Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Against The Evil State: My Response to Rabo Abdulkarim

Richard Ali {c}


Last week, during the ANA National Convention held at Gusau, Zamfara State, I had the opportunity of interacting with the Kano State Censorship Board’s DG, Alhaji Rabo Abdulkarim. We met at a forum within the convention where he set out to justify his widely publicised agenda to censor all authors in Kano. Five persons spoke before I did, including the poet-intellectual Odia Ofeimun and the academic, al-Bishak from the Nassarawa State University. I believe that forum has given me the necessary knowledge, hence the conviction, to publicly stand by my views expressed then and now in this article.

The entire thrust of Rabo’s justification of censorship in Kano is religious precedent – that somehow, in the works of Kano writers, immorality has been promoted and that this is contrary to Islam which is the dominant religion in the State, hence the need for his censorship. The actual, surely negligible, percentage of such anti-moral, religion-insensitive work does not interest me. The issue is that Rabo and the Kano State Government evidently see themselves in the office of the ulama, priests and imams to whom are entrusted the preservation of religious precept and its moral component. Among other things, Director General Rabo Abdulkarim sought to point out that “even in religion”, censorship existed with aspects of religious text being suppressed on the instructions of God Himself. So he, Rabo, was merely the latest in a long line of “censors” who trace their lineage to God Himself! THIS IS VERY VERY DANGEROUS - the sociologic mindset underlying it is the same kernel that sprouts the Evil State. The second half of the 19th Century saw such a kernel, that errant strain of social philosophy called Fascism, and its kinfolk; Socialism and Communism. The tragic of the 20th Century, including two world wars, is its rightful bloom. Now, in 21st Century Nigeria, such a sinister preamble faces us.

When the State arrogates to itself the moral suasion of Religion, seeking to enforce this arrogation by instruments of legal suasion such as the Kano State Censorship Law, the State has simply affirmed Mussolini’s text - the keystone of the Fascist doctrine is its conception of the State, of its essence, its functions, and its aims. For Fascism the State is absolute, individuals and groups relative.This would no doubt be well and good if such a State were foundationally a fascist State. The Kano State government and its minions, however, were all elected under the 1999 Nigerian Constitution which declares that the country can only be governed “democratically”, meaning by the Rule of Law in government/power relations and respecting Fundamental Human Rights in practice. The State’s arrogation of Religion is clearly the first step in the creation of the Evil State in which “individual and groups” will be relative – contrary to rudimentary democracy. In a democracy, thus in Nigeria, “individuals and groups” must be FREE – freedom of thought, action, even the freedom to life contra-defines Fascism, they are the gene characteristic of Democracy.

In our long, trying history, the Nigerian artist and writer, from Uthman dan Fodio right down to Ken Saro-Wiwa have embodied that irreducible freedom, paying the price, social regeneration or death, over the centuries – this is the TRUTH. In attacking the writers of Kano and Nigeria, the State, in Kano through its minions and in Abuja through its acquiescence have launched an attack AGAINST FREEDOM – that also, is TRUTH.

Now that we know definitively the State’s underlying agenda, how have we as artists and writers responded; - to the threat that the same Democracy we and ours have spent blood to enthrone is now being imperilled; that the representative institutions which we have created to protect our freedom are morphing now into appurtenances of the Evil State? How have we responded?

Before I go on, I would like to say in any society, the quantum of stupidity is often the kinetic force that determines the dice face of its people’s destiny.

The Nigerian intelligentsia, when they have not been smirking partisans of the fictitious and alternately chauvinist “North-South” divide have responded to this attack in the manner the northern academic, al-Bishak, did at Gusau. After a circuitous proem, he finally decided to say that if there is a “law” setting up the Kano State Censors Board, Rabo would “never stop” what he is doing. What he said really was that, in the extant case, Rabo should continue threatening freedom while writers should continue complaining of it. What he said involves the admittance of Rabo and the Evil State into the social equation of Nigeria and I assure you there is nothing “intellectual” about a “head-in-the-sand intellect”, the prefix outrages its twin! Al-Bishak’s comments are merely those typifying the response of a considerable percentage of our thinkers and writers here in the North, and it is not any more his fault for exemplifying that mindset than it is mine for attacking it.

What I say is – bar the gates and secure the fastness, do not let Grendel in! Do not, my dear writers and Intellectuals, pretend you do not know what Rabo is about; do not pretend not to know that in this incursion at Kano, the very future of Nigeria, our Nigeria, is at stake. Do not pretend that Rabo can possibly be allowed to “do what he is doing” when what he is doing is scorching the fields where our grains grow, burning the granaries! Do not pretend you do not know that an illegal law MUST not be obeyed, must be fought in the courts and if the courts become corrupt, they still MUST not be obeyed. Do not pretend to not know this and much more!

But, if you choose to so pretend, take off the garb of Intellectual, don that of Quisling and in doing so lose all my respect and friendship - even if that means I stand alone amidst my true few friends.

That is that about the Evil State and my response to Rabo Abdulkarim and his bent masters, the Kano State Government and the Nigerian State. I have also spoken to the Intellectuals who helm Nigerian literature. I wish now to speak to my true friends, the writers of Kano and Nigeria; to the future of Nigeria I say, listen to me please.

The mistake we make too often is to circumscribe ourselves to the walls of the Nigerian middleclass to which by birth or education most of us belong, forgetting we have a duty to through our work interact with Society as a whole. This must stop. We must begin to see ourselves as a part of an organic whole. If the State has turned evil and if the Intelligentsia have turned quislings, we must return to our selves, to the People to whom we belong. If we have remained away from them, we must now rediscover our bonds with them because attacking our freedom and dominating us is just the first step towards the complete subjugation of the People. In attacking our freedom to write, they undermine our right to our thoughts. And when these are successfully stymied, from then onwards, the Evil State will at birth give each child a life’s parcel of ignorance.

Now, especially as we are under attack, we must break down these exclusive glass walls and fraternise our ideas with the lower-classes, lifting them up to where we are, thus increasing our number and guaranteeing that the They who wish to automate the Evil State will know in advance that we are superior in number and resolve. We must shatter the walls and start speaking to the talakawa of Northern Nigeria in their own language. It is for our own good and in our best interest that we realise this, for when Ignorance becomes public policy, we, stamped into the lower-classes, will become nameless faces in a neo-commune. And it will be much harder for us who have gained so much. That is all I have to say to you.

I will end this article by imploring that we must stand against this Evil State in the making and not seek to compromise with it as the our leaders seem self destructively bent on doing, pretending to forget that one negotiates only with equal. And to my courageous comrades in Kano who will go by the names, “Abdul”, “Sa’adatu”, “Yusuf”, “Ibrahim” and “Talatu”, I say – WE WILL WRITE, WE WILL KEEP WRITING AND WE WILL TRIUMHP!

Ali, former Editor, Sardauna Magazine, poet, holds an LL.B {Civil Law} from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Monday, October 20, 2008

JosANA hits TV bigtime!

