All posts by Emmanuel Iduma

Sheroes on the Edges of Consciousness (II)

Mother Story

Not my father, but my mother, is a story teller. She is at the epicenter of my narrative inclination. Her masterful exaggeration taught me that the narrator must sell a story to an audience — that you have to do all it takes to make your story listenable, you go the extra mile because you can.

She repeated the outlandish stories:

  • A woman who was pregnant for 4 years
  • A man and his son who were stealing yam and looked up and saw a big eye looking down at them
  • How she spent a full night fighting (and eventually overpowering) a man who locked her up and tried to rape her

Etc. Etc.

I want to think that I inherited a fiery imagination from my mother. Imagination rooted in plausibility: she taught me to think of the world as a plot of super/natural happenings. You find the element of the outlandish, but you retain the element of the listenable.

It’s Women’s History Month and my mother is my narrative hero. It was her who taught me, in her own way, to pray a profound prayer.

“God deliver me from text that prattles.”

 

Sheroes on the Edges of Consciousness (1)

Free.

Nina Simone wears an enchanting and endearing detachment on her face. The kind worn by people who have seen a land flowing with milk and honey.

Then she smiles, raises her hands. The video closes in on her face — her brown, smooth, skin.

Her voice gains power…voice of free.

It ends.

“I’ve found out how it feels…to be free.”

She genuflects to the audience…

…marches out.

…free.

Everywhere in Lagos

From 10 December until 18 December 2012, I wrote short Facebook posts around my daily experiences of living and working in Lagos. Here are those posts, collected and illustrated with Instagram images.

Photos by Emeka Okereke

I:

Lagos, the shining and perishable dream itself. Our bodies tattooed with scars of survival, every one of us trading our narratives of killability, every time we meet menace. It’s a hustle, or business-like nonchalance; it’s ambition or plain listlessness.

This evening, look at the unmoving traffic, and imagine it’s the sea, without waves.

The man who’ll walk all the way to Alausa/Secretariat, all the way home, no tricycle or motorcycle for transportation, knows the extent of his anger. As he curses the Governor that has banned motorcycles and made him walk.

He’ll vote in 2015, aged and wiser.

II:

We are not photographers, but it has become expedient to see. Past the crowded room, past the incessant brutalities of vain men, past the complaints that linger in our hearts because we are of this country. To see and see again is the task that has befallen us.

And beyond seeing, to record.

III:

Silent revolutions.

The first man says to the second man, we talk about this everyday, and yet see how unheard we are.

You are speaking too much grammar my friend, the second man replies.

The first man reverts to silence.

We, who have experimented with democracy, know the ambivalence that comes with resistance. What kind of government is this?!

Those idiots in power! One day God will judge all of them! Their children will pay for their sins!

And yet we speak and our voices are secrets of the marketplace. Everyone hears. But who is listening?

Between speaking and being heard there is an infinite silence.

The first man replies, if I am speaking too much grammar, that is all I have. If I complain, it is because I know no other expression. Tell me, what else I can do? Eh, tell me.

The other man reverts to silence.

IV:

[A first person speaks to a second person]

A: Facebook has democratized stupidity.

B: Shut up.

A: Facebook is the start of our attention deficiency.

B: Shut up.

A: Clicking a like button only confirms that we are half-hearted, pretentious addicts.

B: Shut up very much.

A: Too many posts since we joined Facebook and we have not said enough.

B: Your big mouth!

A: Someone said reading her twitter timeline gives her the feeling of trying to catch up while running.

B: So?

A: If you say you’re leaving Facebook to sidestep the mundane, you’re probably guilty of taking yourself too seriously.

B: Your first intelligent comment!

A: So we’ll just remain spontaneously expressive

B: Maybe.

[Silence]

B: One more thing…

A: What?

B: Share it!

V:

A very basic story about meeting the love of your life in a danfo bus.

Part-inspired by shameless longing for a partner, part-inspired by the knowledge that ladies play hard to get only because they know they can be gotten, and part-inspired by your imagination.

Imagination is knowing the right word with which to begin the conversation.

Here you are; talk to the lady.

VI:

Being driven, what do you make of the world?

This traffic is so serious, Jesus Christ! It was like this last month, and the driver took Ojota. That’s why I’m telling this man to follow Ojota, he will not hear.

The most important lie you’ll tell yourself is you’re in this city to reach your life’s goal.

The road is always hungry, always wanting more movement, yet brittle.

That’s the way you’ve become, every word an assault on the bus driver, his conductor. You are trapped in a moving-dead metal box, and not the driver, not his conductor are pampering you with soothing words. Words you need after your hustle.  So you assault them with words you can’t take back.

It is 11.30pm and you are yet to get to your house. Lagos is making us rehearse for an eternity of sleeplessness.

The president is in town. In the morning, as you left for work, you were costumed as a dignitary. Now you’re naked as a worm.

Because the most important lie you’ve told yourself is you’re in Lagos to reach life’s goal.

VII:

A makeshift cinema on a street shows mostly Hausa films. In the evenings, men sit in a half-circle facing a kiosk where there is a TV. Watching, commenting — being comrades. On their heads a halo of suspense.

[I want to go home and write...]

A man sitting in the dark outside the gate of a building with four floors. A cigarette is fastened to his fingers. He is unmoving as a stone; the night is steadily edging towards silence. When night is stealthily silent, the Underground awakens.

[I want to go home and...]

The door of a bus falling out while in transit, passengers screaming. Their cries lost in Lagos perpetual momentum. Two friends are yards away. They look back, then hurry on. No man for another man, God for us all.

[I want to go home...]

The same friends had seen a bus on fire, passengers safe-distances away, talk-shouting, hands on their waists. The friends were in a moving bus, Bariga to Yaba. Moving Bus passengers only watched in transiting kinship. Even shared suffering does not stay in one place. Tragedy has roots in the air. Alas.

[I want to go....]

A restaurant owned by a Lebanese immigrant. Two Nigerian ladies and two Lebanese men sitting on a table laughing, one man smoking. Pidgin and tobacco wafting into the air.

[I want to...]

The words on t-shirts: (i) I Facebooked your Mother; (ii) My money grows on trees like grass; (iii) Don’t tell my mummy; (iv) Nobody in my area has swagger like me

[I want...]

One Lagosian tweets: In-plain-sight tattoos are beginning to compete with earrings in Lagos.

[I....]

One man says, everywhere in Lagos I know.

Discovering Swartz: A personal tribute

 

I live in Nigeria, but Aaron Swartz’s death holds a deep meaning for me. His short life. His suicide. Being a commons man. Being a programmer by profession and an activist by calling. There are many of us around the world who won’t understand why taking his life was a permanent alternative to decades in jail and $1m in fines.

I like how Lessig begins his tribute - “This is the time when every mixed emotion needs to find voice.”

Let me emphasize why Swartz’s life-cause means a lot to me. He knew that legal frameworks were not moral frameworks, that at a certain point in life we have to choose between being obedient and being ambitious. He was not afraid of sacrifices.

Swatz must have wanted to live longer than 26. But when the time came to choose between living bound and dying free…

He struggled with depression, wrote about it, did not overcome it.

As I turned the web over for any news I could find about him, all the details about his life and calling, his networks, everything Swatz, I chanced upon a manifesto - Guerilla Open Access Manifesto - he’d written.

In my country, too, there are those who want to keep public information to themselves. What do we do about them? How do we fight them? How do I access all the resolutions from the upper and lower legislative houses, for instance?

These are questions I hope to ask – and answer – in the coming weeks. I don’t want to be a false hero (one who is a hero because it is fashionable). I want to try to live what I profess. About publishing, for instance. This I will do because “without the animation of futurity, much of what we do and try to build can seem utterly meaningless.”

Swartz was animated about a future he might not have expected to see. I am, too.

 

(Photo credit: ragesoss via Flickr)

Key Challenges of the Nigerian Book Sector

Part of my work this week has revolved around reading and researching the problems of the Nigerian book/publishing industry. Today I completed a list of questions/posers (included in a brief for an event my firm is working on) which I believe are central to the challenge. By ‘central’ I do not mean exhaustive, and I hope that this post will generate sufficient responses from people passionate about deploying strategies for sustainable change in the publishing industry. (Henry Chikava’s Book Marketing and Distribution: The Achilles Heel of African Publishing was very instructive.)

