Thursday, 18 June 2015

How Graham-Douglas Honoured African Women In Dublin With Wait

By Anote Ajeluorou

Award-winning performer and culture producer Bikiya Graham-Douglas performed Wait at Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin, Ireland, to give a voice to African women and restate the importance of education, as a defining index of women empowerment

When Nigerian actress and culture advocate Bikiya Graham-Douglas left the country weeks back to perform an eclectic piece on the potential of the African woman at this year’s African Week in Dublin, Ireland, United Kingdom. it was with high hopes. Now, Graham-Douglas is back and thoroughly excited at her performance that put African women in proper perspectives.
  The African Week is organised by Irish Aid, an Irish Government shuttle diplomacy programme held in association with African Ambassadors, to celebrate Africa and interactions for trade and commerce with a view to strengthening relationships between the Republic of Ireland and Africa. Graham-Douglas performed Wait, a piece written by Dipo Agboluaje, who is also the writer for the classic African narrative Obele and the Storyteller, which was recently performed in Port Harcourt at the closing ceremony of UNESCO Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014.
  Graham-Douglas, who is the founder of Beeta Universal Arts Foundation, expressed satisfaction at the honour accorded her, as she was also selected as ambassador. She brimmed with excitement before she left for the show. She’d expressed how honoured she was to be chosen to showcase the resourcefulness of the African woman to such a distinguished event. She said it was an opportunity for the African woman to shine and tell her own story in her own unique ways to the world.
  According to her, “I’m performing a piece about the African woman. It’s a piece about the empowerment of the African woman and it will be held at Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College, Dublin. I’m very excited and nervous about it. The story of the African woman is about having freedom to be herself, to have education, the right to be free from violence, and her right to be heard. Her story is about how she could recognize her capacity to perform and not just her capacity as a woman performing the usual stereotypical woman’s duties society ascribes to her.
  “There are woman who are educated and highly experienced, but they are not seen beyond being a woman. If she is given a voice and allowed to succeed, she will affect her community and it will trickle down to her environment. It’s taken for granted how powerful a woman can be. The saying, ‘educate a woman and you educate an entire community is a truism’. I’m really excited to be able to contribute to the growth of the African woman and to perform at the African Week in Dublin”.
  During the week in Lagos, Graham-Douglas said Wait, which she performed in Dublin “focused on the empowerment of the African woman; it highlights the importance of education to the African woman. I must tell you it well really well; it was well received. After the event, it became the trend on social media and the watchword became ‘I will not wait; I will walk into my future,’ which is a line taken from the monologue”.
  Her film Flower Girl also had a private screening at the event to the delight of the ambassadors in attendance.
  Graham-Douglas also took time to speak on her other projects, a new film she just made, a performance in the offing and a playwriting competition. She also affirmed how rooted her love for the theatre is in spite of the occasional pull from the filmic sub-genre of the performance art. Lunchtime Heroes is the new movie she just made, which is yet to be out; it’s a film devoted to the talents and ability of children where she canvases helping them to develop in whichever direction their talent takes them.
  Lunchtime Heroes is a film I just did with Seye Babatope,” she said. “In the training for theatre you equip yourself with techniques and skills to perform and experiment with different forms. Film and theatre resonate with people differently. I’m happy to be a part of film and theatre. I enjoy film but I get an explosion on stage; there’s a satisfaction that comes from stage, a satisfaction you get with the live audience that is absent in film. With theatre it’s a powerful connection one has with the audience – they laugh, cry and hate with you in the interaction on stage that’s absent in film”.
  Also, Graham-Douglas is looking to giving a bigger performance of Obele and the Storyteller at Easter next year. However, her next project is a playwriting competition with which she hopes to expose and empower young playwrights in the country. The best scripts will be performed at a grand event sometime in September.