JosANA hits TV bigtime!

An account of JosANA’s 2 day Kaduna Cultural Exchange Visit 2008

Yes, it’s true; I am now an international celebrity. {There have been paparazzi on my tail all day!}.

JosANA, Nigeria’s most vibrant intellectual hub was hosted by NTA Kaduna and the Association for Nigerian Authors {ANA}, Kaduna Chapter during her recently concluded two-day Cultural Exchange visit to the Crocodile City. The Cultural Exchange, part of the activities of JosANA, is in line with the Federal Governments’ READ program and involves JosANA holding interstate readings in collaboration with other state chapters of the ANA.

Kaduna, the liberal state, was our first port of call.

The journey for me began at 3 pm when ANA Vice Chairman Matthew Mzega and I drove out from Jos in his grey VW Passat, using the Southern Route. We passed through the towns of Forest, Gidan Waya, Kagoro, Zonkwa, and Kachia before arriving Kada City by 8 pm on Wednesday the 15th. We met the Zonal Director of NTA Kaduna, Mallam Abdulkarim Muhammad Abdullahi, who received us cheerily then instructed the station’s Asst. Director of Programs, Mr. Preye to lead us to our lodgings where Chairman Bose Tsevende and some of our members were already billeted. We lodged at the Catholic Social Centre along Independence Way. We met the chairman together with the BBC African Performance 2007 Playwright Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, the Jos City novelist Alpha Emeka and his sidekick, the poet David Onotu who came down from Katsina.

The next morning, we had an early breakfast and by 8:45 am the trusty Assistant Director of Programs had arrived with a bus to convey the JosANA A’ list to Gamji Park, the venue of the reading where an NTA AM Express camera crew was already waiting. The VeeCee and I tailed the bus. Gamji Park proved to be a terrific setting - what with the ostriches, tortoises and of course the crocodiles {called ‘kada’} that give Kaduna City its name. The park is well maintained by the State Government and a posse of gardeners were seen pushing lawn mowers across the grass. The river Kaduna also formed a spectacular backdrop.

Shooting began with David Onotu reading his poem “Niger Area” and there could have been no better background than Lord Frederick Lugard’s Lokoja Bridge, which had been moved to Gamji Park as a permanent exhibition. The extant bridge, like the nation the British Captain sired in 1914 seemed to indicate the certain Manifest Destiny of Nigeria, in spite of one century of the volatile socio-political combustion.

Other work were read and filmed at a recreational hut facing the unhurriedly flowing river where once in a while a fisherman floating on a calabash could be seen, adding a fascinating rusticity to the view. Richard Ali coordinated presentations across the genres by Bose Tsevende, Matthew Mzega, David Onotu, Alpha Emeka and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim as well as a song {crocodile croakey voices – mine mostly! – were never better heard I assure you!} extolling Nigerian Unity and showing appreciation to NTA Kaduna and ANA Kaduna for graciously hosting us. The song was composed by Matthew Mzega. Then JosANA Chairman, Bose Tsevende, had another interview, this time together with the indomitable Friday John Abba, Chairman of ANA Kaduna who came along with his VeeCee, Steve Adinoyi. Elnathan John, Esq, who has just come out with his first collection of short stories title “Dreams etcetera” was also there and he gave this writer an autographed copy! JosANA fraternized with her sister chapter and books by Jos writers were formally presented to ANA Kaduna and vice versa. It was about 1:30 pm when we left for the official courtesy visit to the NTA Kaduna.

We met in the stations’ Conference Room with the Kaduna station’s top management in attendance. Chairman Tsevende informed the Zonal Director of JosANA’s activities and the reasons for visiting Kaduna on her first ever Cultural Exchange Visit, stressing the shared histories of Kaduna and Jos and the integrative intellectual undercurrents that have helped to shape the identity of both cities. She also spoke on the absence of a reading culture in Nigeria, stating sadly that the little reading that goes on is usually of tepid, intellectually uninspiring literature churned out by book factories abroad. The desire to redress this aridity informed JosANA’s Cultural Exchange activities, said the Chairman.

The Zonal Director highly commended JosANA for its original and innovative approach to the reading culture problem in Nigeria and in a memorable response stressed the necessity for Nigerian unity and the critical role of writers in the reaffirming of that autochthonic unity. He also mentioned the civil strife that has in the last decade torn apart Jos and Kaduna among other Nigerian towns in a cheerless roll call and how important it was for writers as the crème of the intelligentsia to rise above the innately disintegrative postures and machinations of the wrong sort of ‘politician’. He then thanked JosANA for visiting and looked forward to further collaboration with JosANA. Hajia Adamu also informed us that a mini library was being set up in Kaduna and JosANA was only too happy to promise it fair contribution of books to this laudable initiative.

The co – host, Friday John Abba of ANA Kaduna, then thanked the Zonal Director for helping to host the “mountain dwellers” who had come down to their fathers in the savannah to “learn one of two things!” To this wisecrack, Mallam Adbulkarim quipped that perhaps it was the mountain dwellers who had brought the light down to Kaduna with their innovative programs? {He was correct!} Arrangements were made for production collaborations between NTA Kaduna and our brother writers at ANA Kaduna.

It was on this note that we left the “Kada City” with fond memories of the liberality of its intelligentsia and the warmth of its people, from the AM Express crew to the ANA Kaduna Chairman unto the Zonal Director himself.

I arrived Jos together with JosANA VeeCee, Matthew Mzega at about 6:30 pm on Thursday the 16th and the one thing on my mind {apart from how nice it felt to be on TV} was how fortunate I was to be a part for the regeneration of Nigeria currently being spearheaded by JosANA, ANA Kaduna and spirited people like Mallam Abdulkarim Muhammad Abdullahi of NTA Kaduna. I was reassured that Sardauna Bello’s dream of Nigerian unity which I share is still doable because even in these trying times for my country, there are still those who believe in her future and who are willing to stand up and be counted in the cause of its consummation.

Richard Ugbede Ali, poet, is the secretary of JosANA.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Legacy of Bolewa

Below is the first draft of my first novel. It is a story about identity in Nigeria, two lovers caught beween Christianity and Islam, between the cultural identities of Northern Nigeria and Central Nigeria and also between the contrary political forces {integrative and disintegrative} of their parents. It is a novel about seeking out higher ground in order to resolve contradictions. Do enjoy, comments are welcome!

A week after his fiancée left him, Faruk Ibrahim’s Toyota torqued a steady seventy on the dusty tracks of Nigeria’s northeast highway. It was about five months after General Hassan Abba’s coup d’etat and twenty-two years to the day he first fled the little town of Bolewa where he was born – Bolewa, to which he was now headed. The savannah sun bared its vexation on the white Corolla and not for the first time Faruk wondered why he had not fixed the broken air conditioner, for even with both windows wound down, he sweated like a man afraid. That morning, years ago, Faruk Ibrahim was only vaguely aware that the maelstrom of contrary winds swirled increasingly desperately around him.

