Book Talk

‘Protest poems are my responses to social injustice’

Efe Paul Azino is one of the outstanding spoken words poets making a name for himself in Nigeria. His debut publication, “For Broken Men Who Cross Often” a book that comes with a CD of his recorded poems, is garnering rave reviews. He is also the director of the Lagos International Poetry Festival. In this interview Efe talks about, the poetry festival, the future of spoken word in relation to written poetry and what poetry means to him. Enjoy!

 

Efe Paul Azino

Efe Paul Azino


Your first poetry collection, For Broken Men Who Cross Often, is coming some 15 years after you set out as a performance poet. Why did it take this long for you to bring out a collection?

I think it was primarily an issue of timing between having a ready manuscript and a publisher willing to take the risk. I had been writing actively for about 17 years. But few presses were publishing poetry and I wasn’t going to self-publish. Besides, I had my sights, in Nigeria, on two publishing outfits and I was willing to wait until the elements aligned. I was also pretty much preoccupied with the stage at the time so that kept any publishing anxieties I had at bay for a while.

One of the foremost performance poets in the country Sage Hasson has said that he doesn’t believe poetry was meant to be written down. To what extent do you agree or differ from this view, especially seeing that you have just published a collection?

There was poetry pre-literacy. Before Guttenberg there were griots, bards and troubadours. The Iliad and The Odyssey came to us, originally, in oral form as did The Canterbury Tales. The oral tradition predates the literary. But these are just mediums. Each with its own convention. None superior to the other. Essentially, poetry is not defined by its medium. Both traditions have given us great works of beauty, truth and rigour. Our dance is to the song, not to the vehicle that brings it to us.

Publishers across the world are reluctant to take on poetry, forcing poets to self-publish their works, yet Farafina, through its Kamsi imprint, decided to take on your collection. Can you tell us what led to this deal? How did it come about?
I have had a relationship with Kachifo since about 2010 and we have had on and off discussions about producing an audio compilation of my works since there weren’t publishing poetry at the time but were tinkering with the idea of audio books. We resumed discussions again in 2013 and I sent in a query letter. I guess there was a stronger business case for it this time. Spoken Word Poetry was gaining mainstream appeal and I had built a fan base over the years so there was a ready market as it were. We could marry both traditions. Do what Homer couldn’t do. Have the poems speak aurally and in text. A year later, we reached an agreement, signed a contract and here we are. Time will tell how sensible a risk it was to take on the part of Kachifo, but if the early signs are anything to go by, I’ll wager that it was a good one.

One interesting thing about this collection is the mix of strident social criticisms, such as in “Justice Has Been Kidnapped” and the immigrant experience like “Yesterday We Ran”. What informed the choices of the themes that went into this collection?
I have built an oeuvre of protest poems over the last decade, or more, because it was the only way I felt I could respond to the persistent social injustice and structural dislocations perpetuated by Nigeria’s broken democracy. There’s a certain level of socio-political engagement I consider necessary under such circumstances, one that does not preclude artistic rigor or sacrifice the beauty of form and content that poetry demands, one that sometimes spills out from the page and stage to the streets. But if For Broken Men Who Cross Often has any overarching theme, it is liminality, particularly the exploration of the liminal space between dreams and their actualization.

Often poetry is personal and relative to the experience of the poet. How much of yourself did you invest in this collection?

TS Eliot considered the best poetry to be impersonal and that the poet’s responsibility was to find the exact words for thoughts and feelings, put the reader or listener in touch with it, and disappear from the picture, personal feelings, biography and all. I agree. Somewhat. But there is a sense in which fixing precise words to ambiguous moods requires you to be in touch with your feelings, to mine the personal, trusting it converges, universally, with the human experience. So yes, there is a lot of the personal in the book and there are one or two poems, like Dream Country, that give up their biographical slant.

Most performance poets would have been ok releasing just CDs of their spoken word. Why was it important for you to have a book to go along with it?

