Tuesday, January 29, 2008


For the first time since its inception 15 years ago, The Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), which was conceived by the geologist and arts writer, Toyin Akinosho, more than 15 years ago along with Yomi Layinka, Tunde Lanipekun, Jossy Ogbuanoh and Chika Okeke, CORA won the 25,000 Euros price from the Prince Claus Foundation based in the Netherlands last year for its arts advocac, had a three-day retreat at the Eko Hotel & Suites last Thursday the 24th of January, to plan the direction of the organization over the coming years. The event was co-ordinated by Deji Toye, and it lasted late into the night, with discussions on matters of Arts and Culture in Nigeria.

Two of the resource persons, Obi Asika (CEO, Storm Records), Muhtar Bakare (MD, Kachifo Limited, Publisher of Farafina Magazine) with Deji Toye of CORA as the discussion veers into the future of books and music in Nigeria.

Programme Chair, Jahman Anikulapo (Editor Of the Guardian on Sunday and Life Magazine, Programmes Chairman of CORA), Deji Toye( Writer and Lawyer) and Toyin Akinosho (The General Secretary of CORA)

Toni 'Kan' Onwordi (Corporate Services Executive of Visafone and writer) talking to CORA members on the first day of the event.

Toyin Akinosho, Sola Alamutu, CEO of CATE Foundation and Ayo Arigbagu (Writer and Architect)

Group photograph, after the session with Toni 'Kan' Onwordi

Film-maker Mahmoud Alli-Balogun and Deji Toye

Panin Kaniyuk and Azu Nwagbogu of the African Artists' Foundation and Jahman Anikulapo

Thursday, January 03, 2008


2007: The Year Of The Nigerian Writer
(As published in The Guardian on Sunday 30/12/07)

2007 steps into history tomorrow, but it gave birth to fond memories in the writing community. Sour, bitter, sweet, and simply bland. The year has left a taste that would tingle into the New Year in the consciousness of many Nigerians. This year has been rather eventful for the Nigerian writer, bountiful ‘good books’, awards and more and more.
It seems rather certain that it will take a long time, for this year to go out of our memories. There is the attention on Nigerian literature, which is sure to spill into the New Year, 2008. And while we remain basking in the goodness of what came, and for the glitches of losing some writers, who were dear to our heart, we pray not for more laughter than pain in 2008.
While the events of the year may not all be captured, here are some that will remain in our memory, for a long time to come.
Prof. Niyi Osundare’s Tender Moments, his collection of love poems, Helen Oyeyemi’s second book, The Opposite House and Segun Afolabi’s first novel, Goodbye Lucille, all came out during the year.
JANUARY brought goodness, with the coming home of Half of a Yellow Sun, which has won so many awards.
FEBRUARY: So many things began in the month, as the writer, Muhammed Sule died on 12th. Helon Habila, Caine Prize winner, published his second novel, Measuring Time in the UK and later in November in Nigeria, by Cassava Republic. Tolu Ogunlesi won the Dorothy Sargent Rosenburg Poetry Prize, with his poem, Visiting the Yellow River. Abidemi Sanusi, author of Kemi’s Journal was in Nigeria for a creative writing workshop, in Lagos and Abuja.
MARCH: There was celebration of the life of Nigeria’s own Osundare, who not only celebrated his 60th birthday, but was also celebrated for escaping hurricane Katrina, which ravaged his base, New Orleans, United States of America in 2005. The Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA) celebrated him at the Ojez nightclub, for his contribution to literature, and of course for his life.
APRIL was another month when writers were quite productive, and there was a good show of the winning spirit, but it was also a rather sad month when the community lost Ebereonwu the poet, playwright, movie producer/director and member of Association of Nigeria Authors (ANA) in a motor accident. Jude Dibia’s Unbridled was also released. Though no Nigerian won the Caine Prize, there were three on the shortlist for the year. The three are artist and writer, Ada Udechukwu, for her story, Night Bus, published in The Atlantic Monthly. Uwem Akpan, a Jesuit priest for his story My Parent’s Bedroom published in the New Yorker and E C Osondu for his story Jimmy Carter’s Eyes published in Agni. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim also won the BBC World’s service’s African Performance Playwriting competition 2007.
JUNE was the month that ruled it all, as “the year”. And why Ousmane
Sembene is not a Nigerian; his death was not one that Nigerian writers could ignore. Distinguished elder and statesman, Chinua Achebe was awarded the Man International Booker, a week after, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Orange Broadband Prize for 2007.
Adichie and Wainana taught a creative writing workshop sponsored by Fidelity Bank later in the year.
NOVEMBER: Just as writers were getting ready for the 9th Lagos Book and
Arts Festival (LABAF) organised by CORA, they woke up to hear the news of the death of Cyprian Ekwensi, the man who is said to have captured city life the most in Nigerian literature. The CORA organised festival, with the theme, Literacy as Democracy Dividend, was dedicated to him. He had been billed to formally open the festival, but died some five days to the event.
London-based Molara Wood got a Highly Commended Award in this year’s Commonwealth Short Story Competition for her short story, Trial by Water.
Habila toured Nigeria for his newest book, Measuring Time. He visited five states, Lagos, River, Nasarawa, Plateau, and Gombe. Chika Unigwe also came into the country to promote her novel, The Phoenix, the translation of her first book, De Feniks, her first novel. Her second book, Fara Mogana was released this year, but in Flemish; it’s going to take 2009, before English speakers know what it is about.
And Biyi Bandele now wears a shaven head. That is eventful too!