In the coming months, it was all to come to a head, unimpeded, like a sudden dust storm billowing from the Sahara.

The toilsome journey wound on and on, passing towns no larger than suburbs of Jos City in the central Nigerian plateau from where he was coming. The car’s sedate speed did not compensate the sweltering air and he thought not for the last time that he should have fixed the car’s broken air conditioning. The roads weren’t always good either and sometimes they ceased altogether, becoming long patches of dry, powdery, russet-brown dust.

On both sides of the road was savannah seeming perennially dry, seeming to defy the sun’s fury by stubbornly refusing not to burst into flame. Yet, in the heat, some nomads were about with herds of white cattle, cattle more plentiful than men in Nigeria’s frontier Northeast State. Each time he passed a herdsman and his charge, Faruk hooted his horn in response to the others ecstatic hallooing and raised his hand through the window in salute to this close relative of the American cowboy. The American west is the Nigerian northeast and he wondered what tales of rugged living each hardy heritor could tell of his life. Unconsciously, he thought how many untold stories there are in Nigeria and how all one needed do was scratch the surface a bit and look inwards.

For company, he and the cattlehands had numberless cattle egrets, bubulus ibis, sentinel of the herdsman and watcher of the doings of men, even of his mother and father and their lives before him. He fought a losing battle with his thoughts, which always returned to Rahila and the city of cool climes he had left behind that morning.

“See, Faruk, ba na son ka kuma. We have to call it off, it cannot work anymore, please,” Rahila Pam had said.

Ba ki so na? You do not love me, or you are quitting me – which is it, Rahila, which?”

It doesn’t matter. Let me go!”

“It does matter, and you know it! Both things are not the same.”

Miles Davis 1959 Kind of Blue played from Bose speakers. The finesse of the recording now and again kept his mind off the insufferable heat. Somehow, and Rahila Pam had always wondered how, listening to jazz kept him alert to the road like at no other time. Faruk tapped his thumb on the steering wheel in time to Coltrane’s riffs and felt faintly lightheaded from experiencing the culture of a promising past each time Miles Davis’s trumpet said an undying flourish. Jazz awakened something foundational in him absent all the other times when the burden of living amidst the pell-mell pull of life drowned the music of nature from his ears.

He caught himself looking through the driving mirror in time to remember that on this particular stretch of road he was all alone and had been so for quite a while, an hour now, since he had passed a lorry laden with assorted farm produce and rustic farmers hanging on to the tailboards of the old Bedford, laughing and singing rural songs in their own peace. He had hooted his horn at them and they saluted noisily as he passed them. Minutes later when he stopped to check his tires, they also stopped to ask what was wrong and when they found there was nothing they could do, they commended his knowledge of the Kanuri language to which he said he was Kanuri and was presented a prize of bananas and oranges by Wabekwa, an aged untired man who was their king of farmers. Then Faruk was off again, leaving them far behind.

He caught himself looking at the driving mirror again.

Faruk had a thin face. Clear white eyes, which added calm kindness to a somewhat inscrutable face, offset the dark chocolate of his complexion. He had happy, even lips, and when he whistled his lips were sexy. His hair, like his father’s, was wavy, as had been those of his Kanuri and Fulani forbears. His eyebrows were slender and fine, however, and not the typical hawk’s perch. He wore a thin handlebar moustache and had spent much of his twenty-four years enduring the teasing of friends who swore he could never grow a beard. He was tall and lithe, like a Kenyan runner. The effect of these little details was a wholesome beauty that was concealed and enchanted all the same. When he smiled, which was the easiest thing in the world for him, a positive animation livened his features and he could will anything he desired then.

He wore a red polo shirt over white chinos and black sandals of cured snakeskin. Beside him was an already lukewarm bottle of water and in a cooler behind him were the rest of the dozen pack of bottled water he bought at Jalingo earlier in the journey. Beside the cooler was a battered suitcase of brown leather, a suitcase that had crossed continents and been the habitué of countless car trunks, indeed a suitcase that told much of his life story for he had gotten it for his fifteenth birthday. He whistled along with the modal jazz playing from the speakers of his well used, ever-faithful Toyota and gradually he lost himself again in the confusion of his thoughts.

After the last fight with Rahila a week before, he had decided to take a breather from the North-Central State where they lived. He wished to travel away from the differences and choices that tried relentlessly to determine his life and his joys. But he did not know how or where to go. So he visited Yagana Hussena, his late mother Habiba Ummi al-Qassim’s closest friend until she died when he was fourteen.

Prior to his meeting Rahila Pam, Faruk’s mother’s insanity and death had been a private trauma he had overcome, reconciled to the past. It’s related, I know, Faruk had thought, my mother and Rahila; Rahila’s complex with identity. I have to get away.

Rahila made him think of Ummi al-Qassim and wonder why, questioning in his mind the comfortable veneer of acceptance, seeking reasons. Faruk had become intrigued with finding out why Ummi al-Qassim had lost her mind. Insanity did not begin when a person started howling or losing track of things and time, the memory of faces, just like pain did not start at the moment of a beloved ones death but long before that, lingering on long after the fact.

On entering the shaded porch of Yagana’s house, which was filled with potted plants giving off an ozonic trace of well-being, she said -

"My God, what troubles you? Your face is as long as a Kaaba door!"

She was standing at the far side of the porch mulching compost with gloved hands unto the roots of a promising rose bush. She led him to sit on the cloth sofa and shouted for the maid to not let her son starve or thirst in her house. She was an old woman, about sixty, and her gray hair peeked out in neat cornrows from under her Dubaijin headscarf. Her skin was pale, as had been his mother’s; she had the kindest face he had ever seen.

Hussena, his yaya, always adopted the undying spirit of a young girl with him and now she smiled at him with the coquette of a lover. She called him Habib, her love. She called him that perhaps because it was also his mother’s name - Habiba. Habiba Ummi al-Qassim had been Yagana Hussena’s dearest friend, a sister of the blood.

Faruk took his seat beside her and told her of Rahila. She kept nodding, did not interrupt him save to bid him eat some of the food and drink that had been silently placed on a stool beside him. While she listened, Faruk noticed it seemed as if a film had appeared over her eyes, as if his words reminded her of something else.

The old woman’s complete silence was not so much because she was listening to him as because his words unearthed memories long entombed by the silt of many years. He looked up ever so often and only the alert questioning glint in her eyes made him continue his narrative. Of all cosmic jokes God played on the denizens of His world, deja vu was the most unnerving, the most improbable. It was exactly deja vu that coursed through Yagana Hussena’s mind as Faruk sat there on her porch, telling her the problems of his love and how dim the prospects of his joy without his love were.

Decades before, Hussena had listened to his mothers words - words striking in their similarity to Faruk’s and those words, these words, had so clearly been a cause of much suffering. It was impossible for her to draw a conclusion other than that another tragedy was in the offing.