I have always wanted a hybrid output that marries both the oral and literary traditions. Not all spoken word poems need to pass the test of the page. A good poem is not defined by how well it sits on paper. That said, I think it’s important to master both mediums, to understand their conventions. Getting the poems across to people in the medium most convenient for them was important to me. So there’s a book for those who would rather read poetry and a CD for those who prefer to listen.

Indeed. So why do you think spoken word is all the rave now?
The audience for poetry is declining and increasing. What is being lost on the page is being gained on the stage. You are most likely to find an open mic venue where poets gather before an eclectic mix of enthusiasts in almost every city in the world. It’s the immediacy of it. It’s poetry in all its power demanding no particular level of cultural capital or competence to access it. It’s the urgency of its themes. How it’s direct yet sublime. And of course it comes with its challenges, as with every other genre of literature and performance. Part of which borders on quality, on a low bar of entry that permits every person able to make two sentences rhyme to don the toga of poet, affix it to their names on Facebook and Twitter handles and tag the universe in every post. But hey, let a thousand flowers bloom…

Do you see foresee spoken word dominating poetry in the traditional sense that we know it, especially as poetry collections are mostly read by poets, whereas spoken word appeals to even non poets. Is spoken word a threat to traditional forms of poetry?

I think both forms will always exist side by side. But poetry is reaching a larger audience through spoken word and this, most likely, will continue. There will be more audio CDs, accompanied with videos, coming out. But books will endure. Their numbers may dwindle but there will always be those who access poetry via the page and its attending conventions. Will this affect the quality of poetry in the long term? Yes and no. There will be a lot more dross. But every generation will throw up its Homers, its Seamus Heaneys, its J.P Clarks, Its Okot p’Biteks, its Warsan Shires. Both traditions will endure. But spoken word poetry will expand the audience for the art form more than the page.

In your poem “This is Not a Political Poem” the poet offers to lead the people to march against the corrupt government. Do you subscribe to the view that writers should be the vanguard in the fight for social justice?

Writers are citizens too. If they feel so aggrieved then by all means, yes. Fight! Most writers have a heightened sense of justice, of fidelity to truth and equity. This finds expression on the page. But there are urgent moments that require a certain kind of strategic engagement with the forces of oppression and repression. I feel a sense of responsibility to engage politically. But this is personal. If writers, as citizens, on an individual level, feel a compulsion to engage, great. But you won’t find  me  judging  passivity.
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You are the director of the Lagos Poetry Festival. Can you tell us why it became important to organize this festival?
Myself and the poet Titilope Sonuga had just concluded teaching a workshop for a Dutch based organization called Waza Africa and somehow veered off into a discussion about the growing army of young people engaging with poetry and the attending dearth of quality, a common complaint. So my plan, initially, was to do something about it, to run a three day workshop, throw in about two panel discussions and round off with an evening of performances. But I started to feel like I was cradling the head of an idea, one I wasn’t going to find satisfaction pursuing until I embraced its full form – a festival, something on an international scale. This was a thought I had flirted with in 2013 but balked at. This time I decided to go for it. What we set out to do was to create an annual point of convergence, in Lagos, for poets and artists from across Nigeria and the world, to engage the art form and its interaction with society, cater to the growth needs of young and established poets alike through master classes, create shared performance spaces, engender collaborations and hurl our songs at the wind for three days. There was no international poetry festival in West Africa prior to this. It had to happen. And it did.

Inevitably, yes. What are the places of festivals like this in furthering discourse on literature?
Festivals promote creativity and diversity. They bring a range of writers, poets, and artists into dialogue with themselves, the consumers of their works and society at large, and put a necessary spotlight on particular books and authors. There is a certain energy and drive you leave a space like the Ake Book and Art Festival with. There is buzz around literature these festivals generate that positively affect book sales as well. There are necessary conversations that linger. It’s exciting to see what’s happening with the growing number of festivals now running across the continent. We must continue to encourage and support this trend, not gripe about who was or wasn’t invited.

One challenge with staging festivals like this is continuity. What plans are you making to ensure that this festival continues for years to come?

