Sunday, 30 December 2012

Rethinking The Nigeria Prize for Literature


* New N1 million Critical Essay Prize announced

By Anote Ajeluorou

In the last few years, Africa’s biggest literary prize, The Nigeria Prize for Literature, sponsored by Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas company, has consistently reinvented itself to meet the yearnings of writers and critics alike. From opening up the prize to Nigerians in the Diaspora and making the judges known to the public, the prize organisers have shown they are open to ideas and criticisms aimed at improving the prize.
  Last week in Lagos at Southern Sun Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos, the governing board and company officials met with a section of the literary community and art writers with the aim of injecting new ideas into the prize.
  In attendance at the meeting were chairman, Prize Board, Emeritus Prof. Ayo Banjo, Prof. Ben Elugbe, Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo and former Association of Nigerian Authors, Dr.Jerry Agada, as members. From the LNG side were Corporate Affairs and Communication Manager, Mr. Ifeanyi Mbanefo, Mrs. Anne-Maria Ikuku-Palmer, Mr. Emeka Agbayi and Prize Consultant, Taiwo Obe. Others were the authors, Mr. Toni Kan and Sam Omatseye, publisher, Mr. Muktar Bakare and editor, The Guardian on Sunday, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo.
  It was a robust session that touched on a wide range of ideas and issues around the prestigious prize and how to make it better so that writers can maximally benefit from it. While some wanted the $100,000 (one hundred thousand dollars) prize money to be split amongst the four genres of literature – prose fiction, poetry, drama and children literature so that each genre receives $25,000, others want the present status retained and would not entertain the idea of having the $100,000 shared amongst four writers. The latter group argued that the current size of the prize money ensured credibility and prestige, which splitting it would erode.
  Perhaps, those who argued for the prize money split feared that Diaspora writers might consistently win the prize (the last two editions since opening up the prize to Nigerians outside the country have been won by them – Esiaba Irobi won two years ago (Cemetery Road) and this year, Chika Unigwe won with On Black Sisters’ Street). This was so, it was argued, because the quality of books Diaspora writers submit, which are better edited, with quality printing and packaging. But those on the other side of the divide charged local writers to up their game in these critical areas where there are noticeable deficiencies so they could compete with their colleagues residing abroad.
  Also, LNG was charged to help expand the country’s literary landscape by investing in schemes that enhance quality writing. With an educational system that has remained poor, the quality of writing has since dropped to the extent that most of the entries submitted for the prize are not worth considering. Such schemes like workshop and training for book editors and even creative writing for writers, it was argued, should be undertaken by the gas company to improve quality.
  Bakare, whose Farafina imprint created a revolution in fiction publishing in the country in the last 20 years, amplified the fears of those who routed for a prize split, saying, “As it is, the prize will always be won by outsiders (Nigerians residing and writing abroad). There is no industry in the book sector at the moment; it’s just the passion for book people have that is driving the book business”.
  Besides, Kan also argued that Nigerians abroad winning the prize would only serve to enhance the profile of the prize and make it truly global in character. He urged local publishers to step up their act and meet the prize standards, which are known to be very high.
  Proponents of this scheme argued that there should be developmental aspect to the prize, in which Nigeria Academy of Letters (NAL) could collaborate with the sponsor to train writers, editors and other allied skills and talents to sustain the vision of the prize. They noted that while it was good to give the lump prize to one individual, the prize would also be better served if the winner didn’t just vanish into thin air soon after.
  They stated that part of the post-winning should be for developmental purposes, as a device, scheme to always keep the prize on the consciousness of the public. But those opposed said one-off prize-winners were not unusual the world over and indicated many such writers that went into oblivion shortly after winning various prizes.
  But consultant Obe stated that it was not the business of the sponsor, a gas company, to get involved in the training of talents in writing or editing. He urged NAL to either approach LNG for such sponsorship or other organisations to source funds for such trainings. Although he acknowledged the necessity for such training to take place, he couldn’t be sure if such burden should be passed onto LNG, which he said was concerned with giving the prize to the best writer to emerge from the scene.
  But Omatseye lamented the near absence of companies interested in promoting literature through sponsorship and called on corporate organisations to look the way of literature with adequate sponsorship.
  Ezeigbo opined that too much burden should not be put on LNG alone to solve all the problems of Nigerian literature and tasked literary promoters to seek other avenues of sponsorship for the training of writers and editors. She then commended two state governors, Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and Muazu Babangida Aliu of Niger State for supporting literature through their annual Garden City Literary Festival and Muazu Babangida Aliu Literary Colloquium respectively. She tasked other state governors to emulate them so as to broaden the literary space to accommodate more talents.
  Obe also canvassed for more crusades amongst literary promoters across the country to get more people with resources involved in promoting literature. He charged art writers, newspapers and magazines to open up more literary spaces in the media so as to engage the consciousness of Nigerians to the good literature could do to liberate and elevate their minds. However, his plea also met with the constraints arts pages currently face, as they become the first casualties of advert placements that keep constricting them daily.
  For Mbanefo, the rot in the writing input seen in the poor entries submitted for the prize was a reflection of the rot in the educational system. He stated that there was not much LNG could do to redress such anomaly unless there was a holistic approach to salvage Nigeria’s educational system. He restated the company’s faith in the prize board for upholding excellence since its inception, saying the company would do all it could to sustain the prize and make it a showpiece for Nigerian writers.
  Banjo expressed happiness at the meeting and the robustness and objectivity in the ideas and criticisms expressed from those in attendance. He said the concern of his board was for the prize to command the respect it truly deserves, noting that opening up the prize for Nigerians abroad was meant to spur local writers to do more to win it
  He revealed that from henceforth, a consultant from outside the country would be brought in to complement judges’ efforts, when the final three writers would have been announced and shortlisted. He said this would give the prize both international status and enhanced credibility, so as to obviate the notion of ‘ghetto’ judges (made up mostly university professors) from some quarters. Integrating non-university professors among the judges is about the only idea yet to be assimilated into the prize regime.
  Banjo also announced the Critical Essay Prize worth N1 million for a critical essay or review of a Nigerian literary work, but which must be published in a known international journal, as further boost for Nigerian literature.

With A Feast of Return; Nigeria the Beautiful, Itoya... I seek to probe Africa’s troubled historical trajectory, says Ofeimun


By Anote Ajeluorou

Activist poet, Odia Ofeimun has been waxing strong on the theatrical turf, with his poetic dance drama, in which he stages one piece after another month after month for free to Nigerian theatre-goers. His dance showpieces include A Feast of Return, Nigeria the Beautiful and Itoya, a Dance for Africa, which started when he wrote Under African Skies in the 1990s in London on commission. The heated political era of the military era ensured the pieces remained under lock and key. But since the return to democracy, especially after seeing South Africa’s dance drama Umoja brought to Nigeria to celebrate Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s birthday, Ofeimun felt challenged and promptly approached the godfather of Lagos State politics for a chance to show off his stuff. Since then, Ofeimun has not looked back, as he did so again three days ago on Christmas Eve. Here, Ofeimun gives background to his interest in poetic dance drama pieces and the void they are intended to fill in Africa’s seeming historical amnesia