I’m Committed To Creating A Better Writers’ Union, Says Abdullahi

Denja Abdullahi is a culture worker and writer, who has held many executive positions in Nigeria’s writers’ body, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) in almost a decade. Currently the Vice President of the association, Abdullahi is eyeing the first position of the union and asserts, “To me, arts and literary administration is not a hobby or sidekick; it is a career, which must be managed with all indices of professionalism”. In this interview, he spoke to Anote AJELUOROU about his ambition and how he intends to reposition ANA for competitiveness and as a world-class organisation. Excerpts:

What are your plans for repositioning ANA?
  I intend to galvanize the talents, expertise and different pockets of competence the association is blessed with in its membership to reposition it. In my long period of service to the association, I have discovered that you can only achieve anything significant, in the midst of perennial paucity of funds, by leveraging and harnessing the potentials in members and other lovers of literature for identified aims and objectives. I will also create working synergy between ANA and other associations and bodies in the creative sector to fight for common goals that will improve the lot of the sector such as ensuring the establishment of the National Endowment Funds for the Arts and the like. I will internationalize the operations of the associations and stake its claim in the scheme of governance in Nigeria. My manifesto is long on what I will do to reposition ANA if elected but these are just a few of them and they are all translated into pockets of programmes, projects and activities.
ANA has since lost its voice in the national space. Will you help reclaim it under your watch?
  I do not think it is completely right to say that ANA has lost its voice in the national space. The association has a dynamics that is different from some other associations that jump all the time into public discourse. The association has to be true to its founding ideals, spirit and inherent character. Writers by nature must exhibit some objective distance from what is happening around them so that they can review same and make appropriate interventions when necessary. The association is essentially a craft union, established to promote the interests of its members while participating in the building and maintenance of an egalitarian society. Much of these tasks are done without much media noise and that is why it can easily be assumed that the association is lost in the public space.
  Also, different times call for different approaches in the way the public space should be engaged. During the military era, you will recall that the association played an activist part along with other groups till democracy was won. During the various times our democracy was to be derailed, particularly in the period of the third term debacle, I remember signing a public document as General Secretary, on behalf of the association, rejecting that anomaly. We have at various points added our voices to the call for rectitude, propriety, constitutionality and common sense in the governance of our land. I will maintain all these under my watch and even improve on making the association more relevant to the society and in public discourse. I will give a strong voice to the association without making that voice sound pedestrian.
ANA Prizes don’t seem attractive anymore with The Nigeria Prize (USD$100,000) for Literature sponsored by Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Ltd and Etisalat Prize for (African) Literature (15,000) that give out c ash prizes in U.S. dollars and pound British sterling. Will you overhaul ANA prizes for more competitiveness?
  What many people do not know is that ANA prizes, right from inception, have a developmental philosophy governing them. ANA prizes were instituted originally to announce new writers and new voices into the public space; it is to sort of groom talents for later literary greatness. If you study and review the history of the prizes you will see that many who won the prizes years back later went on to win other glamorous literary prizes at home and abroad, sometimes with the same books or with other books. ANA prizes were designed to build confidence in writers and boost their literary careers.
  However, I agree that the ANA prizes have lost their shine, first with their abandonment by those who endowed them such as Cadbury’s, Chevron, NDDC, Literamed, Spectrum, etc, due to a myriad of economic reasons, and second, with the coming of mega prizes such as The Nigeria Prize for Literature, Caine Prize and Etisalat Prize for Literature. I was at the head of a team instituted by the present ANA National Executive to review the prizes and suggest possible ways of overhauling them. The team recommended the streamlining of the prizes, knocking off those that have outlived their usefulness and those whose administration have become difficult due to sponsors’ disinterest and fatigue. These recommendations were upheld and implemented and we now have fewer prizes we are managing very well. I intend, under my watch, to review further the administration of ANA literary prizes with a view to beefing up their profiles as well as seek the establishment of new prizes that will be developmental and sustainable. We must attract back to the prizes big sponsors and shore them up to achieve their purposes for the winners and the sponsors. ANA as a body has the expertise for literary prize administration in Nigeria more than any other group having been in the business for over three decades.
ANA land in Abuja seems in limbo after a lengthy litigation. How do you plan to convert the land into a proper asset so as to reduce dependence of ANA conventions on government patronage?
  ANA is gradually waking up from its slumber. We have won the court case on the land since 2012 and paid the necessary damages due to a developer whose intent was to hold us hostage to his lack of capacity. We have a new agency on the land that has helped us fight off vicious trespassers, encroachers and land grabbers. Preliminary infrastructure is being laid on the land on a very challenging topography. Under my watch, I will ensure there will be no deviation from the original plan for the land to be a writers’ resort with layers of facilities that will house important edifices and generate income for the association. I will also ensure a business model is adopted for the development of the land and the running of its facilities so that the association will derive from it, at least 50% of its running cost, while the remaining 50% is sourced from membership dues and sponsors for necessary programmes and projects.
But beyond the rituals of conventions, how do you propose ANA should engage writers more in your tenure?
  I intend to unbundle the annual international convention of the association and repackage it to make it more of a writers’ affair where books, authors and creativity will be fully celebrated. We will pull out some activities within the annual convention to stand on their own as full-fledged events within the year. That will increase our visibility all year round. We will also intensify efforts towards holding developmental literary workshops and schools outreach programmes, including tertiary institutions, celebrating landmark literary events and authors with colloquia, international literary exchange programmes, supporting residencies and generally raising the profile of literary activities.

