Monday, 28 July 2014

In Calibrating Kongi at 80, artists exhume Soyinka museum pieces

By Tajudeen Sowole
 In the 80-days celebration of Prof Wole Soyinka's 80th birthday, the visual arts provides a wide depth into the career of the Nobel laureate, so suggests a gathering of artists titled Calibrating Kongi at 80: The Art Exhibition.

Currently showing till July 30, 2014 at the top floor of J.P. Clark Centre, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos (Unilag), Akoka, the group art exhibition, in curatorial context, could make contents for a Wole Soyinka museum in the future. The works, which include medium of painting, mixed media, design and sculpture place Soyinka as a legend whose impact on the society has become a treasure to humanity, across generations and cultures.

  A well-researched exhibition by the curator, Prof Peju Layiwola, the works on display consist of largely memorabilia of Soyinka-related art pieces that are as old as some of his books and plays or essays. Even, recently produced art pieces such as posters that represent some of Soyinka"s staged plays strengthen the museum prospect contents of the exhibition. The exhibition is organized as part of the Soyinka International Conference 2014.  

 Some of the exhibiting artists include Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya, Tola Wewe, Layiwola, Bolaji Ogunwo, Sheriff Oyetunde, David Ikelewve, Taye Erewele, Greg Odakose among others. Jelili Atiku had a performing in front of the centre’s building. 
  In Onobrakpeya's 1986 copper foiled Horns of Freedom, comes a hidden story about the celebration of the Nobel Prize given to Soyinka. The work, according to a text attached, is inspired by Soyinka's fearlessness. The relief surface depicts three identical horns that represent freedom, courage and honour. However, the memorabilia content of the work comes from the story that led to the production of the 28 year-old art piece: Onobrakpeya was commissioned to produce 200 prints which were to be sold "to help cover the cost of some of the events associated with" the Nobel prize in 1986.  After the production, Onobrakeya would extend the concept into a single, but large  art piece, hence the Horns of Freedom.
  Indeed, quite a number of Onobrakpeya's works, seen outside the ongoing exhibition have traces of inspirations from authors such as Soyinka and D.O Fagunwa. In fact, in another work mounted just beside Horns of Freedom and titled Encounter with Eru (Fear) and the Ogboni, the printmaker appropriates his passion for the literary works of the two authors. Rendered in prints on paper, it confirms Onobrakpeya's attachment to the literary scene in Nigeria just as the printmaker would later be known as one of the Nigerian artists whose signatures are mostly used on book covers. For Encounter with Eru (Fear) and the Ogboni, the inspiration comes from The Forest of a Thousand Daemons’ and The Ogboni extracted from Soyinka's Ake- The Years of Childhood.’
  One of the strong areas of Soyinka's literary ingenuity is his connecting cultures across peoples, where such rare link exists. Recall his comparative analysis of two deities, Ogun (Yoruba) and Dionysus (Greek) in one of his works.  Layiwola's oval-shaped aluminum print titled Conversation of the Gods captures the poet's analysis. Layiwola first showed the work in 2005, at a group exhibition of 95 artists to mark the Greek National Day in Lagos, which was opened by Soyinka. For the exhibition, 95 artists from across Nigeria participated. She notes that the work "draws on the similarities between both Greek and Yoruba mythologies." Soyinka’s comparison of Ogun and Dionysus in a 1967 essay, The Fourth Stage: Through the Mysteries of Ogun to the Origin of Yoruba Tragedy, Layiwola argues "crystalises" in her work.
  From paintings that depict posters of Soyinka plays designed by students, to sculptural pieces by Layiwola and Ikyeleve, Akintunde and Ajetumobi, the exhibition, arguably, appears like one of the richest single events in recent times on the career of Soyinka. Such museum materials, for example, ooze in the sculpture joint ly produced by Layiwola and Ikyeleve, titled Staff of Brother Jero; Akintunde's Melting Pot and Ajetutobi's work of the same title; and the students' artistic impressions of Death and the King's Horseman, Abiku, among others. 

 Shortly before declaring the exhibition opened, renowned poet. Prof J.P Clark in his speech revisited the Mbari Mbayo club period of the icons known in the Nigerian literary parlance as the pioneer quartet. While clarifying that though he, Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Christopher Okigbo attended the University College Ibadan (now University of Ibadan), Clark disclosed that himself and some of his colleagues "are a little bit confused" with the sobriquet Ibadan quartet or pioneer quartet. "We all went to University College together, but not at the same time," he clarified. "We related together at Mbari during Nigeria’s independence period. Onobrakpeya joined us later." However, Clark stressed the gains of the gathering as it cuts across "literary art, music theatre and visual arts."
  And on the celebration of Soyinka's 80th birthday, he argued that it goes beyond the celebrant. "It's also a celebration of African literature." Earlier, he joked about "Wole always say he is older than me. But he knows he is my aburo, by six months though." In December last year, Clark marked his 80th birthday.
  In her curatorial note Layiwola, Associate Professor of Art History at the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos, also revisits the synergy that exists among the creative people across the genres in the 1960. She notes that Onobrakpeya, JP Clark and Wole Soyinka all formed part of the Mbari Mbayo Group in the 1960s at Ibadan.” The works of the visual artist among the group, she stresses, reflect the synergy that characterised creative era of collaboration among the professionals across disciplines in the arts.