How it all began
I found myself in Britain researching a fragment of Nigerian history, and people who got to know that there was a Nigerian poet in Britain got me involved in readings. Before I knew what was happening I was being invited to write a story that would go with an exhibition of linocuts by a Namibian artist. He provided the mural that backed the Mandela’s concert when he came out of prison. So, I simply decided that I was going to do a poem to go with each of the linocuts.  When the exhibition opened I had enough poems to go with the paintings; my poems were placed side by side with the paintings.
  It was a very new experience for me because it was like being commissioned to write a poem; you had to write a poem. And somehow the interest I had in Oxford at that time centred on ‘Matching Myth and Mythology to History’. So, it wasn’t very difficult for me to do. When you look at the poems in Under African Skies, you will see some of these, how the poems and the linocuts matched.
  Now, once I did that for the Museum of Modern Arts in Oxford, somebody remembered it in London when they were planning an African intervention in the celebration of 500 years of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World.
  We were the discovered and they needed us to respond to their celebration and how they discovered us. So, I needed to do something. There was a dance drama already sponsored by the Arts Council of Great Britain, and it was led by a Ghanaian choreographer named George. But it was the artistic director who approached me, a Briton; he asked me to help them do something. I did not want to write a story or an essay; I decided to write a series of poems fashioned in such a way that, over a period of1 hour 20 minutes, you would have images that tell you about Africa up to the point of anti-Apartheid struggle. It was like telling them the story of Africa from the beginning of time to the present. But there was no way you could do that in one hour twenty minutes.
  So, I decided to pick images that are significant for understanding the way Africans live. That was how Under African Skies was produced. First, they visited Africa, video-taped a lot of dances and songs and took the best dancers in Africa to Britain to dance. One good thing about it was that when you choreograph dances, the rough edges are smoothened out. What I had to do was to watch these video tapes from across Africa; it was only after watching the dances that I picked out the images that I would use, and arranged the images in such a way that the images rearranged the dances. I arranged the images in such a way that the anti-Apartheid struggle would be the last.
  So, you see the totality of African history of slavery and the role of mothers and fathers and things like that until you got to the independent struggles and the anti-Apartheid struggles.   
  Well, I always told people that it was just a touristic literary performance; you needed to entertain the average European, who needed to know something about Africa. It was just a touristic advertisement. But then, my director, Felix Okolo does not agree with me. As a director, Okolo actually thinks that is the source from which we can understand how the other dance dramas are going. For him, all the issues that all the other dance dramas are engaging are actually in Under African Skies in different ways.

The South Africa story in the Nigerian story
WE were supposed to do a dance drama every year. I then decided to do the story of Southern Africa because Mandela was out of jail, from Shaka Zulu to Mandela’s release. This means that I had to dig into my understanding of South African history from as early as possible. Many South Africans were surprised. Some wondered what a bloody Nigerian was doing writing a South African story. The thing is that during the anti-Apartheid struggle, South Africans were part of the Nigerian story, and Nigerians took South African writers and events in South Africa seriously. So, as a reader of South African history and literature, I had a fairly good grasp of the stories of South Africa; and I had that story in a way that was coloured by my understanding of Nigerian life.
  So that when I had to produce A Feast of Return based on the South African experience, I was responding to events in South Africa with an eye on the way the Nigerian story had been going. If you go through A Feast of Return, one of the surprises is that when you use Nigerian dances, the stories are almost Nigerian. But the pattern was not intended. I genuinely followed South Africa’s history, taking all the issues step by step until we arrived at Mandela’s release.
 On a close look, you find that almost every African country followed the same pattern. It’s like taking Achebe from the pre-colonial to the colonial, the post-colonial, the military, and hopefully, the supposed freedom that followed it.
  It was a very excited business for me, and I use the word ‘business’ advisedly, because when you are living in a country where you don’t have a work permit, and you’re given opportunity to earn a living, oh, it’s fun; and it was fun for me.
  I had to leave Oxford for London to watch the dances, and as I watched the dances, I reworked the poems. So that when you’re watching the dances, you’re actually following the motion of the poems. I figured it out in the form of folklores where the dead ancestors returned to the public square to tell you stories of how they once lived. So that A Feast of Return is a return of ancestors and those who had gone; this time, those who had gone also happened to be the gorilla fighters who were returning home after Mandela had been released. It was about South African exiles returning; so that the ancestors and the exiles and the gorillas were all now returning to tell their stories.

BUT when I returned to Nigeria, I needed to do them the way I thought they should be done. In London, it was a 40-man troupe and there was no chance here that I would be able to raise that kind of money to do that in Nigeria. And there was no theatre that would sponsor it or allow it to run for a long time enough to make the money back. So, I simply let it go. I knew that someday in the future some occasion would arise.  
  From 1993 when I returned to 1999, I simply didn’t bother about it.
  But I lost my manuscripts to Gen. Sani Abacha’s raid of TheNews magazine. I had to rework most of it from memory.
  How I got back to the dance dramas is because democracy came.
  On one occasion, Ahmed Tinubu’s friends brought South Africa’s Umoja. I watched Umoja and I could see that I have a better story of South Africa’s struggle than any South African dance drama I had seen. And I could not see how I could let it happen under my very eyes without protesting. So, I went to Tinubu and said, ‘It was good; I watched it. But with one fifth of that money, I can do you a better dance drama’. And I convinced him I had done it in Britain and I could do it in Nigeria.

Why Okoloas director of all the dance drama?
ON the evening that Nadine Gordimer was passing through Lagos to South Africa, we took her to Jazzhole to do a reading. Okolo met me there and insisted I give him any of my dance drama pieces. I agreed without thinking about it because I already knew Okolo’s work. Of the directors in Nigeria, Okolo is the most adventurous and he participated and related to all the other directors in the country more than any other director. Generally, Okolo was so much in the centre of the way drama was going in Nigeria, that he was the only one I could consider good enough to beat the people in London.
  Apart from the fact that Okolo is not just a director, there is nothing that happens on stage that Okolo is not a master of – whether it’s the lighting business, costuming, set design, name it – he’s the only director I know who has a thoroughly comprehensive and encyclopaedic view of stage in this country, and almost all others recognise that in him. And since Okolo is not good at talking; I mean, he does not discuss his art the way other people do; he would rather you come to the theatre and see what he has done.
  Okolo has a very adventurous mind in relation to the theatre and he knows no other life. The life Okolo knows is the theatre. He will not participate in any other thing. What concerns Okolo is how to make things appear on stage. He’s a professional who is not afraid to identify with his profession. Okolo would use his own money to make a play go right.   
  Unfortunately, I don’t have the kind of money that can allow Okolo’s flight of fancies to work the way he wants. If we had a proper National Theatre, Okolo is the man to invite to put up for you a drama on a national occasion because he would do it in a manner that is beyond the average director. He has the luck of doing theatre workshops all over the world and how they work. And he related with all the big directors in Nigeria – whether it’s Soyinka, Adelugba, Osofisan – whether as an actor, a dancer or a director at all the levels.
  In my view, he has done very well. We’ve managed to work very well without rough tackles. He’s interested in how the stage works.

Why I wrote for the theatre
We set out believing we could just do a one-week of Festival of Dance Drama. Now, I always wanted to write for the theatre, but there were things I wanted to do as a poet if I were to write for the stage. I hadn’t done them by the time I started writing dance drama in Britain. My ambition was to write for the stage after doing certain poems, some of which I have still not done; they are long poems. But once I chose to write dance drama, it still slightly changed the picture because I realised that there are many approaches to the stage and that you could make the poems come alive. How to make that happen I learnt by writing along those linocuts in London.   
  The spirit of a commission can actually be applied to poetry in a way that broadens the audience.
  Instead of just reading to an audience in Britain, I allowed others read with me by allocating lines to them, preferably to female readers. And I noticed it worked very well as drama.
  I remember writing a play at age 17 on Oba Ovonramwen but lost it to termites in a wooden box; it weaned me from the idea of writing a play ever since.

