Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The death of Jahman Anikulapo

Godwin Agbroko, the former Editor of African Guardian, The Week, Newswatch, and lately Chairman ThisDay Editorial Board, was brutally killed on Friday(December 22) night, less than two kilometres to The Guardian's Rutam House office.

Ruonah, his (awaiting NYSC) daughter published the article below the following day on Saturday, December 23. Now, I know why i have been so sad ever since Oga Goddee -- as we fondly called him at The Guardian in his days here -- was murdered. In some ways I have become an extended member of the family…

I had not met any other member besides Oga Goddee, until I met Ruonah, the daughter by accident on Wednesday December13… well, I had met her through reading her columns on the pages of ThisDay Plus every Saturday… I recall that I had even had occasion to make enquiry about her, having read one of the stuff she did on, I think, the fuss about dressing culture of the young… I need to check this out.

I thought that for a young person herself that depth of reasoning san all those stuff about `they are young, let them explode' was inspiring…I was talking about meeting Ruonah physically, right?

Now, on December 13, I had gone to Eko FM as a guest of the popular `Breakfast With Mr K', a programme thatis truly innovative in every sense of the word.... it is broadcast live from the studio of Eko FM but it is cast also on the internet such that anywhere you are in the world, you could access it. In fact while I was in the studio (with NAFDAC's heroine, Dora Akunyili)calls came in from as far as France, UK and the USA. Also, inventive is the Celebrity News Reading .. I read the news with Dora…. come deh shake gbirigbiri for mouth… even though I had done same (and on magazines) in 1986/1987 with FRCN as a jobless fresh graduate, and later in mid-90s as an adventurous co-presenter on The Beat (with Kole Ade-Odutola andToyin Akinosho)…

Anyway back to meeting Ruonah: I was embarrasingly late into the studio that day. I was expected at 8.20pm, but did not get in until about 9.10 am. Why? It was the day the madness of Governor OjuYobo Tinubu's Lagos (may God deliver us from his spell ofi ncompetence and inept governance in 2007) decided to play its worst drama. The traffic was maddening, as Area Boys and all the crazy fellows in uniform mounted inexplicable barrierseverywhere.. .
Surprisingly the traffic only occurred where-ever you see Tinubu's uniformed rogues!.... at other places, trust Lagosians, they got around to sorting (or slugging) it out. Well, sadly and out of character, I made the studio solate.

As I rushed in there, I was accosted by a slim lady in a smart jeans dress... `Uncle Jahman, so this is you...' she washed off my mix of agitation and anger. 'Uncle Jahman? I had to look around for that fellow… `Uncle!'Me ke? Me that should have been flogged for getting late to alive programme. Well, I unleashed the tyranny of my tongue... I am so sorry, it is this impossible Lagos, those crazy Danfo drivers, the madmen of Lagos trafficscheme bla bla......

`No, Uncle don't worry we wereall victims of that traffic too. Ruonah said. " I spent two hours on that same route.. from Ire Akari", she had recounted. "It wasserious o, Uncle..".`Uncle', again! Okay, it is me she is talking to, right? But who is this smiling lady Uncling me all the way? I was still working out the best way to get that query across, when she helped out…My Daddy speaks so highly about you? I even told him Iwanted to start writing for Life magazine. I love whatyou do with that magazine. My dad loves it so much,and so I told him I would want to write for themagazine. Her Daddy?

`He said he worked with you at The Guardian?' All the while I still had no clue.. Ruonah who?Haaaaa!`Writing for Life is simple…. Okay, give me your number..'She wrote her name,,, and wala! Ruonah Agbroko!

Oh, so you are my Uncle's daughter? She smiled. You are the columnist in This day, the one I have been reading… wow, you are so young…. She broke out in a broader smile now…. And a wink of caution had to come from the studio minder… as Dora was all the while being interviewed by the main anchor/ initiator of the programme – Kayode Akintemi. As I was going to keep the praise-singing going on, Iwas summoned to join Dora at the Mic to present the news…. That broke my fascination with this young, deep and intense lady.. one I could actually call my niece.

In any case, we continued after the programme, as she reminded me of her earlier request to be part of the committee for Relevant Art's subsequent programmes. That was when I invited her and the entire crew of the`Breakfast with Mr K', to the Formal Presentation of the Prince Claus Award to CORA holding the next day December 14 at the Netherlands Embassy on Lagos Island. The team attended the show. I recall Ruonah dressed in skirt suit, looking fit and trim. I think I joked that she looked like an air hostess, and earned that smile once more. The team was busy on that day – it was desirous of talking to Ambassador Ariel Van der Weil, who was chief host of the day, which explained why we eventually never got to talk.. but I saw when the four-some `Breakfast with Mr K' team was leaving thevenue. A joyous group, I remember now. I saw that smile again.

