories that had a stronger impact and could compete in the international market. Of course, I immediately accepted the invitation. Although, the world defines me as an African-American, I define myself as African first and the opportunity to come to Nigeria and participate in any way or form to further advance a homegrown African enterprise like Nollywood was an honor. So, I was on the plane without hesitation.

Your screen-writing workshop at BOBTV was hugely popular and, from all indications, quite successful? How do you account for that?

I cannot take the credit for the success of my workshop. All the credit should be properly placed where it belongs. The reason why my workshop was so successful is strictly because of the incredible individuals who participated in the three-day series. I was amazed by the stories we formulated in the workshops and equally impressed with how quickly the participants absorbed the information. When I was invited, I had no idea what to expect and there were people in the workshop who had never written before. At the end of the series, however, everyone had proven that they were one hundred and ten percent committed to the process. Their dedication encouraged me to continue to push and challenge their capabilities and, each time, they responded with a zeal that I will never forget. At the end of that workshop, I learned as much from them as they learned from me. For this reason, I will always be grateful to the organizers and staff of BOBTV for the wonderful opportunity. I look forward to returning and continuing the work we started.

From the foregoing, what are your assessments and expectations for the next wave of Nigerian filmmaking? 

Wow. That’s a great question, and the answer, to me, is simple: the future of Nollywood is limitless. It will soar to heights that are hard to imagine now, but I know the day is coming when the producers, marketers and stakeholders of this budding industry will solve the issue of distribution, which will lead this industry into another phase of development. I do not think enough credit has been given to the enterprising engineers of Nollywood. I have tremendous respect for the producers and marketers of Nollywood because they have been able to accomplish what we have not been able to accomplish in America. They are able to develop, finance, and distribute their own films on their own terms. That is a big deal, and this accomplishment should be applauded, respected, and supported. I understand the arguments that exist regarding the quality of production, content, etc., which are important issues, but that should not deny or take anything away from the accomplishments of those individuals who gave birth to an industry celebrated across Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and America – It’s amazing and it makes me proud.

What kinds of dialogues do you think are possible between Hollywood and Nollywood given, especially, the latter’s unique production and business practices? 

I believe that a dialogue between Nollywood industry professionals and Hollywood industry professionals is definitely possible and the time for that dialogue and collaboration is now. I am currently consulting on a project that is in production in Los Angeles which was written by both a Nigerian and an African-American, is being directed by one of Nollywood’s most celebrated directors, has a Nigerian producer, is entirely financed by Nigerians, features very popular Nollywood actors alongside popular Nigerian actors who live and work in America, and a nearly all African-American crew. This project serves as a shining example of what is possible. We receive phone calls daily from individuals, from all backgrounds, who want to get involved with the project to show their support and enthusiasm. What that means to me is that the desire to collaborate, share resources and expertise is there, it is our responsibility as film professionals to reach out to one another with respect and sincerity and move forward together.

Some say the bane of Nollywood is that it is too commercial and obsessed with the bottom line: profit. Is this a fair criticism? If so, what are your suggestions? 

I think the habit of criticizing Nollywood as an industry because the participants are interested in making profit is completely ridiculous. The film industry is an industry for a reason. It is business. The success of any business is based on its ability to consistently turn a profit and the margin of that profit is what distinguishes it from its competition. Hollywood is not a charity. It is recognized as the most influential film industry because of its massive financialreturns. Why should Nollywood be any different?

The African Voices Cinema Series, founded by you, is celebrated at the American Film Institute Festival (AFIFEST). What motivated you? 

The American Film Institute is a world renowned institution that is an industry leader in the promotion of film excellence. Its annual film festival, AFI FEST presented by Audi is a symbol of that longstanding tradition. AFI FEST has featured world-class presentations of international films for over 20 years. Until now, however, they have never dedicated a series to the presentation of African films; that is, films made by African directors, producer, and/or writers who were born in Africa. Due to my personal affection for African films and my understanding of the business that African films could generate, especially with the booming success of Nollywood, I felt that it was imperative that we create an opportunity that allows AFI FEST to expand its programming to include the talents of Africa.