Writers on why they write

By Jumoke Verissimo

Funso Aiyejina, author, Legends of the Rockhill On why he writes:
“I write because I have a compelling urge to write. There are many people, who have compelling urge to go out there and slap somebody, but they don't go out to do it, (Laughs), so why do I do it and why do I continue to do it? Maybe because I think that any society without a literary tradition is not a human society, it is a barren society. It is a backward society. I think I have something to contribute to the literary tradition; so I write. . Secondly, I think literature has a central role to play in the shaping of the character of a people, and that if I can write one line that speaks to my people, however you define, the notion, I would have done something to satisfy myself.”

Abidemi Sanusi, author, Kemi’s Journal on problem of readership in Nigeria, “I guess when compared to buying food and making ends meet, reading books is not a priority for many people but at the same time, those that do read tend to narrow their reading lists to ‘success’, commercial and religious books. Everybody wants to be a success because nobody wants to be identified with failure especially in Nigeria. This means that the bookshops are flooded with such books because there is a market for them. The religious books certainly can be better written/edited and I’m not entirely sure that some of what’s written is theologically sound; but that’s just my opinion. The danger with this is that wonderful literary works are by and large not appreciated which is a real shame. Books can empower, challenge and influence societies in more ways than one. Think of Karl Marx and Das Kapital. Marx died in 1883 and 124 years after, his books are still influencing societies around the world.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author, Half of a Yellow Sun on getting published "there is an element of being lucky, but also it is not just luck. First, you have to have the talent itself. We don't make the talent ourselves. The talent is a blessing that we are fortunate to have, but then, the task you must give yourself is hardwork. So, you are blessed with talent, but, you have to do the work, and it is hardwork. You have to write, you have to edit. You have to do the work to find the publisher yourself. See, Tolu Ogunlesi. He proved that hardwork can get you published. Send it. If you get rejected, send again. That is what I did, before I was published. The element of luck comes only, when finally you get an editor who likes you, but it has to be you, trying and trying."

Mobolaji Adenubi, author, Splendid, on publishing, “has gone the way of business — commercial; not that it wasn't commercial then, but, I don't want to say that the public want to buy many books that they don't need, unless these books are required, unless it is a prescribed text book. And I think the economy has much to do with it because you don't have that much money to throw about."

Victoria Kankara author, of Hymns and Hymen, on why she writes, “I write because that is the only way I can be heard. If I don't write and get published I won't be heard, no one would know what goes on in my mind. Writing for me is a way of putting down what I have learnt from other people's experience. When I learn from other people's experience; it helps me to document my own experience.”

Tolu Ogunlesi, author, of Listen to the Geckos Singing from a Balcony on writers and writing, “Much of it is not in our powers, as much as it lies within us. We need to be committed; we need to work hard, and we need to take ourselves more seriously, and we should never underestimate the power of networking, because I personally cannot count the number of people who have been of help to me, people who I met online…”

Ayo Arigbabu author, 3kobo Book on the creativity and posterity, “It is usually left for people coming behind to really change things, and we are seeing things changed. From 1996, we can see how the music industry has changed… like from Remedies to Mode Nine. Ty Bello, a world class photographer… you see the creativity is there, you can feel it. You can taste it on the streets.”

Akeem Lasisi author, Iremoje, on the politicising of writing by some people, "I think as writers we should concentrate on working on our own craft. It is highly inspiring that Nigerian writers based abroad have been doing well, we all love it, but we want a situation where people here get as much as we're doing. I don't want us to become like footballers, who are divided into professional and home-based."