Unique historical features of the dance drama
  I went to Britain to research Nigerian history and I had to read about Nigeria and Africa as much as possible in order not to miss the historical import of the job I had gone there to do. And so when I started what to write for the stage, I also ran into people, who were worried that Africans did not know their histories enough. And by the nature of fictional performances, the history is deemed to be displaced in favour of the pleasure principle so that you can devalue the historical content in order to make it more pleasure reading. I did not want to do that; I wanted to take on history rudely as history comes in order to show that there are lessons we can learn which are not just of fictional nature, and which are still directly relevant to the way we were living our lives.
  Many people do not know the history of their countries and usually can’t engage the most significant issues. At surface level, we all appear to know what happened. But when you start engaging people in terms of their grasp of the questions that require answers, you find that they are lost.
  What I set out to do was partly to guide the way we look at our history.
  In the case of Under African Skies, it was a very nationalistic project; I needed for Africans living in Europe at that time to have a sense of where we were actually coming and to see how, because of certain decisions we took or did not take, we were between the kinds of schisms and the historical defaults that were becoming staples in our way of life.
  Under African Skies was bouncing off Europe as a way of granting integrity for the way Africans lived before they intervened and thereafter. As a way of showing that a form of creativity is possible in our lives, which can ward off the devilries of the Trans-Saharan and Trans-Atlantic Slave Trades and prepare us for genuine self-governance.
  Those were the critical issues for me and to show that there is a way you can re-interpret the myths and folklores of traditional societies so they become relevant in the modern scheme of things.
  On the historical side, you will find that history is not being taught in Nigeria today because our leaders are afraid that we will discover how they ruined our societies; they fear we will begin to demand answers… My play fills this historical void foistered on us by a visionless leadership; you need to see the three dance drama - A Feast of return, Nigeria the Beautiful and Itoya, a Dance for Africa – to believe.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Harmattan Haze on an African Spring… Soyinka’s rumination on a continent’s troubled fortune


By Anote Ajeluorou

ONE of Africa’s foremost thinkers of the 21st century, the Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka, even at age 77, has continued to play the role of an elder in the house who would not allow the goat suffer birth pangs in tethers. And so the eminent African patriot and global intellectual has continued to point out the way for his wayward continent men and women, who appear perpetually lost in the woods of world civilization.
  His latest critical book of essays, Harmattan Haze on an African Spring, gives insight into the man’s pains when he looks at his beloved continent that has been a subject of all sorts of appellations from outsiders simply because those running the continent have consistently failed to do the needful to change its colour from dark to light.
  Essentially, the book offers a new reading and rendering of the continent, the choices made or not made, the road taken or not taken and new visions for the future. And at the presentation on Tuesday at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, Soyinka in company of some leading intellectuals from divergent fields of business, political economy, education, the arts, public service and journalism, sat down to examine a contentious continent lying prostrate and stagnant in the sun, seemingly refusing to yield to every entreaty to stand up and stride along like the others.
  The interrogarors of contents of the book and state of Africa were former Minister of Education and World Bank senior official, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Dr. Kanyiolu Ajayi, who moderated the session, Director, Lagos Business School, Prof. Pat Utomi and, former Group MD of UBA Africa, and now president of HEIRS Foundation,  Mr. Tony Elumelu.
  Their role was to examine the book in the light of Africa’s poor development index and respond to some of the issues Soyinka raised concerning the continent’s retarded growth in spite of its huge material and human resources.
  Indeed, the book also speaks to the outsider looking at Africa from certain jaundiced, racist views; questioning why such perception still persists after many years of independence from colonial rule.

SOYINKA's latest work also examines Africa’s spirituality; holding it up as a fresh ground yet to be explored and exploited to solve Africa’s many intractable problems, especially religious conflicts that are foreign imports to the continent.
 Soyinka categorically argues that in African religions lies the alternative balm needed to heal a continent with many festering wounds.
  While using scientific interplay of the ideas of gravity and motion and their impact on human societies and where Africa fits in relation to its many complexities, Soyinka pointed out two observable obstacles to the contradictions that characterise the continent and its lack of development namely, the twin evils of slavery and colonialism, which he said constitute obstacles to overcome for the continent to move forward. “Africa needs to contend with those two in terms of resistance with the poor leadership, corruption, irredentism,” he said. “These are two monumental obstacles to which African leaders have failed to respond; two obstacles to organic development. African leaders have failed to overcome these two evils.”
  He cited the failed attempts at Nigeria’s elections and census enumeration since independence as colonial legacies the country was yet overcome, saying, “This country is the most notorious in falsifying elections and census results, because it’s a surrogate country of the British, with the residual effects and control of the two obstacles”. He, however, argued that overtime the country ought to have overcome these twin evils if there had been visionary leaders. He asked rhetorically, “Is it not about time we transcended these two by visionary leadership?”
  For the iconic literary artist, “Africa’s unexplored geographical resources are capable of propelling society forward, but a total, atavistic, retrogression has overtaken us, with the path not taken has continued to plague us to this day”. He said the Japanese and Chinese, “By hanging onto their traditional beliefs, clinging to their traditional core, and refusing to be alienated from their philosophies and ways of life, have managed to bring about development. Cling to what was indigenous to their societies is what has transformed their societies”.
  Prof. Soyinka wondered how people from the miserable, frozen wasteland called Britain managed to hold vast kingdoms all over the world and render them ungovernable several years after they left and planted surrogate nation-states, like Nigeria, India, with her vast architectural grandeur as seen in the Tajmahal!
  He expressed his abiding faith in the ability of Nigerians to accomplish great things that are capable of causing phenomenal transformation, as evidences of the people's immense abilities, which abound all over the world, but that such need to be harnessed -- and that's the only missing ingredient.
  “Nigerians can create a Silicon Valley in Nigeria,” he enthused ruefully, “but it’s about the leadership. Nigeria has got the brainpower. The possibilities have always been there. Perhaps, we should take the example of China and draw the bamboo curtain and shut ourselves up from the rest of the world and also go by Mbonu Ojike’s ‘boycott all the bycottables’ and then see what we can do by ourselves!”
  In the event where drawing the curtain is not possible, he called for regionalism as solution to Nigeria’s problems of development, noting, “I have been pushing for a recognition of a rapid, competitive development of regional governments in Nigeria” to solve our developmental problems.
  On his invocation of the abiku, Soyinka said it should only be taken metaphorically, saying pouring libation as stated in the book meant regeneration, continuity, as there is a need to recollect where a people were coming from, just as Africa’s recognition of the existence of the dead, the living and the unborn in a continuum.
  The abiku, he said represents everything about existence, from living to death and as a possible way of coping and that what comes out of the future should be about advancement.
  Soyinka also called for a revisit of local religions as balm to the distrust and disruptions foreign religions have brought to Africa. He labelled the twin foreign religions Christianity and Islam as having been turned into weapons of mass destruction. He noted that all religions are man’s creation and asked “Christians and Muslims to go to the Orishas and be wise!”