Could you, please, briefly discuss the importance of the AFIFEST to African cinema, generally, and, Nollywood, in particular? 

Absolutely. There are a million festivals around the world and since they all serve their respective purposes, I think there is space on the landscape for everybody. However, very few festivals are distinguished and offer very unique, beneficial, and viable opportunities. In the US there are three: Sundance, which provides American independents with a remarkable platform; Tribeca, which is the premiere festival in New York; and AFI FEST presented by Audi. AFI FEST is the longest-running film festival in Los Angeles. As the strategic partner of the American Film Market (AFM), it is the first and only festival/market structure in North America. More so, the partnership that exists between AFI FEST and the American Film Market provides a tremendous opportunity for participating filmmakers to obtain financing and distribution. Specifically, as participants, Nollywood producers and marketers would have opportunities to sell their products to major film, studio and television outlets from around the world. No other film festival in North America offers that benefit. That is what makes AFI FEST unique.

It is common knowledge that film is America’s biggest cultural export and foreign exchange earner. What kind of ‘enabling conditions’ or prospects do you think the Nigerian government could institute for Nollywood? 

Unlike Europe and other parts of the world, American film production is largely a private enterprise. It does not exist through government support. It primarily rests on the shoulders of multi-national conglomerates that operate film studios, which are private businesses. However, there are government-affiliated models throughout Europe, Latin America and Canada that can serve as examples to Nigerian governing bodies. These structures provide the necessary financial support that is crucial to a budding industry. For instance, if a government body were to set up a development fund that would provide producers or writers with the opportunity to spend more time developing a script before production and, possibly, employ a consultant to assist with the development of the screenplay, the Nollywood industry would move beyond its highly criticized plots to showcase tremendous creative possibilities. This transformation will lead to other transformations, which will result in the overall and long-term improvement of the products.

Without a doubt, building links across and among the Black Diaspora is fundamental to the spirit of African Voices Cinema Series. How do you hope to actualize and sustain this ideal? 

I think the key to the success of the African Voices Cinema Series is to move forward with the spirit of inclusion. As a series, unfortunately, we will be forced to create an on-screen program that will inevitably not be able to include everybody. However, it is my intention to incorporate the contributions of the diverse peoples who represent all parts of Africa. As such, I am currently assembling an Advisory Board that consists of members from America, Nigeria, Senegal, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. With the help of the African world community I intend to move forward with humility and let the process unfold.

Nollywood is still evolving and, no doubt, stands to benefit immensely from exchanges with other global film cultures; so, what are your thoughts?  

For some strange reason, people expect Nollywood to transform overnight. That’s unrealistic. Rome was not built in a day and it took God six days to create Heaven and Earth. So, I think people should remember that Nollywood is in its infancy and those people who are interested in furthering its advancement should step up and concentrate on how to contribute to its growth through, among other means, dialogues of collaboration. I look forward to playing my small role and I encourage others to do the same.

The transition of Onitsha market literature to home movies, By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

home_movies
Nigeria’s burgeoning home videos have driven Onitsha market literature underground

The market town of Onitsha earned worldwide renown when market literature was all the rage. Now that home movies have taken over, Onitsha has shot ahead as the centre of the booming trade. The remarkable transition from the scribal to the audio-visual model demands considerable attention. According to a study published by the British Library in 1990, Market Literature from Nigeria: A Checklist, there was zero publishing output in Onitsha as at 1949 when Lagos could boast of as many as 19 titles. By 1950-54, Lagos accounted for 30 books while Onitsha had only seven titles. From 1955 to 1959, Onitsha gained ascendancy with 56 books as against 31 from Lagos. In the boom years of 1960 to 1966, Onitsha published a whopping 411 titles while Lagos had only 65 books. Of course the civil war years of 1967 to 1970 dealt a heavy blow to the growth of market literature in Onitsha, but that is another story.

Onitsha market literature was made up of inexpensive booklets and pamphlets comprising genres such as fiction, plays, verses, current affairs, language primers, social etiquette, religious tracts, history, biography, manuals, collections of proverbs, letter-writing, traditional customs and, of course, money-making. There is actually a title How to get Rich Overnight by H. O. Ogu.