  1. Illiteracy: Close to 60% of Nigerians are said to be literate in the English language (National Literary Survey, 2010) and yet the usual argument is that ‘Nigerians don’t read.’ Does the problem transcend the number of Nigerians that are literate, and extends to the willingness/ability of content providers to deploy content for the tens of millions able to receive and access content?
  2. Marketing: What are the ways in which publishers can win the attention of the potential book market, get it to buy and read books, and sustain its interest in books which is, as highlighted, potentially huge in a country of over 150 million people?
  3. Marketing concepts: Have publishers in Nigeria sufficiently applied marketing concepts to the business of publishing in Nigeria?
  4. Infrastructure: Do book promoters possess the basic infrastructure for promotion of books? What are these infrastructures?
  5. Market research: How much information is available to the publisher who is interested in researching the market? Are there channels through which adequate information about the market can be obtained?
  6. Distribution: Will aiming to make books “widely available and inexpensive” as opposed to offering books with “the most qualitative and innovative features” drive the interest of a greater number of book buyers?
  7. Multi-sector approaches: What roles can other practitioners in other sectors of the creative industry play in driving a multifaceted approach to book distribution?
  8. Publishing as business or responsibility: Should publishing be considered primarily as a business or as a cultural responsibility? Or both? In a related context, should publishing be audience-driven or author-driven? What are the advantages or disadvantages of either option?
  9. Booksellers: How can publishers and booksellers enjoy a hitch-free relationship, ultimately putting the customer at the centre? Also, how can the void created by the absence of large department stores be filled?
  10. Future of the book: Is new technology the only direction to be considered in relation to the future of print books? Interestingly, Kyle Bean remarked that “books also have personality — they have textures and smells which the internet can’t offer.” Is the argument perhaps one of seeking alternatives to the book-form and not only arguing that the time for its demise has come? To what extent can the argument that paper books have visual appeal (as opposed to digital books that are intangible) keep it in the market for as long as possible?
  11.  Quality control: Is it possible to define and evolve a quality control regime for the country’s publishing industry? Are there adequate regulations, and how could they be implemented?
  12. Class structure: How does class structure affect interest in book sales? In Henry Chikava’s opinion: “General books, including fiction, do well where there is a developed middle class with more time for leisure and a disposable income.”
  13. Poverty and underdevelopment: A poser on profiteering in the book industry is found in Henry Chikava’s declaration: “…a vicious circle which is difficult to break out of without tackling the larger problems of poverty and underdevelopment.”
  14. Book development council: what are the prospects, advantages, challenges of such an initiative? How may it function? How can the industry avoid a saviour-mentality from international (donor) organizations?
  15. Dealing with government: To what extent is government assistance for the book industry necessary? To what extent is it useless? Can industry practitioners deal with the government in a manner that will not be considered slavish? Are there possible/genuine fears about censorship?
  16. Intellectual property: Will the ultimate assault against piracy be a book industry in which demand for books by consumers is equated with supply by publishers? Is piracy the only threat to intellectual property in Nigeria? Are there other malignant challenges?

 

bakassi IMG

Bakassi: The World’s Unwashed Backside

Guest blog post by Rolands Ndu Akpe

…the executioner is sure of his destiny/the innocent will lose his head for it…”

- Tchicaya U’Tamsi

 

Fathers make decisions bordering on causes, infantile and asinine, on behalf of their progenies. It becomes doubly asinine when said progenies are middle-aged and veritable providers for progenies of their own. That being said, fathers are a necessity. I must warn you, before this work goes any further, that my analogies after you have eaten of the meat of this piece shall be shown for what they are: crude and, in the words of agriculturalists, ‘cobs with rust’.

In a ‘perfect’ world (and please permit me all the liberties you can a human male old enough to be called child by his mother and man by the government,, and its attendant flaws) I, most probably, would not be writing this. In that perfect world, I would not know a word of English. I would not understand a word of Yoruba or know there ever was such a tribe, a people to the west of my hometown to the coast. Or I would. I would if one of the more adventurous Alaafins, had decided to take his cavalry further east of his Ondo and Ekiti tributaries. The creeks, swamps and tsetse fly allowing, of course.

In the said world, I would not own my battered pair of made-in-China Zara sneakers; no Lord Lugard; there would have been no Aba women’s riot; there would have been no independence in the Nigerian sense of the world; no civil war in the Biafran sense of the world; Igbo towns would not have Ezes governing Federal Government created Autonomous Community thrones.

In the said perfect world, the only language I would speak: Ukwuani. Occupation? Farming, fishery or hunting with my frail, teeny thin arms. In that world, a tribe’s geographical spread would depend [only] on brute strength and its knowledge of superior technology and weaponry. Advanced nuclear technology, perhaps. Ha-ha!

In said world, the sole rule that would hold true would be the law of the jungle: dog eat dog. No, to play to negritude: lion eat lion. Ah, in said world, to paraphrase His Excellency Mr. Munroe’s ‘America for the Americans’, the fairly jeweled, nubile and sari-ed Hindustan would be unbothered by the uncircumcised greed of the British Raj, Europe would be for its dukes and the Bakassi peninsula for the Bakassi people.

Like the Ijaws would say, ‘a log on stilt is home’, I will trudge on with my stilted logic. A world in which a people’s boundary is almost exclusively dependent on the strength of its young men’s fishing- and farm-honed triceps and biceps and the ability of elder clansmen to negotiate treaties from at least a position inter aequalis would be, considered from the logic of this piece to be, ideal. That is not the meat of this piece.

The meat of this piece is not the fact that, in the words of Dr Wondwosen Teshome, “borders were drawn essentially according to the geopolitical, economic and administrative interests of the colonial powers”1 or that disputes among ethnic peoples, at borders, all around Africa began, according to Nene Mburu, “with colonial treaties and arbitrary boundaries”2 in places like the Ilemi Triangle ‘shared’ by Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan. That these arbitrarily drawn borders were sketched without recourse to the histories and, socio-cultural, politico-cultural precedence of the aboriginal peoples of these lands, or that the internally displaced peoples of the Horn of Africa are the direct heirs of these myopic and turkey-necked decisions, is not one I am ready to grapple with here.

The history, validity and morality of colonial treaties made beneath the uncomprehending beard of indigenous peoples is not my piece of meat. That, as indicated by Justice M. Mbuh in his work, during the 1961 plebiscite to determine the status of Ambazonia (of which Bakassi is a part) “declassified file[s] of London show[ed] that London had negotiated secret deals with Yaounde, such that Commissioner J. O. Field stayed in Buea on July 1961 instead of being in Foumban where the so-called negotiations were supposed to be taking place… [which makes it] clear that Britain betrayed Southern Cameroons, by secretly agreeing with Ahidjo that the British would create a vacuum of the territory, which President Ahidjo would then fill with his own troops” or “the gross violations of international law at the time of the plebiscite…”3 is most certainly not the meat of this piece.

That the war-frazzled epaulettes of young General Gowon for political expediencies, or not, choppily signed the Coker-Ngo and Maroua treaty or that Cameroun did not consider the unconditional jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, when the suit was filed at the ICJ, while Nigeria did is not the issue.

The issue here is, in the words of Orhan Pamuk, “the apprehension that one is someone else” due to the directly proportional fact that one’s “world has changed from top to bottom”. The kind of stability a man, like a people jarringly and unjauntily tossed by history, feels in the throes of nonsynscope nonvertigo.

The issue here is the fact that the Bakassi, for the better part of the last century and this, has been “offer[ed]…the highly combustible mixture of transience and novelty” Toffler promised the inhabitants of the future in his seminal work, Future Shock. The problem here is the Bakassi man’s presents in that past, and present, have been nothing but an uncertainty of identity and community that transience breeds in the soul.

A novelty and transience whose permanence has been assured by the hell-bent boots of overlords, from the pale calf of the English and German colonial to the brutish armies of Cameroon and Nigeria’s dictatorships to the insoucianced, gaveled ruling of the ICJ, leaving him roofless in his home and nameless in his land.

The issue here is the children of a political detainee, Ngek Simon of Oku, street beggars scrounging the street for breath, identity and nutrition. Wandering dark, back alleys, peopled by scrawny cats, cat-sized rodents and other orphan-sized children, with blistered soles and souls starved of the protection a father gives. The issue here, also, is the Bakassi-man who after having chosen to be Nigerian by dusting his feet of the littoral silt that his ancestors walked on while treading the seas for fish is left tossed about like severed seaweed pitched about the haphazard sea that is Nigerian bureaucracy.

The matter here is the fate of the Bakassi man. Say Etuk, whose choice for his homeland is for self-rule but whose fingers, empowered by Grotius’ jus cojens and the United Nation’s Right of Nations to Self-determination that nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference, has been castrated off his hands by a ruling, somewhere in the Hague, in favour of a long-throated Cameroon.

A Cameroon whose President, declassified documents from the Public Records Office of the UK show, “failed to prepare a draft constitutional document to be signed between him and John Ngu Foncha[of Ambazonia (Bakassi included)] during and after the Foumban Conference… [which] show[s] that [no] unification process ever took place.” A Cameroon whose concern “since the faked unification, […] has been centered only on extracting the riches of Ambazonia[Bakassi included], free of charge, and does nothing in return to the citizens of this ill-fated territory [but wear them prison-ravaged skins, boot-ravaged paths and unkempt huts]”4.

Arguing the legal precedence leading to the International Court of Justice’s decision to award the Bakassi peninsula is not in my alley at all seeing that I cannot spell the word ‘legal’ correctly when rendered cross-eyed by hunger. With humanity in one’s heart and logic in one’s hand one is forced to ask questions like:

How does it feel/
To be without a home/
Like a complete unknown/
Like a rolling stone? as Bob Dylan did in the song, “Like a Rolling Stone.”

 

 

This is a question I am sure victims of floods in Delta State, the Northern states would perfectly have pointed answers to. This is a question those who have been displaced and lost their homes to war from Libya to Sudan and Somali know the answer to. This is a question men, women, children, ethnic minorities from the Angas and Ogoja of Nigeria to the Ainu in Japan who are nothing but the barely washed backsides of the world know the answer to.

Choices and privileges were the inalienable rights made available to the Plebeians of the Roman empire all over the world, even at the dusk of Rome’s glory while its extremities and guts were being bitten to shreds by Germanic tribes from the north. Let the people choose, speak.

Edward Wilmot Blyden has said, “If you are not yourself, if you surrender your personality, you have nothing left to give the world. You have no pleasure, no use, nothing which will attract and charm me, for by the suppression of your individuality, you lose your distinctive character.”