Akin Adesokan, author, Roots in the Sky, on contemporary Nigerian literature on the global scene, “the writings by Nigerians are an interesting phenomenon right now, in the world of letters. They are an integral part of a global tendency in writing. The writers we talk often about these days are doing incredible work, whether they are published in New York or in Lagos. I know most of them personally, communicate with them, sometime I hang out with them when I see them, teach their works and so on, as I teach writers from Uganda, South Africa, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, and of course the US. I wish many more of these writers are available in print. I would love to read a novel by Ike Okonta, or by Omowunmi Segun, or by the Cameroonian writer, Patrice Nganga. I think what's important is that the kind of attention Nigerian writers now command, that it translates into really ambitious works that will shatter all sorts of notions about nations, literary genres, and so on. There are good signs.”

Helon Habila, author, Measuring Time. On Nigerian writers, "I think we have achieved what nobody thought we could achieve in that short time. From the death of Abacha to the present we have seen previously unheard of writers, like myself, like Abani and Atta, and Iweala and Adichie making name for themselves not only at home but on the international stage. People are beginning to talk of Nigerian literature, not the generic African literature. We are being compared to the Indians. There are lots of reasons for this – one being that there is a desire in most people to hear African or Nigerian stories from Nigerians, and we are rising up to the challenge. And local conditions also prepared us for this."

2007 Authors Of The Year

(As published in Daily Independent, Mon, 31 Dec 2007)

By Yemi Adebisi

World literary community applauded the progress that visited giant of Africa, Nigeria, in 2007 with regards to the number of international literary awards Nigerians captured during the year.

Sources said that an American poet declared that the god of literature was a Nigerian.

The first major literary breakthrough of the year was when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian-born London-based writer, won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. She beat five other contenders for the £30,000 women-only award, including Kiran Desai, short-listed for her Booker Prize winner The Inheritance of Loss. Adichie's novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, is her second work and set during the Biafran War of the 1960s. Half of a Yellow Sun tells the story of people caught up in the unfolding political turmoil in West Africa, whose loyalties are acutely tested when troops advanced on the dusty university town they inhabited. The novel examines ethnic allegiances, moral responsibility, class and race.

The award ceremony took place at the newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall in London's South Bank, and the judging panel included broadcaster Muriel Grey and best-selling writer, Marian Keyes. Previous recipients of the award included Zadie Smith for On Beauty (2006), Andrea Levy for Small Island (2004), and Helen Dunmore for A Spell In Winter (1996).

Born 1977 in Aba, Nigeria, Chimamanda was educated in the university town of Nsukka. She has a Masters degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University, United States of America. She is a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, where she teaches introductory fiction.

Nigerian novelist and celebrated literary icon, poet and literary critic, Chinua Achebe, also won the 2007 Man Booker International Prize. The £60,000 prize is awarded once every two years to a living author, whose work "has contributed to an achievement in fiction on the world stage". This is the second time the award has been won after Ismail KadarĂˆ in 2005.

Achebe is probably best known for his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958) and the Booker Prize short-listed Anthills of the Savannah (1987).

One of Chinua Achebe’s many achievements in his acclaimed first novel, Things Fall Apart is his relentless unsentimental rendering of Nigerian tribal life before and after the coming of colonialism. First published in 1958, just two years before Nigeria’s independence from Great Britain, the book eschews the obvious temptation of depicting pre-colonial life as a kind of Eden. Instead, Achebe sketches a world in which violence, war, and suffering exist, but are balanced by a strong sense of tradition, ritual, and social coherence.

One of the greatest and controversial episodes of the year in Nigeria’s literary community was this year’s Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) literary award won by both Mabel Segun and Akachi Adimora. The Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), and the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) held a workshop for stakeholders in the art sector for a review of The Nigeria Prize for Literature on Wednesday, August 29 at Ocean View Restaurant, Victoria Island, Lagos.

It was organised to assess the impact of the literary prize on the sector. Guest speakers at the event included Mr. Mbanefo, who represented NLNG, and President of ANA, Dr. Wale Okediran. The panel were Dr. Wumi Raji (poet, literary critic), Toni Kan (writer, literary enthusiast), Chike Ofili (poet), and Nike Adesuyi (poet, fiction writer). Others were Folu Agoi (poet, chairman, ANA Lagos), Ropo Ewenla (actor, poet, literary enthusiast), and Grace Daniel, chairperson, Women Writers Association (WRITA). The forum was where argument over the continuous sanctity of the award was revisited.

The organisers decried the invitation of former Nigeria’s head of state, Ibrahim Babangida, to give a keynote address at the presentation.