Colonialism and its education somewhat “opened the eyes” of the authors of the market literature. Some of the soldiers who had travelled to Burma and other sectors of the Second World War came back with exotic ideas. The economic prosperity that followed the war provided extra income for leisure reading. As large numbers of rural dwellers trooped to Onitsha, the book market shot up especially as there was massive expansion in primary and secondary education after the war. The Onitsha publishers made up of a close-knit group of families from some surrounding towns were in effective charge of apprenticeships, sub-contracts and agencies while organising the distribution of their titles to all parts of Nigeria and indeed West Africa.

Sales of the booklets ranged from three thousand copies per title to 100,000 copies for bestsellers such as Ogali A. Ogali’s play, Veronica My Daughter. Scholars and writers like Chinua Achebe, Emmanuel Obiechina, Ulli Beier, Michael Echeruo, Ernest Emenyonu, Ime Ikiddeh, Bernth Lindfors, John Reed, Alain Ricard, Adrian Roscoe etc. have written extensively on the Onitsha market literature phenomenon.

A quotable quote from one of the titles, from the recently deceased Ogali’s Veronica My Daughter, goes thus: “As I was descending from a declivity yesterday with such an excessive velocity I suddenly lost the centre of my gravity and was precipitated on the macadamised thoroughfare.” The next character then says: “I hope your bones were mercilessly broken.” The reply from Bomber Billy of bombast comes this way: “Don’t put my mind under perturbation!”

Some titles to remember

Some of the more prominent Onitsha authors and their titles include: J. Abiakam How to Speak to Girls and Win their Love; Cyril Aririguzo Miss Appolo’s Pride Leads her to be Unmarried; S. Eze How to know when a Girl Loves You or Hates You; Thomas Iguh $9000,000,000 Man still says No Money; Highbred Maxwell Public Opinion on Lovers; Nathan Njoku Beware of Women and My Seven Daughters are after Young Boys; Marius Nkwoh Cocktail Ladies and Talking about Love (with Mr Really Fact at St Bottles’ Church); Joseph Nnadozie Beware of Harlots and Many Friends; Raphael Obioha Beauty is a Trouble; Ogali A. Ogali Veronica My Daughter and No Heaven for the Priest; H.O. Ogu Rose Only Loved My Money  and How a Passenger Collector Posed and got a Lady Teacher in Love; Rufus Okonkwo Why Boys Never Trust Money Monger Girls; Anthony Okwesa The Strange Death of Israel Njemanze; Okenwa Olisah Money Hard to get but Easy to Spend and Drunkards Believe Bar as Heaven; Speedy Eric Mabel the Sweet Honey that Poured Away; Felix Stephen Lack of Money is not Lack of Sense etc.

It is worthy of note that Cyprian Ekwensi actually started his prolific career as one of the pioneer writers within the Onitsha Market Literature ambit. His two early titles published circa 1947 were When Love Whispers and Ikolo the Wrestler and other Ibo Tales.

Most of the Onitsha market authors were quite prolific, and they had many pseudonyms to accommodate the many titles coming from their ever flowing pens. Among the more prolific authors are Anorue JC and Okenwa Olisah.

The illustrations in the books are accompanied with full-blown moral instructions to help the reader along. For instance, an author that goes by the pseudonym of “Strong Man of the Pen” in his 52-page Life, Money and Girls turn Man Up and Down displays the picture of wretched man with the following words: “Life turns man up and down, my brother. Man falls several times before he becomes somebody. Some times, you will have no chop money and rentage fees and this will make your landlord to insult you every now and then. You will keep on borrowing money from friends and relatives. As you keep on borrowing the money, so will people talk about it in your absence, spoiling your name. You might have seen a man who owned a private car after some time could not own a common bicycle but later regained his riches after dramatic fall and rise.”