 

 

 

REFRENCES

1“Teshome, Wondwosen: Colonial Boundaries of Africa: The Case of Ethiopia’s Boundary with Sudan” quoting Leisel(2004: 4) citing Miles(1994: 68)

2“Mburu, Nene: Delimitation Of The Elastic Ilemi Triangle: Pastoral Conflicts and Official Indifference in the Horn Of Africa”, (Year): 16.

3 “Mbuh, Muluh: The Bakassi Peninsula Dispute”, Pg 25 culled from Justice M. Mbuh. International Law and Conflicts: Resolving Border and Sovereignty Disputes in Africa. iUniverse, Inc., 2004.

4 “Mbuh, Muluh: The Bakassi Peninsula Dispute”, Pg 16 culled from Justice M. Mbuh. International Law and Conflicts: Resolving Border and Sovereignty Disputes in Africa. iUniverse , Inc., 2004.

 

Victor Ehikhamenor – Ways of Seeing

Victor Ehikhamenor

 

Victor Ehikhamenor defies stereotype — a master at multi-tasking and multi-thinking and multi-creativity. He has produced, to critical acclaim, short stories, photographs, illustrations and paintings.  He “needs no introduction” in the Nigerian art scene, as YNaija pointed out. In this conversation with novelist Emmanuel Iduma, Ehikhamenor highlights what probably stands him out and admits that his mind is always “pendulumic” and “constantly swinging.” The newest offering from Victor Ehikhamenor is his new book, Excuse Me! which is released by Parresia Publishers on 29 November. He states his expectation for the book, and what he intended to achieve. Ultimately this short conversation is a peek into the mind of one of Nigeria’s finest contemporary artists.

I know Milan Kundera was not referring to non-fiction when he said “the art of the novel came into the world as an echo of God’s laughter,” but do you share his sentiments? How much of laughter reverberates through life?

 So, you are starting this interview with a communist exile’s quote — this should be interesting. To a large extent I can reason with Kundera and his religio-philosophic approach to the birth of the novel. And in that case I would like to say the art of non-fiction writing came into the world when humans took over the laughter from God. You know laughter can be contagious. To me reality makes us laugh quicker than fiction because laughter is an integral part of human nature.  Even at funerals, if you observe closely enough, you would see some people laughing in the midst of that grim sombreness.

 What kind of success would be success enough for you? Especially for this new book?

The word success is relatively individualistic. What I probably consider a success might mean a different thing to another person. However to find a suitable answer for your question — that the book is getting published at all is a success already, because the first Nigerian publisher I offered the manuscript sent me a very nice and wonderful rejection email. Another success for the book would be if it inspires new writers to write creative non-fiction and engage issues that beleaguer Nigeria.

 When I heard someone say Nigerians are suffering from visual illiteracy I wondered what that could mean. Could it mean that there are few of us who try to record what we see, our ‘mundane’ experiences?

To be honest with you, this is new to me, I haven’t heard that before. Whoever said that to you is the one probably suffering from that malady, because there is a lot of output from Nigerians in various ways — especially in the art industry. When next you encounter such a person, tell that individual: “shine your eye!”

Don’t you think Excuse Me! as a title gives us both the idea of arrogance and politeness, especially when we think of how we often use it in these parts?

‘Excuse me’ is a very versatile phrase — the meaning lies in the swagger and attitude in the tonal inflection of the speaker. However for the purpose of this book, it is the one said when you want draw someone’s attention to a serious matter.

Maybe writing is an attempt at self-interrogation? Does this resonate with what you tried to do with Excuse Me?

 I think it was Pablo Neruda who said “I speak to you and myself.” Excuse Me is not so much a self-interrogation but a careful examination of events and issues about our/my reality.

 The word that comes closest to understanding how you work both as a writer and visual artist is schizophrenia, especially since it is defined in terms of mind splits. Do you make any attempt to distinguish your approach to prose from your approach to visual arts? Is it technique or artistic vision that makes this distinction?

Was God schizophrenic when he started creating plethora of things? Schizophrenia is too strong and bristly a term to use for the process of creativity, although some psychoanalysts have argued otherwise. I think artists and writers are what I would call multi-thinkers and restless doers. Many people think of a creative idea and hinder themselves with “it cannot be done” or “I don’t have time for that”, whereas an artist or writer thinks of the same thing and devices a way to make it happen and visible for others to appreciate or abhor.

But I must admit that my mind is always pendulumic, constantly swinging but not in the sense of mental instability. I have made art and written for quite some time now and I am no longer conscious of the processes that demarcate the two forms. What I know is that sometimes I feel like painting, drawing, carving, photographing and other times I want to write. I tend to gravitate more towards painting/drawing because it is easier and more enjoyable for me than writing. Writing is a difficult form of expression, but I love it like an obstinate lover. The whole process of stringing words like my grandma in her weaving loom is just scintillating.

The message I want to pass across makes the distinction, because that is what dictates the technique and the artistic vision all the way to how it is executed.

 Is there a false division between laughter and thought, between comedy and seriousness?

The lines are blurry. We don’t just junk things that make us laugh into the mind’s trash can. When you go to a comedy show and the comedian jokes about a serious situation, you laugh first and then ruminate and sometimes go — “That is so true!” and continue with your laughter.

 And how can we laugh and not forget? I am very curious about knowing your thoughts on this.

Extreme laughter has the same weight as extreme sadness/crying. You cannot afford to forget what made you laugh, even if you do, it is only temporary before something triggers your memory again.

 I found no other way to ask this question, but it has nagged me since we began this conversation. How do you see?

With my eyes first, like every other human being that I know. Now how I process what I see is another thing totally different. I am constantly seeking and composing, deconstructing, formulating, arranging and re-arranging within seconds with my eyes — that is what being a photographer does to your ways of seeing.

Let’s return to God’s laughter. Howard Jacobson says God laughs at the idea that we can think our way out of the unthinkable. In Excuse Me! do you want us to laugh at things we would otherwise be pessimistic about?

The primary purpose is not really for you to laugh but to arrest your attention to something you would probably gloss over. When I was a kid, there was a malaria medication called Nivaquin, which had the nastiest taste ever. Back then the packaging of “tablet” was crude, and you had to either deal with the “bitter pill” or remain sick. Now, you have pills encapsulated in tasteless casings and the bitterness is contained and cannot be tasted. Some pieces in Excuse Me! are bitter pills encapsulated in laughter. So, in the book I want you to laugh and ponder.

 

You say you regarded NEXT as an institution of higher learning. Maybe it was for all of us too, because when it folded up, we all ‘graduated.’ What do you think? What did you (and all of us) graduate from?

I graduated from the school of excellence and hard work. One couldn’t have worked with Dele Olojede and not learn how to smell news and package it;  or Amma Ogan the most elegant and exciting editor with a tongue the sharpness of a Nacet blade; or with Molara Wood who will never let go a feature until it is whistle clean even if you put a gun on her head; or Kadaria Ahmed who was like a war General and a mother Theresa at the same time; or Kayode Ogunbunmi whose patience and gentleness yet fierceness in chasing a story would make a cheetah cover its face with shame; or Dapo Olorunyomi who teaches meekness yet would sink his teeth into a hard untouchable news and won’t let go of it until he unearths the underbelly that stinks to high heavens; or the entire creative unit with some of the craziest, best and tenacious artists I have ever met. I can go on and on naming great names because the place was filled with really awesome Nigerians that believed in the country and what NEXT was all about.

Will you be tempted to work less on a new book now that Excuse Me! is out?

No. I get bored easily. I must keep myself busy. I don’t have a novel out there yet even though my short stories have been published in various journals and magazines. Also I would like to see if what Milan Kundera said about God’s echo of laughter as the origin of the novel is true. So I’m working on that.

Get Inside, Identify

 

My friend, a medical doctor, and namesake, Emmanuel Okeleji, has just launched Insidify, a “peerless job meta-search engine with deep social media integration.” Insidify aggregates thousands of job openings from hundreds of sources — jobsites, company career pages, newspapers etc into one place – A kind of ‘Google for jobs.’”

They hope to help users find the jobs that fit them exactly, to “alert you immediately these jobs are out and help you discover which of your friends on Facebook(primary connections) or the Friends of your Friends (Secondary connections) can help you get the job.”

Quite ambitious. Alan Kay has said, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

All things being equal, Insidify would compete directly with Jobberman, which prides as the number one jobs website in Nigeria. The intelligence of Insidify, truth be told, is quite superior, and maybe this could be the tipping point.

Last April Opeyemi Awoyemi, co-founder of Jobberman, was one of the speakers that spoke at TEDxIfe, which I curated. Awoyemi is an alumnus of Obafemi Awolowo University, as is Okeleji. I think Ife is the future of social innovation – ask ‘Gbenga Sesan, he’d agree.

Okeleji has gone to the mountaintop, I believe, and seen the promised land. Maybe with Insidify, we could game the labour market, predict it.

Albert-lászló Barabási agrees. “Once you had data, you could build theories. Once you had theories, you have predictive power, you could test that and then the whole thing fitted itself.” And Barabási has a question for Okeleji, which I second. “The question really become not as much how you collect the data, but how do you make sense of it?”

How do you collect this huge data – “We have close to 70,000 CVs already for both Blue and White Collar jobs and that number is growing by the day!” – and use it for something transgenerational, sustainable, something that defies unemployment?