Pret a Installer…Adekola strengthens repetitive technique, exclusivity

By Tajudeen Sowole
Although Ade Adekola’s salon titled Pret a Installer, held for three days at a private space in Victoria Island, Lagos exposes a photo artist who has the mastery of picture imaging, the photographer has deprived the general public of the education and appreciation value imbedded in art.

A section of Ade Adekola’s salon show

Except Adekola extends the showing of the works from salon into a full art exhibition in a gallery or any other non-restricted space for the general benefit of humanity, the richness and appreciation of his works would be confined within private collections. For a photographer who is rarely exhibited in Nigeria, but makes impressive sales at art auctions in Lagos, Pret a Installer confirms that his work is continually being shielded from wide documentation and appropriation.

If exclusivity has been deliberate and as a choice of line he wanted, Adekola got much of that as guests, amid champagne glass - at the Bishop Oluwole Street, Victoria Island, Lagos venue of the salon - walked through the exhibits after Chief Arthur Mbanefo opened the event.
  The salon, which was organised in collaboration with Ruinart Champagne, had on display several large, medium and small sizes of Adekola’s works rendered in multiplism technique. From captures of Lagos metropolitan taken via a bird’s eye on the central business district to the street scenes of hawkers and cultural activities, Adekola’s mastery of imaging in repetitive illusory, creates optical visual effects, even on a flat surface.
 Also, he implores mosaic-like form to create a technique that derives its strength from the repetitiveness of images, though in small cubes. This much some of the portraits of unidentified people on the streets exude.
  “His art is unique to him,” Mbanefo told the select guests on a Friday evening of the opening. “He might end up as a professor in photography and not architecture.”   
  In his Artist Statement, Adekola, a trained-architect explains his style and technique: “My work explores themes of repetition and cognitive reflections – perceptions. It also addresses elements of the paradoxical. Repetition enables reinvention by allowing new insights to occur through a cognitive process that promotes: concentration, disambiguation and distinction. The works speak for themselves”
  Parts of the texts released by the promoters of the salon states: “Adekola is a sharp observer; conceptual artist, documentary photographer and an architect. He often asks philosophical questions about identity, geography and culture. His work is filled with colours, movement, energy, cultural iconology and coveted humour. Using Lagos as a macrocosm of the universe, he weaved into a complex composition that brings to the frontline the life and culture of Lagos.
  “Adekola recognizes the common people on the street, lifts them, identifies them and pull them out of the mass for all to see by telling their individual stories. He put into words and images a very personal portrait of the city of Lagos; those little things ordinary man on the street may pay less attention or details to. These include the cart pusher, the child bride, the scrap merchant, the oil scavenger, the traffic policeman, the sweet vendor and many more. Individually they may go unnoticed, but together they tell a story – a story of Lagos on the one level and the “global metropolis” on another.
He has participated in several exhibitions as a conceptual artist since 1992 and has actively documented life in Lagos through street photography since 2005.
  Adekola has numerous publications to his credit. Some of which include: “2010 Textiles and New Technology” – London (1994) “An Evolutionary Architecture” – Architectural Association (1994) “Repetition and Inflection 11” (2009) and “Icons of a metropolis” – Leidenschaft (2012). In addition, he has published several scholarly articles in both local and international newspapers and magazines.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Art for peace journey of OYASAF, Ufuk tours the world

By Tajudeen Sowole

Spreading its mission of promoting Nigerian art across the world, the Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF) has added a yearly international touring art exhibition to its numerous activities.

Known for its several art events and projects as a foremost art foundation in the country, the non-for profit OYASAF is currently partnering with Ufuk Foundation, a Turkish organisation founded in Nigeria, on a peace mission across the world. The partnership, recently, took the works of 12 Nigerian artists on a tour of Africa, Europe and the U.S. The touring exhibition titled Promotion of Global Peace is designed to be a yearly event, Prince Yemisi Shyllon, the OYASAF founder, gave the assurance shortly after returning from the tour. 

One Specie, Different Colours by Adeola Balogun.