The attention that Onitsha Market Literature has earned across the globe is strongly underscored by the following excerpt from the treatment of Marius Nkwoh’s Cocktail Ladies by the Universityof Kansas, United States: “This pamphlet is compiled from broadcasts made by Nkwoh over the Eastern Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation network. According to the introduction written by V. C. J. Mbah, these broadcasts, a combination of an editorial and a talk show, were deemed fairly controversial. Nkwoh’s positions on these issues, however, were considered to be well informed. Each chapter is a separate broadcast and the pamphlet’s title comes from the second chapter about ‘cocktail ladies.’ This broadcast discusses a group of women known as cocktail ladies, a class that Nkwoh purports to be career women who have abandoned the idea of marriage and live off of sugar daddies and big men. Nkwoh describes them as ‘human parasites, lazy drones, and good for nothings.’ (19) Deceived by feminism and the promises of a fleeting beauty, these women ‘infest’ every walk of life they now occupy. (22) Nkwoh points to feminism as the main culprit, for it misleads ‘cocktail ladies’ into thinking that women can and want to do everything that men do. (18) As a result, these women have become ‘birds of passage or changelings to every big man,’ according to the author. (21) In pursuing their ‘radical’ lifestyle, cocktail ladies contract diseases, lose husbands, serious boyfriends and jobs, and fail to play their true and proper role in society as dutiful assistants. Nkwoh explains, ‘Women are made to help and not to nag, sap or impoverish men. They should not be a burden, nor nuisance, nor articles of commerce. There is still plenty of time for our women to think twice.’ (24) However, he continues ‘they should now face the facts around them and consider their life past, now and to come [...] Nobody can ever cheat nature . . . I am advising those of them that are youthful enough and still marriageable to go now and marry.’ (26) Other chapters include broadcasts about night marauders, hypocrites ‘in our midst,’ road accidents and superstitions.

Marius Nkwoh incidentally was among the early graduates of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

In the audio-visual age of today, what Onitsha has lost in market literature it has more than gained in the production and marketing of home movies especially at the celebrated 51 Iweka Road, Onitsha. The most famous address in Nollywood resonates across Africa and indeed the world. It is as though no home video comes out of Nigeria without the ubiquitous address on its jacket: 51 Iweka Road, Onitsha.

It used to be a house meant for the selling of electronics. Not anymore, for the rise of the Nigerian movie industry has meant a shift of focus by the importers of the electronics. The business these days is the production and marketing of home videos.

The building is some 60 metres long and three storeys high, with more than a thousand shops, mini-shops and sheds scattered across its entire length and crannies. Makeshift staircases lead to some of the shops in the backyard. The house belongs to the famous Modebe family of Onitsha, and a young member of the family was so full of joy introducing himself as the most prominent landlord of Nollywood. Crowded, almost bursting at the seams and stuffy, the house is definitely not an architectural masterpiece. A major tenant in the building, Ugo Emmanuel, a proprietor of Emmalex Associates Ltd (SEE BOX) comes to the building’s defence by stressing that the oyster that produces the beautiful pearl happens to be very ugly.

Chief Rob Emeka Eze, CEO of Reemy Jes Nigeria Ltd and chairman of Association of Film/Video Producers and Marketers of Nigeria, is a key player in the industry who made the successful transition from importing electronics into producing and marketing home videos. “Concentration of video producers and marketers is high in Onitsha but very understandable,” Chief Eze says, adding: “The majority of the materials needed in film are consumables of electronics. As an importer, most of my goods must first come here. Most of the investors are here.”

Iweka road migrates to home video

Onitsha, or more specifically, 51 Iweka Road has since become the major centre of the booming film industry of Nigeria. About 45 movies are produced in Nigeria every week, and 51 Iweka Road provides outlets for bulk purchases and retailing. An attempt by a group known as the Filmmakers Co-operative of Nigeria (FCON) to break what it called the monopoly of the likes of the key players at Iweka Road in film distribution did not yield much fruit. The group set up an elaborate marketing plaza in the heart of Lagos, but it could not rise up to the efficiency of 51 Iweka Road.

The key players, notably Chief Ossy Affason, Chief Rob Eze of Reemy Jes Production, Ugo Emmanuel and Alex Okeke of Emmalex etc. have a hand-on approach to the production and marketing of movies. Schooled in the workaday life of trading, these proprietors have established vital links in the trading chain across the nation which come I to ready use in the distribution of their films.