Okeleji would have to answer that – maybe there is no answer, maybe by opening Insidify to the public he has answered, already.

The inevitable direction of my life

One of my very girl-best friends calls me and after we exchange a string of sentences, she asks me, “are you happy, Emmanuel?” I respond without thinking, “yes.” I respond without thinking. She asks me if I am happy, and I respond. Yes.

I think I am happy. I think I know the value of happiness. Or not.

Hours earlier I was with Ekiko, alias Sogolo, alias Günter. He’s an old friend, now in his early 30s, studied in Ife. Studied philosophy in Ife but was by all means a literature student. Wrote his undergraduate thesis on Dostoyevsky — and his lecturers, before they approved the topic, two months before the submission deadline, wondered how literature intersected with academic philosophy.

Wondered how literature intersected with philosophy.

It is an evening of beer and malt and waffles and cookies. A bar somewhere close to Domino, Sabo-Yaba. Behind us is a Baptist Church, the dominant feature of Raymond Street.  House number 7 on Raymond is our friend Adebiyi’s office. Adebiyi is a Research Analyst, Ekiko is an art dealer, I am a Senior Project Manager– the description on our cards. At Ife, we were nothing else but students who were in a system that handicapped us — we were studying Mechanical Engineering, or Law or Philosophy, but our souls were entrapped in the pursuit of language, literature, everything we weren’t being taught. Adebiyi said, once, which he has repeated time and again, which seemed to have been Mark Twain’s words, “I have learnt not to let my schooling interfere with my education.”

I tell Ekiko he is wrong to be regretful about how he played out his life as a student, missing logic classes for two weeks and all the while writing a logical equation that disproved the existence of God through biblical injunctions. He was wrong to be regretful because he had been trying to transcend a conventional educational system, one that had no regard for outliers, prodigies. I told him that, and for a brief second I had a pang of regret, I had been a conformist, never having the guts to fail Law courses, careless and self-righteous, in a quest for greater truth.

A pang of regret lasted a brief second. Or longer.

There is a man in the bar sitting behind me who feels there is a practical reality and a theoretical reality. He is a lawyer, graduated from Ife in ‘97, when, as he says, there was no GSM. For Chinedu, we are the theoretical realists, with our high-sounding ideas that do not work in real life, because in Nigeria ‘intellectuals’ are not respected. They are, even abused, even denigrated. I want to tell him that I am not an intellectual, but I am not sure, or I am sure, or I have not read Edward Said enough to know.

I am not an intellectual, or I am not sure, or I am sure.

Ekiko and I end the evening talking about living, and dying, the shortness of life, essence, writing, art criticism, and a small group of us that were friends in Ife. I hug him twice at Ikeja, where the Computer Village, like existence itself, is staring at us, daring us to move. I hug him twice, because I am happy seeing him again. I am happy.

These things pass; tomorrow like the day before I will find a bus to Yaba, then to Sabo, then I’ll walk ten minutes to Alagomeji, somewhere on Herbert Macaulay Way. Life will go on. Then perhaps I’ll stop in the middle of something and think of being 25 and the world at my feet. Or I’ll think of my friends who are 27 or 30 and how age is an illusion, or not; and I am listening to Yaasin Bey and The Brooklyn Philharmonic, live in concert, Coming Together, “I think the combination of age and a greater coming together is responsible for the speed of the passing time.” This is what Yaasin Bey says in tandem with classical music.

He continues,

“It’s six months now and I can tell you truthfully few periods in my life have passed so quickly. I am in excellent physical and emotional health. There are doubtless several surprises ahead. But I feel secure and ready. As lovers would contrast their emotions in times of crisis, so am I dealing with my environment in the indifferent brutality, the incessant noise, the experimental chemistry of food, the ravings of lost hysterical men, I can act with clarity and meaning. I am deliberate, sometimes even calculating, seldom employing histrionics except as a test of the reactions of others. I read much, exercise, talk to God’s inmates, feeling for the inevitable direction of my life.”

That’s all — an evening of friendship, happiness, and the inevitable direction of my life.

Obodo 9ja

Guest post by Adebiyi Olusolape*

I read Achebe’s piece in the Grauniad. The piece says nothing about his latest book, but it says a lot about Nigeria. What follows are some of my prejudices and misconceptions, stated in response to statements culled from Achebe’s piece:

I believe that it is fundamentally important, indeed essential to our humanity, to ask the hard questions, in order to better understand ourselves and our neighbours.

Spinoza’s exhortation immediately comes to mind, “Non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere”– “Not to laugh, not to weep, not to hate, but to understand.” I say let the man laugh, weep and hate, it humanizes. I, too, cherish understanding, but let Achebe laugh, weep and hate, it humanizes. I for my part will cherish understanding, deplore hatred, weep with them that weep and laugh with those who rejoice.

Achebe’s polemic is a study in Hate as fine art, but do we admit it? Because it is Achebe; because he’s an old man; because he is Igbo; because it’s about Biafra; because he knocks Nigeria, which is our national pastime and we are enamored with those who can knock Nigeria with panache and righteously; because the hate is so sublimely expressed– I think he has surpassed Conrad.

Achebe projects the image of Nigeria as “the other world,” the antithesis of Biafra and therefore of civilization, a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality.

Did the federal government of Nigeria engage in the genocide of its Igbo citizens…

Charles Dadi Onyeama was at the ICJ throughout the war. Was it not the Roaring Lion of Eke himself who once (in)famously observed that the Igbo domination of Nigeria was only a matter of time?

Some of Nigeria’s finest jurists were on the Biafran side: Louis Mbanefo, Chike Idigbe, Moses Balonwu, G.C.M. Onyuike, Chukwudifu Oputa, Anthony Aniagolu; Biafra was recognized by Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Haiti– why wasn’t a case of genocide brought before the ICJ?

I recognize Achebe’s question as part of a global process of working out what genocide means. I know there were pogroms before the war in which “Easterners” were sought out and attacked. I believe Federal soldiers have questions to answer over massacres in Asaba, Onitsha, Ihiala and Biafran soldiers over Urhonigbe.

To go off on a tangent, there is a concession in Achebe’s query although it may require some teasing out. It is that all through the war, the Igbos who pledged allegiance to Biafra, that allegiance notwithstanding, continued to be citizens of Nigeria. I have continued to wonder about the ramifications of the expulsion of non-easterners from the Eastern region even before the Federal “police action” began against the “rebellion.”

The world continues to work out what Genocide means. Witness the recent events in France and Turkey over the Armenian question, the recent Bosnian genocide trials. There is renewed interest in the Herero Genocide. I, only recently, made the acquaintance of a scholar who has written on the connections between everyday work and the Rwandan genocide. I can only hope those who have the courage of their convictions will go beyond the kinds of actions that created wartime propaganda to something concrete.

…punitive policies, the most notorious being “starvation as a legitimate weapon of war.”

Is there a weapon of war that is legitimate? Is war itself legitimate? Bear with me, I am still trying to learn Grotius properly: ius ad bellum, ius in bello. Pacifism? Didn’t both sides use starvation as a weapon of war? What does the evidence from when Bonny Island was held by the Federals say? What does the experience of Ogonis, in Biafran concentration and refugee camps, tell us?

Obi Iwuagwu’s ‘Food Shortages, Survival Strategies and the Igbo of Southeastern Nigeria during the Nigeria Civil War’ identifies about ten factors that contributed to starvation during the Nigeria Civil War, the economic blockade being a significant factor.

Chima Korieh’s ‘Agricultural Transformation, State Policy and Agricultural Decline in Eastern Nigeria, 1960-1970 had already pointed me to two other factors. The refusal of relief supplies by the Biafran administration then becomes a thirteenth.

A reading of the various accounts of the civil war has made me wonder about a fourteenth: profiteers and corrupt administrators. Do I pursue understanding to the point of splitting hairs, into proximate and ultimate causes? What is the point? If we neglect other factors and focus on punitive policies alone, what does that help us understand? Are victim-hood and innocence the only grounds for insight?

Why has the war not been discussed, or taught to the young, more than 40 years after its end?

My mother used to tell me about the bombing of Yaba during the Civil War, and how civilians died, others were maimed. She told me direct hits were scored by a Biafran bomber on the area around Casino Cinema, and how after that the once vibrant commerce in that area ebbed away.

She grew up on Ondo Street, Ebute Meta, and is an alumna of Queen’s College and Yabatech. I, myself, am writing this on Raymond Street. Nowadays, the area around “Casino” bus stop, on Herbert Macaulay Way is one of the quieter spots on that long stretch of road. That has always had an extra significance for me.

What dread and pain that bombing brought, some of which my mother was able to communicate to me– what my mother communicated to me was enough to begin understanding the terror and harm that came to others who experienced indescribably worse under Federal aerial bombardment.

As to teaching the war, I was never one to confuse schooling with education. If this is about schooling, shouldn’t the crusaders be directing their practical-critical activity towards the various Ministries of Education in the federation?

I have been searching for a copy of that controversial History of the Nigerian Army (1863-1992) which the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School (NAECS) prepared and which I learnt dedicates over 10% of its content to the period 1966—1970.
I wonder, to cite just one example, whether the petition brought by none other than Prof. Ben Nwabueze, with the Ohaneze Ndigbo, before the Oputa panel and all the responses that petition provoked, especially that of the Ogbakor Ikwerre, can be considered a formal discussion.

I wonder, then, whether the publication of Matthew Kukah’s book, last year and all the related publicity, in which Kukah called upon government to deal with the findings of the Oputa panel, can be held to be another attempt to put these issues on the front burner.

