Ikot Abasi, also called Opobo, formerly Egwanga, port town, Akwa Ibom state, southern Nigeria. The town lies near the mouth of the Imo (Opobo) River. Situated at a break in the mangrove swamps and rain forest of the eastern Niger River delta, it served in the 19th century as a collecting point for slaves. In 1870 Jubo Jubogha, a former Igbo (Ibo) slave and ruler of the Anna Pepple house of Bonny (28 miles [45 km] west-southwest), came to Ikot Abasi and founded the kingdom of Opobo, which he named for Opobo the Great, a Pepple king (reigned 1792–1830). Also called Chief Jaja by Europeans, he destroyed the economic power of Bonny and made Opobo the leading power of the eastern Niger delta oil-palm trade until he was deported in 1887 by the British, who established a trading post at Opobo Town, 4 miles (6 km) southwest, on the west bank of the Imo River. Modern Ikot Abasi serves as a trading centre for the yams, cassava (manioc), fish, palm produce, corn (maize), and taro produced by the Ibibio people of the area; it also is known for boatbuilding, although a sandbar partially blocks the entrance to its port from the Gulf of Guinea. The town is linked by highway to Aba and Port Harcourt. Pop. (2006) local government area, 132,023.
I caught rumblings of the fuel subsidy removal affair while on my holiday travels, but only in the past few days have I gained a sense of just what a delicate moment in time this is for Nigeria.
Nigeria needs to keep to a formula based approach for determining fuel prices in the short term, while expediting actions in respect of putting in place a vibrant domestic refining industry.
walking by the waters,
down where an honest river
shakes hands with the sea,
a woman passed round me
in a slow, watchful circle,
as if I were a superstition;
...whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one?...
Running splash of rust
and gold-flung and scattered
among seven hills like broken
china in the sun.
Many poems in Fiere (Scots for friend, mate, companion) grow out of the experience Jackie Kay had tracing her birth-parents, as chronicled in her memoir Red Dust Road. But this collection of 44 poems has a stronger focus, one which draws on Kay's unusual personal story but grows into a celebration of what it means to be close to someone.
In Nigeria, she sees a road "stretching/ perhaps into infinity/ to a foreseeable future/ and back to/ lost time".
It didn't take me long after arriving in Nigeria as a schoolboy to learn the legend of Samson Siasia. One of the best footballers among my classmates was immediately given "Siasia" as a nickname, and when I asked why, I would be regaled of the eponymous player's energetic style in the colors of Nigerian clubs Julius Berger and Flash Flamingoes, bombing forward to goal with pace and power. I watched him in the Nigerian 1994 African Nations Cup winning side, and playing in the USA '94 World Cup, that exciting, raw team that entertained everybody, and only lost in that extra time heart-breaker against Italy.I've also watched his stewardship of Nigerian youth national teams, and his great exploits managing some of the promising talent that's become the backbone of our current side. For me, it should have been a no-brainer for Siasia to be promoted to national team coach, and I've said so again and again. Well hallelujah! Finally it's come to pass. SIasia was appointed head coach of the Super Eagles last month. The heartwarming stuff started straightaway, with his celebrating with genune emotion, and singing Yoruba praise songs. This is an institution that means to almost 200 million people so much more than just a bunch of footballers ("41. They aren't kidding when they talk about football as a unifying force.") It's only proper for someone granted its custodianship to demonstrate what it really means to him, especially when that demonstration includes a bit of native Yoruba to reinforce the fact that we're keeping this business properly in the family. Yes, yes Shaibu Amodu (National team coach in several stints between foreign coaches) before him was also Nigerian, but he always seemed as much bureaucrat as trainer, and rarely showed the passion and fire I think our boys need to show what they're capable of doing in that green strip. In the past we've had great leaders in the field such as Yekini, Okocha, Olise, Amokachi and even Siasia. Unfortunately we don't really have that any more, so we need a spark from the sidelines. If Siasia can't provide that, no one can.
