Saturday, 26 November 2016

Like the Bible, writers are also prophetic

For four days last week, one of Africa’s greatest writers, Professor Ngugi Wa Thiong’o of Kenya, was in Abeokuta, Nigeria, for Ake Book and Arts Festival. He shared his time with Edozie Udeze, mostly on his prison experience in 1977 and how it has so far fired his zeal to write more profound stories and lots more.

Professor Ngugi Wa Thiong’o is obviously one of the most prolific and audacious and foremost African writers in the last fifty years or so.  A Kenyan of the Gikuyu tribe by birth, he has been involved in works that have shaken authorities and opened the eyes of the common people not only in the Kenyan society but world-over.  For four days last week, he was in Nigeria as the special guest of the Ake Book and Arts Festival held in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

Ngugi was at his best, feeling relaxed and free to interact with people.  His foremost attention was on younger writers who constantly sought his views and advice on writing and the sort.  However, in the session where he was asked to address the audience specifically titled, Prison Stories and Literature of Resistance, Ngugi was at liberty to discuss his life as a writer hounded in prison then by the Kenyan authorities.  He also said much on the role of local African languages in the promotion and dissemination of African literature.

In his opening remarks, Ngugi said, “I have been privileged and honoured in this festival.  Here, I met young writers who have been writing or are prepared to write in their native tongues.  I met one who is set to write in Tiv language.  I also met another who is already writing in Yoruba.  I took down their names and it is my duty now to see how to encourage them; how to prod them on to live their dreams.  I just could not believe it.  For me, I’d say, let people begin in earnest to write in their mother tongue.  There’s one writer here who’s already versed in Hausa/Fulani language.  She told me her thoughts often come to her first in this language.”

Ngugi was enthralled to meet these young writers whose zeal for literature in local languages can help to preserve these languages in the best way possible.  He said further: “For me, I discovered on time it was better for me to write in my native Gikuyu language.  This is what I’ve been doing almost all my writing life.  To begin with, I denounced both English and Christianity.  I rejected my English name James, for African names have to be promoted and cherished.  And I say to you: let no one criminalize your language.  Do not allow them to brand your cultures as inferior.  If you do, then be ready and sure that in no time you’d lose your identity and then Western culture would take hold of you.”

Ngugi then narrowed his attention to his early days in Kenya when the government of Jomo Kenyatta arrested him for his play titled Ngaahika Ndeenda (I will marry when I want) “Oh, yes,” he said, grinning effusively, “I was arrested on the midnight of the New Year in 1977.  It was due to this play, and I was put in prison among hardened criminals – those on death roll and those doing life.”  By this time, he had embarked on a project to use theatre to liberate his native Kenyans.  He said: “I wanted to lessen the hold of the general bourgeois education system by encouraging participation in theatre performances.  This was to involve the ordinary people.  This was indeed embedded in the play Ngaahika Ndeenda, which was later shutdown by the dictatorial government of Jomo Kenyatta.”

Ngugi was to remain in prison for over a year where he used toilet papers supplied for their use in prison to write one of his best books titled, Devil on the Cross.  “And here was I, from being a professor of English at the University of Nairobi, to being a prisoner without a name.  I was imprisoned by an African leader, a fellow Gikuyu for writing a play in my native tongue.  If I was imprisoned by a European, it would have been understandable. If you conquer a people, the first thing you do is to suppress both their local languages and other cultural elements.  This is what I have resisted all my life,” he said.

In Detained (Prison Diary) 1981, he recounted the sordid account of those painful days in prison.  He said more: “when they conquer you, they impose their own ideas, languages and cultures on you.  Japan did it to Korea.  England did it in Africa so that you would hate your names and assume new ones.  It is a way to subdue your culture and retain their own naming system.  By this, your memory of what you have been will soon belong to the dustbin of history.  Indeed, part of the Slave Trade was to disconnect Africa from their people and it is still happening today.  It is part of mental and psychological torture.”

As a sequel to Devil on the Cross, in 1986, he wrote Matigari, based on a Gikuyu folktale but being the story of an imaginary messiah who came to liberate the people.  In it, the Kenyan government found its nemesis, hoping to get at the messiah and put him in prison for ever.  “Even though Devil on the Cross was written on toilet papers, I tried to replicate more of that experience in Matigari as a sequel in exile.  While in prison my daughter was born.  In prison, her picture was brought to me and I’d look at her from time to time.  It helped to strengthen me because other prisoners were barred from talking to me.  Today, the love I have for my daughter is indescribable.