She knew skill and tact would be needed to ward it off, as one might gently nudge a meteor off the path of the earth and catastrophe, and that the task had fallen to her. So be it! Colonel Dibarama, Faruk’s father, could not save the boy from the enigma of identity that even then reached out to grab Faruk and carry him unknowing to the depths of hell, a hell that had consumed his mother already. No, Hussena thought, I did not do enough forty years ago, Allah forbid that I do not exhaust myself this time around, what is life if one holds back from living because of life? So be it!

She wondered about General Hassan Abba and where he figured in this new complexity. Hassan was definitely aware, he was always aware. Her own Hassan who had tried to make the most of it, her soldier-boy who had punched up a ray of light at a time when twin dusks of the Arab and Usman Waziri stifled her dawn like an unrepudiable promise. And even though Hassan’s actions then had not been able to ward off the fatal confrontation - for how can one ward off a woe that one does not know - it had provided a leeway through which Habiba had escaped with this boy and lived for a decade, encumbered but alive and hopeful in time.

Now Hassan Abba was Head of State.

In the end, everything just begins.

But Yagana Hussena realized, even though it was imperative that he knew, telling Faruk what had happened in Bolewa when she was still a girl would do him no good. It was only in personal rediscovery that he would find the strength he needed to make the right decision, strength absent decades earlier and for which Hussena had never fully forgiven herself.

Just then, her pet macaw, Haruna, started chirruping "strength strength, haw-haw, strength!" and Faruk saw her smile one of her fine smiles and she looked up at him just as he finished speaking.

"Haruna has a habit of reading my mind. Did you hear him? He just said 'strength', just what you need."

"How do you mean, Yaya?"

"I mean that you should not fight on a field not of your own choosing. In knowing the field, lies strength”, she said.

"You mean a strategy?"

"Yes, in a way. Strategy is knowledge, foreknowledge precisely. Come, I have some of your mother’s things, I think its time you had them" she said, standing and grasping his arm lightly, leading him into the familiar house past the living room to her own quarters, which were neat as ever, where she bade him sit on her brown ottoman.

The room had large windows and its walls of fresh lemonade green, with the white carpeting and the gold green Oriental rug, suffused airiness much in the same way the potted plants gave rarity to the porch. He fiddled around with a paperweight, uncertain why she wished to give him his mother’s diaries just after he had told her about his own troubles with Rahila Pam. What had that to do with foreknowledge? The elderly woman straightened up and placed herself beside him on the ottoman, putting a large brown envelope in his hands. She stroked his face and told him what he had to do.

The next day Faruk went to the National Directorate of Employment and almost like something planned, he was informed that there was a placement for a social studies teacher in the Northeast, if he was interested. It was a six-month spot while the substantive teacher was on sabbatical.

Fine. Where?

Federal Government College, Bolewa.

Laughter bubbled up within him for at that moment he remembered what Yaya Hussena had always said, that something coming was on its way all ways. So, she had been right after all. Of course, he would go to Bolewa.

And here he was on the dry dusty roads of the Northeast.

His father had been surprised at Faruk’s decision especially on hearing the teaching appointment was in Bolewa. The Colonel believed he had instilled enough strength in his son for the younger man to make his decisions.

But Bolewa? Things must be getting dangerous here for the young man, but, again, Bolewa?

Who knows, the Colonel thought, it might all work out for good. The machinery of his brains began to assimilate the angles beneath the board. Everything was a chess game for Ibrahim Dibarama,

The music stopped but Faruk did not play it again or place another disc in the tray.

He drove on, his thoughts still far away in Jos.

“It cannot work, Faruk. It’s all broken down. I cannot marry you, I am sorry.”

Rahila, with her head bowed in tears, had tried to remove the ring, Faruk was angry and he held her hand.

“Why are you doing this?” he asked.

But she did not answer.

Here’s your ring.”

Rahila had turned away from him and looked out through the window. He then grasped her by the forearm and turned her slowly so she could face him. He wanted to play a game they used to play but his voice had grown husky.

“What are you?” he cried.

She had looked up at him then.

“I am the mountains; you are?”

“The breeze,” he interjected.

“We cannot be.”

“I am the sun,” he tried again.

“But you are not.”

“You are rain.”

“I am not. Not anymore.”

That was the moment the waters broke between them. His heart raged because he was afraid.

She tried again, “Faruk, I am sorry, I hate to be, but I am, now. You are from the North; I am from Central Nigeria, we are separated by a whole complication of history and conditioning. I thought it was possible, but I cannot, we cannot, be indifferent to our distinct identities. I am my mother’s child; you are your father’s son. We neither of us can undo that.”

Faruk had looked at her again, her bowed head. He was silent awhile, standing inches from her. Then he bent forward a bit and pressed his lips on her cheek feeling her shudder, he closed his eyes. Rahila’s eyes were closed also. Both were in pain.

You are breaking my heart,” he said.

Then he turned way, leaving her amid the contradictory swirl of her emotions and the memory of her dying joy.

A week before.

Thirty minutes later on the Northeast Highway, Faruk Ibrahim came to a junction. Straight ahead was Maiduguri, 200 km away. He took the road that led to Nguirama and then on to Maidunama and Bolewa.

He still had 300 kilometers before he could present himself to the native land from which he had been for so long sequestered, to say to the oracle of his mother, I am your son, tell me of our history.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Re: North's vicious circle of Poverty

Re: North's vicious circle of Poverty


Ibrahim A. Waziri

In the 26/07/08 edition of Weekly Trust Newspaper is the cover story with the above title, which discussed the poverty phenomenon in Northern Nigeria in the light of the much attention the issue has garnered in recent times, especially when the Central Bank of Nigeria’s governor, Professor Charles Soludo drew attention to it - though reiterating what he once said a year past - at a lecture organised by the Northern Development Initiative in Kaduna, some weeks ago, asking the federal government to declare the situation in the North, a national crisis.

Many people differ on the different causes and solutions to the problem as it affects the region and the country in general. While some of us are quick to identify with positions as that of Mallam Salihu Lukman, a development Economist interviewed in the same edition of the paper, which squarely blamed it on the leadership of Northern Nigeria, that cannot, among other things, fully account for the 17 Trillion Naira it collected from the federal coffers between 1999 to 2007, in the light of efforts at poverty alleviation. Others, as our brothers across the Niger, will rather blame the religion and culture of Northerners as the main culprit, with the justification that the Northern leaders are not any worse than the Southern leaders and yet the Southerners are better up, so the explanation must be in the values, religion and culture of Northerners, or at a stretched imagination, laziness – as seen in certain statement issued by Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and reported by The Punch of31/07/08.This perception is further strengthened by the content an interview conducted by the Weekly’s reporter, Ja’afar Ja’afar and published in the same edition, under a title that says it all, I was given N50, 000 capital, but I married with it’, and described Mallam Garba, the interviewed, as “a real-life stereotype of a Hausa man.”, who cares not about, “what to eat or what to wear” and is “very indifferent, unambitious and a man with a simplistic outlook to life.”