WHILE congratulating Soyinka for writing the book, Ezekwesili said Harmattan Haze on an African Spring offers insight into the choices, especially economic individuals that have been made and how those choices have impacted on the collective on the continent. She said while the book looks at why Africa still remained undeveloped, the question that had to be asked is, “What is the essence of the human being? Is there a process of development for Africa that we missed as originally conceived? Who determines the success or successionisaton of their views of development to be so difficult? And who is that person that defines the context for that development?”
  Ezekwesili also stated that in parts of the West, there is the pervasive view that Africa is lacking all the essential ingredients for development, with the likelihood that the future would continue to be bleak, as development would never happen. She also noted there are yet others who were paternalistic about Africa’s problems and couch their expressions the faintest optimism that Africa would somehow crawl from its prostrate position and somehow arrive at its own Eldorado some day in terms of the developmental attainments that all the other continents have attained but which seem a mirage for Africa at the moment.
  The former Education Minister stated that Soyinka’s book is such that will force readers to re-examine the continent’s developmental issues again, whether the lack of development is as a result of alienation of the individual from his African roots.
   Ezekwesili also argued that development essentially takes the individualistic curve and the choices the individual makes. She cited the Singapore example as a people who had a certain mindset at independence to prove to the 'whiteman' that there was no reason for the whiteman to have governed them in the first place since they were capable of doing it themselves. And so they worked at it and today, Singapore is a model country for development.
  She reasoned that what happened after Nigeria’s independence was that while places like Singapore had a developmental model in mind, Nigeria had a replacement strategy. All the leaders were concerned with was to replace the departing British with all the exploitativeness of colonisers without a vision for future.
  She also argued that what Africa was exploiting and exploring in terms of its vast natural resources was a tiny bit of what lie beneath the landmass of the continent. She said the peoples have failed to really dig deep to unearth the resources their lands harb our.
  According to her, only 16 African countries have attained full school enrolment while many others have not been able to transcend the barest level, adding, “Development in Africa is a great opportunity. There are so many possibilities that lie within. Inability to fully exploit these opportunities carries the seeds of implosion. A steady state of failures causes people to find alternative ways of survival otherwise, the spiral down the slope.
  Also, Ezekwesili debunked the abiku myth as worth looking at, and said Africa accounted for 500 infant deaths out of 1000 births. She noted that such grim statistics made mockery of any inspiration derivable from the abiku metaphor because Africa’s growth lies in its virile population, which such monumental deaths imperil.
  Ezekwesili then concluded, “A single description of Africa is intellectual slothfulness” the West has perpetuated against the continent, a proposition Soyinka disproves in his book.

ON Africa’s spirituality as encapsulated in Soyinka’s famous poem ‘Abiku’ (the spirit child that is born and dies to be reborn again and again to torment the parents) as fitting metaphor for examining the recurring retrogression plaguing most part of Africa, Prof. Utomi, founder of the Lagos Business School and the Pan African University, said although Africa’s spirituality is dynamic, it is easy to link the colonial experience and how things were done in Nigeria. He said Nigeria’s woes stemmed from inability to deal with the consequences of individual actions, saying, “The problem of living in Nigeria is that of living with bad consequences”.
  He argued that while Africa’s young population has deep technology penetration, the problem is how to harness that penetration to give momentum for real development. He noted that 2012 has been a bit of a paradox, and added that his “fears had been how to pluck failure from the jaws of progress. We are still managing ourselves poorly and we may not be able to derive much from the Africa Rising momentum that is gathering. He cited the instance of Rwanda that has managed to raise itself from the dust of a tragic war as a place Nigeria should emulate. He said after the tragic war, there was a consciousness of ‘never again’ attitude and Rwanda was the better for it today, as the country is steadily making giant strides in development, managing its resources prudently for the benefit of its people.
  For Utomi, while Nigeria’s problems are traceable to leadership, there are other indicators to watch out for as impediments to growth namely, value problem, collapse of culture and institutions. He said there is nothing Singapore did that Nigeria hasn’t done, yet the gap between the two is still wide because the discipline to ensure values, culture and institutions work has been lacking.
  For astute banker Elumelu, Nigeria is full of critics, who ceaselessly bash the country senseless without lifting a hand to help. He urged Nigerians to begin cultivating the healing habit of saying good things about their country. “We criticise ourselves too much,” he said. “How do we say good things about ourselves to the rest of the world? If all we see and say about ourselves is the bad, how do we want others to say about us? We must begin to use our human capital to propel development.”

WHILE contributing from the floor, poet and social critic Odia Ofeimun brought an ominous dimension to the debate, when he said Africa is exactly where it was when the slavers from Arab and Europe came calling from the north and south centuries ago, with several acrimonies and internal wrangling going on all over the continent. He said the implication is that Africa will not be able to defend itself again a second time and fall prey to the superior powers of others who are more organised and developed. He said the continent is still plagued with distrust.
  Ofeimun lamented, “Today, we are not building factories and farms for the people to work on. Our problem is about not building factories. We should begin to demand from those asking for our votes, which imported goods they will stop when they get to office so that our factories can begin to work again for the people to be engaged and idle hands put to proper use and not otherwise”.
  Art collector Yemisi Shyllon argued that until African societies go back to their traditional cultures to rediscover themselves and what is innate to them as proposed by Soyinka, the continent would not experience growth.
  Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi wondered why Soyinka has suddenly turned essayist as against the fine satirist he was known for in his many plays and poems, wondering also whether fiction didn’t quite solve the problems his society posed and whether it was a submission that fiction -- the arts -- has failed him as a tool to confront society.
  To this Soyinka responded that art has not failed the society, rather it has helped to contnualy propel the society towars self-examination and the quest for renewal and revalidation.
  Other contributors included Prof. Bimpe Aboyade, eminent librarian and, wife of the late famous economist and economic theorist, Prof. Ojetunde Aboyade, who is reputed to have written one of the economic blueprints that the Malaysians adopted to change the fortune of the country. Prof. Aboyade advised that Africans, even as they embraced forewign religions, must indeed go back and recover some of the positive values of their culture and deploy such to help in their march to greatness, especially in the context of globalisation.

THE night was also suffused with musical entertainment by the young poet, dancer and singer, Aduke and her friends; and generous wining and snacking. The literary feasting continued well into the night with an informal reception in the restaurant of the Terra Kulture.

Peoples World Carnival Band… Creating street theatre from carnivals


 Carnivals are not just about making glamour and glitz

By Anote Ajeluorou

Their reputation is built on solid group achievement, to paraphrase Chinua Achebe in his iconic novel, Things Fall Apart. Now, People’s World is quietly taking a strategic part in this year’s Calabar Christmas Carnival. The group has seen carnivals, has brought carnivals into life and has been part of Europe’s biggest street carnival, the Notting Hill Carnival, London. With its Peoples World Carnival Band in Tottenham part of London, the group has been part of stage costume-making and many other community events in the U.K. and elsewhere.
  The group arrived Nigeria last week and will provide costumes for the lead participants of Calabar Christmas Carnival. It is in the country in partnership with Nigeria’s stage lighting and decor giant, the Alhaji Teju Kareem-led Zmirage Multimedia Company Ltd, to give the carnival and its numerous visitors an unforgettable time. For Kareem, the Zmirage boss, this collaboration with Peoples World Carnival Band is also part of his yearly International Cultural Exchange (ICE) programme in honour of Prof. Wole Soyinka’s humanistic contributions to the world.
  As part of the partnership, Peoples World had worked with Zmirage months ago at the Nothing Hill Carnival to expose and sell Calabar Christmas Carnival to the rest of the world when a big float was mounted to advertise the carnival.
  Now, both parties will be providing Calabar Christmas Carnival with something everyone can share, the rich experience of giving carnivals a meaning quite apart from the usual razzmatazz, fun, gaiety and pomp carnivals supposedly generate. With a membership largely made up of Africans from the Caribbean Islands, Peoples World sees carnivals as street theatres, which are not only celebratory, but provide opportunity for some form of self-expression for the people in articulating their vision of the world.
  So for them, a carnival should go beyond the mere display of beautiful costumes and colours. It should hold up an aspect of the people’s culture, even their grievances and joys and tell unique stories about how things really are, where things are headed, and possibly how to get whatever destinations the people are headed. Largely coming from carnival backgrounds steeped in street protests that characterised slave-master relationships in the Caribbean Islands of years gone by, Peoples World frowns at carnivals that do not have underlying tones that speak to the people’s daily living conditions and how to better improve such conditions for their better living.
  Indeed, this is where the group disagrees with the spirit of the Rio De Janeiro Carnival in Brazil, where the display of naked flesh seems the pervading intent. With Nigeria’s follow-follow­, bandwagon effect that has resulted in carnival explosions in recent years in some states, with the Abuja Carnival jamboree leading the way in poor programming conception and cultural/artistic contenxtualisation almost bordering on meaninglessness, the involvement of Peoples World in this year’s Calabar Christmas Carnival may just be the turning point carnival organisers need to redirect their efforts so that carnivals being organised in the country can have impact in the people’s lives.
  For Peoples World, carnivals should embrace the totality of a people’s existence and give them a voice to speak to authority and to themselves about their conditions.
 