Raqib Bashorun, Veronica Otigbo Ekpei, Mufu Onifade Tolu Aliki, Juliet Ezenwa Maja-Pearce, Toyin Omolowo, Adeola Balogun, Akinrinola Ahmed, Soji Akinbo, Seyi Ajayi, Kelani Abass and  Ariyo Oguntimehin were the artists whose paintings and drawings were exhibited.
 The exhibition took off in March as part of events held during the meeting of African Union (AU), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last March. Other cities on the list are Istanbul, Chicago, Washington New York.  The show, Shyllon stated is a one-year traveling event.
 The crust of the collaboration, he stressed, was to get Africa to use its art and culture in contributing to peace around the world.  "OYASAF is in this collaboration with Ufuk to promote peace and harmony around the world using the richness of African arts and culture."

Some of the works viewed via soft copies indeed represent the diversity of the mainstream art scene of Lagos and by a mild extension, Nigeria. From Bashorun's pastels, Light From Behind and For the Love of Piet to Onifade's Inevitable, Aliki's Dialogue, Ekpei’s United we Stand as well as Maja-Pearce's Parables, the gathering favoured paintings. And quite a shift to see sculptors such as Bashorun, Balogun and Ekpei brought their energy in chiseling and moulding into the paper and canvas surfaces.
 For Aliki, Omolowo, Kelani and Oguntimehin as well as other painters on the tour, it was an opportunity to continue on the line of identity for which their works were known. Clearly, sculptures and relief works were missing.  “It was deliberate," Shyllon said. "For logistic reason, not that anyone has anything against sculpture."
 From establishing OYASAF Fellowship for foreign scholars who research Nigerian art, to art competitions as well as consistent acquisition of art, Shyllon continues to lift the appreciation value of Nigerian art, at home and overseas. This much was not lost to the organisers of the 2014 Dialogue and Peace Awards, which recognised Shyllon for "for his contribution to unity through art in the field of culture." During the ceremony held at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja,  ten recipients received awards in various categories.

Shyllon and his OYASAF organisation are not exactly new to being recognised for contributing to the development of arts and culture. The OYASAF founder is currently holding what observers describe as the first professorial chair of its kind in Nigeria. Two years ago, Shyllon endowed as the first Nigerian Professorial Chair in Visual Arts and Design with the Faculty of Art and Design at University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State.  And last year, the university honoured him with Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters (D.litt) Honoris Causa.

Few days ago Shyllon stressed that the objective of the professorial char "is to create activities and attract research and grants as well as interact with institutions across the world in promoting Nigerian arts and culture." He disclosed that for better appropriation of the chair, a journal is in view. "Eventually, there will be a journal to outlive the researchers and art scholars. The journal will serve as a central art for scholars across the world."

Between 2010 and 2013, the OYASAF Fellowship has received 13 art scholars from the US, Austria, Switzerland, and South Africa. Such Fellows are Janine Systma, Ian Bourland, Rachel Engmann, Andrea Bauer, Nomusa Makhubu, Kathleen Coates, Erica Agyeman, Amanda Hellman, Erin Rice, Amber Croyle Ekong, Kimberli Gant, Jessica Williams and Victor Ekpuk.

For three years, consistently, OYASAF has sponsored an annual entrepreneurial workshop on visual arts at the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos.  The entrepreneurial workshop covers painting with pastel, watercolor, printmaking and ceramics.

Kathleen Stafford, a printmaker and the wife of a former consul general of the American embassy in Nigeria were among the facilitators.
Prince Yemisi Shyllon
In 2013, OYASAF sponsored two drawing competitions among the secondary school students in Ile-Ife, Osun State and Akwa Ibom. The Ile - Ife competition was organised in collaboration with the art students of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) while the Uyo competition was organized with the Society of Artists (SNA), Akwa Ibom State chapter.  

Last year, OYASAF added aesthetic value, in sculptural contents to the Freedom Park, Lagos Island by donating 18 life-size sculptures to the events and cultural venue.  The donation, seen as the largest from a private initiative in recent history of public space art in Nigeria was however overshadowed by the book launch, Conversation With Lamidi Fakeye. The book, written by Shyllon and Dr Chioma Pogoson was the major focus of the day chasen to unveil the sculptures.

Shyllon, Prince of Abeokuta from the family lineage of Ogunfayo and Sogbulu of the “Laarun” ruling house of Abeokuta had, in 2005, contested for the royal stool of Alake of Egbaland. He lost to the current Oba, Gbadebo, who Shyllon described as “better prepared contestant from my ruling house.”

Sharing his thoughts on collecting of art, Shyllon, at a lecture titled Art Collection: A Personal Experience delivered at the Miami University in Oxford Ohio, Ohio, US, in April trace the passion to his royal background.