I've recently posted several Nigeria themed articles on The Nervous Breakdown. I started writing up a series of scatter-shot observations, 50 in all, on the occasion of the country's golden jubilee. The first part of "50 Observations on 50 years of Nigeria," items 1 - 16, touches on our staple food, fufu, military coups, parenting, machetes, the national anthem, Niger delta pollution, malaria, rainy season, "Ghana must go," Fela, and much more. The second part runs from items 17 - 32, touching on the principal languages, street hawkers, economics, religion, colonization, okada, Dele Giwa, clothing, ogogoro, and includes a brief La Divina Commedia parody aimed against the scum who light gas flares. The third part runs from items 33 - 50 and touches on Pidgin, Nollywood, masquerades, jaas, football, literature, the civil war and the cold war, serious oyinbo grammar, and of course partying.My own interactions with the land of my birth have been complex, with so much time spent abroad, but so many crucial, formative years spent in Nigeria. I admit there is so much of me that reflects the time spent in America, and I do have a significant bent towards Britain, but the Igbo and overall Nigerian consciousness within me is mountainous. It's my utter foundation. I think I speak about Nigeria with an unflinching eye to my experiences of its glories, its tragedies, and its absurdities, but regardless of context and mood, my hope and faith in Nigeria is unquenchable, and I hope that's plain in my series. As a sort of epilogue to the series, I posted an interview with award winning Nigerian-American novelist Nnedi Okorafor, whose African themed fantasy and science fiction stories have always delighted me. She was a good college friend of Chimezie, whom I met a few times while visiting my brother in University. He brought my attention to Zahrah the Windseeker, and I was hooked, and I'm hardly alone in that. Her work has been hoovering up prizes and acclaim, and she is incubating some very exciting projects in multiple media. In the interview I ask her primarily about the "bubbling calabash of language stew" in her latest novel "Who Fears Death." I also include a couple of gorgeous illustrations related to Nnedi's work, including the cover of Zahrah, and a pair of drawings by Ross Campbell, to whose work I was just introduced while preparing this interview. I'm really struck by Campbell's skill and feeling drawing ethnically diverse characters.It has been a busy period following the birth of my daughter, with many exciting developments at work, a scare for my father's health (to which Chimezie has alluded), a more hectic than expected holiday period, and much more. I'm always grounded by my family, but it was very nice to be further grounded by so much contemplation of the past, present and future of that paragon of complexity, my native Nigeria.
First of all let me mention that I've just completed my second installment in my series "50 Observations on 50 years of Nigeria." I'm giving it a day or two for a fresh-eye proofread, and I'll post it on The Nervous Breakdown probably tomorrow. In part 1, item 9 I said "Fela Anikulapo Kuti. 'Nuff said. We've always known he's the man. Nice to see the world catch up."I recently ran across video of a Fela performance in Calabar in 1971, shot by the legendary drummer Ginger Baker who recorded with Fela. Calabar is where I was born, and this concert would have been taking place as I was perfecting my toddling technique a few miles away (though I did also spend a lot of time rather farther away in my maternal home town of Ikot Ana). It's quite something to see that infectious energy of Fela. This was in the early years of his superstardom, and you can still feel the raw edge to the band which would grind its way to such unbelievable chops.
Nigerian female writers, it has been argued, really deserve commendation and encouragement with the value of impact they are making among their contemporaries in the Diaspora. Among over 400 leading women writers listed in Who's Who in Contemporary Women's Writing, edited by Jane Eldrodge Miller, Nigerians occupy conspicous percentage and position.
Some of these references include Flora Nwapa, a novelist, dramatist, short story writer and children's author; the late Zulu Sofola, novelist, dramatist, poet and children's literature writer; Kema Chikwe, a children writer, non fiction author and publisher; Tess Onwueme, a playwright; Mabel Segun, fiction writer, essayist and poet; Zaynab Alkali, novelist, short story writer and essayist; Buchi Emecheta, novelist and Catherine Acholonu, poet, dramatist, essayist and fiction writer. Others include Ifeoma Okoye, Adaora Lily Ulasi, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie and Ifi Amadiume. They have all proved their mettles in their various choice of genre and have won several awards in the world class record of literary circle.
—Yemi Adebisi, "Acholonu - Celebration of a Scholar," Daily Independent (Lagos)Ahem.
"They've all proved their mettles..."
That definitely settles
How uncountably in fettle
Lies the pen upon that nettle.
But of course I digress.
Anyway, I've been observing for a while the current efflorescence of Nigerian women writers. The above list does not even include Adichie, Oyeyemi, Atta, Nwaubani, and I could go on and on. And then there is Okorafor another important example whom I've mentioned here on Copia before, and with whom I'm wrapping up a wonderful interview for The Nervous Breakdown. Adebisi's full article is an extensive encomium of Acholonu, which is richly enough deserved, but my main interest was captured by the leading paragraphs I quoted above. I don't know what is behind the phenomenon, but long may it continue.
Spotted this new Talib Kweli song, called the Ballad of the Black Gold in a hypem link (you can watch the video there). Very timely given the recent BP mess. Much respect to Talib for going into some of the history of Oil politics in Nigeria; an excerpt from Verse 2 is below:
Nigeria is celebrating 50 years of independence
They still feel the colonial effects of Great Britain's presence
Dictators quick to imitate the West
Got in bed with oil companies and now the place is a mess
Take a guess, which ones came and violated
They oiled up the soil, the Ogoni people was almost annihilated
But still they never stayed silent
They was activists and poets using non-violent tactics
That was catalyst for soldiers to break into they crib
Take it from the kids and try to break'em like a twig
And make examples of the leaders; executed Saro-Wiwa,
Threw Fela's mom out the window right after they beat her
In an effort to defeat hope. Now the people's feet soaked in oil [?]
So the youth is doing drive-bys through speed boats [?]