INTERESTINGLY, the recently concluded CARNIRIV, with ‘Reminiscing the Past, Consolidating the Future’ as theme, and organised by the Rivers State Government, may just have done well as it accommodated many elements into its agenda, including a symposium or colloquium that addressed many socio-cultural issues that affect the people and perhaps how to move along on the path of cultural promotion and value edification.
Last weekend, The Guardian sought furthwer explanation on members of the Peopls World on their idea of carnival, and coming to lend their expertese to carnivals in Nigeria. Excerpts

Angela Duncan-Thomson
FOR me, coming to Nigeria for the first time is quite an experience and a way to portray an art form that I’m passionate about and to work for the first time as a new company and we’re hoping to make an impact for the carnival in Calabar. You know, everybody has a different opinion about coming to Nigeria. On my first day in Lagos, we got caught up in the traffic on our way to the museum. But it felt like home, like Jamaica, where I’m from. What I found was that people’s temperaments are pretty similar; and my friends agreed that it was all familiar – the way people drive, the way they argue – it just felt as if I was home, which to me was very important.
  My mission here is to bring costumes for the Master Blaster band that is taking part in the Calabar Christmas Carnival, which we were asked by our link, Shabaka Thomson (ex-Director of Notting Hill Carnival, London) to make. We’ve been asked to produce 30 frontline costumes and four individual costumes. They’ve asked us to make them elaborate and something that can stand out. So, we’ve produced the costumes and we’re hoping they find them acceptable. We’ve done as much as we could in London including the finishing. I actually surprised myself the way we finished them.
  Now, we are a group that learn from other cultures; we’re from the different Caribbean Islands with different cultures and living in London. For us, doing anything for Africa is one of the greatest things to happen to us because we have to do research into the particular African culture we want to work with to integrate that culture into the carnival costumes.
   Carnival is about celebrating your own culture; it can be anything but it has to mean something and not just celebratory; not just colourful, but it must mean something. And whoever we work for must take ownership of the carnival or production.
  From the costumes, we expect you to appreciate what we’ve done; you will see that we put everything we’ve got into it for your benefit. We tried to use the theme that was given to us ‘Masks at Dawn’, and to bring it in a way that is local. And we think that we’ve explored it. So, we will have 30 beautiful ladies to parade the costumes. But it’s the first time we’re doing the costume; so we’re here to see how they will use our costumes. It’s new for us. So, it will be a two-way learning process; but we’ve given them something that will be spectacular.
  Carnivals should be uniting people; carnivals mean different things to different people from within their own cultures. Originally for us, it’s about making a statement; it is making a stand for what you believe and about individual customs and beliefs and over the years, with people coming over from the Caribbean to the U.K. and vice versa, we now want to blend. So, we have a lot of colours that are mixed up and stirred up together, to produce something that is knitted together and wonderful. That is what carnival is all about.
  What we do with carnivals is to use what you have to exploit what you have to understand the positiveness of your culture, your country and what you actually want other people to see about you. When people come to a Nigerian carnival, they should see what Nigerians are and not go away wondering if indeed it was somewhere else they had been. If you’re having it in Calabar, it should have an element of what Calabar is as well. So, it should have that edge. There should be something unique about Calabar in it - the culture, the people and what else besides. If in Lagos, the carnival should have that Lagos touch, something different. That’s the way to take ownership of carnival for it to be different.
  On the social consciousness of carnivals, from the carnivals I’ve been involved in, they are used to say what is going on currently, historically and even politically. But this could be difficult in some countries because of political culture prevailing at the time. But it’s like when you put something on stage or theatre, it should make some statement.
   Carnival is street theatre, street stage; it’s the same kind of way of thinking, as long as it’s done tastefully and as long as you have control of what you put out.
  It may offend some people; but sometimes you offend. You have to be aware of your political climate and really see how far you can go. I won’t advise somebody to just do that because of the political situation. But you can achieve it within certain parametres so people respect you for what you have done. In some countries, it’s easy; in some others, it’s not. You just have to be very careful how you thread.

Sally (yet to get the full names; have asked Lilian to send), an educational counsellor
We have a carnival costume band in Tottenham, London. I think we evolved with Peoples World carnival Band. We started making costumes for Notting Hill Carnival and other events locally. And over the years, we realised that we’re opening a need for young people. The unique thing was that most of the time we found that most of our young people were sometimes second, third, fourth generation British black children, who know very little about their home culture or history. Their cultures are being diluted and their families are not close together as they should be in their own cultures back home. And there’s also the problem with absentee fathers. I’m not trying to say it’s the only reason for the problem, but there’s a dilution of the cultures and the things that people do together.
  So, what we do is work all year round with young people like bicycle maintenance, help them write CVs, introduce skills, help them look for jobs; there are all kinds of work we do with them. We try to teach them to be as good as they can be – the positive aspect of life – we make them learn something and keep it real. And because of the problem we have locally; well, globally now, I guess, in terms of the gang culture and little value for life – young people getting into fight and killing each other, we’re determined that we’ll let them blossom.
  So, through the medium of costume-making, you can engage them in other things. One of the main things that we do is to make them learn the world around them or about the history of their respective countries through costume-making so they could have a bit more understanding of their cultures. For instance, in one of our events, we had ‘United in Rhythm’, using the music and colours from the different countries as highlights.
  So, for people from St. Lucia, Dominican Republic, we had Zooks; from Jamaica, we had reggae; highlife for the African young people and jungle music for young, black people in London, also. They also had the colours of their countries’ flags as costumes; it was subtly political as well, but not in your face politics.
It was to help young people recognise the cultures that they come from -- from their flags to their music and more importantly, they had to learn about somebody else’s culture, too.
  At Peoples World, it’s like a family. We celebrated our 30 years recently, and it was about freedom, freedom of speech, of the elements, of blue. We don’t want to harp on the slavery issue; we recognise it; we had it. But we want to move on and young people learnt about slavery but they also learnt about freedom. They don’t have to be disenfranchised. The riots that happened in Tottenham were about a feeling of injustice, a failing of government.
  I think, the fact that our name is Peoples World gives us that international flavour, feel about it. So, at Calabar Christmas Carnival, you will be expecting fabulous costumes, and a kind of marriage of understanding – a two-way process of understanding people and hopefully find a middle ground. We’re working with D├ęcor, which makes the costumes. We’ve taken our cue from the theme ‘Masks at Dawn’ and we’ve taken our perception of that to produce very glamourous costumes. You can be sure of that. I hope we can run with that in spite of the politics!
  Now, we’re involved in the biggest carnival in Europe as the fifth element in the Notting Hill Carnival in which people don’t appreciate the amount of work that goes into it. But we work pretty much against the background of so much restriction from the government – ‘oh, you can’t do this’; ‘oh, you have to close early’; ‘oh, you can’t be this loud!’; ‘oh, you can’t use this road’.
  So, it’s kind of hard to always keep it sterile even when we always resist those restrictions because the carnival is about people taking to the streets and not used to being restriction to where they can be or how much noise they can make. Unfortunately, there’s so much government machinery involved in policing people and cleaning streets. We have the pressure of having the biggest number of people and the loudest noise during the carnival.
  I think that instead of policing us so much, they should be glad. In 2003, they said 93 million pounds came to London over the period of Notting Hill Carnival alone for airlines and hotels. It’s the biggest tourism event in the country! People around the world look forward to the carnival and we’re very much down-played. So, why are we being treated so shabbily when others make all the money? Sponsors come in guardedly.
  But you know, carnivals are not just about making glamour and glitz; not just to get drunk and having fun. It should be a celebration of something, a commemoration of something. Unfortunately, the Rio Carnival is diluted so much and is more about funfair. Carnival must have content and it must be relevant to you! It’s your cultural thing and about recycling and regeneration, which can be made as its rule of engagement. It has to be about something locally produced, recycled material. I don’t know the politics around this carnival, but it should be something about sustainability, regeneration. Those judging should be looking for something locally produced. Is it something that is giving back to the community?
  I don’t know how you work here, but it could be about inviting church groups or faith groups to make one band. That will be a challenge because carnivals are about uniting people! It could be about resisting sectarianism, you know. Or they want local school children to come together and select them to get a place in the carnival band. But these are things to factor into a carnival to make more meaning out of it rather than just fun. I think these possibilities could make it much bigger and like a household event.
  You look at the Rio Carnival and people are going by half naked in bikinis. What message is that really saying? You just go mad and enjoy yourself. You should think how to add to that and what value to derive from it.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