Azaiki rethinks development strategies for a better Nigeria

By Anote Ajeluorou

The babble of voices on the socio-political space sometimes makes it difficult to sift through properly and winnow out the best and practicable views that best suit Nigeria’s intractable problems. This is further compounded by policymakers who fit World Bank and International Monetary Fund-induced solutions to every situation and circumstance in far removed and alien soil like Nigeria. Prof. Steve Azaiki’s Thoughts on Nigeria: Speeches, Letters and Essays (Associated Book-makers Nigeria Ltd, 2014) falls into the category of seminal distillations that are often ignored by Nigeria’s policymakers at the peril of development. It’s why, in spite of abundance of intellectual input to socio-political conundrums, the problems still persist, perhaps, that way, too, those who profit from the problems continue to feed fat on the misery of the majority.
  The saying ‘do not judge a book by its cover’ is also true for Azaiki’s book. The author’s photograph on the cover, on a book that is not an autobiography, wrongly sets it out as one of those ego-massaging, self-glorifying tomes by Nigeria’s politicians likely to gather dust in private libraries soon after the fanfare of a launch. But Azaiki is no ordinary politician; he’s an academic that brings a whole measure of intellectual savvy to the governance table. Having served as Secretary to the State Government under Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha in Bayelsa State, Azaiki is eminently in a position to make qualified pronouncements regarding Nigeria’s leadership problems and offer modest suggestions on the way forward. But also, questions of his stewardship will also be asked: Is he speaking from hindsight of what might have been done? What did he and the government he served do to resolve some of these problems he is now exposing? Having also served during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure as deputy governor, couldn’t he have put in a word or two to help stem the drift that assailed the country’s recently political history, especially the reverses that he contends National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) represent for the people of the Niger Delta and other low income, excluded areas?
  These are some of the observable issues that arise from Azaiki’s postulations in his seminally researched essays and speeches that have the endorsement of former President Shehu Shagari, who wrote the forward to the book. These essays and speeches are clearly beyond the drill of some of the workaday run of politicians striding the land. Indeed, Azaiki is probably not writing for now, when democracy equals how much a politician can grab for his pocket while the majority wallows in abject poverty. This is why the emergence of an a properly educated crop of Nigerians that understand what development means and how it can be deployed to best serve the interests of segments of the Nigerians in their diverse sociological backgrounds is an imperative for the author. This postulation is at the heart of Azaiki’s Thoughts on Nigeria.
  The book is divided into four parts although the themes or topics necessarily dovetail into one another, with a concern for the peculiar problems of minority Niger Delta inexorably confounded by oil politics. The first part is ‘On Governance and Politics’, with a telling first chapter on oil and gas and the leadership opportunity available for Nigeria. Sadly, Nigeria has repeatedly failed to cash in on such opportunities at the global level because the country fails to address inequities at home, what with the criminal neglect of oil-bearing communities both by the federal Government and the oil companies. The same neglect, Azaiki argues, attends Nigeria’s inability to diversify the economy with revenues from oil wealth, with the result that unemployment remains unacceptably high. The oil companies have their head offices in Lagos, a situation that necessarily denies Niger Delta youth employment opportunities in the oil exploited on their land.
  According to the author, “We, as a major oil exporting nation, must use our oil to diversify exports and invest the bonanza in better roads and seaports, invest in education, manpower training, technology transfer and health services… We as a nation must address inequities in Nigerian politics. Oloibiri in Bayelsa State, where oil was first discovered in 1956-1958 must be indelibly etched within Nigeria’s consciousness, and not left barren as an after-thought of yesteryears”.
  This essay was written during the Olusegun Obasanjo era. But clearly neither Obasanjo nor Jonathan heeded this sound advice. Even the road to Obasanjo’s Ota or the East-West Road to Jonathan’s Bayelsa was made during their tenures. The seaports of Warri, Port Harcourt, Calabar and Onne remain ghost ports under Jonathan. There’s, therefore, disconnect in scholarly postulations or advice and the realities of development in the land, a situation that has hobbled and stunted the country’s growth.