I am struggling not to interpret Achebe’s statement as erasure, not to number him on the side of the successive administrations of the country, similar in their dismissal of the Oputa panel.

This calculation, the Biafrans insisted, was predicated on a holy jihad proclaimed by mainly Islamic extremists in the Nigerian army…

In 1992, a letter was written to the Sultan of Sokoto by the extremist Izalatu Islamic Group, seeking his assistance in waging a jihad in Zangon Katab. On the strength of that letter alone, should the Kataf crises be characterized as jihad?

In any case, the motif of jihad is one that recurs in Nigeria’s history, from the jihad of Uthman Dan Fodio to Boko Haram. I would like to know who the ‘Islamic extremists in the Nigerian army’ were.  I would like to learn about their proclamation of a holy jihad.

Why were there more small arms used on Biafran soil than during the entire second world war?

This is fantastic. I want to look at Achebe’s sources. In any case, ascertaining the sources and quantities of arms supplies to both sides should help us along in answering this loaded question.

Why were there 100,000 casualties on the much larger Nigerian side compared with more than 2 million — mainly children — Biafrans killed?

Tears come out of the skies every time somebody dies. Does one not ask for different skies as from the distance of another life? One trusts to Time to heal all those who were touched directly and in other ways by the staggering loss.

The unfortunate loss of our people is one other reason this country hasn’t made all the progress it should have. Nevertheless, I know the numbers are contested. I would love to know the basis of Achebe’s accounting.

‘The wartime cabinet of General Gowon, the military ruler, it should also be remembered, was full of intellectuals like Chief Obafemi Awolowo among others who came up with a boatload of infamous and regrettable policies.’

How then does Achebe justify his post-war relationship with the Commissioner for Health in that cabinet? What is Achebe’s position on the role of that Health Commissioner in the pogroms that preceded the war? I mean, does Achebe have a response to Ileogbunam’s allegations in Ironside, allegations which I have been told are corroborated by clues in Tanko Yakassai’s autobiography and the biography written by Alan Feinstein?

However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at the time as the obstacles to that goal, and when the opportunity arose — the Nigeria-Biafra war — his ambition drove him into a frenzy to go to every length to achieve his dreams.

Awolowo’s roles in the conduct of the Civil War are a matter of fact but are his motivations and intentions? I am always wary of diviners of intention.

After that outrageous charade, Nigeria’s leaders sought to devastate the resilient and emerging eastern commercial sector even further by banning the import of secondhand clothing and stockfish — two trade items that they knew the burgeoning market towns of Onitsha, Aba and Nnewi needed to re-emerge.

What was the role of the government of the Mid-West State in the restoration of electricity supply to Onitsha, Enugu, Nsukka, and Nkalagu, enabling the rehabilitation of industries in the former East Central State?

Did Ogbemudia donate furniture and other resources to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to enable that institution resume the training of Nigerians? Did people all over the country, in various ways, lend a helping hand to friends, family, acquaintances and even perfect strangers?

Did Awolowo save, during the period of the war, the revenue due to the East Central State and release those funds as monthly subventions at the rate of £990,000 after the war?

Did Ikoku, the Commissioner for Economic Development in East Central State, aver that the Federal Government made available a £21,505,000 grant and £10, 620,000 in loans for his state?

Did Mbakwe’s administration draw any funds from the federal purse?

In the 90s, I would stay with the Uwezus, in Oke-Ayo, Ibadan, whenever my mother traveled to Aba. In those days, she used to buy Bangkok Linen, Garbadine and other cloth. She also brought back secondhand clothing, which she sourced from Ngwa road.
My grandmother had introduced her daughter to Aba, Ariaria, in the 80s, a few years before I was born. Does it matter that the Uwezus are from Mbaise? Does it matter that my grandmother had her primary education in Umuahia, or that she went on to Uli Girls although she had to complete her secondary education in Enugu?

My interest in Nigerian markets as drivers of economic growth may well be related to certain elements in my personal history. But, what exactly was the significance of secondhand clothing and stockfish to the ‘eastern commercial sector’?

Well, I have news for them: The Igbos were not and continue not to be reintegrated into Nigeria, one of the main reasons for the country’s continued backwardness.

Have the Dukawas ever been integrated into Nigeria? Have the Katafs been reintegrated? The Tivs? An Ijaw man is President of Nigeria today and many Ijaw ex-militants have been placed in the lap of luxury, can we then say the Ijaws have been reintegrated into Nigeria since Adaka Boro’s Twelve-Day Revolution?

What exactly is meant by reintegration? What exactly are the privations peculiar to Igbos in Nigeria? For Achebe’s unqualified claim, Iweala adduced this, “A trip to the Igbo-dominated southeast reveals abysmal roads, bridges threatening to collapse, and a power grid that is all but entirely useless, all what many Igbos believe is a deliberate policy of neglect as punishment for the sin of secession.”

If Iweala is right, then I guess the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the town of Ibafo are to be found in the ‘Igbo-dominated southeast.’ My goodness! Only last week, Dr Ajayi and I went to my house in Elebu, Ibadan. We had to park his car kilometers away from the house and continue on foot because the red strip of laterite that used to pass for a road has been terribly eroded as to become “unmotorable.”

We also waded through a stream because the bridge had long been washed away. I guess that’s because we were being punished for the sin of secession. In any case, we are all from Ado-Na-Idu, as B.O.N. Eluwa argues, in his posthumously published book on Igbo origins.

Is Philip Asiodu Igbo? Was Ukpabi Asika Igbo? Are Kalu Idika Kalu and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Igbo? Clearly, the things Achebe identifies correlate not to “Igbo” but to something deeper, something “Human.” Alas! Some men cling rather to the raft of old hatreds and prejudices than drown in humanity.

As for me, if I am to identify one of the main reasons for continued backwardness in Nigeria, it would be this unfortunate arrangement by which funds for development in, say, Oyo State are expected to come from, say, Bayelsa State.

I am opposed to the principle which is manifest in Decree 5 of 1969 and other revenue allocation measures since then, the recommendations of both the Ojetunji Aboyade Revenue Sharing scheme and the Pius Okigbo Commission on Revenue Allocation etc., etc.

M.I. Ahamba, in Twin Pillars of Unity, wrote, “[T]hose who believe in speaking their mind must develop patient ears.” The case for Nigeria’s unity will only be put beyond debate when this nation sacrifices certain majority interests in order to listen patiently to the voice of her minorities.

Nigeria has substantive ethnic issues to address; why is it that Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba loudmouths are always trying to corner the national discourse? Why does a dog lick its balls? I guess it’s because it can. Just because it can.


Adebiyi Olusolape is a journeyman collagist. He is poetry editor of Saraba Magazine.

Rom Isichei – A Way of Seeing

Rom Isichei

 

Today, while working with my new boss Victor Ehikhamenor, I stumbled on an amazing Nigerian visual artist, Rom Isichei.

Accoridng to his website, he was born in Asaba, Delta state, Nigeria, on the 8th of September, 1966. Between 1984—1989, he was a student of Yaba college of technology, Lagos, where he obtained both ordinary and higher national diploma in fine arts, (specialising in painting). Seven years after graduation, Rom criss-crossed three advertising agencies in various management positions before finally channelling his energy into full time studio work since 1997. He has exhibited widely, both within and outside Nigeria. He lives and works in Lagos, Nigeria.

He was recently involved in a Chelsea College of Art and Design exhibition. Reading his artist statement for the exhibition, I picked the following, quoting him directly in most cases:

  1. I develop new ways to expound my visual viewpoints.
  2. The human form inspires me
  3. I probe the synthesis of human actions in close proximity to their immediate milieu.
  4. I engage my audience in an intimate dialogue
  5. My styles and themes has always been elastic and organic
  6. I reconstruct found objects layered with absurdities and myth into new conceptual realities, and a visual language that resonates with the style of the avant-garde.
  7. My Art are my self-portraits, frozen in time.

You can view some of his work on his website.

Read more about my side-project Afropicking

Teju Cole’s 20+ Rules On Writing

Eight Letters to a Young Writer evolved as a fictional exercise addressed by Teju Cole to an imaginary young Nigerian writer. With the encouragement of Molara Wood, the editor of the series, Cole tried to move from discussions of simple writing precepts to more complex things like voice and calling. Those pieces, first published on the now defunct NEXT Newspaper, were made available by Cole as a single downloadable PDF file. From that PDF I have gleaned 20+ tips/lessons on writing. I consider the letters one of the most important resource on the art of writing fiction that has come out of Nigeria in the last five years. And I share in Teju Cole’s aspiration that young writers in Nigeria and elsewhere find the tips useful.

Here, then.