This piece intends to scrutinise the two positions advanced, in the hope of providing insight into the nature of the processes that led the North to this sorry state economically.

Here it is important to understand the fact that there is a wide gap of difference between, culture, religion, values on one side, and in this context, from world view, which typifies the behaviour of an average Northerner like Mallam Garba. The truth of the matter is religion or culture has little to do with human taste, instinct and desire to survive on a certain standard. It only governs choices on how to achieve a standard. This is why we see a lot of Northerners who are not like Mallam Garba in style, despite them sharing same religion, culture and values with him.

A close examination will reveal that the mechanism of progress that made the Hausa the most vibrant and enterprising nation in the whole of West Africa, at a time of the past, is still here. It is also not laziness as, today; nobody comes from any region to farm for them the food they survive on daily. It is like those seeking for an answer to why the Northern Nigeria is in its state now despite the fact of its elite holding power in the composition of the present Nigerian nation-state for over 40 years, should try some reading in classical power and relational politics and its implication on groups’ socio-economic development. In this, one will see that the North is where it is today only in respect to the popular saying that one cannot eat their cake and still have it as it is with all other natural phenomena.

The seemingly correct explanation is the Northern elite, who are responsible for expanding the paradigm and worldview of average Northernerssituating them at par with their counter parts across the world, got power, in the composition of Nigerian nation, in the late 1950s and in order to keep to it they chose the option of eliminating the middle class among them, because the likely thing to happen is the middle class, if allowed, might grow in economy, influence and strength enough to wrench power from the upper class. This is what happened when Gowon in the early 70s and Shagari in the late 70s, allowed their own to grow strong in the military. They just did away with them in 1975 and 1984 respectively and clung to power making sure they did not make the same mistake their predecessors made. They continued the practice of axing their own economically, intellectually and otherwise.

On the other side, the other regions, with especial example of Awo of the South West, were not faced with anything of political control of Nigeria and as such they continued to strengthen their middle class as the upper class realized the need to empower their own as a comprehensive defence against the onslaught of Northern upper class elite. The middle class served as an armoury to the upper class. They continued the battle for them until the early nineties when IBB annulled the popular June 12 election.

Then came the climaxes, the June 12 was ethnicised and regionalised,the South West had a good number of media outfits and middle class individuals with the right education and economic resources to sustain the fight while in the North of early nineties, very few among the middle class could do well in countering the others in the intellectual fight at the level of resources. At the end of the day, after the demise of Abacha, the Northern elite were confronted with no option than to dash power to the South West in 1999. They have won the fight.

When Obasanjo realized his bearing and started targeting these Northern elites it still remained that they had none to defend them save the few middle class created during Abacha regime under the Buhari PTF. Many young Northerners then have merited contracts and madea couple of millions. They were the ones who established focused media houses, maintained Newspaper columns, and started getting back at Obasanjo and his policies.

And of course, the era of Obasanjo was the era of South West participating in national politics. Even though they already have a vibrant middle class, and sound economic structure that benefited from the regime's economic considerations at the centre, it is evident that they also suffered from what the North earlier on suffered from as their elite started a war of control of the region's social and cultural resources. This war recorded many casualties as even people like Bola Ige had to take exit, brutally killed. Also the control politics did not allow their governors to work in unison with progress of the region. In fact they were rated among the worst in performance.

On his part, Obasanjo had to seek for his loyalist outside his own region because trusting and elevating his regional men in the centre may lead to excessive ambition which in turn may result in a palace coup akin to what happened to his predecessors like Gowon and Shagari and their people whom they trusted with the leadership of the military.

This is about the story of Northerners in Nigeria and what came up in their economic development. It is also the reason why there was no time when Northerners talked much about their economy more than the time of Obasanjo’s leadership.Being it they left the leadership position of the country and the upper class were being attacked by Obasanjo mercilessly. Of course, it was also then that the leadershipin the North achieved most, more than the many years it clung to power at the centre.

This is why some of us think the North can have meaningful economic development only if power is made to stay away from its elite for several years while others think, Northerners may have learnt their lessons and will now work assiduously to develop the region.

The whole of this truth is particularly important to stress here given the pronouncements of the governor of Niger State, Alhaji Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, who tried to attribute the present economic predicament of the North, as widely reported by Newspapers around the country, to an obscure international conspiracy.

If indeed there was a conspiracy it was a Northern Political Class Conspiracy which lost itself in the game of control politics over time.

As it is now the solution to the problem is not one of a short term as the generation of youths without the relevant skills necessary for survival in formal economy now as the ones to be produced in the recent future are very much in the league of the 86% - quoted percentage of the poor - among us. So an affirmative action, with the intent of taking care of our distant future, which appeals to laws and legislations, is the only options. The solution, though good, is not totally in the much taunted, revitalisation of the Agricultural Sector in the North, for Anambra State that is among the highest in the country’s economic index is not an agricultural haven or oil reservoir. After all the Agricultural Sector, if revitalised, may end up serving the economic need of others if there is no enough skilled manpower with right national and international market strategies among the Northerners. Here it is particularly important for the government to invest hugely in human capital development as Northerners need to have more of a world class exposure in various disciplines both academic and entrepreneurial, necesary for survival in the capitalist world.

We certainly, also, cannot continue in the pretentions of creating welfare states. No how can a government continue to afford a free education for all as the Bauchi State House of Assembly is recently heard to be saying it would put Qur’anic Schools and its Almajirai in the state’s budget. This is not practicable as even the formal Western Type of schools that are government owned are not maintained adequately. In fact the example of Kano State which tried to do that as reported in the same edition of Weekly Trust is not encouraging.

So instead of us to continue sailing the dream boat, legislations must be made and enforced that will compel parents to bear more the responsibilities of the children they produce – since religiously it is their duty - as they sometimes recklessly and indiscriminately marry without regard to religious injunctions in keeping and maintaining a family. Thus they send the children out to others cities, hawking and scavenging as Almajirai, in the Qur’anic Schools they could always find in their own villages. It is these Almajirai , growing in the streets with a very bad taste of what life is, with wrong upbringing, wrong heroes, wrong worldview and wrong skills of survival in the 21st century world, that form the bulk of the poor people in Northern Nigeria.

Also such legislations must lead to the creation of agencies, as in other Muslim African countries, like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, which will be saddled with the responsibilities of accessing the economic and mental worth of anybody who intends to marry or add another wife as many among us are tilted toward abusing the privilege associated with polygamy by placing satisfaction that comes from their being with many wives above their responsibilities of seeing to the maintenance of the family. They plan to produce as many children as they can without planning to give them the best as the religion requires of them.As such we end up with many children that cannot be catered for adequately by their parents, growing in the streets with a terrible taste of what life is, with no abilities to think and save themselves or even those around them in the context of the challenges daily living presents.