Excerpts from the lecture: “With regards to my interest in art, I will like to recall Margaret Trowell in her book Classical African Sculptures (1972), where it is stated that, “some of the greatest collections of art works, are mostly initiated through royal patronage”. Royal courts in Yoruba land and in many other cultures in Africa are exquisitely adorned with an infusion where sculptures are part and parcel of architectural mix. Such an environment defines my family setting. As a child of school age, I engaged in drawing with some veritable degree of love and passion. This accounts for why in my undergraduate days at the University of Ibadan, when the opportunity arose, I easily keyed up with art again. Fortunately, very close to the library of a school where I usually studied during holidays, was a demonstration art garden. I met some art students there, whose work I found of great artistic value. This situation connected me back to my childhood appreciation of art works. My history as a collector started precisely at this point. And this encounter is now close, to four decades.

“It is important to note that while I thought that my initial course of study in engineering is distanced from the arts; I since found a great link between both disciplines. One significant discovery for me is that both disciplines are centered on proffering solutions to the core needs of humanity in concrete and tangible terms.
What does it mean to be an art collector? The art of collecting is marked by a certain prodigious disposition towards objects made by humans. This is a situation where the lure to possess what other humans have made because of their symbolic value, are irresistible in the first instance.        

“This is a human attribute. But it is not everyone that is bitten by the compulsive bug to acquire the objects made by other humans. It is such that there are then various degrees to which as humans we respond to diverse urges to appreciate first, and then to acquire. From observation, the artist in general terms depend on the charity of the affluent. Hence, for any human to part with money to purchase the work of art, he or she must have had enough to feed with; but unfortunately the bulk of Nigerians are either of the middle class or are poor. While from a realistic point of view, this observation may be grudgingly true, it is not all affluent people that have the lure to collect works of art. Collecting of works of art therefore, remains a gift and an insight that a few possess. This is why in Nigeria, it is possible to count a handful of collectors when compared to its huge population. 

The thesis of a select few and seeming “zany” humans, evidently is not limited to Nigeria or Africa. A few not-so-wealthy people have some holdings of artworks but I hold the conviction that a phenomenal sense of abnormality, defines the art collector or a collector of any item. Collection therefore carries with it an obsession which is made manifest in the holding which an individual’s art collection defines.”

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Owusu-Ankomah returns with MICROCRON Begins

By Tajudeen Sowole

Bremen, Germany-based Ghanaian artist, Owusu-Ankomah will be back at October Gallery, London U.K for his second solo exhibition titled Microcron Begins, showing from
September 18 to October 25, 2014. 

Owusu-Ankomah, Microcron Begins No. 16, 2013. Acrylic on canvas, 180 x 280 cm. Photo copyright, Joachim Fliegner. Courtesy October Gallery.

In 2011, the painter showed Microcron-Kusum
Alana Pryce Tojcic, of the Press and Media at October Gallery, states that the artist works in a new palette of colours, with the large-scale paintings reflecting his “fascination with the Adinkra symbols of Ghanaian culture and depiction of monumental human forms.” 

 Tojcic notes how the themes dwell on a world of secret signs and hidden meanings. Owusu-Ankomah, she arguesexplores the coexistence of multi-dimensional universes within a single multiverse.”


Born in Sekondi, Ghana, in 1956, Owusu-Ankomah studied Fine Arts at Ghanatta College in Accra before moving to Bremen, Germany where he currently lives and works.

October gallery notes that his work of charged paintings on canvas depict an alternate world wherein monumental human figures – his core motif – are shown moving within an ocean of signs that surround, support and, in fact, define them. “The way in which these figures coexist and interact with various symbolic sets has developed through distinct phases over time, reflecting Owusu-Ankomah’s own journey of spiritual discovery. His early work drew heavily on the ancient traditions of African rock-painting and masquerade, before his figures shed their masks and body paintings to become unashamedly visible. Finally, naked and powerful, these eloquent actors became covered in scripts of complex symbols that, in a studied trompe l’oeil effect, camouflage their finely sculpted bodies against alternating backgrounds of relevant and significant signs.”

The gallery adds that his palette of new colours, further develops the possibilities,” stressing “visual signs of his own invention to the customary lexicon of adinkra symbols which each represent a particular concept used by the Akan-speaking peoples of Ghana. In the same Akan language kusum refers to sacred sites involved in the secret performances of mystery rites.”

The statement also notes how Owusu-Ankomah extends his visual explorations in novel directions by developing innovative symbols, such as the Microcron – the circle of shining orbs signifying ‘universes inside universes,’ which so entrances the figure in the image above. “This unique symbolic logic yokes together ancient traditions of secret knowledge with current speculation about the mysterious nature of reality derived from theoretical physics, which predicts the parallel coexistence of multi-dimensional universes within a single multiverse.”

The gallery describes his styles and techniques as some mysteries embedded in the symbolic web of messages– both secret and exoteric – which beguile the inhabitants of these marvellously painted worlds. “The same iconic glyphs encapsulate, for those who strive to decipher their concealed meanings further, Owusu-Ankomah’s musings on the wonders of this mysterious world replete with secret signs and alive with hidden meanings.”