  Azaiki’s is a man of patriotic fervour; for him, being in government is not the only way to serve his fatherland. Having left office, he set up the National Think Tank of like-minded Nigerians to help formulate policies for governments both at state and federal levels. In setting up the National Think Tank, Azaiki argues, “Given our political and economic antecedents and status in the comity of developing nations, we believe that the time has come for Nigeria to take its rightful position in world affairs. As one of the fastest growing, developing nations, Nigeria is expected to show leadership in the delivery of public service. We have, therefore, found it highly important that, in order to achieve good public governance, several factors come to play. Bearing these in mind, this Think Tank will provide a basis for analyzing the areas of success or failures of public governance in Nigeria and proffer credible solutions to the country’s myriad of socio-economic and political problems...”
  The professor of Agriculture also writes on other issues of development and governance, especially as happened in recent collective memory. Such issues as Boko Haram, rash of impeachments, the sort that saw his former boss, Alamieyeseigha out of office in what he describes as strange circumstances akin to political witch-hunting, corruption, Bayelsa State under Sen. Seriake Dickson and a host of others.
  ‘On Niger Delta’ makes up part two of Azaiki’s Thoughts on Nigeria in which he devotes a lot of intellectual energy on issues plaguing the region that effectively feeds Nigeria, but which still has nothing to show for this economic bleeding that leaves a region and its people in bewildering abject poverty. Here, Azaiki argues that government’s developmental efforts through such policy as NEEDS have done far worse to deepen poverty rather than alleviate it. Apart from the physical poverty charactersised by the inability of the people to live well, as a result of polluted waterways and farmlands that starve them of their livelihood, Azaiki also points out a more deadly kind of poverty – educational poverty, which he says will keep the region’s coming generation perpetually poor and in disadvantage with their peers from other parts of the country.
  The author argues that the rash of privatization and commercialization of government’s utilities, including the all-important social service like education, has devalued education currently offered in public schools. As a result, government now fails to budget adequately for education, which is contracted out to the highest bidder. This shortfall in educational budgeting will mean that the poor, a condition in perpetuity among the marginalized majority of Niger Delta citizens, cannot afford quality education for their children, as the oil resources of the region go to finance educational projects in other parts of Nigerian. This leaves them in the throes of poorly equipped schools and trained teachers, as local and state governments increasingly find it hard to cater for the huge educational needs of the region. This approach, which the author calls macroeconomic management of development that does not take into account the peculiar needs of special areas that are already at a disadvantage for which the Niger Delta falls compounds the problems of the region. This is moreso when the region is denied full benefit of its oil wealth, a policy that excludes majority of the Niger Delta poor.
  As Azaiki states, “Under this framework, government has a purely regulatory role as education at all levels is now a commodity. As a result, NEEDS has deeply impacted the right to free, equal, and high quality education thereby excluding some citizens from participating in growing the economy and denying them from being integrated in a meaningful way in the long-run… the narrow mechanism of NEEDS as inadequate for the scale of a problem which requires broad-based measures…”
  With part three as ‘Tributes’ and part four is ‘On International/Contemporary Issues’ that are dear to the author’s heart, Azaiki’s book effectively plumbs the depths of some of the problems plaguing the country. This is a book for now and the future that will help direct the course of good governance that has been lacking in Nigeria’s democracy since 1999. With President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘Change’ mantra and his promise to feed school children every day, the first step would be to rethink NEEDS and its anti-poor stance in commoditizing education in line with Azaiki’s conception. Clearly, Azaiki’s former boss, Jonathan missed the road on NEEDS with regard to the Niger Delta.
  Indeed, governors in the region will do well to read this book and redirect their thinking caps for better performance. Azaiki’s intellect shines through in this commendable work of dispassionate political rendering.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Diala, Adagboyin, Olorunyomi Extol Osundare’s Virtues As A Visionary Artist