It is my humble opinion that family is the barometer of all communities, and keeping political correctness aside,we will need to understand governance as meaning making attempts to make subjects of a defined community disciplined and responsible in all of their dealings and this starts with the channels and processes of procreation in the community. Failure to address issues at this level signals the triumph of anarchy as it is seen in the threat we are facing from the monsters of poverty in Northern Nigeria due to,largely, among other things, our neglect of legal provisions in the formation of family units in both religion and our secular living.

Ibrahim A. Waziri is a Web Application Software Developer at Iya Abubakar Computer Center, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He can be reached at,, 234- 080- 35167963

Monday, August 25, 2008

potrait of the playwright as a young man

A war, with its attendant human suffering, must, when that evil is unavoidable, be made to fragment more than buildings: it must shatter the foundations of thought and re-create. Only in this way does every individual share in the cataclysm and understand the purpose of sacrifice.

Wole Soyinka (1934 - )
Nigerian novelist, playwright, poet, and lecturer.
The Man Died

Wole Soyinka, born in 1934, Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist, and lecturer, whose writings draw on African tradition and mythology while employing Western literary forms. In 1986 Soyinka became the first African writer and the first black writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2007. © 1993-2006 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Combustive Synergy at JosANA

Combustive Synergy at JosANA

It would seem that the workings of JosANA, Nigeria’s finest literary hotpsot, are quite similar to those of an internal combustion engine – possessing the ability burn the fuel of histories-in-the-making efficiently, running on the steam of dependably intelligent criticism and of course, producing lines of prose and poetry - that most regenerative of exhausts. It is a synergy of many parts.

The meeting {Saturday 23rd Aug.} began late, at about 1:30 pm, on account of the seasonal rains which saw most of our members arriving in windbreakers and cardigans. The usual salutes were exchanged and we settled to the business of the day. Our long absent member, Patricia Ikejiofor, broke the grounds with her reading of a poem "Sweet Bitter Pill", a poem written in quatrains on the theme of death. By far the finest quatrain read –

As the clock ticks tick-tock rhythmically
You masterminded your art, masked in cruelly
Pitter patter ticking of the ticker
The unwelcome guest even in the house of the vicar

Richard Ali set the critique in motion by admiring the use of irregularly placed rhymes which gave a fine musicality to the lines – then he went on to point out instances where a different order of words and the deletion of an entire stanza would, in his opinion, yield an even finer poem. Silas Nnamonu, retired educationist, however pointed out that at one point the poem joined the specific to the general and while this was not wrong, stanza 3 presents death as an interactive, on-going action – it was his opinion that this finicky movements did not work too well. He also noted, very importantly, concerning the poets use of the word "vicissitude" in relation to death that "death is an end-all, not a vicissitude." Sir Nnamonu also questioned the ending of the poem which was superfluously declaratory. Our Chairperson, Bose Tsevende, however came to the defense of Patricia’s ending, saying each poet has the right to a sort of complimentary close. Sir Nnamonu however repartee’d that it wasn’t a question of whether the poet was right or wrong to use a declaratory close – the question was, does it work? Allen Omale, our ex-Chairman, who was at the meeting in company of his wife Rahmah and child Iman, complimented Sir Nnamonu’s contributions to JosANA especially concerning the artistic amenability of language viz sense. Allen affirmed that while poetic freedom existed to be claimed, traditions are also there to be followed. He then added his criticism of the poem – in his opinion, there were too many "un-poetic words" bogging down the poem and he suggested improvement which Mrs. Patricia graciously accepted to consider.

Next came David Onotu, who read another poem, "Mr President Sire" – it was a poem typical of his style, long and interesting to the ears. Yet, unlike his previous work, the poem became the centre of a critical whirlpool. First, Allen Omale said that some long poems are enjoyable, like the Canterbury Tales and Osundare’s Waiting Laughters, while others are not and that what distincts poetry from prose is the use of metaphor and simile to pass across the message. These poetic underpinnings were however absent in David Onotu’s poem. Richard Ali threw in his own salvo, saying the poem possessed an "ambiguous coherence" – that in the long winding trial of it, the reader/audience, is forced to re-discover themes to encompass the entire work which would otherwise be mutually exclusive recitals. Mr. Ali did not believe that such audience-relative "meaning" portended good writing. Alpah Emeka, Jos City novelist, came to the criticism of the work by saying he found the words as being sound social commentary with a fine flow, and that there were different approaches to poetry. Richard Ali returned, saying "an outraged social conscience is not what makes poetry out of prose!". If poetry is the medium of writing a didactic, let it be poetry, not prose, however densely sensitive, masking as poetry. Sir Nnamonu for his part wondered about the title and varying comments were made on the floor concerning the import of the title. Sir Nnamonu asked whether it was meant to be satirical and someone said whether satirical or not, the idea of the title did not run through the poem. On David’s saying the title was sort of satirical, Allen Omale took him up – when you satirize, you praise and in your praising, you really mock, he said. Yet, there was not a jot of praise amongst the litany that comprised "Mr. President Sire." Steve Rwang Pam, for his part, had the conviction that if the poem were cut by half of its length and tightened, there would be more "poetic juice" in it. And thus, with egos and tempers ruffled, ended the critique of JosANA’s most controversial poem yet.

Next, Bose Tsevende, seizing her Chair prerogative, read an absolutely stunning poem titled "The Voice of the Night" –

I heard the voice of the night
It is not silent anymore
The night talked to me
About imminent breaks,
Nations breaking into war
Homes breaking into fragments
Hearts breaking, cannot be mended.

Aunty B’s poem was read to rave criticism. It was a sensitive analysis of the night, a paean to the unseen and eternally knowing, to the hidden, the vile, the enchantedly profane. Allen Omale – I enjoyed it. Silas Nnamonu – I feared it, I feared the message. Allen also said – Aunty B keeps "bringing in the poetic into her poems" and that the subtle way in which she weaves that poetic into her craft is what sets her out as a poet to be reckoned with. He then compared Mrs Tsevende’s poem to David Onotu’s reading, further buttressing his earlier opinions. Sir Nnamonu wondered about the underlying pessimism he sensed in the poem, a sense of something about to collapse, an appeal – it would seem that the poet has appropriated the definite voice of Sibyl. Sir Nnamonu wondered what might be done to avert the doom foretold? Alpha Emeka complimented Aunty B on her exposition of appropriate and unusual themes. Abubakar Adam, who won the 2007 BBC African Performance Playwrighting Competition, said that apart from the beauty of her language, it was also accessible to everyone. We all look forward to Mrs. Tsevende’s upcoming second collection of poems from which "The Voice of the Night" is taken.
In a meeting already rich in the unusual, a poem entitled "The Chiefdom is Suffering from a Shortage of Guinea Corn" was read by Timi Kpakiama, one of our newer members from the Niger Delta. In a correct showing of the avant-gardism that JosANA has been noted for, the poem is based on translation of traditional Ijaw folklore. It naturally brought the house to the boilers. Allen Omale, while restating his unfamiliarity with Ijaw poetry, however wondered about the length of the title, he’d never seen anything quite like it before. Eric Biame wondered if it came from the translation process? Another debate, as to whether the poem was "original" or not, began. David Onotu was Timi’s supporter viz the unusual length of the title. The poem itself was however an interesting one, with the use of oblique personifications referring perhaps to the Delta vis-à-vis Nigeria.