The exhibition includes Artist’s Talk: Owusu-Ankomah
Scheduled for Saturday, September 20 2014. During the event, the artist will talk about his creative process and his new works on canvas.
 From his first solo at the gallery, some of the works such as Microcron-Kusum (No 2) and Thinking the Microcron (acrylic on canvas, 2011), the motifs or symbols seem to cut across cultures, particularly of African origin.
  He states “You see, the point in my work is not the familiarisition with any particular culture on any continent, but as you say, cutting across cultures, bringing together symbols of the world to create a potent universal language. My work is about creating one world language, one voice in unison.”

The Miraculous Deliverance Of Oga Jona by Chimamanda Adichie

Source: The Scoop Nigeria, and Chimamanda Adichie.

As soon as he opened his eyes, he felt it. A strange peace, a calm clarity. He stretched.  Even his limbs were stronger and surer. He looked at his phone. Thirty-seven new text messages – and all while he was asleep. With one click, he deleted them. The empty screen buoyed him. Then he got up to bathe, determined to fold the day into the exact shape that he wanted.

Chimamanda Adichie
Those Levick people had to go. No more foreign PR firms. They should have made that article in the American newspaper sound like him, they should have known better. They had to go. And he would not pay their balance; they had not fulfilled the purpose of the contract after all. Continue...

He pressed the intercom. Man Friday came in, face set in a placidly praise-singing smile.
“Good morning, Your Excellency!”
“Good morning,” Oga Jona said. “I had a revelation from God.”
Man Friday stared at him with bulging eyes.
“I said I had a revelation from God,” he repeated. “Find me new Public Relations people. Here in Nigeria. Is this country not full of mass communication departments and graduates?”
“Yes, Your Excellency.” Man Friday’s eyes narrowed; he was already thinking of whom he would bring, of how he would benefit.
 “I want a shortlist on my table on Wednesday,” Oga Jona said. “I don’t want any of the usual suspects. I want fresh blood. Like that student who asked that frank question during the economic summit.”
“Your Excellency… the procurement rules…we need somebody who is licensed by the agency licensed by the agency that licenses PR consultants…”
Oga Jona snorted. Man Friday used civil service restrictions as a weapon to fight off competition. Anybody who might push him out of his privileged position was suddenly not licensed, not approved, not registered. “I don’t want you to bring your own candidates, do you hear me? I said I want fresh blood, I’m not joking.”
“Yes, Your Excellency,” Man Friday said, voice now high-pitched with alarmed confusion.
“Put that DVD for me before you go,” Oga Jona said.

He watched the recording on the widescreen television, unhappy with his appearance in the footage. His trousers seemed too big and why had nobody adjusted his hat? Next to The Girl from Pakistan, he looked timid, scrunched into his seat. She was inspiring, that young girl, and he wished her well. But he saw now how bad this made him appear: he had ignored all the Nigerians asking him to go to Chibok, and now The Girl From Pakistan was telling the world that he promised her he would go. He promised me, she said. As if the abducted Nigerian girls did not truly matter until this girl said they did. As if what mattered to him was a photo-op with this girl made famous by surviving a gunshot wound. It made him look small. It made him look unpresidential. It made him look like a leader without a rudder.  Why had they advised him to do this? He pressed a button on his desk and waited.
Violence was unfamiliar to Oga Jona. Yet when Man Monday came in, his belly rounded and his shirt a size too tight as usual, Oga Jona fought the urge to hit and punch and slap. Instead, he settled for less: he threw a teacup at Man Monday.
“Why have you people been advising me not to go to Chibok? Why have you people been telling me that my enemies will exploit it?”
“Sah?” Man Monday had dodged the teacup and now stood flustered.
“I am going to Chibok tomorrow. I should have gone a long time ago. Now it will look as if I am going only because a foreigner, a small girl at that, told me to go. But I will still go. Nigerians have to see that this thing is troubling me too.”
“But Sah, you know…”
“Don’t ‘Sah you know’ me!” This was how his people always started. “Sah, you know…” Then they would bring up conspiracies, plots, enemies, evil spirits. No wonder giant snakes were always chasing him in his dreams: he had listened to too much of their nonsense. He remembered a quote from a teacher in his secondary school:  ‘The best answer to give your enemies is continued excellence.’ What he needed, he saw now, was an adviser like that teacher.
“Sah, the security situation…”
“Have you not seen Obama appear in Afghanistan or Iraq in the middle of the night to greet American troops? Is Chibok more dangerous than the war the Americans are always fighting up and down? Arrange it immediately. Keep it quiet. I want to meet the parents of the girls. Make gifts and provisions available to the families, as a small token of goodwill from the federal government.” He knew how much people liked such things. A tin of vegetable oil would soften some bitter hearts.
“From Borno we go to Yobe. I want to meet the families of the boys who were killed. I want to visit the school. Fifty-nine boys! They shot those innocent boys and burnt them to ashes! Chai! There is evil in the world o!”
“Yes Sah.”