'Unknown Soldiers', A short story


By Anote Ajeluorou

My Lord, we, the ordinary folks of Oputeland, caught in the trap of war at dawn, were robbed of our quiet night, and the prospect of our seeing daylight again seemed a mirage. We strained our ears very hard to hear the kernel of the dispute across the table. But we could neither make head or tail out of it. Shouldnt an egg be broken on its head or not? Or indeed, should it be eaten in its yolk or be allowed to hatch and watch the chick grow into a cockerel that would announce the break of yet another day?
  At first, we were amused and thought the whole argument stupid. My Lord, why should grown-up men engage in such mindless frivolity when the state lay prostrate from lack of apparent leadership? Do they not have better things to talk about all day at the Presidential Palace? But soon our amusement turned into bewilderment when the ugliness of the situation began to dawn on us. Little did we know that at the seemingly harmless beginning of that stupid argument eight years ago, a hole had been blown into the hull of our canoe, and the water was merely rising to ankle depth. It was indeed a time when sensible men would begin to bail out the water to stop the canoe from capsizing and drowning the rest of us in it.
  We the ordinary folks of Oputeland who saw the futility of the proceedings at the Palace did not have a voice strong enough to shout down the madness. We should have told them to put out the crackling embers so our only hut made of thatch roof would not be consumed in the conflagration soon to erupt and engulf us all.
  Well, we could not stop those who claimed to rule us from what had become an obvious madness at ego-trip. They could not restrain themselves either. Nobody could, not even their international friends, who always expect the worse of us so they could lend a hand one way or the other to facilitate our doom. Soon the drums of war began to beat; blood began to boil in the veins of young men soon recruited to amplify the friction.
  Erovie, which occupied the throne, insisted it was its birth right to continue to do so. But Urhuto disagreed. It argued that they also have a right to the Palace pie. That it should be given a chance to share the cake of state already baked by international oil companies operating in the land for which Erovie has had more than a fair share over the years, and largely for their own benefits. They argued that there was a skewed logic to the balance of power in Oputeland in favour of Erovie, and that things must change one way or the other.
  Urhuto argued that since Erovie had monopolised power since independence and produced successive leaders ever since, Oputeland had been the worse for it and that no meaningful development had come to lift the majority of the people from abject poverty. For them, a time had come for a change of guard so others could project their ideas for the good of the commonwealth. But Erovie insisted on clinging onto power and kept promising to do things better.
  The rest as they say, my Lord, is now bitter history as this respected Panel and Oputeland already know.
  At that moment of my submission, I could not restrain the tears that had welled up and kept flowing after my opening. My pregnancy in its advanced stage hung hugely in front of me, and I hug it with both arms. The Reconciliation Panel chairman, a retired clergyman with a gentle soul, asked me to sit down to recollect myself. I sat and wept freely. My two sisters, who sat on either side of me, just held me close and rocked me in their arms.
  In fairness, they had warned me of the danger of exposing myself to the whole world by testifying at the Panel set up to reconcile all those aggrieved as a result of the fratricidal war that raged over our country for eight long years. The war ruined everything lives, careers and whatever development efforts we had made since independence 40 odds years ago.
  My two sisters had feared that testifying at my advanced stage of pregnancy would affect me and might even put my child in grave danger. We had all been witnesses to the emotional outpouring the Panel had wrought in many who had gone before to testify. Every day we listened to the multiple atrocities the war wreaked on innocent people; how their lives were turned into what they were not and its scares deeply branded. They were tales of woes, tales of a people gravely dehumanised and senselessly slaughtered just to assuage other peoples greed for power. The ferocity of the war was something we could not forget; it branded itself so deeply into our soul and became the demon we must exorcise if we were to move forward. This Panel seemed the perfect arena for such exorcism. I couldnt fail to take advantage of it.
  But my sisters had wondered what I stood to gain by telling the whole world my private shame and tragedy at having suffered unfairly and unjustly in a war I did not cause but from which I suffered so much violence?
  But I disagreed with them. What do they know? They were well outside the country studying when our war raged; they had no idea what it was, what we suffered, how we survived it. So, I pointed out to them that silence wasnt the best option either even in the most shameful situations, even though you happen to be at the receiving end as the innocent victim. That indeed, I was never the one that started the fire that consumed me; and that if nothing else, my shame was the collective shame of our nation, of Oputeland, and of those whose greed and inordinate quest for power for its own sake dragged us into a senseless war.
  Indeed, what good has Erovies long stay in power brought to Oputeland? The country still remained backward and undeveloped. In spite of the vast natural and material wealth Oputeland is blessed with, there is still hunger, poverty, diseases, joblessness and life remains brutish for a vast majority of the people. Only a handful of the rogues in power are entitled to the mineral wealth of my land. So, why would I not expose the tragedy their greed brought us? Why should they rest easy in their inhumanity to the rest of us?
  Moreover, women suffered so much during the war; yes, women like me and many others who bore the brunt of a war they did not cause. The men made us see and experience unspeakable evils and silence wasnt an option for most of us who must poke fingers of innocence at their bloodied eyes.
  I reminded my sisters that the collective silence of women has always been the trump card held up by cowardly, beastly men to perpetuate all forms of evils against womenfolk all over the world in crises situations, especially in Africas conflict situations. I reminded them that men rape women and still have the effrontery to charge them for sexual provocation; they prostitute women and charge them for waywardness. Men sell us to other men and shamelessly collect what they call bride price in the name of marriage and then they traffic us for their profit. Men imprison women in their kitchens and frivolously engage in senseless horse-trading in the name of politics, of divide and rule and fan embers of vain nationalism and virulent ethnic cleansing. Finally, I told them that men circumcise women to tame what they call womens disruptive passion so they could have a bursting harem to flatter their masculine vanity!
  It was all so unfair, I cried out to my sisters. Why? Because we have not mustered the guts to spill it out on mens faces and made them eat their sordid vomit. I told my sisters that women had kept silent for far too long so much so that we have had our hairs shaven in our absence!
  I intimated my two sisters that all mothers before us failed us by their uncommon acquiescence and that they were too shy and timid to ask uncomfortable questions that are at the heart of womens unfair share of woes in our land, and elsewhere. But that we must begin to ask the hard questions we had until now failed to ask if only to smash the balls of malefolk, who loath the collapse of the status quo. Indeed, women must begin to ask the whys of their lives and situations. And if nobody did, I firmly told them, I was volunteering to ask those questions publicly, starting from this Panel. In any case, I wasnt about to allow my sisters restrain me from doing what I needed to do: go public with the collective shame of Oputeland! For in my shame and the suffering that the people of Oputeland went through during the war lay whatever redemption there was ever to be gained. So, we could finally say, never again, and a mark of a new awakening in our land.