  1. There are few things more resistant to tutoring than the creative arts. All artists are after that thing that resists expression.
  2. Keep it simple. There are many who use big words to mask the poverty of their ideas. A straightforward vocabulary, using mostly ordinary words, spiced every now and again with an unusual one, persuades the reader that you’re in control of your language.
  3. Remove all clichés from your writing. Spare not a single one. The cliché is an element of herd thinking, and writers should be solitary animals. We do our work always in the shadow of herd thinking. Be expansive in your descriptions. Dare to bore.
  4. Avoid adverbs. Let the nouns, adjectives and verbs carry the action of the story.
  5. When reporting speech, it is enough to say “she said” or “he said.” You must leave “he chortled,” “she muttered,” “I shouted,” and other such phrases to writers of genre fiction.
  6. Aim for a transparent style so that the story you’re telling is that much more forceful.
  7. Read more than you write. In expressing the ambition to be a writer, you are committing yourself to the community of other writers.
  8. Your originality will mean nothing unless you can understand the originality of others. What we call originality is little more than the fine blending of influences.
  9. Be ruthless in your use of what you’ve seen and what you’ve experienced. Add your imagination, so that where invention ends and reality begins is undetectable.
  10. Be courageous. Nothing human should be far from you.
  11. Avoid writing narratives that have only a single meaning
  12. Characters do shocking things, not because the author wishes to shock, but because it is in the character of humans to misbehave.
  13. If you are withholding information, there should be a reason for it. The trick of it will be to give information, when you give it, in a way that feels organic.
  14. Continue to fail better–failure of a kind that might even be better than certain forms of success.
  15. One of the things that matters most is voice. Great writers know all about it, and ordinary writers ignore it.
  16. What all great works have in common is that the voicing is secure. There is evidence, throughout, that how the tale is being told is precisely how the author wishes it to be told.
  17. Try to better bind the reader to life. Place at the heart of a story a voice that is neither so vague that it applies to everyone, nor so eccentric that none can relate to it.
  18. What I try to do in my work is to find out how the gestures of various arts can be smuggled beyond their native borders, music that exceeds music, painting that exceeds painting.
  19. Look at your environment as though you were a child, or a foreigner, or an alien from another planet. But to see what is happening, you need to reform your eyes. Your writing talent should consist of making the ordinary interesting.
  20. In a field of unexceptional events, zoom in on the pungent detail. Your sensibilities have to be retrained so that they catch what others miss.
  21. Luxuriate in the formalized chat that is called an interview. At times, you can read something in one of those conversations that feels like it is a secret code passed from the author directly to you, in the guise of a public utterance
  22. Keep an inner fire; keep it on your own behalf and on behalf of so many people who are suffering because of the system.

 

NB: I have begun a sideproject called AfroPicking on my site, which aims to collect wisdom shared by African writers and thinkers in the fields of literature, visual art, digital art and webtechnology. The pieces I anthologize would be featured on BlackLooks as well, this being the first in the series.

Invisible Borders: Emeka Okereke in conversation with Emmanuel Iduma

From Invisible Borders 

A conversation between Emeka Okereke, founder and Artistic Director of Invisible Borders Trans-African Photographers’ Organization, and Emmanuel Iduma, Nigerian author and writer. The conversation took place in Libreville, Gabon where Okereke and Iduma are participating in a road trip. The conversation takes into focus the work of the Organization since 2009, when it was founded until now, considering its practice and ideology, and touches on African modernity, public art, borders, history and so forth. 

Emeka Okereke, first from left, and the rest of the 2012 Invisible Borders participants with mud workers at Ekok, Cross River State.

Emmanuel Iduma: This conversation is kind of a conversational anthology of all we’ve talked about in the last 3 weeks, or so, while on this trip and even before. So, the first thing I’d like us to talk about is what you think have changed practically and even ideologically since Invisible Borders was founded in 2009.

Emeka Okereke: A lot has changed. It’s been 4 years, 4 editions. And we’ve come a long way both in terms of organizing the project and the concept of the project, what it entails. For example, we began with the very basic idea of a bunch of artists coming together, getting into a van and travelling by road as opposed to going by air. Since there was no sea so to speak dividing the countries in Africa, why couldn’t we travel by road? And then we named the project Invisible Borders. As time went on we realized that as photographers’ people would always ask us what exactly and how do you intend on making borders invisible? And that’s a question we’ve been trying to answer from 2009 until now.

In answering that question, the project evolved from merely photographers to having writers, art historians, filmmakers. In terms of the concept, we realized that there are different layers —whichever angle you think of it, it’s an interesting project. For the fact that what we are doing is recording our stories, which would become history tomorrow, and also the way we go about it. There’s also that aspect of adventure. But it’s only so because travelling by road today is not something common. It’s also like that because it’s a time when aviation is having a foothold in Africa and we are saying we want to travel by road. You realize it’s not about the means of travelling but what it brings to the project. So, the idea of invisible borders is travelling by road and discovering mile by mile the continent of Africa and also the people.

There’s something about travelling through these places, and even the names of the places we come across that you’ve never heard about in the countries that we know, like Cameroon. you’ve never really heard of Mamfe, Ekok, Ebolowa, Minkok….all these places that became landmarks to the project. I’m not talking about the ones that we passed by that we didn’t even pay attention to, those ones that now came to play a very important role in the project, besides Douala and Yaounde that everyone knows. Even if it’s just for the fact that we had to be in these places or somehow crossed our way in terms of having a brush with it from a distance, it is important, these are the little things. And then, the road trip has taken different layers.

Iduma: That’s why I talked about it first of all as the ideological changes that has happened since 2009 and then secondly the practical changes. The practical changes, you have non-Nigerians now, you’re now travelling with your own van, you’re not just going within ECOWAS again, you’re going outside the regions that you’re familiar with. And then ideologically, one of the things we’ve always talked about has been the slippery nature of the concept invisible borders. Definitely, if there’s any change that has happened ideologically, it’s even the permeability, the fragility of the concept. And so those are the kind of things that I know you’d be thinking of in relation to the changes that has occurred since 2009. I don’t know if I’m right?

Okereke: Sure. Of course.

Iduma: Now, you know, when you were talking about these landmarks that we came across, literarily tumbling upon them, (for instance stopping in Minkok we met this mess of a market) I easily remembered what Aly Diallo says that Africa’s specialty is in dealing with the everyday. Although he was sarcastic in his expression, basically saying that innovation is not considered as a tool for development [in Africa], what caught my attention was ‘Africa’s specialty is in dealing with the everyday.’ And it’s quite funny that what we’re trying to do is record everyday reality, everyday nuances and everyday lifestyles of people we come across. Does this resonate with the idea you have about what Invisible Borders is doing?

Okereke: Yes, of course. The best way I put it is that, first of all, we’ve come to realize that the project by visual artists, photographers, writers, filmmakers, is actually a performance in a public space within real time. I began to see the whole project as a performance where our space is that stretch of space from Lagos to Libreville, where we are now. That’s our space, and that’s public space, and the performance is happening every minute we’re travelling, be it travelling at night when it’s raining and everyone is sleeping or dozing off in the van, or being caught in the mud. And it’s happening everyday in people’s everyday reality which is not our everyday reality. Which is not our everyday life because of course we left everything we’re doing back home to embark on this trip.

But it’s so interesting that in every experience we have on the road, we’re actually encouraged not only by our resolve to be together and continue the road trip, but seeing that all these things we’re calling difficulties are actually what is happening in other people’s everyday life. For example, you get to a place that the only food you can eat is the food you don’t know. Several times I’ve told myself that if people who live here are eating this every day, how come I cannot survive, how come I can’t eat this food? When i think about that, [immediately] i jump into the food. Because I know I don’t have any other alternative. I’d be hungry, it will affect what we’re doing and I realize that all I needed was to dismiss that thought that because I don’t know this, it’s going to kill me. But then I dismiss that and I identify with the reality of those around me, because they’re human beings like myself. And there’s something that brings to me personally, because I know that when I go back to where I live, I eat good food, I fly by air from Lagos to Amsterdam and New York or wherever.

But at the same time, being in the mud with some guys who actually dig the mud every single day all their lives doesn’t take anything from me, it actually adds, gives me the experience of seeing things differently. And even led me to think that those people who think they’re in a certain way, they don’t need certain things, they drive a certain car, they sleep in a certain room, on a certain bed, that when it comes to a situation when they can’t have all of that, why is it that they see it as a subtraction other than an addition? Because it really doesn’t take anything from their taste, especially when they know that it’s only a parenthesis…

Iduma: ….I mean they’d return to their lives as it was….

Okereke: ….exactly, it doesn’t take away anything. I mean, it gives you the opportunity to feel. for me, the only way I can actually think that way is that I’m seeing Henry who was digging the mud, I see that he’s stepping into the mud and he’s not dead and he is a human being like me. And there’s a sort of modesty to that, the fact that we’re fiction in this people’s reality. For me, this is what pushes us forward. Of course, yes, we are documenting everyday reality of people through ourselves, through putting ourselves in the situation.

Iduma: What comes to my mind, which is because we started with the idea of how we’re being enmeshed in the everyday reality of others, is the idea of making historical statements. I’m asking myself how we can encounter everyday as it is and yet still make historical statements. Because you know that one of the challenges  I shared this with you last year — is that I want to go beyond reporting what we see, just the things we see — and we spend little time in places. So, how do we encounter everyday and yet confer on it some meaningful historical perspective?

Okereke: The way I see this business of development and progress in Africa is that we must always be true to our own reality and not see it as a shortcoming but strength in itself. And in the 21st Century when we talk about not seeking validation for what you do, it means that you’re beginning to scrutinize those things that are your reality and extract from it those things that could be your strength. One thing about development in Africa is that it’s a pity that we already have a (role) model, in the name of the west. People say there’s nothing an African wants to do that has not been done, but that’s because you are looking at it from that standpoint and we have all these analysts trying to analyze Africa from where they’re sitting in Europe or in the West, and that’s where they make a mistake.