Aborigines dwelling by Lokoja and the Chad
Were nature’s barometers taming and tending
The garden of God; they were Adams ‘heritors
Before we came, bearing dispersion with us
Richard Ali read a badly received poem, "The Kwararafa Sun." Meant to be an epic of Nigerian identity, Mr. Ali just did not pull it off. Allen said it was meant to be an epic but it had been disappointingly overwhelmed by prose and he suggested a re-write. Bose Tsevende however compared the poem to the work of Okello Oculli. David Onotu said it was unusual for Ali to write long poems and maybe being out of his elemental precise poetry, he had blundered? Alpha Emeka said he was sure the poem read was a "first draft". Graciously bowing to the critical fire of the house, Richard Ali pleaded the wayward talent with which he wrestles and promised to rework the poem so that it would read more like what was envisaged in his mind.

Following this, Alpha Emeka and Abubakar Adam took turns to read excerpts from their published and upcoming novels – "Carnival" and "Sons of Silence" respectively. Abubakar’s first novel, "The Quest for Nina" is due out in the United States in a couple of months with a Nigerian edition expected by April 2009. Abubakar’s excerpt started with "Mother started to die when father and his friend started to whisper in the corners . . . . " and in the two thousand words that followed that phrase, Mr. Adam was able to paint a surreal graph of family dysfunction, captured in insightful, evocatively eloquent prose. Compared to his debut, which this writer has read, Abubakar’s best work is still yet to come and it would not be in his acclaimed dramaturgy, but in the realm of prose. Bose Tsevende remarked that it was a sweet story and she loved his technique of giving, in short sentences, deep insights into characters – something reminiscent of Dickens.

The meeting came to an end with the reading of three poems by our Vice President, Matthew Mzega, one of them titled, in a meeting already rich with highly descriptive titles – "The Smallest Pepper"! It was well received. Matthew, an economist by training, is fast carving a niche for himself, his poetry maturing in strides – as is his sponge-like acceptance of criticism that has no doubt fueled his genius. .Finally, Jos City crooner and JosANA PRO, Steve Rwang-Pam brought the house down with powerful renditions of country music – something beautiful and old that had the words "flowers of gold don’t grow in gardens of stone" in it as well as a fantastic Billy Ray Cyrus piece called "My Achey Breakey Heart."
Talk of synergy and combustion!

Richard Ali is Secretary General of JosANA. Inquiries may be made via or 08062392145

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Dark Ghazal

Infernal pointsman destroying space-time
Shattering science in a million frissons of glass
This is the end of the fury – the mad scribbling
The chill of waiting to pen perfect roses

Whirlwinds rage on, but I am innocent of dust
My imperfect lines throb as if they still live
The market still pulses with life

I tell you
Fortitude and solitude are one
The same with wine and women and art
Cold mistresses teasing flames in temples
Parched with thinking, longing
And forgetting

Life shatters into a million frissons
And I step out into the light
Killing the man in the mirror.

A Dark Ghazal

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

JosANA gives me a Headache!

JosANA gives me a Headache!

At the end of each meeting of Jos ANA, I have a headache. Every single time. Being an true blue African, I sought scientific inquiry into this curious state of affairs. My herbalist friend, after the obligatory sacrifices, told me that the headache was caused by “osmosis” – he explained that in high pressure situations, especially where mental energy is being focused, like at JosANA meetings, the brain cells are bombarded with electrons of intellection and a side effect of the ensuing friction is the pulsations of the temple called headache. So you see, I am a happy man. My ailment is scientifically recognized. And, yes, following the last ANA meeting on Saturday 12th July, I had a headache.

I arrived late but did not miss much as the usual “hello, hello” salutes were still going on at 1:09 pm. Bose Tsevende was already there together with Alpha and Michael Emeka, David Onotu. Kanchana Ugbabe was also there, having been absent from JosANA for quite a while. In no time the verandah was full with old and new members, especially our members who fall in-between – those who show up once in a while. We had four new members.

The meeting proper began on a poetic note with our member, Emma Kenine, reading her piece, “In Blue She Comes”. The meeting could not have started on a better note because the poem was just perfect – Emma’s poem had that control of sound, imagery and soul that elite poem have which sets them above reproach. The word “blue” was the anvil on which the poem riposted, much like Federico Garcia Lorca’s “a la cinquo de la tarde” from his most famous poem. David Onotu pointed out that Emma Kenine’s poem also shared similarity of style with a Langston Hughes poem that played on connotations of “red”.

Following Emma’s reading, Abubakar Adam took to the center stage with a reading of “Because You Are a Poet” - a verse offering to Aunty B Tsevende who’s 2007 Poems is titled “You Are a Poet”. In that poem, Abubakar successfully married with simile the motions of dance {Mrs. Tsevende lectures dance} to the “dance” motions of lines of verse. The underlying idea was that Aunty B was a poet while he, Abubakar, was not. However, the Jos City barrister, Redzie Jugo, added a last line to Abubakar’s reading by saying “My guy, you are being too modest!” and urged Abubakar to modify the last line accordingly. Another lawyer, Mahan, said that eulogies are associative and Abubakar ought not to dissociate his innate poetic in his panegyric on Aunty B, thus agreeing with Redzie’s submission. I guess Abubakar ought to have said in stock legalese – “As my Lord pleases!”

Next to read and still in the thrall of poesy was David Onotu and his “Hills of Green”, a highly involved and perceptive poem about the Jos plateau. In his trademark style of man-in-the-arena oratury, David succeeded in weaving a complex tapestry of the Plateau, mother of us all – its ambience, its people, the tensions, the places, the drama of everyday life, our hopes and dreams and the particulars of our collective hubris. There was silence, simply, and then there was applause. No further affirmation can greet an upcoming poetaster than the un-begrudged applause of his no mean contemporaries. Steve Rwang Pam was highly touched by this poem and Redzie said there ought to be collaboration with Aunty B to stage it in the Theatre. Richard Ali said indeed it demanded a screenplay. Our member, Patience Egwurube, who is a writer of screenplays nodded her head in concurrence. Bose Tsevende asked Steve Rwang Pam to look into the possibility to having the poem as a jingle of Radio and the Country music crooner said he’d be delighted to do that. Steve also said that David’s poem was the sort of art that was the material for further works of art.