  Just then, the Panel chairmans gavel banged. I was jolted back into reality from my reflections. I took a deep breath in and braced myself for the rest of my testimony before the Panel. Will Emamezi resume her testimony, please? His Lordships voice was gently prodding. Im sure she has regained sufficient calm to continue. We emphasise here at this Panel that nothing must be held back so that the attempt at national reconciliation and healing can be total. Then he signalled me to continue.
  As you all know, my Lord, I started in a clear voice. Women are an international property. They have no fixed abode or community, no known boundary and creed of their own to hold. They go wherever the men in their lives say they should go. It is the men who fan the embers of hatred, of nationalism, of tribe and religion. Women, like the chameleon, blend in easily to wherever they find themselves and are easily assimilated into their host communities or even beliefs. But my Lord, we mother the world and the men in it! Yet women are the first victims and targets of mens madness after they had unleashed violence on the world.
  Yet we know that the birth pangs of a woman in labour or the first screams of a newborn as he gulps air into his lungs transcend any known boundaries or beliefs. Knowing what it is to bring a child into the world, women are careful not to waste life on the altar of some senseless pride and defence of faceless, blind beliefs or tribal identity. We, women, protect life with all we have, my Lord, and do not waste it the way men do in quest of vain heroism.
  What do men care, anyway? Their contribution to life is, at best, one long thrust, a violent spasm of lust and ill-digested climax, a mad quest to conquer some feminine weakling that burn itself out even before it starts. To most men, to stand between a womans thighs is a matter of pride, mere ego-trip, a reassurance of a flagging virility. Life, the making and preserving of life, is of least consideration.
  The making of a life amounts to very little to most men when stirred to war to spill blood. So, Oputeland went to war with Erovie pitched against Urhuto. Suddenly, darkness fell on the land.
  We live on the small border town of Egelunu. It became the first theatre of war, the fierce battleground. Urhuto launched the first offensive and caught Erovie off-guard in the attack. Erovie had to beat a hasty retreat as Urhuto pushed them back to the periphery of the Palace city. It happened so quickly Egelunu found itself under rebel enemy control before they realised it. It happened one early dawn. I was still 14 then, and lying on my bed. Our mothers room was just across the living room, her door standing slightly ajar.
  Then we heard footsteps running and voices barking orders from across the street. Our mother hurried across to us in our room and we hurdled together in a corner, too terrified to ask questions. Then the guns began to crackle, and the bombs began to boom. There was wailing in the air and thunder-clap and sheer horror let upon our world. It was just too terrifying for words.
  ‘“Oh, Ozaudu!”’mother wailed.
Ozaudu was our elder brother; he had gone to join the heady campaign on the side of Erovie. He just left home one day and we began to see him speaking as the head of Erovie campaign teams. The pain on mothers face at that dark dawn told of a mother suffering the loss of a son still alive. It was a war that she didnt understand but which she was certain would soon consume her son. We felt her pain, too. We did not know if we were going to see him again. The guns sounded so close and so loud we felt nobody would escape.
  Hard banging on our door; we froze. We thought our end had come. Soldiers with big guns broke down our door and burst into our room and looked at us with bloodshot eyes. They pulled mother away from us, me and my youngest sister. One of the soldiers pushed my sister to the parlour and shut the room door behind us; it was just the two of us. Dead with fright, I followed his motions dumbly with eyes popping off their sockets.
  He leaned his gun to the wall. Then he began to unbuckle his belt, then his fly came loose. Soon, the khaki uniform slipped to the floor, and he grabbed me by the hair and pulled me back up against my bed. I felt a dumb daze as he violated my tender body with his animal fury. I felt the horror and brutality of his evil act from far away, my mind already numbed from the abomination. I felt so far removed from the scene of my violation, as if my body was mindless, as if my body belonged to someone else. Indeed, it just wasnt me. How could it be me, stretched out on the bed with some beast shoving daggers between my thighs? I felt sorry for those thighs, whoever had them.
  Just then, in my faraway consciousness, I heard noises and the single scream of a womans voice. Nooooo! I screamed back in response in my unconscious mind and then I blanked out.
  It was a long time later before I came to. There was an eerie feeling in the air. I felt raw between my legs, as if a deep cut had developed there on its own. Then I opened the door and saw Mother lying on the floor in a pool of her blood, a white cloth covered her from her head to her feet. She had been shot, apparently, for not producing her son Ozaudu. Bitter tears fell from my eyes...
  A murmur of grief swept through the Old Senate Chambers, where the Panel was sitting. Many people, especially women, dabbed their eyes with handkerchiefs. Even the Panel chairman lowered his head in apparent grief. In all my life, I had never produced such sobering effect on anyone let alone such a huge gathering. Somehow, an inner thrill coursed through my being. I felt alive again, bound together by a common feeling of fellowship with my countrymen and women. I had not made a mistake by coming to testify after all. That touch of human compassion had not completely died out in my country yet; a measure of redemption could still be hoped for. I felt good at the reaction my narration was having on my people. This overflowing feeling of catharsis after the tragic event of our recent past meant we still had a chance at rebuilding all we had lost and the possibility of strengthening our nation-state, provided, of course, we would be willing to guard against the mistakes of the past that plunged us into war. That way would our nation begin to emerge from the ashes of self-hate and pursuit of half-digested ideologues be they religious, tribal or egoistic.
  People, let there be order in the house! the chairman intervened as murmuring had overtaken the chamber with neighbour talking to neighbour about my familys travail and weighing it against their own tragedies. Indeed, the chamber had seen many such narrations of the different facets of the war. Both old and young, soldiers and officers, commoners and nobles alike, men and women, vanquished and victors; it had been a motley of national outpouring of the wrongs done in the heat of war.
  Emamezi has given us food for thought. But lets be patient to hear her out as weve been doing to all the others and those yet to testify. Hers will be the final one for today.
  Needless to say that the next few days and weeks, I began again, seemed to last forever. For me it was an endless nightmare; I had no idea if I was ever going to wake up or sleep forever. I walked about in a dumb daze. When it seemed as though I had begun to grasp the reality of my surrounding, symptoms of early pregnancy appeared. Diagnosis soon confirmed it. What was worse, I had gonorrhoea to the bargain! I fervently prayed for the earth to open up and swallow me. But whatever higher being I was praying to probably didnt have ears to hear or was too busy sorting out our war record to answer me.
  Well, so much for being an innocent bystander! I got the bigger beating than the actual actors in our war. Eventually, I got treated of the gonorrhoea and braced myself for nine months of pregnancy. My mothers sister, Ugbeta, may God continue to bless her soul, took two of us in. She stood by me all through my uncommon ordeal even when her husband thought it was madness for me to keep the pregnancy and deliver a bastard as a sad reminder of the war. But my aunt insisted.