Now I shudder to see tears roll down those innocent young cheeks that spoke so passionately about `My Daddy…'; My Dad'.. on my first encounter with Ruonah. For that, I have been hell scared to head to the family house in the Isolo area to pay my respect to Oga Goddee, that committed journalist, fine columnist whose main writing virtues were the depth of his thought, sincerity of intellection, and simple-ness of prose… the man who as Editor of the African Guardian, accosted me one day on the staircase, gave me a stick of cigarette and bellowed... `No think say na only Guardian and Lagos Life you go deh give all that your arts stories… we deh here too o'… He did not even wait for an answer from my shocked lips, he just walked on in his`rolling style'…

But that was what launched me into copies to that magazine that died an untimely death with the Abacha proscription in 1996.


The Prince Claus/ Cora ExampleBy Ruonah Agbroko, Email:wudupls@yahoo. com, 12.23.2006

A week ago, I heard for the first time that His RoyalHighness, Prince Claus of the Netherlands in 1996 hada fund inaugurated in his name as a 70th birthdaypresent. What this has got to do with the price of teain Milan? Well, nothing, really. But, it’s got a lotto do with Nigeria. And the issue is that the PrinceClaus Fund for Culture and Development made Nigerianculture advocacy group, CORA, a recipient of thePrince Claus Fund Award 2006 worth 25,000 Euros,(approximately N4 million).

Principal Officers of The Committee for Relevant Art(CORA) went on air to aptly say the awards were “mannafrom abroad”. That innocent people like you are hearing CORA, or Prince Claus for the first time doesnot at all faze me. What does is the fact that thename CORA had been heard and read in the proposallists of almost every corporate organisation in Lagos,and yet, “for 15 years CORA was run without governmentor foreign donor support”. Granted, a prophet is without honour in his home, butwhat kind of a home celebrates the ‘prostitute’children and frustrates the ‘well-behaved’ ones?

Everything, from crappy comedy shows to the albumlaunches of washed-up artistes bear long, long listsof blue-chip sponsors, yet, an organisation that has convened amongst other things- seven editions of TheLagos Book and Art Festival and fifty-nine ‘ArtStampedes’ (a discursive platform) still manages to gounheard of and un-helped by the overwhelming majorityof Corporate Nigeria. Speaking to the members of CORA whom I have known for some time, they put flesh on the skeletons of my thoughts. Most corporate individuals and organisations are always on the lookout for cheap and loud avenues to exhibit corporate responsibility. That is normal. What, however gets my goat mewing and my cat bleating is the irresponsibility with which these avenues are chosen.

Credible, enduring avenues are irresponsibly veered-off while faddish unnecessary routes are taken. Let me explain. Oftentimes, the bearing, or usefulness of an event or project to Society is not taken into account. So long as sponsorship recognition is loudly fĂȘted, there’s always a willing sponsor. Examples abound. The average company would rather come up with a Lagos marathon doused in some humanitarian theme, than go to Gombe and quietly build a children’s hospital.

The average company falls over itself to give participants in reality TV shows endorsementdeals. The average Nigerian “philanthropist” would rather film for posterity – and campaign purposes-some flimsy humanitarian gimmick than help set up an art and craft centre. Corporate Nigeria wonderfullyhas a list of priorities, only they scarcely realise they’re reading the list upside-down. It’s appalling.

For even at that gathering, I did not see, or hear of a local government or blue-collar donation. Yet CORA needs to build six libraries in sixcities of this country to give our reading culture that much-needed shot in the arm. CORA seeks to resuscitate that brand of Theatre where performances were staged at pocket-friendly venues. Prince Claus himself says it as it is “…It is impossible to ‘develop’ another country from outside. People develop themselves, and so too do countries. All that we can do is assist that process if asked to do so.” No one can develop our film, book, art, dance,and tourism potentials – our culture- better than us.

I do not ask that Corporate Organisations andblue-collar/ babaringa billionaires refuse to sponsorbeauty pageants and album launches. I only ask that the prophets- the ones who see impending consequences and are doing their best – be helped in their efforts. It goes beyond culture. In entrepreneurship, small-scale businesses, health care, name it. I do not ask for much. I merely ask that in the coming year, in the coming budgets for well-heeled companies and private pockets, let there be intentional, corporate responsibility. The kind that casts off greed, and would sometimes risk losing a tad of self-hype for the future of its society.

As HRH Prince Claus (of blessed memory) put it: “Tie-wearers unite. Cast off the rope that binds you.Risk your neck. Liberate yourself and venture forth into open-collar paradise.