“These people are evil. That man Yusuf was evil. The policemen who killed him, we have to arrest them and parade them before the press. Make sure the world knows we are handling the case. But it is even more important that we tell the true story about Yusuf himself. Yes, the police should not have killed him. But does that mean his followers should now start shedding blood all over this country? Is there any Nigerian who does not have a bad story about the police? Was it not last year that my own cousin was nearly killed in police detention? Let us tell people why the Army caught him in the first place. He was evil. Remember that pastor in Maiduguri that he beheaded. Find that pastor’s wife. Let her tell her story. Let the world hear it. Show pictures of the pastor. Why have we not been telling the full story? Why didn’t we fight back when The Man From Borno was running around abroad, blaming me for everything when he too failed in his own responsibilities?” Oga Jona was getting angrier as he spoke, angry with his people, angry with himself. How could he have remained, for so long, in that darkness, that demon possession of ineptitude?
“Yes Sah!”
 “You can go.”

He picked up the iphone and spoke slowly. “I want to expand that Terror Victims Support Committee. Add one woman. Add two people personally affected by terrorism. How can you have a committee on terrorism victims with no diversity?”
On the other end of the phone, the voice was stilled by surprise. “Yes Sah!” Finally emerged, in a croak.
He put down the phone. There would be no more committees. At least until he was re-elected. And no more unending consultations. He picked up the Galaxy, scrolled through the list of contacts. He called two Big Men in the Armed Forces, the ones stealing most of the money meant for the soldiers.
“I want your resignation by Friday,” He said simply.
Their shock blistered down the phone.
“But Your Excellency…”
“Or you want me to announce that I am sacking you? At least resignation will save you embarrassment.”
If those left knew he was now serious as commander-in-chief, serious about punishing misdeed and demanding performance, they would sit up. He ate some roasted groundnuts before making the next call. To another Big Man in the Armed Forces. They had to stop arresting Northerners just like that. He remembered his former gateman in Port Harcourt. Mohammed, pleasant Mohammed with his buck teeth and his radio pressed to his ear. Mohammed would not even have the liver to support any terrorist.  He told the Big Man in the Armed Forces, “You need to carry people along. Win hearts and minds. Make Nigerians feel that you are fighting for them, not against them… And when you talk to the press and say that Nigerians should do their part to fight terrorism, stop sounding as if you are accusing them. After all, let us tell the truth, what can an ordinary person do? Nothing! Even those people who check cars, if they open a boot and see a big bomb, what will they do? Will they try to subdue an armed suicide bomber? Will they pour water on the bomb to defuse it? Will they not turn and run as fast as their legs can carry them? Let’s start a mass education campaign. Get proposals on how best to do it without scaring people. When we tell Nigerians to report suspicious behavior, let’s give them examples. Suspicious behavior does not mean anybody wearing a jellabiya. After all, was the one in Lagos not done by a woman?” He paused.
“Yes, Your Excellency!”
“As for the girls, we have to go back to negotiation. Move in immediately.”
“Yes, Your Excellency.”
“I should not have listened to what they told me in that Paris summit. Why did I even agree to follow them and go to Paris, all of us looking like colonised goats?”
From the other end, came a complete and lip-sealed silence. The Big Man in the Armed Forces dared not make a sound, lest it be mistaken as agreement on the word ‘goat.’ Besides, he had been part of the entourage for that trip and had collected even more than the normal fat juicy estacode.
“I don’t want to hear about any other mutiny,” Oga Jona continued. “You will get the funds. But I want real results! Improve the conditions of your boys. I want to see results!”
The Big Man in the Armed Forces started saying something about the Americans.
Oga Jona cut him short. “Shut up! If somebody shits inside your father’s house, is it a foreigner that will come and clean the house for you? Is Sambisa on Google Maps? How much local intelligence have you gathered? Before you ask for help, you first do your best!”
“Yes Your Excellency.”
“And why is it that nobody interviewed the girls who escaped?”
There was a pause.
“By tomorrow night I want a report on the local intelligence gathered so far!”
“Yes, Your Excellency.”
Oga Jona turned on the television and briefly watched a local channel. Who even designed those ugly studio backgrounds? There was a knock on the door. It had to be Man Thursday. Nobody else could come in anyhow.
“Good afternoon, My President,” Man Thursday said.
Short and stocky, Man Thursday was the soother who always came cradling bottles of liquid peace.
This time, Oga Jona pushed away the bottle. “Not now!’
“My President, I hope you’re feeling fine.”
“I received a revelation from God. From now on, I will stop giving interviews to foreign journalists while ignoring our own journalists.”
“But My President, you know how useless our journalists are…”
“Will Obama give an interview to AIT and ignore CBS?”
“No, Your Excellency.”
“I know some of our journalists support Bourdillon, but we also have others on our side. I will beat them at their game! I want to do interviews with two journalists that support us and one journalist that supports Bourdillon. Find one that will be easy to intimidate.”
“I want names in the next hour.”
“Yes, Your Excellency.” Man Thursday now stood still, lips parted in the slack expression of a person no longer sure what day it was.
 “Tell the Supporters Club to change their television advertisements. They should stop mentioning ‘those who are against me.’ I will no longer give power to my enemies. They should mention only the things that I am doing. I like that one with the almajiri boy. It shows Nigerians that I have helped with education in the North. They should make more advertisements like that.”
In response, Man Thursday could only nod vigorously but mutely.