“Oh, yes, I grew up on the Bible.  This reflected in Weep Not, Child and some of my early works.  The Bible is part of the prophetic tradition.  Yes, writers too are part of the prophetic tradition.  You wrote and someone comes to you to say, oh, how did you know that what you wrote had an echo in other people’s lives?  So the Bible and the Koran can be allies to writers.  When you write, you project what others are in their own respective lives just because you are also a prophet.  Today I can conveniently argue with any pastor on the Bible because I actually grew up on it,” he reminisced, grinning.

Born in January of 1938, Ngugi’s works include novels, plays, short stories, and essays, ranging from literary and social criticisms to children’s literature.  In 1962, he wrote The Black Hermit, a play to mark Ugadan’s independence.  Then in 1964, Weep Not, Child, followed in 1965 by The River Between.  These works conveyed the softer side of Ngugi as a Christian-child, battling to extricate himself from the deep Christian life imposed on him by the colonisers, the British overlords.

However, in his subsequent works, he became more involved in political stories revolving around the dictatorial tendencies of African leaders.  These include Petals of Blood, 1977, The Trials of Dedan Kimathi 1976, Secret Lives, 1976, A Grain of Wheat 1967, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, 1986, Arguing for African Writers’ Expression in their Native Language, Wizard of the Crow, 2006, Dream in a Time of War.  A Childhood Memoire, 2010, In the House of Interpreters: A memoire, 2012, Birth of a Dream Weaver: A Memoire of a Writer’s Awakening, 2016 and lots more.

Now, a Professor of Literature at the University of California, USA, Ngugi has been in exile for over thirty years.  “Often, what you see and experience when you are gagged enriches your works.  No form of restriction or imprisonment is good for anybody.  But what do you do?  When it comes, you take it and you move on.  At times, stories come out of it,” he reasoned, smiling broadly for effect. 

Monday, 7 November 2016


Jennifer Amuche Ejinkeonye
(+2348179006456, +2349029931182)

It was past the middle of the year when the news of certain suicide mission bombers that had usurped in the country, filled the air.  Most people had laughed about it and even termed it a total rumour. It however became breaking news when the radios, television stations and social internet media began to give evident proof of some missions they had accomplished in certain parts of the country.

It was finally a major fear in the University of Benin, Benin-city, Edo State when news came at a point in late September, that the school will be bombed. The notice according to the school security read the exact date which was coincidentally the country’s Independence Day. Due to this looming danger, the security became more vigilant and began searching students with handheld detecting machines. The line became unusually very long, especially if one was going to be coming from the school’s back gate or the main gate, where cars usually passed.

The presumed day for the school to be bombed drew close and students who were under tension began to race off to their homes, not minding if they stayed far from the state or near. The road then released its blood sucking demons and some of those unfortunate students who had travelled by road, lost their lives in motor accidents.

The few ‘brave students’ that had made up their minds to stay back in school, were mainly those that stayed off the campus in areas like Osasogie, BDPA, and Ekosodin. This did not change the fact that they were still wallowing in fear of the unknown and the unpredicted. Most lecturers were unavoidably off duty, because of the absence of a large percentage of students. The faculty building was void of any form of learning activity. Lecture halls were sparingly occupied by few students whose ears itched to hear any form of warning that could possibly be a sign of an oncoming danger; in relation to this unrest. A student would often imagine that a security officer could go around the various Faculties, holding a Public Address System and announcing in the most loud way saying: “Students are advised to evacuate the building ASAP! There’s been a situation!”

The students however decided to loosen up a bit from the whole heat. They chose to create a little fun of the situation and began to consciously count down to the d-day. One of the students Ogaga, who was a student of Theatre Arts decided to pull a stunt in the same week preceding the chosen day the University might come crashing. He probably wanted to see how much he could deliver, as a good student of Theatre Arts or even more, he wanted to test the competence of the security officers at the School’s main gate.

