Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Our Conversation has been silenced...

Our conversation has been silenced, mid-speech
Our dance stalled, mid-trot
This sudden stillness rouses the
Pressing need to form my next words,
Lest the reaper comes before my next sentence is complete

Laughter has been ripped from my throat, mid-chuckle
Your rich baritone now echoes in slices of memory;
My inescapable lot henceforth
Soldier; march on while we dance on,
Before movement is stopped with that old man’s scythe

I wish to speak urgently
Yet words desert me
I wish to sing all the melodies now
Before the tunes are muted forever,
But broken strings can not strum sweet in the orchestra of life

In love, do you lift the veil,
Desperate to inform us all is well?
Is that your voice in the wind whispering to Jemie, Genevieve and the rest;
‘I am whole, worry not’?
Or do you shed tears instead, for songs yet unsung?

Tarry not, Soldier
Weary not your spirit over blood and friend turned foe in your absence
Let the discourse progress yonder,
Even as they celebrate your return in that realm
For what is a market if sellers do not wrap their wares at day’s end?

Your lusty songs will be hard to mute,
Your conversations more difficult to silence,
Immortalized on hearts and in print
Yet through heavy hearts we stand in salute
A true soldier once walked these terrains
A truer artist now awakens on distant shores


Adieu Austyn!

Friday, 8 August 2014

In Our Minds- A review



IN OUR MINDS- Reflections of the Youth at Nigeria’s Centenary (1914-2014)

Publisher:       TGIC SECRETARIAT, ABUJA

302 PAGES


The book In our Minds is a beautifully catalogued assemblage of thoughts, opinions, and deeply analyzed ideas by a group of young Nigerians in a run up to the country’s centenary celebrations. The full coloured print is clean, and at a glance the glossy paper attests to the fact that this project is one with a stamp of excellence.
The book begins with a quote from President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on how the amalgamation created  a unique c and beautiful country, of richly blessed people who have turned out some of the most resourceful  & innovative people in the world…
A flip to the next page brings you face to face with the somewhat more reflective and firm declaration; a quote from past head of state Gen Yakubu Gowon: “These Centenary celebrations should remind us that our darkest hours are behind us and that our best days are still ahead of us. This event is a salient reminder that as an entity, our unity and oneness are non-negotiable.”
Very apt words from the head of state under whose rule, the country nearly split, during a three year civil war at the end of which no victor or vanquished was declared, though the country stood on wobbly feet with several bruised parts.

The Secretary to the federal Government Senator Anyim Pius Anyim in his foreword enthused that a breath of fresh air is about to be introduced into the centenary celebrations with the involvement of youths who not only complain of a stagnant Nigeria, but also proffer solutions to the nation’s challenges.
A deep longing for change is obviously one of the engines that drive many of these young Nigerians. This is evident from the in-depth analyses of the issues tackled in the weekly TGIC competitions organized on the facebook page. Topics ranged from Corruption to Traffic jams, to Mob action, to Nigeria’s image abroad, to caring for the aged, Brain-drain, Violence in the Legislative, Social security and much more.
Interesting to note is the fact that the youths initially viewed the project as suspicious, “… boys are not smiling. Did we ask you to celebrate stupid 100 years? Sure one of you would be robbing us with this crazy stuff”  and “Democracy without development, plans without action, people without government, government without commitment” and other derisive remarks littered the page in the beginning.  These are understandable sentiments in the face of corruption, and the lingering insecurity in the state, with senseless killings of harmless citizens by insurgents in the north.

At the escalation of scathing remarks and accusations, the administrators of the social media team met with the secretary to the government and mapped a way out of the quicksand that the social media page was fast becoming. The Honourable secretary suggested Thank God it’s Centenary- TGIC; a twist of the popular ‘Thank God it’s Friday’. From that point the stage was set to coax, trick or convince the Nigerian youths out of their distrust.
Alternative use was found for the otherwise negative energy bristling on the social media platforms, and the Nigerian Youth; a sucker for competitions and games, was aptly positioned for this. Members of this online community were eventually to be called ‘Centennial Ambassadors’

The youths must be commended for their ingĂ©nue, and the willingness to creatively find solutions to different matters as they arose.  They were given weekly vignettes, asked to imagine they were in positions of power, and solutions were demanded of them. Thrown into the deep end, they thus came up with possible steps to overcome the weekly challenge. Winners were crowned Ambassador for the week, with a letter of commendation from the federal government and a phone, IPad or laptop.
The motivation to respond to the weekly scenarios may have been the mouthwatering prizes, but in the end, true patriotism pushed the would-be leaders to think up inspiring responses with an amazing understanding of the issues at hand.
For the fortunate ones who got shortlisted, they became overnight politicians, lobbying for votes and likes from friends and well-wishers. A thoroughly democratic process that undoubtedly was, yet this reviewer wonders if this process of selecting winners was not more a of a popularity contest than an objective choice of who merited the award.
Some awardees got immediate employment with the office of the Secretary to the Federal Government. Winners came from within Nigeria and the diaspora.