They almost always chorus that they need “an enabling environment” from the government for the production and distribution of films. According to Chief Eze, “The government can help us by making things easier for us. Once I applied a police helicopter for one of my productions and I was made to wait for six months without getting any helicopter. I went to Sierra Leone and it took me only three days to get it.”

He argues that the cancerous activities of the pirates can only be curbed by the government. “We hardly ever recoup our investment because of these pirates,” Eze says, adding: “There ought to be special loans for filmmakers at low interest rates. The funds ought to be easily assessed without bottlenecks.”

Even without the needed loans, the tycoons at 51 Iweka Road are not doing badly at all. Ernest Ezenweinyinya, a major fan of Nigerian home videos, says: “The tycoons at Iweka Road deserve all the credit for undertaking the bankrolling of Nollywood which has turned otherwise hungry Nigerian actors and actresses into big players in the money world.”

The strong republican spirit of the Igbo is generally said to translate to extreme individualism in business. This way, single proprietorship is almost always the line of business practice. Partnerships and joint-stock companies are said to be few and hardly ever successful. It is therefore quite exemplary to see the successful partnership Ugo Emmanuel Ikechukwu and Alex Okeke in the charged business sphere of Onitsha, especially in the competitive film market at 51 Iweka Road, Onitsha. The owners of the trendsetting Emmalex Associates Ltd teamed up in 1991 to found the company which takes its name from the combination of the names Emma and Alex.

Emmalex was registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission as a limited liability company in 1994, a year in which it also got its certificate from the National Film and Video Censors Board. The company started out as a movie distribution and marketing outfit before embracing core moviemaking in 1996 with the production of Compromise, starring Bob-Manuel Udokwu, Kate Henshaw and Sandra Achums. Emmalex has since produced about 40 movies, scoring its first major hit with the 1998 production of Confusion, starring Liz Benson, Kanayo O. Kanayo and Sandra Achums, which sold 150,000 copies in a matter of weeks.

Subsidiary businesses under the Emmalex Associates Ltd include: Emmalex Productions in-charge of story development, field production of movies and audio-visual promos; Emmalex Studios responsible for camera and edit studio rentals and sales of moviemaking materials; and Emmalex Consult for media and management consultancy services.

Sitting behind his work table at 51 Iweka Road, Ugo Emmanuel says: “We don’t like producing films for the sake of producing them. We insist on proper entertainment, education, information and morality. The message we put across enables us not to debase society. We are doing something we love, not for the money.” A stickler for discipline and professionalism in the film industry, Ugo stresses that many producers have complained bitterly about the indiscipline and lack of professionalism exhibited by many artistes. The much-advertised ban on some popular actors such as Richard Mofe-Damijo, Genevieve Nnaji, Jim Iyke and Ramsey Noah gets the following words out of the personable Ugo: “I don’t know about any ban. That word is alien to my ears. You can ban a product, not talent.”

He likens 51 Iweka Road to the ugly oyster that produces the beautiful pearl and argues that only the government can stop piracy. “It takes government to say that this thing will stop and it stops,” he asserts, adding: “In the Francophone countries you cannot try piracy.” He wants the video clubs to be regulated and to pay proper royalty, and maintains that on the average one video tape is watched by a thousand people.

That Emmalex is now a household name in the Nigerian film world is beyond question, but the young Turks behind the company remain as humble as when they started out in 1991.