Ogaga was simply asked to be searched by the security officers but refused to comply. His attitude seemed strange enough when all of a sudden he further intensified this by tossing his bag forcefully to the ground and almost in the speed of light, zoomed off, brushing dust and hot air on the faces of those around him. Naturally, this caused an upheaval. The situation became very chaotic. There was a serious stampede. There was a feeling of trepidation. Pandemonium filled the air. Some people fell with a heavy thud in the course of running.  The crowd danced around in great confusion; every one, trying to pave way for his or her own safety. The security post was empty before one could say “Jack!”  All the security officers had taken to their heels too. In no time, the young man came back laughing out loud. Some students who had not raced off too far also came back to the scene and joined in the laughter. A voice came out of the crowd saying: “Oh boy ehhhhh! That was one crazy show you just pulled though! But wetin dey work you na?” Another aggressive voice sprang from the crowd saying: “Ogun kill you there! You dey mad! Can you imagine the nonsense!” Ogaga is just one hell of a crazy guy. It was his nature to take these different forms of comment every time he acts up like this. He was used to it! All he did was crack out a foolhardy laughter. The security summoned him and gave serious warning against his unruly attitude in such a sensitive period. He apologised earnestly and was pardoned. The obvious was however realised. The students had come to understand that even the school security cannot guarantee their safety, if a tumultuous disturbance eventually occurred.

Yoyinsola, a 20 year old girl who was dark in complexion with a light brown thick hair, of a height, 5 inch tall, quite plump in size, with very large but beautiful eyeballs, a flat nose and a very full lips is a final year student of English and Literature in the Faculty of Arts. She was among the few students that stayed back in school. She resided in Lagos state which was quite distant from Edo State. Since she lived quite far from home, she did not imagine taking the risk of travelling; as she was sceptical about what move to make, owing to the news she had heard about increased fatal motor accidents at this time.

Exactly a day before the presumed day of the terrorists’ arrival, Yoyinsola who had been in her room at the Hall Two school hostel made up her mind to go to one of the free lecture halls, in the Faculty of Arts and do some revision of her courses due to the upcoming assessment which had unfortunately been postponed, as a result of the imminent crisis.

Walking through the pathways leading to the Faculty from the hostel hall road, with a bag which contained her books being clutched to her back, she makes her way down to one of the lecture halls in the A series, on the first floor. She chose to sit on one of the chairs very close to the windows and adjacent to the back door, which was at the rear end and extreme back of the hall. This was just so that if there was any form of unrest, she would easily take her exit either through one of the widely open and broken windows or the back door. This was a great safety plan to her and so she resolved to start her reading.

Yoyinsola had hardly flipped through two pages of her Stylistics note when she noticed a one-eyed man quite ragged in dressing, sitting on one of the chairs in the hall. The moment she gazed at him, he turned his head to a 45 degree angle and threw a glance at her. She immediately looked away, but unfortunately, it seemed like the strange looking man had instantaneously developed interest in her and was now staring, almost without a blink. Her instinct told her that he still had his gaze on her. She did not look up any more but fixed her eyes strongly to her note book; though she was clearly nervous. She kept wondering if she was the only one that seemed to have noticed the man. She took a quick scan of the other students around and realised that they were seriously either glued to their books or carried away by some music playing through their phones or head set.  She was too scared to get up. Somehow, she sprang up, and started to walk towards the front seats where a group of four boys sat, reading. But as she walked forward, the strange man who had stood up simultaneously with her, walked forward, just like her too; as if they were headed to the same direction. Her heart began to pound real hard and fast “Dum! Dum! Dum! Dum! Dum!” she could hear the sound from inside. She whispered to herself in a low tone: “ahhhh! Oluwa shanu mi o!”

Finally she gets to the seat before the strange man. He paused and turned around heading towards the back door, seeing that she was in the midst of other male students. “Good afternoon guys!” She greeted. They all responded in one accord saying, “good afternoon.” She continued: “I’m really sorry to have come to interrupt your reading. I actually just came to ask if you have noticed that strange looking guy headed towards the back door, since you came in.” They all turned their head at once to observe him. As they turned, they noticed that he was really a strange looking man and that he seemed to be making calls and actually walking forward again from behind to where they were. From among the four male students, Jayden asked: “Could it be that he is insane?