Later, after eating vegetable soup with periwinkle and a plate of sliced fruits – he was determined to keep himself from looking like Man Monday – he asked Sharp Woman to meet him in the residence. Not in the main living room, but in the smaller relaxing white parlor. Sharp Woman was the only one he fully trusted. He had sometimes allowed himself to sideline her, when he had felt blown this way and that way by the small-minded pettiness of other people. She was the only one who had not allowed him to dwell too much on his own victimhood. Once, she had told him quietly, “You have real enemies. There are people in this country who do not think you should be president simply because of where you come from. Did they not say they would make the country ungovernable for you? But not everything is the fault of your enemies. If we keep on blaming the enemies then we are making them powerful. The Bourdillon people are disorganized. They don’t have a real platform. Their platform is just anti-you. They don’t even have a credible person they can field, the only major candidate they have is the one they will not select. So stop mentioning them. Face your work.”
He should have listened then, despite the many choruses that drowned her voice.

It was she who, a few days later, and after the four rubbish candidates stage-managed by Man Friday, brought the new PR people, Kikelola Obi, Bola Usman and Chinwe Adeniyi – when he first saw their names, he thought: and some crazy people are saying we should divide Nigeria. They were in their early thirties, with rough faces and no make up; they looked too serious, as if they attended Deeper Life church and disapproved of laughter. They started their presentation, all three taking turns to speak. They stood straight and fearless. Their directness and confidence unnerved him.
“Sir, we voted for you the first time. We felt that you would do well if you had the mandate of the people instead of just an inherited throne. We liked you because you had no shoes. We really liked you. We had hope in you. You seemed humble and different. But with all due respect sir, we will not vote for you again unless something changes.”

He nearly jumped up from his seat. Small girls of nowadays! They had no respect! As if to make it worse, one of them added that if the election were held today, the only person she could vote for was The Man From Lagos. Oga Jona bristled. That annoying man. Even if a mosquito bit him in his state, he would find a way to blame the president for it. Still, Oga Jona could see why these foolish small girls were saying they would vote for him. The man had tried in Lagos. But their mentioning The Man From Lagos was now a challenge. He would rise to the challenge.

“Sir, the good news is that Nigerians forgive easily and Nigerians forget even more easily. You have to change strategy. Be more visible. Stop politicizing everything. Stop blaming your enemies for everything. You have to be, and seem to be, a strong, uniting leader. Make sure to keep repeating that this is not a Muslim vs. Christian thing.”
Oga Jona cut in, pleased to be able to challenge these over-sabi girls. “You think Nigerians don’t know that it is mostly Christian areas that they are targeting in Borno? And what about all those church bombings?”
The three shook their heads, uniformly, like robots. They were sipping water; they had declined everything else.

“With all due respect sir, if you look at the names of bombing victims, they are Muslims and Christians. If God forbid another terror attack occurs, you have to come out yourself and talk to Nigerians. Stop releasing wooden statements saying you condemn the attacks. We will prep you before each public appearance. You have a tendency to ramble. That’s the most important thing to watch out for. Be alert when you answer each question. Keep your answers short. You don’t have to elaborate if there is nothing to elaborate. Stick to the point. If they ask you something negative, be willing to admit past mistakes but always give the answer a positive spin. Something like ‘yes, I could have handled it better and I regret that but I am now doing better, and am determined to do even more because Nigerians want and deserve results.’ You have to start reaching out beyond your comfort zone. Nigeria has talent. Look for the best Nigerians on any subject at hand, wherever they may be, and persuade them to come and contribute on their area of expertise. Especially the ones who have no interest in government work. Even one or two who don’t completely agree with you. Think of Lincoln’s Team of Rivals.”