A few contributions stood out though and they attested to the intelligence of the respondents.
Eg: Ope Adediran on Social Welfare for the Unemployed, said ‘…the social welfare benefits are barely enough to afford the basic necessities of life, and are primarily designed to prevent the vulnerable citizens from being destitute. Furthermore a social welfare scheme will enable some thrifty and creative Nigerians to use such payments as stepping stone out of the unemployment to become self –employed and become employers of labour. It is important that social welfare benefits for the unemployed should also cover those unable to work due to disability or old age.’
 Speaking on Influence of Society on Public Office holders, Ekpa Faith, Pauline spoke vehemently in favour of discipline and uprightness. According to her ‘Conflicting interests will definitely come from family & friends, but I’ll surely have it at the back of my mind that if I have to succeed, NO INTEREST (personal or group) should override NATIONAL INTEREST…’

Many more insightful comments abound in this book. The first stage of the project extended for the twenty weeks that the TGIC competition lasted.
The plan is to give back hope to the youth and to ensure that this hope stays. It is obvious that this plan has taken off on the right footing.

Phase two commenced with quizzes which took on a larger dimension than the social media. This became a show across different regions and will culminate in the grand finale where seven regional winners will compete for one million Naira and the honour of being dedicated ‘Nigerian Centenary Genius’ by the Presidency.
This project also highlighted the talents of ten year old artist; Ayomikun Omoyiola, whose painting ‘Peace in the midst of a storm’, done in acrylic paint and gouache on white cardboard, was presented to Hon Anyim, who named her ‘Peace Ambassador’.
She was commissioned to do another painting which she presented to President Jonathan, at the centenary celebrations in February.

It is indeed a breath of fresh air that a youth movement of this magnitude could be built with a followership of millions on social media. Yet for this reviewer, questions arise: will this collectively channeled focus deliver to the youth and Nigeria as a whole, what is due them? Will government take cognizance of and implement the many lofty ideas that these young ones so passionately tendered? Or will the gifts and exposure for the lucky winners suffice to quiet the rage in the polity- for a short while? Will our youths be able to hold on to belief in a motherland where hope itself can be more ephemeral than the winds of a harmattan morning?
Only time will tell.


Thursday, 5 June 2014

234 is more than a country code

On the evening of May 1, 2014,  I tried relentlessly to call my sister's phone lines as anguish encircled my throat
 Another bomb had gone off at the park in Nyanya, where she would  normally board a cab home. And board a cab she did, minutes before the bomb went off.

As the call finally connected and I listened to Sister Esther recount how the blast had sounded so loud, anguish squeezed out hot tears which slid down my cheeks to my nightie; tears of relief and frustration. For a contraption that used to be a country, I shed tears for her nonexistent government.

#BringBackOurGirls
My country has been at war for the last three years, but this is a much-denied fact. Our tears are dried out, cushioned as we are in the familiar numbness that has set in. If you live in the south, the general feeling is ‘it happened to them, not us’.

That narrative changed with the Chibok girls. Somehow,  234 was no longer just our country dial code; it had become the code of blood. 
This abduction would not be another sad news that would get swept under the carpet of denial and levity where all the other killings and abductions had gone.

We became street and cyber activists convinced that if we made enough noise about the missing girls, our government would stop pretending that over 200 vulnerable girls were not kidnapped by a heartless extremist group.
I joined the protests and chanted 'We want our girls! Bring back our girls! Abduction must stop! Bombings must stop!' I marched in the sun and rain so that the world would hear of this atrocity and come to our aid.

Our conviction worked. The ‘bring back our girls’ hash-tag caught on like an infectious disease.
Yet, that night as news of a second Nyanya bomb blast scrolled through my TV screen, it felt like that was our collective punishment for daring to carry out worker’s day protests across the nation. But we were not deterred; even as the death toll rose.

One month after the abduction, America sent troops to help our army find the girls and flush out the enemy.
Between videos of BH telling the world they were sanctioned to sell the girls, and another showing the girls as new converts to Islam, then news of mutiny within Nigeria’s soldiers, to more news of the girls being ill and in different camps, this ugly drama keeps unfolding, and we struggle to make sense of the many twists.

So far, it has been 53 days of not knowing what those unstable elements may have done, and are still doing to the girls. More than enough time to lose faith in your country, yourself and life in general. How many of them will return, whole in body and mind?


Indeed when this war ends, how many of us will be left whole in Nigeria? 

Monday, 2 June 2014

Toast to Maya

Reading about her passing on Thursday, May 29, 2014 was somewhat heavy for me.The news brought an unexpected pain.
 Somehow, I scouted the internet in search of news to the contrary. I failed.
I remembered the last tweet I read from her earlier in the week; 'Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God'. I wondered; could she have sensed it then?