Christmas Greetings Hurrah! We made it! Saint and Sinner alike, Democrat and Despot alike, Common man and Con-man alike, we all get to see another Christmas. It’s surely not our doing; else the bad folk would long be six-feet below.It’s the grace of the Almighty we all get to see the eve of the eve of Christmas. For my family…I love you all much more than I tend to show. God bless and keep you. For the rest, readers, friends and foe alike… may the goodness of God be your portion this Christmas and forever more. AMEN!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Activist

by Tanure Ojaide
324 pages
Reviewer- Wole Oguntokun

The novel appears to be along the lines of “faction”, first coined by Wole Soyinka, meaning “fiction based on fact”. The theme of the novel is unhidden, direct and confrontational. It is a strong depiction of the terrible exploitation of the Niger Delta area and the writer succeeds in painting a vivid picture of the rape of the environment by the Oil and Gas companies that do their business there.

There is a half-hearted attempt to hide the identity of Shell as the chief marauding company but even the emblem of the main culprit in the book is a red-rimmed shell of yellow flames, the same as that of Shell Oil in reality.

The writer makes many strong allegations, chief of which is that the rest of the country developed with the oil wealth of the Niger Delta area but at the detriment of the oil producing areas. Examples given are the development of the Festival Town (Festac Town) in Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja.

It is notable that the book was published (at least in Nigeria) in 2006, yet the major local collaborators with the exploitative Oil companies is the Federal Military Government of Nigeria. No where in the book can this reviewer recall seeing the word ‘Government’, without the prefix, ‘Military’. It is almost as if the writer wishes it to be believed that civilian governments have not collaborated with the Oil Companies in the transformation of the Niger Delta Area into bleak and desolate wastelands. It might also be considered a self-preservatory reflex by the writer.

At some point, Ebi, the main female character and a supporter and eventual wife of ‘The Activist’ takes a suitor (Udoma), whom she met before she met her husband, to a traditional healer who is asked to help the man father a child with his wife. The inclusion of this ‘digression’ from the plot is the cause of puzzlement except it is to promote belief in the efficacy of traditional healing remedies as a cure to the woes of the Niger Delta area.
Udoma eventually fathers a child through his wife but loses the child years after because he did not pay the debt he owed the healer and instead trusted in his ‘born-again’ pastor.

The sensuality created by the writer between ’The Activist’ and the unlikely 37 year old virgin known as Ebi is at its most captivating when they go for a picnic by a distant river. The follow-up to the scene where they actually make love fails to match the initial sensuality. The language chosen does not call to mind a picture of a long awaited event. “The Activist stretched his tongue and Ebi reciprocated. They kissed.” Imagery calling to mind the activities of an Anteater.
The degree of sophistication of the Nigerian reader is a high one and appropriate words would have aided the appreciation of the situation better. The writer continues, “They began to rub each other”. Further on, we read in a moment of loving desire with Ebi and the Activist that “They broke the embrace to look at each other’s eyes satiated with desire for the other”. There is a contradiction in terms here and the language caused this reviewer to look up the word, “satiated” again. “Satiated” is a feeling of having had too much of something.

The main character, “The Activist”, is an academic and without any noticeable flaws. Even when he engages in the illegal acts of bunkering and fuel hoarding along with his area-boy friend, Pere, where the people who feel the hardship the most are the oppressed of the Niger Delta area, the writer lays no blame at the door step of “The Activist”.

Further on in the book, we observe that a Women’s stripping protest” where aged women had intended to walk naked in protest was aborted by the oil companies and the Federal Militry Government. Mrs. Taylor of the Women’s group invokes Umalokun, the patron goddess of women, to avenge the rape and humiliation of the women.
Mr. Van Hoort of Bell Oil subsequently suffers a heart attack and dies a week later while General Mustapha Ali Dongo, head of the Military Government also dies in strange circumstances. According to the writer, “the women’s thoughtfully planned action was fulfilled cosmically”. This appears to be an advocacy by the writer for supernatural ways of fighting the exploitation of the Niger Delta area. When the matter of Udoma’s son’s death for not paying a debt to a traditional healer is looked at in this light, the writer’s leanings become more apparent.

There are some grammatical errors in the book of which the blame of oversight must be laid on the publisher’s editors. The trunk of a car is referred to, at least twice in the book as a “booth”. The proper word would have been “boot”.

For this reviewer, by the end of the book, the Activist could not be told apart from the exploiters he had fought long and hard against. He had engaged in bunkering, a criminal act, and had also used his petrol station as a base for the illegal hoarding of petrol so as to force prices up in periods of scarcity. Who paid the ultimate price for these acts and suffered hardship? Not the Oil Companies but the poor people of the Niger Delta.
The Activist also sends his daughter to a “high class private kindergarten” school attended by the Children of Bell Oil and other Oil Company workers. The Activist’s excuse is that it is a “counter penetration” into the ways of life of those who have ravaged the land.