“Don’t worry, sir. The important thing is to reach out beyond your circle. Oga Segi was not a calm person like you. He even used to threaten to flog people. But he had a good network. Jimmy Carter is his friend. If he needed expertise from a university in Zaria or Edinburgh or Boston, he would pick up his phone and know somebody who knew or somebody who knew somebody who knew. But with all due respect, sir, you don’t have that. Bayelsa is a small place.”
These girls really had no respect o! He glared at Sharp Woman, who shrugged and muttered, “You said you wanted people who would tell you the truth.”
But he listened.

In his first interview, the words rolled off his tongue. Those girls had made him repeat himself so many times. “I want to apologize to the Nigerian people for some actions of my government. We could have done better. No country fighting terrorism can let everything be open. But we owe our country men and women honest, clear assurance that we are taking decisive action, with enough details to be convincing. I ask for your prayers and support. I have directed the security services to set up a website that will give Nigerians accurate and up-to-date information about our war against terrorism. I have also hired specialists to manage the flow and presentation of the information.”
And the words came easily when he shook hands with the parents in Chibok, simple polite people who clutched his hand with both of theirs. He should have done this much earlier; it was so touching. “Sorry,” he said, over and over again. “Sorry. Please keep strong. We will rescue them.”
The words were more reluctant when he wore a red shirt and asked to be taken to the gathering of The People in Red at the park. But he cleared his throat and urged himself to speak, particularly because, as he emerged from within his circle of security men, the People in Red all stopped and stared. Silence reigned.

“I came to salute you,” Oga Jona started. “We are on the same side. My government has made mistakes. We are learning from them and correcting them. Please work with us. Together, we will defeat this evil.”

They were still silent and still staring; they were disarmed. He thanked them and, before they could marshal their old distrust, he turned and left. That night, as he sank to his knees in prayer, he heard the muted singing of angels

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The 15th Caine Prize for African Writing goes to Okwiri Oduor

Kenya’s Okwiri Oduor has won the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing, for her short story entitled My Father’s Head’ from Feast, Famine and Potluck (Short Story Day Africa, South Africa, 2013).

Okwiri Oduor

Jackie May (MBE) the Chair of Judges, announced Oduor as the winner of the £10,000 prize at a dinner held few days ago at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

‘My Father’s Head’ explores the narrator’s difficulty in dealing with the loss of her father and looks at the themes of memory, loss and loneliness. The narrator works in an old people’s home and comes into contact with a priest, giving her the courage to recall her buried memories of her father.

Jackie Kay praised the story, saying, “Okwiri Oduor is a writer we are all really excited to have discovered. ‘My Father’s Head’ is an uplifting story about mourning – Joycean in its reach. She exercises an extraordinary amount of control and yet the story is subtle, tender and moving. It is a story you want to return to the minute you finish it.”

Okwiri Oduor directed the inaugural Writivism Literary Festival in Kampala, Uganda in August 2013. Her novella, The Dream Chasers was highly commended in the Commonwealth Book Prize, 2012. She is a 2014 MacDowell Colony fellow and is currently at work on her debut novel.

The panel of judges was chaired by award-winning author Jackie Kay MBE. Her novels have won a range of awards, including the Forward Prize, a Saltire prize, a Scottish Arts Council Prize and the Guardian Fiction Award. Her most recent collection of poems, Fiere, was shortlisted for the Costa award.  Her most recent book, Reality Reality, is a collection of stories and she is currently working on her new novel, Bystander. She was awarded an MBE in 2006, made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002 and is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University.

She was joined by the distinguished novelist and playwright Gillian Slovo, Zimbabwean journalist Percy Zvomuya, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Georgetown Nicole Rizzuto and the winner of the Caine Prize in 2001 Helon Habila. This is the second time that a past winner of the £10,000 Caine Prize will take part in the judging.

Once again the winner of the Caine Prize will be given the opportunity to take up a month’s residence at Georgetown University, as a Writer-in-Residence at the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice. To mark the fifteenth anniversary of the Prize, each shortlisted writer will also receive £500. The winner will also be invited to take part in the Open Book Festival in Cape Town in September 2014, the Storymoja Hay Festival in Nairobi and the Ake Festival in Nigeria.

Last year the Caine Prize was won by Nigerian writer Tope Folarin. Tope is the recipient of writing fellowships from the Institute for Policy Studies and Callaloo, and he serves on the board of the Hurston/Wright Foundation. He lives and works in Washington, DC, is part of Africa39 and is working on his first novel The Proximity of Distance.

Previous winners are Sudan’s Leila Aboulela (2000), Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina (2002), Kenyan Yvonne Owuor (2003), Zimbabwean Brian Chikwava (2004), Nigerian Segun Afolabi (2005), South African Mary Watson (2006), Ugandan Monica Arac de Nyeko (2007), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), Nigerian EC Osondu (2009), Sierra Leonean Olufemi Terry (2010), Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011), and Nigerian Tope Folarin (2013).