Contrary to what literary critics felt about Babangida’s invitation, Mr. Ifeanyi Mbanefo, spokesman for NLNG, declared that the intention was not politically motivated. Things really fell apart at the meeting because many stakeholders were indifferent to this arrangement, which they declared did not glorify the award.

Members of the ANA therefore, were told to boycott the ceremony by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. He called a press conference where he declared that Babangida was not qualified to chair an intellectual gathering in Nigeria, having bastardised the economy, encouraged corruption and destroyed the legacy of sustenance of the future of the Nigerian youth.

Despite all threats on pages of newspapers by Soyinka and Babangida, the event took place in Lagos and Babangida attended, though some Nigerian authors including Wale Okediran boycotted the event.

It would be recalled that the NLNG Literature Prize was born in 2003. Siene Allwell-Brown, general manager, external relations of NLNG, announced reason for the prize as, "Our vision is to ensure that no scientist or writer is viewed with scorn and that those who aim at excellence in these fields will live and work with dignity, with a sense of self-esteem and confidence in their future."

There have been lots of reactions to this development since presentation of the controversial award. Some people felt the organisers had lost their focus and have allowed politics to sweep away their golden gesture.

Speaking in an interview with Daily Independent, Helon Habila, 2001 Caine Prize winner Nigerian writer based abroad, declared that the organisers of NLNG have missed their priority and the presentation was an arranged stuff of competition. "I don’t know what is happening with this prize. Well, I am not qualified to contest so I am not interested. I think it’s what I call compromise. Maybe because they are old, they might feel threatened by younger writers. They are happier to give the prize to these established figures. They are happier to give this year’s award to Mabel Segun, who is 100 years old or thereabout. I really want to see younger people winning because it would encourage them and they need the money. Mabel Segun, for instance, does not need further encouragement. It’s her career. She doesn’t need the money as much as someone younger may probably do. I think they need to rethink what they are doing. There is a lot of unhappiness and dissatisfactions. Most ANA guys are not happy about this development. May be Soyinka’s prize countered that since he gave it to Sefi Ata, a younger writer."

After ANA concluded this year’s convention at Owerri, where the same set of people were asked to continue the literary politics in Nigeria, the worst news came to the literary family. World literary legend and most published African writer, Pa Cyprian Odiatu Duaka Ekwensi died on Sunday, November 4, at the age of 86 years. His funeral activities commenced in Lagos last Thursday while final burial rites would be performed at Enugu in January. Ekwensi, a pharmacist and author of global recognition, has up to date authored nine novels between 1954 and 1987, among which is the popular Jagua Nana and Beautiful Feathers; 14 novellas between 1947 and 1988; 13 short story collections for young people between 1951 and 2001, making up to 36 books.

His last book, Cash On Delivery (COD), An Anthology of the Recent Writings of the African Novelist, reviewed by Prof. Femi Osofisan, which was launched September 21, 2006, to commemorate his birthday, had to do with his early life and experiences. The book, according to the reviewer, contained five stories of varying length, written at different times over a period of more than 30 years. In this book, Ekwensi recollected Remembrance Day of November 11, when people were dressed in Flanders poppies, and May 24, when students ate rice, meat and stew in school and sang British anthem on colonial Empire Day. The Obasanjo administration awarded him the national honour of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR).

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Yemisi Ransome-Kuti: A great highlife party for an Amazon

• As published in The Guardian, Wednesday January, 8)

• The celebrant being inducted into the Elders’ fold

By Armsfree Ajanaku
SOMEONE whispered that she sat and gazed with the mien of a queen. There was also a radiant smile that lit up her face. Her dress was sleek and black, and she draped her shoulders with what looked like an Aso Oke. Yemisi Ransome-Kuti left no one in doubt that she was the one being celebrated at the edition number 74 of the Great Highlife Party, otherwise known as the Elders’ Forum. Not even the craze for football (there was an English Premier League game being shown on the flat screens at O’Jez restaurant) could take the shine off the event put together by the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) and O’Jez entertainment. So it was that as the celebrant sat waiting for adherents of “African time” to arrive, so that the party gets underway, she was constantly inundated with hugs from admirers and well-wishers.
Even the sound check from the bandstand got everyone present swaying on their seats as the sonorous combination of saxophones, trumpets and drums filled the cosy evening air.
That was the point when compere of the event, the indefatigable Benson Idonije welcomed guests and declared that the night was one of celebration. Fat and juicy hits from the highlife scene in the 1960s came pouring down from the band, and the applause that followed after each rendition showed that the audience was increasingly getting into the groove.
Then came Maliki Showman who brought his energy as a performer to bear on the show. He made amazing music with his sax and tried to get the crowd dancing. As his sax led the way during what proved to be a musical journey into the past, it was backed up by the tingling slaps from Joseph Daniel and Papa Wori on konga. However, the audience was just content with enjoying the music from their seats.