That’s why we’re doing this, because we want to analyze Africa but not from that angle. We don’t want to call negative everything we have as strength. Now, when Aly Diallo says we’re hinged on the everyday and not hinged on the future, I consider that if you look at it from that angle then it feels like it’s a weakness but the question now is that how can we be on everyday, be spontenous, improvise and yet have a structure and a way of preserving this so that it becomes our history tomorrow.

And this is our struggle in Invisible Borders. As you know, we’re always thinking of how to structure this spontaneity, this energy flying here and there, our free-styling, what I call a vernacular art production. At the backend, how do we present it to people so that it doesn’t look like we’re not structured? So we’ve been having categories in the blog, and then we’re asking the artists to go and work, do their thing. At the backend we’re trying to structure it for them in a way that it would be preserved, so that tomorrow, people would analyze this work would have a pattern for which it was analyzed even though it was more or less spontaneous. So this is what I think — that we should always look for a way to structure things but should not in any way try to compromise the fact that we’re masters of improvisation.

Iduma: This brings to mind how fact meets reflection. I’m kind of a spontaneous introspective person, I think on the go, I imagine on the go, which is what this journey is about. On one hand, you can focus on the stress of travelling. Travelling can be an act in itself, because definitely you’re travelling. This is just like an artistic ideal — why would artists come together in a bus and say they’re travelling by road across africa. It might seem not to have a tangible worth in its own self. That’s how people might look at it — what are these guys doing exactly? For us, it’s more than that. It’s that we’re encountering all these spaces that exist as they are and as we’re entering into their spaces we’re trying to record what we see and yet think about what we’re recording…

Okereke: ….and it is more so because of the idea of getting out of our own spaces and doing this on the road. You have to realize that it is an art residency in movement, it is an art school in movement, because you have young photographers who are also here to learn and you see how they develop. You also realize that one of our strong concepts is that if you don’t go you don’t know. We never report on something we didn’t experience. But then how can you report on something and say what it represents, except you use it as a metaphor? So the reflection aspect of our project is that which places everything into symbols and metaphors to represent something much broader. And to some extent global. So we have this experience and we think about it back and forth as it relates to the history that we know about Africa, and where’s its taking us to in the future. It’s not just enough to come to Calabar, you go to the slave museum, and you say we’re in the slave history museum. no. you begin to reflect about that. What is the position of this in history, and what is the position of this in the future of Africa? Knowing that we’re actually at a strategic point — everyone now working in Invisible Borders and everyone living today is in a strategic point in the history of the world and for Africa it is more so because we are the forerunners of the 21st century. We are the ones who’ll decide what Africa would be at the end of the century. It is important that we make reference to history but much more think about where this is going to for us, for the future. And that is where that reflection comes in. But for the fact that we always want to be true, to what we say, facts must always be there.

Iduma: Yeah, because necessarily, although people might disagree, fact is incidental to truth, fact as in what is seen, what is evident. What you come across on the surface level can be equated with some form of truthfulness.

The other thing I wanted us to touch on is the fact of having different forms being represented on this platform. You have predominantly photographers, visual artists and then you have the literary form being represented. What kind of richness, broad-mindedness, open-endedness do you think this brings to the project? Is there a form of intersection between all these forms coming together to work out the definition of what Africa is today and what all these places we’re travelling through actually means?

Okereke: The guiding element in bringing these disciplines together to make up invisible borders is the ability of each of this medium to become a document. To record. And let’s not make any mistake about it, what we’re doing in Invisible Borders today, we want it to be a reference point in the next 10-20 years, it’s going to be an archive, a deep reflection by a group of artists, by this organization on what this space called Africa really means. So, photography, writing, filmmaking tends towards documentation in a way, and this is also preserving history. In that sense I think they all come together to reinforce and become the strength of what we do. Now, the aspect of creativity is something else. Even creativity is being recorded, as well, because of the different mediums. It’s already good that these are artists and not mere reporters and that’s like a plus. But the first thing is that we are documenting, that is the basic. We are documenting and anybody who wants to understand the role his work will play in invisible borders will have to begin there.

Iduma: One of the startling things for me, being in Invisible Borders, is that when you have all these forms and disciplines intersecting in one residency space, you automatically have a combined effort in honestly representing human experience. Which is why, for instance, I’m also interested beyond just writing fiction in also beginning to look at plays for the stage. Because all that it boils down to is not really about the medium, which is the mistake that we must not make even if you term yourself a photographer or a filmmaker. It’s just the same thing Shahidul Alam says that it’s really not about being a photographer and having a camera in your hands but first of all, what do you see? First of all what aches you as a person, as an artist, and if what aches is trying to be true to a modern African experience, to contemporary life in Africa, then it transcends automatically the borders of being a photographer, being a filmmaker, being a writer, being a whatnot….

Okereke… it automatically transcends that. And that is why in the future we’re going to have even weird mixtures of participants. It might even go beyond artists and include politicians. Because it’s never really about the medium. Okay, let’s keep it within where it is, artists doing this. You realize that the medium is only a way to capture different layers of this story. Like you once mentioned in the blog, the places we’re visiting, we might not get to visit them again. And photography can only [record] to an extent. We have 10 people travelling every year, why must they all be photographers? We have 10 people travelling, why must they all be Nigerians? you see? We have all these means of doing this. It will be a pity to limit this to photographers, writers. We chose the three mediums because this is also the form we’re giving to the outcome of what we’re doing. You have the writers and filmmakers and also the Art Historian trying to put what we’re doing within a historical context. When you say historical it doesn’t necessarily refer to the past but also to the future…

Iduma: I’m keenly interested in reimagining history. Every time I say to myself I want to be engaged in that activity of reimagination, I feel it’s a ‘back to the future’ thing. It’s like you have that element of the past but you also have the element of the future, like sci-fi in some sense. It’s like that surreal engagement with what would be considered as what was. In future, what we’re doing would be considered as what was. But now we can actually go to the future now and imagine that people are considering this as what was. So you go to the future to see what will be considered as the past….

Okereke: …definitely.

Iduma: …it’s just like a travel in time. Which is one of the outlooks I think we should be having. Travelling through time…

Okereke: …exactly.

Iduma: Let’s talk about the idea of vernacular art as it relates to performance in public space. Something I know that has been your concern is how we can deconstruct the complications of the art world. The complications of how art should be made, what is considered high art. And yet one of the things we’ve been trying to do is trying to bring art into the public space, into the everyday reality. It’s just like when you talk of having a show on 3rd Mainland Bridge, in Lagos, and they see what would ordinarily be hidden in the gallery or exhibition space. So, why do you strongly believe that Invisible Borders is redefining vernacular art or redefining performance in public space?

Okereke: When we talk about public space, you talk about the works of the likes of JR, the French photographer who does monumental installation of photographs in huge spaces. We also talk about people who make and show works in public space, like on 3rd Mainland Bridge as you said. You talk about sculptors who try to make work in public space. And this is, for me, what we generally understand as bringing art to the public space.

But I have begun to look at it differently. An extension of that is the fact that the physical public space is a function of the intricate networks and realities of people who make up that space. And that itself is a function of the immateriality of their everyday existence. Immaterialities are those little things you can’t see but that makes up people’s personalities and temperaments. It could be linked to their culture or not. You see the gradation, then — it is from the immateriality and it goes to become material, which is the personalities and intricate networks of a group of people and how they speak and how they move and then it comes to become the physical public space. If as an artist, you’re actually talking about performance, then it must begin from the essence, which is the materiality of people’s existence. You must actually get yourself intertwined with that intricate network….

Iduma: …and it must not be impositional…

Okereke: ….no it mustn’t be impositional, it must be collaborative in nature, because that physical space is only the end product. So putting up a finished photograph in a physical space and saying you have public space is like arriving at an end product without beginning. In this sense I relate to people like Banksi, a graffitti artist, who does his work everywhere, and there is no structure the way he goes about it. He’s always trying to work it into corners and alleys. I feel he’s like a graffitti artist who is doing a performance. Because there’s a way he uses the space that makes you think it’s happening in everyday reality, as opposed to JR putting his big photo up. It kind of places a frame and becomes an exhibition. No matter how you think it works so well in public space, it’s sensational, and at the same time it takes away that feeling that it is working gradually into people’s everyday life. And that for me is where Invisible Borders comes in.

The fact that we’re doing this and our work is to meet people every day, getting to work with the reality that we find on ground and not necessarily having a well-planned itinerary. The fact that we’re not just looking at putting out the physical work there, but we are actually in the everyday reality of people. As long as our audience is not the white-cube kind of audience. The exhibition is taking place while we’re doing the work, while we’re meeting people, while we’re sharing it online, in real time. There’s also taking into consideration the process. The process of making a work and the final outcome is not different. And then, when you talk about vernacular art making, you also look at the fact that we’re not necessarily thinking of how neat the work comes out, how perfect.

If I would touch on borders a little bit. ‘Borders’ is a vague thing. It’s a line that forms immediately a group of people decide to transcend a particular state of being. The difficulties we’re experiencing is only because we’ve taken into our hands to transcend, and all the forces coming in is what we see as borders. And that has come to make me believe that there will always be borders. When we began, we began with the naive idea that we have to eradicate borders. Think about it, you realize that in trying to eradicate borders you’re making borders, And you’re talking about eradicating borders because you’ve seen it as something that is there physically. Immediately you try to do something about something, you create a border. And then you might also be tempted so see borders as something that is limiting. At the first level, borders divide us, but when you look at it, it could also be what unites us. Borders make people come together and create a third dimension, it contemplates the idea of coexistence.