I recollected reading a Facebook update from her, an update where she informed us that she had missed a special event organised in her honour, based on her doctor's advice.


But after it all, I sent prayers for her swift passage to the next realm. And at Pentecost, what a time to pass!  

The next day I was able to write this small tribute to a woman I loved and admired. for her intelligence, her wit, her strength and her pride. Journey well Maya!

She knew Why the caged bird sings

She knew why the caged bird sings...
And in her words I found reason, rationale to be true to self and craft.


She wrote heartfelt poetry and told stories with a passion and honesty that shamed even the darkest of circumstances. 


She belonged nowhere and yet belonged everywhere.


Her writings illuminated the assertion that when a person shines, she gives glory to her Maker and inadvertently gives others the nudge and room to shine too.


Thank you Maya Angelou! 


Poet, storyteller, dancer, singer... Your words gave this bird wings to take flight. Your stories gave hope; they give hope still.


Sing on soul sister! 


Sing on in lighter realms. 

To joyful activity may you awaken, Amen!





Monday, 21 April 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour 2014

Many people have argued that the proliferation of social media sites has an undoubtedly negative influence on writing, in terms of industry and quality of writing. This may be true for some, but it is impossible to talk about the influence of the internet without speaking of how much it helps writers interact with one another and share ideas on a growing range of issues. How a writer decides to use this is solely that writer’s prerogative. The idea of a blog tour especially appealed to me because of its capacity to introduce me to new blogs (and writers), who are doing wonderfully creative work on their blogs. 

My dear Obinna Udenwe, whose work can be read here,  introduced me to the blog tour and has introduced me to writers such as Tricia Nicholson and Kwabena Agyare whose writings were unknown to me before now.
Then, there is the part where we each get to speak about our writing processes. I like the idea of reading about other writers’ writing lives, and discovering that I’m not so weird after all.

Here’s my writing process unveiled:

What am I working on?
I am currently working on a novel which is as yet untitled. It is a riveting story about a family’s travails in their search for a brother, after a boat trip goes awry. It explores how lives change and different truths emerge in the whirlwind of experience. The novel has a bit of a love story and some heart racing suspense.
I am also writing short fiction when that particular muse seizes me. Here I tell stories of the joys, pain, romance and realities of the everyday Nigerian. My poetry muse is a faithful lover in all this; giving me space to explore fiction, yet whispering sublime verses to me every now and again. This is the burden of first loves, I guess.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
My writing tends to be very particular about human reactions. I like to explore the ripple effects that a single action (or inaction) can have on the lives of people. How people discover true self in their struggle with latent traits or weaknesses, triggered by one incident. I try to see my characters as complete representations of your guy next door, or your aunty or old friend. In drawing a reader onto their lives and minds and fears, my writing tends to get emotive.
I have also been accused of being very graphic and detailed in my writing; this must also be a unique feature in my work.

Why do I write what I write?
Human nature fascinates me. The human mind is such a an endlessly intriguing tool to work on, and with. There are a plethora of possible outcomes in any given situation when a human being is involved. This realization is what moves my writing. Coupled with the fact that each undertaking is an opportunity to question and understand human nature some more.
I write what I write in order to discover what drives people in different conditions. There are stories that need to be told and those of us with the gift of words have the added responsibility to be as honest as possible to the craft.

How does my writing process work?
Due to the fact that I may not always have the luxury of time, I try to discipline myself to put down my thoughts in anyway possible, for future referencing. This could be scribbled short/long hand on a jotter, notebook or piece of paper. It could be an idea typed on a smart device, or a thought voice-recorded on a smart phone. My most productive writing period is in the wee hours of the morning when the only sounds are the tick of my clock, or the distant hum of the early train.
I find myself constantly editing as I write. I am told that it slows down the writing process, but this is the way I write, and I am mostly unable to move the story along if I am uncomfortable with the last part. Thankfully I don’t aim for overkill at first draft.
The first draft of my novel was completed in one month, while at a residency. I may spend another year on further research to make the story as plausible as possible, then do some more editing.
For short fiction, I put the idea down once it strikes me, then after writing the main story; I leave it to simmer for a while before I decide on a suitable ending.
Pre-plotting does not always work for me, but I try to mark out a decent plot perimeter beyond which I will not dance. Then I trust my muse and let the story tell itself.