In what is becoming Michael Emeka’s forte, prose, he read an excerpt from his upcoming novel titled “The Tide”. Michael’s ear for prose is perhaps as perceptive as David Onotu’s ear for poetry – such was his presence of mind as he told a tale of a young man walking heedlessly into the whirlpool of petroleum smuggling as opposed to going to Aba to apprentice himself as an auto spare parts dealer. He was able to capture with his prose the drama of the rivalries between parents and in highly effective interior monologues, he captured the mind of his central character. An A1 awareness of description kept the entire excerpt together, stringing his audience along. Prof. Kanchana Ugbabe commented on the psyche of the piece and on Michael’s use of language. She also wondered how the novel would end? Redzie Jugo noted it was a fantastic excerpt only that the beginning seemed too long and detailed. Richard Ali agreed with Redzie and suggested that the opening paragraphs, which describe a journey to a petroleum dump, should be cut by about a third. Steve Rwang Pam said it was a “well spiced” reading and Mahan said that everyone could identify with the story, commending the contemporaneity of Michael’s subject. The truth is, it would be impossible for me to convey in reported prose the reactions to “The Tide.”

Steve Rwang Pam read his second poem this year, an interesting one called “Looking Back”. It was verse steeped in nostalgia for simpler, less complicated times and it set off some debate in the house.

When warmth was for the skin
And allergies were not known
Where goldfinches twit and nightingales sustain
The resonance of divine symphony

Steve said the allusion in the poem was Biblical, that he imagined Adam reciting the poem. Among other things, Richard Ali said if that was so then perhaps the title should be “Adam Looking Back?” but this suggestion was shot down variously and died midair. JosANA is perhaps one of the few places in the country where artists find material for their work even in religion. Indeed, only at the last meeting, Mrs. Tsevende had read a poem full of religious allusions.
Next, Alpha Emeka read his entry for the 2008 Commonwealth Short Story Competition, a 501 word entry titled “A Season of Blessing.” It was one of those existentialist stories – a man leaves the stifling fumes and strictures of the city for the remembered tranquility and ozonic air of the countryside only to find that the monsterface of urbanity had replicated itself there just as well. Among the comments was that though there was a word limit for the CSSC, Alpha could have added the nuance of moral/personal degradation side by side with environmental degradation. But even without that, no one doubts that the next Commonwealth Short Story Prize will be won by a member of JosANA. { If Molara Wood doesn’t, of course!}

Richard Ali, who chaired the meeting, shared out info-fliers about the upcoming Cavalcade literary journal being published by the Abuja Writers Forum – the most serious writer’s body in the Nigerian capital.

On firmer ground now, having left poetry behind, Abubakar read a short story titled “Night Call”. “Night Call” is the story of a young man who falls into the trap of a femme fatale courtesy an inauspicious telephone conversation. At the end of the story, the man is set to hang for a murder he did not commit – of the siren’s husband. I am a lover of the bette noir movies and this story would have had Roman Polanski screaming for his scriptwriter and cameraman! Along the line, in prison, a guard befriends the hapless young man and they form a plan to entrap Farida la femme via a taped confession. BUT, the tape runs out just before her confession! To understand the story, let me recommend my second favorites bette noire – pick out “The Man Who Wasn’t There” when next you are at the Video Club. Following Abubakar’s reading, Richard, who had been silent all the while, bemoaned the fact that writers up north and in JosANA were content to come read their poems bi-weekly and get applause – but a literary reputation is gotten by being in the larger public arena. He said the way to force your work into that arena is to get them published in journals and anthologies, like Cavalcade, African Writing and Sentinel Poetry. Helon Habila had given Jos writers the same advice during his 2007 book tour. And really, I bet you my last Bic biro, some of the stuff routinely read and praised during our meetings, the stuff I write about in my digest – were you to actually read them or hear them being read, it would blow your mind away. Jos City is at the heart of the Nigerian cultural renaissance and JosANA is the natural leader of that reappraisal.

Kanchana Ugbabe, professor of Creative Writing, lent a word in agreement with Richard’s exhortation. She came in with recent printouts from the New Yorker – Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Headstrong Historian” and something from Uwem Akpan, the Jesuit priest who is currently the homeboy of Nigerian letters. Her point was that young writers ought to send their work out, to local newspapers and journals as well as to International ones because there really are only two answers to any question. A literary reputation rests on the acclaim that heralds a writer who has made himself synonymous with more “yes” answers than “no.”

Bose Tsevende was in her natural element rendering two poems with intros in Yoruba language. The Jos literary movement is a sort of levitation – comprising the most talented writers who, standing on the shoulders of giants, have a vantage and voice that is distinctly theirs. Bose Tsevende’s poems have even become finer following her 2007 poems and her next collection sure would be a hot pick.

PHIL: {Struggles for a while and then gives up} No use!
RATTY: Say, what do we have for breakfast?
PHIL: Breakfast? Breakfast in the evening?
RATTY: Well, I thought it was morning . . . the moon.
PHIL: There is no moon Ratty! How can there be a moon in the morning?
RATTY: Its not morning Phil. Look! We are still here . . .it’s evening.
PHIL: Have we ever moved? We were here in the morning. . .
RATTY: And afternoon . . .and in the evening.
PHIL: We were here yesterday.
RATTY: We were here all the yesterdays.

YES! The first play read this year at JosANA was Paul Ugbede’s “Two Characters Undefined”. In this powerfully existentialist {the spirit of Sartre was strong} drama that is at once reminiscent of Harold Pinter’s “The Birthday Party”, Paul, Jos City’s most talented young playwright, skillfully took on the entire superstructure of civilization through the perceptions of Phil and Ratty – maybe they are madmen, maybe they are aspects of the same mind? David Onotu, who voiced Ratty, compared it to Samuel Becketts classic “Waiting for Godot.” Paul Ugbede’s talents have also been recognized abroad. He was at the University of Lancaster courtesy the British Council a while back and recently, he got a 2000 pound scholarship to study at the Bath Spa University. {He joins Uche Peter Umez who won one of the scholarships for short story.} The play was very well received by the floor and Mahan said it reminded him of a Hausa joke about two drunks disputing on whether it was a sun or moon in the sky one night – they resolved to ask a third man {who is even more drunken} who assured them that he was merely a visitor to the neighborhood and so could not say whether it was sun or moon!
One thing is for sure, Paul Ugbede is IN the arena!

We returned to poetry with the reading of new member, Derek Idjai’s “Tribute to Fela”. Next came Richard Ali and he read two poems – “Ovonramven” and “When I Die.” The prize winning Esther Chinke, who came in with her sister, Ruth also read. Esther’s poem was titled “Blood on our Street” and it was a haunting verse collage of the 2001 internecine conflict on the plateau. Her line “Laughter fled with the rains” is perhaps the most haunting opening line ever read at JosANA.

The meeting came to an end with Redzie Jugo’s reading of his poem “Useless Use.” An extremely controversial, and thus successful, poem involving the skilful conjuring of sense and wordplay, Barrister Jugo’s poem kept JosANA members disputing long after the meeting ended.
And yes, I did get a headache after the meeting! But thanks to science, I know it is well with my mind.

Richard Ugbede Ali is Secretary General of JosANA and inquiries may be sent to