They kidnap the workers, they blowing up the pipelines
You see the fires glowing in the nighttime
One of my favorite quotes is from one of my greatest idols, Nigeria's great writer and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka: "A tiger does not proclaim its tigritude. It pounces." This tiger of a story [Who Fears Death] definitely pounced on me without proclamation or warning. I'm glad I was ready for it.
—Nnedi Okorafor—"The Tigritude of a Story"Soyinka's famous quote, made in response to the Négritude movement of Senghor, Césaire, and other Francophone African writers has always resonated with me as well. Afrocentrism that spends most of its time contemplating its own plumage was perhaps inevitable in those early days, so soon after the colonial yokes had been thrown off. But having been immersed in our own reality, having, as Nnedi also mentions, endured wars of desperation such as the Biafran, having lived to see our resources squandered and the legacy of revolutionary leaders turned despots, we're past time for preening. If we plan to survive, it's well past mealtime. We'd better pounce. To be fair, Négritude never really took off in Anglophone Africa. In "Christopher Okigbo," Sunday Anozie quotes a letter sent to him by the great Nigerian poet. In 1966 Okigbo had been invited to the Negro Festival of Arts in Dakar, where his poem Limits was awarded first prize. Okigbo wrote:
About Dakar. I did not go... I found the whole idea of a negro arts festival based on colour quite absurd. I did not enter any work either for the competition, and was most surprised when I heard a prize had been awarded to Limits. I have written to reject it.
But I do think Okigbo and Soyinka are right to shrug off the totems of tigritude, I think we're seeing a generation of African writers come into their own through the urgency of the modern African reality I describe above. I look forward to reading Nnedi's own testament, which UPS delivered yesterday.
As Anozie says, "This sums up Okigbo's whole attitude to the color stress in Négritude." Soyinka's reaction was of the same kind. Anozie does actually surprise me by going on to claim that Okigbo's objections are ultimately shallow, and Soyinka's "cynical." To be honest, I find a lot that annoys me in Anozie's book, overall, but he also does more to plumb Okigbo's depths than anyone else I've seen, so it's still well worth a read.
By the way, Nnedi says:
Amongst the Igbos, back in the day, girls who were believed to be ogbanjes were often circumcised (a.k.a. genital mutilated) as a way to cure their evil ogbanje tendencies.
I had heard of female circumstances in parts of Igbo land, but I hadn't heard of its use as a counter to Ogbanje. I wonder whether that custom was widespread in Igbo land (as for example destruction of twins was a custom more in the far south than elsewhere). Time to ask our elders some straight questions.
In the wake of Yar'Adua's death, The PBS NewsHour published an outline of Nigeria's leaders, under the rubric "Nigeria's Post-Colonial Political Turmoil." Fair enough, and ever since archetypical man-of-action Nzeogwu* decided he wasn't messing about, it really has been a turbulent cascade, and sobering to re-read even in the drab copy of foreign service wonks. Stories of the many intrigues that have characterized Nigeria to date were always the midnight snack of my mates and I defying curfew in school, and many of these names are vivid folk heroes and villains to me. In a recent visit to my parents' they and my Uncles and family friends had even more lurid tales of the machinations surrounding the turnover of power from Yar'Adua to Goodluck Jonathan, and I do wonder where these will fetch up in the endless drama of the Stumbling Giant of Afica.* Nzeogwu is an extraordinary person whose Wikipedia page does him no real justice. I recommend to anyone interested in African politics to find one of the several books about him, and about the seismic events he set in motion. You can hardly do better than the volume by later twice head of state Olusegun Obasanjo himself, if you can find it in print in the West. Anyway, in their chart is a surprising omission. Nigerians will spot it in an instant.
- Tafawa Balewa (Northern People's Congress)
- J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi (Military)
- Yakubu Gowon (Military)
- Olusegun Obasanjo (Military)
- Shehu Shagari (National Party of Nigeria)
- Muhamaddu Buhari (Military)
- Ibahim Babangida (Military)
- Ernest Shonekan (Military)
- Abdulsalami Abubakar (Military)
- Olusegun Obasanjo (People's Democratic Party)
- Umaru Yar'Adua (People's Democratic Party)
- Goodluck Jonathan (People's Democratic Party)
It's more technically correct to have buried M.K.O. Abiola in the Babangida section, although it is the plain reality that Abiola never went from President-Elect to President.
Another observation is the procession from the "(Military)" to the "(PDP)." If Nigeria is to be a nation where ideas shine as brightly as individuals, then perhaps it's fitting that one of the brighter individuals who stands for some of the more "bottom-up" ideas for Nigeria's future, Donald Duke, publicly ditched the PDP. (Yeah, and I'm not sure what kind of statement it makes that Facebook is probably the best source for an event that has caused quite a few ripples among Nigerians everywhere).
The PBS timeline does make for interesting reflection, not least upon hope that Nigeria is in for times rather less defined by the drama of personages than have been since 1960.