  ‘“Its a human life were talking about here, I overheard her telling her husband heatedly one night. Nobody knows why God allowed it to happen at this terrible time. We owe the unborn child a duty to protect it, not to mention Emamezi. A silly mistake could cost us two more lives; weve lost one already from which were yet to recover. Im not sure I am ready for another tragedy. So please, let her be. God will see us through these difficult times
  I did not hear them argue again on my account. And so, that was how nine long and dreary months rolled by without much incident. By now we had been left far behind in the theatre of war as Urhuto chased Erovie to the Palace city gates. Nevertheless, I was barely aware of my surrounding those nine long months. I mainly slept through them. One quiet night, nurses in white uniforms urged me to push hard. I pushed as they instructed and a shrill scream burst forth between my thighs. It was a baby boy.
  There was a loud murmur in the chamber from my captive audience. I stopped and surveyed the faces. Was it the murmur of relief that I was finally delivered safely or approval that the child was a boy? Would my audience have expressed as much pleasure if my baby was a girl? I could hardly figure it out. So I continued my story.
  Everyday, I examined my boys features very closely and critically. I meant to see something of the father I would never know nor recognise, a father my son would never know, too. Yes, he looked lovely and even handsome. Clearly, he didnt look like anyone in my family, which meant he looked every inch like his father. And I often wonder, could anyone with the slightest claim to handsomeness as my son was turning out to be, be so low and beastly as to take advantage of a defenceless, helpless girl and put her in a precarious position?
  I sought desperately to think of my sons father in a less hideous manner. But I couldnt; the pain of my brutal violation was too deep to gloss over by the coming of a child. Moreover, I had a boy child to bring up all alone without the slightest idea who the father was certainly not a cheering prospect. Yet I loved my boy so much, and through him, inexplicably, I loved whoever the father was. Mine was a pain-child, no doubt. And I ought to hate the father for making my life such miserable hell. But I really couldnt bring myself to hating him. How could I hate my boys father and not extend the same dark emotions towards my boy?
  I remember that dark night; I remember the dark pain and brutal violation. I remember also that it was the unfortunate night I was turned into a woman, although an unwilling one by an unknown soldier. Was that pain in vain? No; all I know is that a certain night of dark emotions yielded into my laps a life demanding attention. Then I remembered also that a war was going on. And war makes ordinary men mad; and men at war claim booties in the women they meet; I was one such booty.
  Was I rationalising my love for my boys father? Perhaps so; and are we, the ordinary folks of Oputeland, not the actual foot soldiers used by the generals and the politicians as ladders to climb to their exalted positions? It was unfortunate that our rulers have the mastery of turning ordinary folks against themselves. Perhaps, we would have less rancour in our nation if the foot soldiers should turn the guns bought with tax-payers money against the politicians and the generals instead of at ordinary soldiers on both sides of the divide…’
  ‘Will Emamezi stick strictly to narrating her experience rather than engage in revolutionary talk, please? The chairman was far from being gentle this time. There was indeterminate buzz in the hall. I was happy I held the audience in the spells of my testimony. The chairman banged his gavel for order. But it took a while before the hall quietened down. I felt I had made my point sufficiently enough; I didnt want to engage the chairman further on the revolutionary charge.
  ‘The next two and a half years were rather uneventful. Egelunu was far behind the war front. But there was no sign of victory for either side. I took care to nurse my son meanwhile. But that was not to be for long. Erovie, after beating a retreat and having taken a severe beating at the hands of the advancing forces of Urhuto, soon regrouped strongly again just outside the Palace city. Then they began to repel Urhuto forces. The battle, we learnt, was fierce and bloody. Erovie had engaged the services of foreign mercenaries and acquired sophisticated military hardware. Soon, Urhuto was outmatched and a retreat became inevitable for them. Erovie was hot on their heels as they pursued them beyond our boundary town of Egelunu and deep into Urhuto territory.
  ‘So, once again, Erovie forces were in control of Erovie towns and cities, including some cities in Urhuto. But the occupying soldiers would be soldiers. Just like the invading Urhuto soldiers of over two years before them, the liberating soldiers of Erovie also had their ready booties to pick. Many young women in Egelunu suffered the same brutal fate rape and forceful appropriation! Once again, I was among those the liberating soldiers picked on to satiate their war ravaged, lustful appetite. Once again also, I became pregnant. Once again, it was a boy child that I had.
  ‘Aaahhh! went the murmur in the hall.
  ‘So, two boys from the same womb from two dramatic encounters with two beastly men in grim opposition to each other, without the slightest knowledge of what they had done. They were my first contact with men on the sexual front. Until those encounters, I only had vague ideas how babies were made. Nevertheless and thanks to our war, here was I, a virgin, being made into a woman and a mother in the most unromantic manner. What was more, I had no say in the matter; just the blind lust of some depraved, unknown soldiers out to still the raging blood in their virulent veins. I just couldnt believe my luck, if one could call it by that name!
  ‘But it was all too real to be true. To play host to two enemy baby boys in one womb in the course of one war is, to put it mildly, the height of motherhood. The war, it seemed, was fought right in my womb! For two enemy soldiers to claim their war booties in my womb without even knowing it must be a fantastic joke; but this wasnt a joke at all. This was my life; it is my life!
  ‘And by now you may be wondering, whose child is she carrying this time? Of course, the war has long ended. Is she married to some decent Oputeland man now? The answer, dear people, is no; not Oputeland man in your wildest dream! Id seen enough of them up close and ugly to want in again. But, is the man decent? I dare say, yes; hes Ugandan, a soldier, and a peacekeeper at that!
  A wave of murmur again swept through the hall. The panel chairman sat back deep in his chair, relaxed now, his gavel lying idly on the table.
   ‘Colonel Obote was in the Ugandan troupe that helped broker the peace deal that eventually put an end to the self-inflicted war as part of the African Peace-keeping Mission, I informed my audience, and pointed him out in the hall; he took a bow. And there were cat-calls from all over. Colonel Obote is a gentleman. Desperation for food and provision drove me into his arms. He treated me like a real woman unlike what my fellow countrymen made me suffer in their blind quest for wrong-headed nationalism and tribalism. The childhood sweetheart our war robbed me of I have been able to find in his arms. He took me for what I am; hes never critical of my past, raw as it seems. His understanding sometimes makes me cry.
  A month ago, I went for a test. I had prayed fervently that my baby would be a girl. My violent meeting with men during our futile war produced two boys, two opposing soldiers, if you like. It was understandable that violence should sow potential seeds of violence. Now there is peace. And I felt I needed now the tampering spirit of a girl child, a borderless citizen of the world, ready to soothe the raging soul of our troubled world. For once, my prayer was not in vain. What can I say? I invite you all to our wedding in Uganda in two months time…’
  My voice was drowned out by the clapping and whistling and tears of joy in the hall. Even the Panel chairman forgot to use his gavel this time to bring order...