There would always be borders but our work is how to work with it, through it, and transcend it. We’re talking of how you’re using the borders, not if there’s going to be borders. It will not be a hindrance, but it will propel us forward. That is to say, the stories of success we have, and the stories of difficulties are all part of making the work. The more difficult it becomes, the more it gives us the sense of wanting to keep doing this. I don’t think it’s about arriving at a certain conclusion, but just the mere resilience of saying, “I don’t want to get stuck in my own way of doing things.” It’s about moving, constantly transcending the status quo, the state of being.

The 2012 Route:   Lagos (Nigeria) — Lubumbashi (Congo)

The Group:

 

A New Nigerian Literary Order

I will argue for a new Nigerian literary order.

Suppose we call this ‘neo-literariness’, for want of a better word, and because in hyphenation a word acquires two identities. So, neo-literariness is the word to use for a generation of writers and enthusiasts who function despite institutional lapses, and whose artistic engagement thrives of new ways of being, especially web-technology.

I will explain with a few examples.

In 2009, Dami Ajayi and I began publishing Saraba Magazine, which to date has published 12 issues of PDF magazines, 5 poetry chapbooks and 2 sub-issues. We have, so far, received no grant, or made no profit, but we have published up to 120 writers from 5 continents. How do we manage to do this? When I am working on any new issue of Saraba, I wonder how these far-flung writers get to hear about our work. And this is more surprising because we have clearly defined our Nigerian and African sensibility. The answer is not far-fetched; something about how literature is exchanged is changing.

I think that the change that is happening is happening for two reasons — ease of accessibility and ambitiousness. The first is easy to explain. I pay about one thousand five hundred naira for weekly internet subscription. My subscription is 20 hours with a validity period of one week. I live in Lagos, which means I get 3G easily. If I lived in Umuahia, where I recently visited, I will barely struggle with EDGE. So although I know that there are exceptions, and not everyone is asprivileged as I am, I understand that there increasing numbers of Nigerians on theInternet explains ease of accessibility, that at least, people find ways to do what they have to do online. And wasn’t it Gbenga Sesan (@gbengasesan) who retweeted that Nigeria had the fourth largest Internet users on earth?

But ambitiousness as an indicator of neo-literariness is a different matter. It means that our literature is changing because writers and literary enthusiasts are finding their voice on the Internet, as literal as that sounds. It means that writingaside the Internet, in this generation, is a failed endeavour. Even my most secluded of friends, Ayobami, has a blog. There has to be, I repeat, something happening for you online. There’s a plethora of Facebook groups, blogs, websites, that attest to a multifarious ambitiousness.

Because the first place a writer gets published, at least in my generation, at least most writers, is on a website. There are indications that more and more lit-websites will be hosted in the coming years, as we lack the structure in Africa for print journals. Saraba, although named as one of top African lit-mags, is yet to publish a print edition, if we ever will. I dare to mention the importance of this although we have equally seen how dangerous this could be — with the ease of accessibility people tend to pose as ‘critics’ without knowing the meaning of the word, or the art, the speculative erudition required. For the danger of our neo-literariness is the spontaneousness with which we can write — a tweet, a post, a comment, even before we have thought out our stance. …. Continue to The Mantle 

Rotimi Babatunde: Interesting Reads

I am learning Rotimi Babatunde.

Here are interesting interviews he has granted, which I have found very interesting:

And then, Tade Ipadeola, President of PEN Nigeria, wrote an interesting essay bothering on the accusation against Rotimi, who was alleged to have plagiarized Biyi Bandele’s Burma Boy, a novel. The essay can be found in the latest Issue of Saraba Magazine, which can be downloaded for free.

In October, a few close friends and I hope to send some days with him in his Ibadan enclave.

From Oil City to Book Central!

My friend, Richard Ali, has also written about Port Harcourt as the World Book Capital City 2014. I consider his thoughts refined, and even apposite.

Here is an excerpt:

The sense of achievement in this win is seen at the popular level, but the significance of this win is even clearer amongst writers such as me. It is the primal significance of illumination, how a stand is made against the chaos of a world without words–so that I can introduce myself as a writer proudly. The core of Greek mythology is found in the stories of benevolent, Fire-stealing Prometheus; the Judeo-Islamo-Christian monotheisms locate the start of the human story in the creation of Light by the Deity. It is the same way that the year 2014, with this great victory, will hold up the book in the same manner as the Statue of Liberty’s torch to the world, the rays of the activities planned falling first on Nigeria, which surrounds the pedestal, and then rippling in happy, harmonizing words around Africa and then on to the rest of the world.

Read the rest, here.

Port Harcourt: An Outpost City

My short essay on the successful bid for Port Harcourt as the World Book Capital for 2014 by the Rainbow Book Club appears in YNaija.

Here’s a short excerpt:

“Port Harcourt as the World Book Capital of 2014 will thrust books, and literature into public glare. It is not the case that Nigerians and Africans are not a reading, or ‘literary’ public. It is the case that we need to enliven our books: adapt them into films, exhibit excerpts from them alongside photographs, convert them into formats for mobile devices, serialize them into soapies, adapt them into comic strips, read them aloud as podcasts and audio books, broadcast SMS excerpts from them–endlessly reuse them. So, we need an incident, an event, to galvanize literary efforts within the African continent. Port Harcourt as World Book Capital 2014 is thatevent.

I recognize the gift this successful bid is to collective memory, to what Nigeria is, to whom Nigerians are. Port Harcourt is a historic city, by all ramifications; a centre point for British military operations in World War 1; Nigeria’s most prominent oil city; a symbol of the struggle for equity and environmental sustainability. From this standpoint of history we can imagine a coming history, when Port Harcourt is described as the outpost of Nigeria’s literature.”

Read the rest here.

 

The Parameters of Longing

I will argue for a new literary order.

Suppose we call this ‘neo-literariness’, for want of a better word, and because in hyphenation a word acquires two identities. So, neo-literariness is the word to use for a generation of writers and enthusiasts who function despite institutional lapses, and whose artistic engagement thrives of new ways of being, especially web-technology.

I will explain with a few examples.

In 2009, Dami Ajayi and myself began publishing Saraba Magazine, which to date has published 11 issues of PDF magazines, 5 poetry chapbooks and 2 sub-issues. We have, so far, received no grant, or made no profit, but we have published up to 120 writers from 5 continents. How do we manage to do this? When I am working on any new issue of Saraba, I wonder how these far-flung writers get to hear about our work. And this is more surprising because we have clearly defined our Nigerian and African sensibility. The answer is not far-fetched; something about how literature is exchanged is changing.

I think that the change that is happening is happening for two reasons — ease of accessibility and ambitiousness. The first is easy to explain. I pay about one thousand five hundred naira for weekly internet subscription. My subscription is 20 hours with a validity period of one week. I live in Lagos, which means I get 3G easily. If I lived in Umuahia, where I recently visited, I will barely struggle with EDGE. So although I know that there are exceptions, and not everyone is as privileged as I am, I understand that there increasing numbers of Nigerians on the web explains ease of accessibility, that at least, people find ways to do what they have to do online. And wasn’t it Gbenga Sesan who retweeted that Nigeria had the fourth largest internet users on earth? Continue reading

3bute.com adapts Caine Prize 2012 Shortlisted Stories

 

 The 2012 winner of the of the £10,000 Caine Prize, Africa’s leading literary prize, will be announced at a celebratory dinner at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, on Monday 2 July. To promote the new crop of young writers, 3bute.com in collaboration with the Caine Prize will be adapting (so readers can mashup) all the stories shortlisted for this year’s prize before the winner is announced.

Drop dates for the Caine Prize 2012 ’3butes’:

-          Stanley Kenani (Malawi) ‘Love on Trial’ — May 27

-          Melissa Tandiwe Myambo (Zimbabwe) — June 3

-          Constance Myburgh (South Africa) ‘Hunter Emmanuel’ — June 11

-          Rotimi Babatunde (Nigeria) ‘Bombay’s Republic’ — June 20

-          Billy Kahora (Kenya) ‘Urban Zoning’ — June 30

Continue reading

On Maiwada’s Foray in Plagiarism

The problem is not that Ahmed Maiwada has complained of the similarities in ‘Bombay’s Republic’ and ‘Burma Boy.’ It is the manner in which he has done so — choosing to make a hurried conclusion before a logical argument, and choosing to, despite being a Lawyer and critic, assert his position non-evidentially. And what is more, he has done so in informal terms, in a manner that borders on vindictive desperation. But that cannot be a primary grouse, as I wish to clearly avoid lapsing into bouts of sentimentality. My interest is in laying bare larger concerns that he seems to have unintentionally (or abusively) raised. Since his Facebook profile is public, and since he graciously accepts friend requests, I believe the diligent reader will consider visiting his profile for an introductory session.

The accusation is simple — Rotimi Babatunde, author of the Caine Prize shortlisted ‘Bombay’s Republic’ plagiarized, ‘Burma Boy’, by Biyi Bandele. Two general statements are to be made. First, plagiarism cannot be proved aside the ‘intent’ of the plagiarist. And two, plagiarism, is not, on its face value, a tort (in fact it is referred to as a crime against morality, and not necessarily an illegality). To prove plagiarism, one has to hinge the offence to the offence of copyright infringement — a case of stealing someone’s work or idea, passing it off as an original, and making gain through this act. Each of these elements, I emphasize, must be taken independently. Each of these elements must be proved.

Continue reading