Emmanuel cuts in: “Insane? How can an insane man use a phone as good as a Blackberry Torch 6 to make calls? So tell me, did you buy it for him? Common Jay! You’re better than that.”
“Let’s alert the security at once!” Advised Owie.
“I think I should go and try to distract him,” suggested Chibuike.
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Yoyinsola asked. I prefer we wait on the security that Owie just stepped out to go and alert.”
“I will try,” Chibuike added.
Chibuike walked up to the strange man who at this time was sitting very close to the front door and said: “bros how far? You get class for here? We dey pay money for material. Make you give me your hundred naira.”
The strange looking man stood up without giving any response and walked away from Chibuike, only for him to locate another sit in this same lecture hall. Chibuike stood transfixed. Emmanuel and Jayden walked up to Chibuike to inform him that they were leaving. Jayden said: “omo guy! I don vanish from this place. I no understand this level one bit. Make me and my brother waka go BDPA before shit go go down.”
“Ok no p,” replied Chibuike.

The other students who were in this hall at this time had noticed the awkward situation, so one after the other, they made their way quietly, out of the class. The class was almost totally empty now. Only Yoyinsola, Chibuike and about three other students were left when Owie stepped in with two hefty security men who followed behind him and in no time, carried the man away.

Owing to this incident, Yoyinsola concluded that she was really going to go home. In fear, she packed her clothes hastily as soon as she got to her room. She kept packing her things and murmuring in under tones saying: “Hm! I don’t understand what this country is gradually turning into. They are talking of removing fuel subsidy and another problem is raising its ugly head. Abeg let me go home before another Civil war starts and I would not be able to cross borders to see my family members again.”  

At exactly 6:00am the next day, Yoyinsola was at “God is Good” Park, Uselu. She bought a ticket of N2350. The vehicle departed at about 6:30am after loading passengers and she arrived in Lagos at exactly 1:45pm. She was happy that at least she was home; close to her loved ones and that she would be safe under the guide of her parents, Mr and Mrs Babajide. Yewande, Yetunde and Yemisi, her three little sisters welcomed her as soon as she was home. Her mother was happy too. She was so tired, due to the travel stress so she decided to take a cool shower and observe a nap. Yoyinsola slept for hours like a log of wood on her bed.

Sister Yoyin! Sister Yoyin! Wake up! Wake up now! Yemisi her smallest sister yelled. “You slept till dawn. It’s already 8:00 am and you are still sleeping. Daddy said everyone should be in the sitting room to watch the news, so we can know what’s happening in the country.” Yoyinsola reluctantly got up and went to the sitting room.

The leading story for the day on the POT news station was that a number of Yoruba indigenes living in the northern part of Nigeria, had been unjustly killed. In Lagos, a curfew had just been declared for 7:00pm. The Yorubas intended to have their own pound of flesh. They would mercilessly rip off any Hausa man’s head they find. It was another sign of an ethnic and tribal war trying to make history repeat itself.

Meanwhile, there was an ongoing protest by different working sectors of the country, against the removal of fuel subsidy. Due to this, the Federal government began to consider placing the country in a State of Emergency.

Mama Yoyinsola being aware of the situation decided to immediately go to the market and buy as much as she could in order to preserve food in the house, just in case the national disorder lasts for more than 24 hours.

The next morning, Mr Enoch Babajide woke the whole house up with the announcement of news that was strange to the ears. The latest warning was that nobody should use any form of mirror throughout the day or attempt fetching water from the well. According to him, this was because the terrorists were at it again. They had taken their plan to destroy lives to another dimension. They had probably resorted to the use of juju powers.

Yoyinsola reacted with a devil may care attitude to this news by laughing uncontrollably like a radio without battery. She immediately ran into her room, slammed the door behind her and said in an assured tone: “I’d really love to experiment and see what will happen. I’m sick and tired of all these false tales. Rubbish! Mtchhhheeeeeew.” She stood, acting ridiculously fearless in front of her 36 inches long mirror which was firmly nailed to a corner of the wall close to the wardrobe in her room. The mirror only gave Yoyinsola her exact plump image and nothing more. She was not satisfied so she picked up Yetunde’s hand mirror, placed it very close to her face and started to prickle her pimples; waiting to see some ugly face rip her fat head off or some weird hands that would leave her with an open skull. Still, she saw absolutely nothing.

In the excitement of the thwarting evidence gotten from the two tests she had carried out, Yoyinsola made further joke of the bizarre news by going to pick an average sized face mirror from her mother’s room and held it open by holding it to her chest. She proceeded in a somewhat robotic movement to the sitting room where her parents and three sisters sat, glued to the television set. The moment she stepped in, Yewande, Yetunde and Yemisi who saw her immediately let out a loud piercing scream in unison, “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” pointing to the direction of the mirror with their eyes so bulged out, one would think they were going to tear out of their sockets.