EMMALEX FILMOGRAPHY

1. Compromise 1 & 2

2. Irony

3. Closed Chapter

4. Confusion

5. Obstacles

6. My Cross

7. Chain Reaction

8. Not your Wealth

9. Crisis

10. Hit and Run

11. Cornerstone

12. Opportunity

13. Self Defence

14. The Suitors

15. By All Means

16. Dangerous Game

17. Sweet Revenge

18. Death Warrant

19. Rumours

20. Terrible Sin 1&2

21. Smooth Operator

22. Long John 1&2

23. Slow Poison 1&2

24. Amadi the Running Man

25. No Nonsense

26. God’s Money

27. Family Friend

28. Passionate Evil

29. Dangerous Affair

30. Mr Trouble 1&2

31. Intruder 1&2

32. Arrows

33. Living Dead

34. Indulgence & Heritage

35. King of the Jungle

36. My Desire

37. Annabel

38. Friends & Lovers

How Nollywood seized Onitsha

The Nollywood phenomenon being celebrated globally today started most inauspiciously. A few Nigerian dramatists and comedians in Lagos and Onitsha had recorded and sold some of their plays via the VHS format until the advent of the Igbo language home movie Living in Bondage which launched forth the revolution. At the heart of the making of that breakthrough film is the story and tenacity of one young man known as Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, popularly known as Paulo, after the character he played in Living in Bondage. Okey, that is short for Okechukwu, needs to be quoted at length on how Living in Bondage came about.

Here is Okey’s story: “I would want to start by saying that when I left TV College, Jos in 1987, one of the challenges I had then was that my parents were confused as to what I went to do in the university. I went to Jos because I had admission to study law. That year, on October 1st, we had a very terrible accident that left me in the hospital for eight months. I broke my legs, and so I was in the hospital when the others matriculated and it never occurred to my parents and uncles to go and defer my admission.”

The young Okey got out of hospital only to see that his admission to the University of Jos had lapsed. He had to do the JAMB University exams all over, and could no longer pass the exams. It was against this background of incipient failure that his uncle advised him to take advantage of the advertised Nigerian Television (NTA) College course on Television Production “instead of staying and wasting away at home.” He found his niche in the course, but had to make do with hawking at National Theatre in Lagos on completion of the course.

Other theatre artistes such as Frank Vaughan, Ruth Osi and Wale Macauley who were rehearsing at the theatre could not understand why he should be hawking after his training. The personable Ruth Osi gave Okey a note to meet Kenneth Nnebue who was into the marketing of Yoruba movies on VHS.

On meeting Kenneth Nnebue who would eventually provide the funding for Living in Bondage Okey said he needed N150,000 to be able to make the film. Kenneth told him that the amount was enough to make three Yoruba movies. The self-assured Okey instantly did an analysis of how Kenneth could quickly recoup his money on the investment. Kenneth then told Okey to bring along his certificate to prove that he was not some nobody. He went home and came back with his certificate. As Okey had said he was not willing to shoot on VHS, Kenneth told him he would make a trip to Japan to procure cameras.

Kenneth then told him to put the story together while he made the trip to Japan. Okey went back to the National Theatre, and began rehearsals without any script whatsoever. Okey who had been under the tutelage of the ace director in the NTA Chris Obi-Rapu could not but bring the great man into the project. Since Chris was still in the employ of the NTA he could not append his real name to the project.

According to Chris Obi-Rapu, “What made the Nigeria home video industry to take-off was the input from Okey Ogunjiofor and my direction. Nobody had wanted to do anything in Igbo or Yoruba among television producers around then because they felt it was degrading. There had been some shootings of Yoruba and Igbo videos. Mike Orihedimma recorded Igbo home videos in Onitsha, while NEK (Kenneth Nnebue) was recording and marketing Yoruba videos in Lagos. They were poorly produced and directed. It is a known fact in filmmaking that it is the direction that makes the film. If I had not shot Living in Bondage and Taboo there could not have been any Nollywood. This film business really took off because Living in Bondage was well shot as at that time. If I had not stood my grounds the financier could have influenced the production and direction in a negative way. I resisted him because I knew that he lacked the knowledge of filmmaking. It was a deliberate directorial effort that brought about the home video revolution. It was not accidental.”

The making of Living in Bondage, according to Okey Ogunjiofor, marked “the first time some people were paid in thousands of naira to act on a film. I got N500 because I had not made a film then. People like Bob-Manuel (Udokwu) and others were paid a thousand naira. As a producer and an actor, what I got was only N500.”

Okey stresses that the formula that pushed him on was that unlike in the western part of Nigeria where the Yorubas always went to the theatres to watch movies the easterners, especially the Igbo needed the movies to be brought to their homes. For whatever it is worth, the young man’s dream has materialized into a phenomenon that now holds the entire world in thrall.