The reviewer learnt more in this book than he ever had about life in the Niger Delta area and the information on the background of the crisis is highly instructive. Still, there are many ways the story telling might have been improved.

Yellow Yellow!

Yellow Yellow
Kaine Agary



The many issues on the Niger-Delta revolve around the familiar words used to describe the activities of the people of the Niger-Delta. The bunkering, killing, abducting, spillage, vandalization and now bombing.

Yellow Yellow is the story of Zilayefa; born to a Greek father. Her mother who out of naivety at the time; was hoping she would have a better life with him, but she had been thrust with an unexpected pregnancy instead. Zilayefa, while battling with her racial 'confusion' moves out of her village, which is slowly being robbed of its farm lands by the oil spillage. The writer opens the book with the scene of an oil spillage, "During my second to last year in secondary school, one of the crude oil pipies that ran through my village broke and spilled oil over several hectares of lan, my mother's farm included. When she got to the house, she knocked on the door and said very cooly. "Zilayefa, bring me my bathing soap and sponge." Zilayefa finally leaves the village and the shielding of her protective mother for the city. In Port Harcourt Zilayefa gets a guardian with the recommendation of her Church Pastor to execute her dream of a better life in the city. She encounters a life that goes in a long way to expose the wide social gap which exists in the cities and the villages in the Niger Delta region.

The book tells us a new story; one, which many do not know or have been made to forget in countless charges of blood, and oil spillage. Agary's story is the story that is told of usual people who have not been sensitised enough to know how much of the issues going around affects them enough to contribute. It is the story of cultural demise, the birth of immorality and the loss of identity and loss of focus. Yellow Yellow opens a new vista to the many untold stories in this region. The many stories that go beyond the spilling of oil or blood, the disintegration of kindred and the loss of confidence in justice, as the people had known little of it. In one of the chapters she writes,
"People did not call the police to settle disputes, and even when they did and a matter was charged to court, there was so little confidence in the fairness of justice that very few waited for the court's decision…."

The people learnt to take matters into their own hands. "Everyone who could afford it had their own army they could call on to fight their wars, which were over property, contracts, even girlfriends. And the boys who made up these armies were so caught up in the anarchy that they lost all sense of decency and respect."

Yellow Yellow is simply narrated. Although there are several unanswered questions as one reads the novel, the book is subtly engaging. Zilayefa becomes a typical example of the many 'confused' children born to oil workers, sailors, British expatriates and the many people of different colours many women meet for so many reasons that lead us back to the 'oil matters.' She is the example of the many young girls who lack direction and disillusioned with the life and lack of vibrancy in the village leave its ebbing rustiness for the bustling city life. In contribution to the literature of this region, Kaine Agary goes further to tell one of the many untold stories of the area. The psychological trauma many young people are forced to face. One of which basically is the issue of growing before their time.

Yellow Yellow
perks up reasonably well in its description of the old rich and the nouveau riche in the Niger Delta, the submissiveness to poverty and the way so many people have accepted the poverty-lives-next door-lifestyle. Yellow Yellow is a simple narration of what to expect from that next generation. The story is told very directly. It is certain the writer just wants to tell one story which would embody her intent and she seems to have captured the trauma of a people well without slapping our faces with the details of what is known.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Prince Claus Award

The Committee for Relevant Art was a recipient of the 2006 Prince Claus Award of 25, 000 Euros. The Award, instigated by a government backed foundation in the Netherlands is named after the deceased husband of the current Queen of the Netherlands.
The award is based on success in the advocacy for the Arts and the ceremony took place on the grounds of the Mission House of the Dutch Embassy on Eleke Crescent, Victoria Island, Lagos.
In the picture, His Excellency, the Ambassador of the Netherlands to Nigeria (right), who presided over the ceremony, chats with guests before the event. Posted by Picasa
Ruka Sanusi of Price Water House Coopers (Ghana) Ltd (left) and Ebun Olatoye of True Love magazine at the Award Night. Posted by Picasa

Three Kings...

From left, Tunde Kuboye (Jazz 38), Femi Asekun (Veteran Broadcaster) and Benson Idonije (leading Music Critic) at the Prince Claus Award Night. Posted by Picasa
At the award night, Chuxx Ohai, Arts Editor of the National Mirror (left) and Professor Duro Oni, Head of the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos. Posted by Picasa
Mark Rutgers, Second Secretary (Political Affairs) of the Netherlands Mission in Nigeria, stands here with Chief Joop Berkhout OON, Executive Chairman of Spectrum Books, at the Prince Claus Award Night. See more pictures Posted by Picasa