Now to pass the baton…
The three favourite writers that I will hand over to are:


Dami Ajayi:

Dami Ajayi is a medical doctor, poet, short story writer, occasional essayist and book reviewer. He co-publishes Saraba and edits Fiction for the quarterly magazine. 
Dami writes a fun blog, with suprisingly profound insights, where he talks about a wide range of things that tickle his fancy.
pick his brains at  www.mrajayi.wordpress.com



Iquo B. Essien:


Iquo is a Nigerian-American writer, director and photographer. Her short film, Aissa's Story, was a regional semifinalist in the 2013 Student Academy Awards. She is currently writing a memoir, Elizabeth’s Daughter, about losing her mother to cancer and finding herself through writing.
Her debut (draft) novel, Alligator Legs, earned her a Hedgebrook Writers' Residency in 2009. Her publishing credits include the Dreams at Dawn anthology, as well as online and print magazines NigeriansTalk, The African Magazine, PopMatters, and the Stanford Black Arts Quarterly.


Iquo divides her time between Brooklyn and Lagos, and writes about art and life on a popular blog www.alligatorlegs.blogspot. 

 
Terh Agbedeh:
Terh is a journalist and writer, who dabbles in photography. His background includes over 10 years in the print media in Nigeria and is presently assistant editor for The Niche newspaper, based in Lagos. 
He blogs at terhagbedeh.blogspot.com about life, particularly as it relates to literature.

He is working on a book and lives in Lagos with his wife and daughter.








Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Receiving the baton

I’m it!

Yes, I’m it. I’m in. I’m in for it!

Nothing sinister; just a very novel idea (for me at least), to participate in the writing process blog tour.
My dear friend Obinna Udenwe has handed the baton to me this week, after he took over from Trisha Nicholson.

I am part excited, part nervous about this. But I'll survive.
The most interesting parts for me are the indecision as to which three writers to hand over to next Monday, and the questions about my writing process, which I have to answer.
My responses will be live here next Monday.

As a relay goes, I also get to handover to three bloggers. Watch this space to know just who and whom I hand over to.

Meanwhile; read what makes Obinna’s writing process unique on his blog; HERE
Photo credits: simondenman.com

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Lagos theatre festival



The second Lagos theatre festival promised part theatre, part real life and part journey through the city of Lagos; it delivered on all fronts. The festival, aptly themed ‘A city that never sleeps, is full of stories that never end’, was a three day event with four plays in multiple shows. I saw the Sunday servings and wow! Was I thrilled!

The festival play ‘Make we waka’, was quite the captivating audio tour. It was not uncommon to see a passerby or two get caught up with an actor as they guided participating audience members in the ‘waka’. Make we waka  gave us an interesting and somewhat new angle to drama. It was innovative; it thrilled, but as the evening wore on, it became obvious to me that it had some serious competition. 

In Waiting for a Lottery, the audience participation was at once comical and exciting. The play opened with a faux audition scene for a purported Nollywood blockbuster.  The play mirrors the typical Lagos hustle; a jungle where only the strong and ruthless survive. Anxious actors await the audition that would propel them to stardom. This is the supposed lottery that will change their lives; make dreams come true. The play also had some comical references to the Nigerian situation that gave it extra depth. As would be expected, hostilities soared when the hoax is uncovered, and this climaxes in a slight twist to the tale. A slave driver scenario is introduced to the play and the response from slaves sounds too close to Nigeria’s reality. 


This reviewer believes that though this part of the play was significant in painting the symbolism of defiance and the resilience of Nigerians in the face of persistent corruption, oppression, and tyranny, this is one part of the play which could have been shortened for better effect. Nonetheless, the play had some very true-to-life characters, and the actors did not disappoint at all. Suffice to say, Zara Udofia Ejoh’s Oxygen Koncepts interpreted this play very nicely. Even Lekan Balogun, the scriptwriter affirmed this.

Diagnosis is a Theatre lover’s delight; anytime. It is the unexpected 419 tale where the usual Maga does not pay afterall.
Shortly before Nigeria’s same sex marriage legislation, Johnny and Danny successfully convince a Canadian mugu to fund their NGO- ‘Rescue Project for the Gay Dwarf Community’. A cheque of one million dollars gets into Johnny’s hands, and this sets a series of complications, beginning with a bout of temporary amnesia.
In the ensuing panic, more people are let into the big ‘maga’ deal and we see how greed can eat into the very core of human relationships. Every one wants a cut, including an extremely comic pastor who speaks such tongues as Rabbosh, AK47, Skelewu, Devil-Pullover, and Spartacus!

Filled with so many well thought-out twists, and a tactical handling of deep issues, it is difficult not to fall in love with this play. In the end, the schemers get schemed by their supposed ‘maga’, in spite of their exertions.
Ifeoma Fafunwa’s ‘Imagine Nigeria productions,’ gave an undoubtedly beautiful performance of the story which screenplay was done by Jude Idada. 

The open theater experience was a beautiful one for me, and this reviewer hopes that it will continue. “Double tuwaile” to the British Council, and all its partners for facilitating this awesome platform.
I hope that plays at the next festival will be accessible to larger audiences at a time (At possibly lower prices).