• Yemisi at the show

All that changed the moment Fatai Rolling Dollar came on stage.
The octogenarian strummed and stroked his guitar with the expertise of the virtuoso that he truly is. Unlike the previous performances, the saxophone and other horn instruments did not feature in Rolling Dollars’ performance, but the sounds of his guitar, the drums and the keyboard created a rhythm that was too difficult to resist. This resulted in every available space being taken up by dancing crowd. Yemisi was so impressed with the tunes from Rolling Dollar that she got him to autograph one of his CDs for her.
For those who do not know, the Elders’ Forum, beyond celebrating icons in society also initiates qualified celebrities into elderhood in a ritual marked by prayers for the celebrant. Yemisi was initiated into Elderhood by the elders themselves. The trio of Steve Rhodes, Ben Lawrence and Lekan Animashaun performed the ritual. The prayer by the elders was for more strength and the ability to carry on the good works that the celebrant has been involved in.
There was also unanimity that the honour done Yemisi by the Elders’ Forum was richly deserved. Speaker after speaker extolled her talent as an artiste and her forthrightness in the defence of the voiceless.
In her response to the honour done her, the mother of four and grandmother of four sounded a bit overwhelmed. She paid glowing tributes to the Forum, and even suggested that Idonije, should have Ransome-Kuti added to his name because of the long relationship he has had with the Kuti family. This generated an applause and laughter.
Yemisi did not however allow the celebration to eclipse her activist leanings. The activist in her was glaring in her lamentation of the “poverty and desolation” in the country, despite the abundant wealth available.

• Esconsced by the elders

Also, to show that the artiste in her had not been affected by her foray into the NGO world, Yemisi did soulful rendition of a song composed by her grandfather, Ise Oluwa. The song speaks to the indestructibility of the work of the creator and to show that Nigeria is a work of the almighty, she ended the song by declaring in an emphatic voice: “Nigeria will be great again.” It was a moment of profound expression of patriotic fervour and love for motherland.
The event provided the celebrant an opportunity to talk a little about her life. She talked about her children with pride. She enthused on their very successful standing: “I have a son that is an engineer, and a daughter who has a Master’s in International Public Policy, she is currently working in Chatham House, which is one of the number one think tanks in the United Kingdom for international policies, and of course I have a son who is also doing very well with the British Railways in the UK. I equally have a daughter who is an artiste in the UK”.
With nostalgia, she recalled the upbringing of her children: “There have been joyful moments, seeing them grow up and overcoming the challenges of being born into the family they were born into, which is not the usual family. So they have had to understand how to adapt the modern to the traditional, by retaining what is good in our culture, and at the same time be forward-looking people.”
On the struggle for a greater Nigeria, the civil society activist called on the younger generation to start seeing the struggle as theirs, since it was apparent that the older champions of democracy and good governance were already leaving the stage due to age. “ They (the youths) must begin to know what these human rights are about. They must see themselves as humans first of all, because if they do not respect their own humanity, then they would allow people to treat them anyhow. There is no reason why young persons should not achieve their dreams, but the obstacle on our way now is those we have selected into power, or those we have allowed to select themselves into power.”

• Guests at the event: Steve Rhodes; to his left, Chief Femi Asekun; Tunde Osofisan; and Kunle Idowu and other guests

Reacting to whether she has any regrets, Yemisi replied that she has always seen life as a problem solving exercise. “As a unique creation of the almighty, you have been given certain challenges, and it is the overcoming that makes you who you are. If you don’t have challenges in this world, you are nothing and so you must embrace your challenges, not to let them overwhelm you, but to believe that they have come because you are the best person that can solve that problem”.
As expected, the place of the Nigerian woman did not escape her incisive analysis. Sadly, she noted that Nigeria might have to wait some time before it would produce its first female leader. This she surmised is the result of the patriarchal nature of the society, where the man sees himself as superior even if there is evidence to the contrary. “Because of the patriarchal culture we have, we tend not to respect women. They are our mothers, our sisters and wives, they control the men one way or the other, but the psyche of the average man is that he is superior.

• Yemisi and a friend, Tokunbo Akintola-Williams

The night got darker outside, but inside the venue of the Great Highlife Party, the celebration of this artiste, activist and icon continued with pleasant Highlife tunes from the veteran Alaba Pedro… and the party rolled on to near midnight before the last note died off the stage.