By Anote Ajeluorou

LAST week, scholars, academics and friends gathered at Trenchard Hall of University if Ibadan in the maiden edition of The Niyi Osundare Poetry Festival 2015. Organisers had said Prof. Niyi Osundare is a global literary icon, whose poetry is both topical and polemic and on the side of the suffering masses and visionary as it navigates a refreshing literary course that benefits from in his folk Yoruba tradition.
  At the symposium that followed, Diala presented the lead paper titled ‘Topicality and the Visionary Artist: Preliminary Thoughts on Niyi Osundare’s Poetry’, where he analyses the poetry of the Ikere-Ekiti-born scholar. But this was after former Harvard University teacher Prof. Abiola Irele had also commended the scholarship of Osundare, when he said, “We’re here to celebrate one of our topnotch writers, whose poetry is very accessible. We hope this would be continued as well as celebrate other writers. We hope we have something like this annually in all the universities so we can meet more regularly, as a sign that we’re creating, writing”.
  “Scholarship on the poetry of Osundare continues to privilege the social and political content of his work, in addition, of course, to his fascinating appropriation of the techniques of indigenous Yoruba poetry,” Diala notes, adding that Osundare’s poetry tackles social and political corruption, bad governance, campaign for ameliorable conditions for ordinary Nigerians and his concern for poetic art. Diala locates Osundare as The People’s Poet, with the kind of poetry that is accessible while retaining poetic qualities and also steeped in Yoruba folk tradition. He further comments, “The poet’s recollections of the manifold oral resources of the Yoruba poetic heritage are passionate, and its impact on his conception of poetry as both people-oriented and performative is decisive”.
  Counter-hegemonic discourse, Diala says, is another area where Osundare’s poetry stands out when he said it contests the authority’s version of events, especially in his collection Songs of the Seasons, made up of poems from his newspaper column. In these poems, Osundare confronts the powers-that-be, but he does this with an eye for the timelessness of his poetic art.
  Diala also situates Osundare in the realm of the humanistic in which he bestrides the global scale with his poetry where Osundare himself also affirms, “Humanity is one. My travels around the world have shown me we are more united than politicians want us to believe”. Diala submits that although Osundare is concerned about the social and political conditions of his country and deploys his poetry to wrestle the political actors to do the needful, he’s still a ‘poet’, noting, “Osundare is essentially a poet, rather than a political activist or even propagandist, wooing language for memorable and compelling images of transformation. He scours varying realms of experiences in search of antithetical images of birth, rebirth and regeneration, on the one hand, and decay, dissolution and death, on the other. His arena is infinitely larger than the Nigerian politics, even larger than the political”.
  A discussant of Diala’s paper, Dr. NIran Malaolu said Osundare is one academic who did not curry for political power through appointments by joining the looters, but who remained committed to using his art for the benefit of the masses in speaking truth to power, a course he said is “dangerous and difficult, but obviously the path of honour”. Another discussant, Adagboyin, a literary stylistician, argued that topicality and polemics in Osundare’s poetry are often hyped more than the enchanting beauty in them. He said, “Topicality does a great disservice to the beauty in Osundare’s poetry. There’s a conscious simulation of the content with the stylistics. Osundare is a stylistician; as a very conscious artist, he needs to pay attention to that aspect of beauty, the unity of the content and the aesthetics. It’s as if the page is the canvas on which Osundare paints his ideas”.
  Olorunyomi also stated that Osundare’s use of the oral tradition in his poetry is “not a cheap transfer of the oral to the written, but allowing all senses to feel; it’s hyper-textual. The use of traditional motifs is turned into something extraordinary, the familiar and the distant. In his counter-hegemonic discourse, Osundare is critical and creative at the same time. But is the counter-hegemonic era over? I’m not sure”.
  In closing, Osundare read another poem from his City Without People collection in which he paid homage to all those who reached out to him in fellowship and sympathy shortly after the Hurricane Katrina tragedy and sent him relief materials like clothes and cash. He particularly recalled late Chinua Achebe’s memorable words of comfort, “What the storm took away friendship will restore”.
  In a sense, The Niyi Osundare International Poetry Festival 2015 is part continuation of that restoration borne of friendship! Already, keynote speaker, Prof. Na’Allah has challenged the organisers to consider his institution, Kwara State University, Malette as host of the festival next year. He said although Ibadan was Osundare’s base, the acclaimed scholar was a citizen of the world and everyone should be allowed to have a share of his scholarship which the festival connoted.
  Akeem Lasisi and Edaoto performed to bring the festival to a close.