We had a reasonably successful first outing and there is a confidence that gives going into the next. The key thing is to keep creating value, value for the artists, attendees, sponsors and the city at large. A festival or event that creates and sustains value will perpetuate itself, all other things being equal. Our sponsors are happy, more organizations have indicated interest, we have poets sending in messages from across the world who want to get involved. I believe we are unto something. Lagos International Poetry Festival 2016 will definitely be a more robust and exciting affair.

Shall we talk about you now? How did poetry come to you? How did you first encounter poetry?
Poetry came to me via books. Interestingly, through prose. I read and still read more prose than I do poetry. So I started out trying to write short stories. But each short story I wrote wanted to become a poem. But language, generally, has always fascinated me.

What next should your fans expect from you?
I’m currently working on a book-length poem called The History of Clothes. Also on touring a spoken word theatre production called Finding Home which I’m producing and performing in and which is directed by Femi Elufowoju Jr. across Accra, Nairobi, Jo’burg and Cape Town.

 
First publish in Daily Trust, Dec 26 2015

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Story-Story

Once upon a time, on a fine Saturday, the President’s daughter had a lavish wedding and guests went home with gold-plated iPhones as souvenirs.
But on the following Monday, a bomb went off in the kingdom and killed a hundred people, and then some rascals went and abducted 240 girls from a school!
So incensed was the President by these tragedies that he danced his heart out the very next day at a campaign rally in Kano while there was still grief and shock in the air.
Two weeks later, the President’s daughter is honeymooning and the over 200 girls are probably being raped or killed and those in charge don’t give a damn. Shikenan. End of story…so far.

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Stop the killings now!

 

 

Following the incessant killings by Boko Haram , I asked Nigerian writers home and abroad for their reactions and here they are. Eloquent, moving and they are unequivocal about their demand for an end to the horror.

First published in Sunday Trust

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Helon Habila

“I think it is past time every Nigerian of conscience begins to speak out about what is going on not only in the North East but also in Plateau and Kaduna States. We are witnessing an unprecedented spate of violence perpetrated by a sick and lunatic group, all in the name of religion. There is another motive for this, but it is certainly not religion. No religion will sanction the killing of innocent children in their beds.  

So far the government has failed to realize the magnitude of this threat to the future of the country as a whole. It has been fighting a half-hearted war, in the process many of our military personnel have been killed needlessly. We need to know the full number and names of the military casualties, and the full number and names of every victim.  

Politicians keep pointing fingers at one another, trying to score cheap points. Some of them see the chaos as an opportunity to continue their looting and misgovernment, since all eyes are focused on the North-East. Meanwhile, a whole generation is being wiped out, in front of our eyes. The government needs to do more than it is doing. The Nigerian people need to stop acting as if all is well, it is not. We must speak out and force the government to take this seriously. You do not fight terror with kid gloves.”

Habila is the author of ‘Measuring Time’

 

 

Remi Raji

“There is no other better way to imagine the affairs of our state than to admit that we are gradually slipping into the crucible of darkness where intrigues rule above reason, and where the spillage of civil and military blood is almost equal to the spillage of oil on a daily basis in our country. The latest disaster of massacre where students were gunned down by religious or political Boko Haram fundamentalists must not only be condemned in strong terms; it must be met with the adequate and intelligent force that the federal government can muster. We should not make any mistake about it. We should desist from waxing political and politically correct in the face of these organised irresponsibilities all over the country. The impunity of disorder and banditry must be stopped in its track, and quickly too. No one will gain from this bloodletting except those who are too self-centred and fixated on the spoils of office, and those who want to hang onto power by all means necessary.

The federal government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan will do better to stamp out these obscenities, once and for all.”

 

Raji is a poet  and professor of English and African Studies, University of Ibadan

 

 

Eghosa Imasuen

“I admit with shame that I had almost become inured to the daily news of killings in the North-east, but this one struck me particularly hard. Coming so soon after the kidnap of 20+ girls, it spoke to someone’s utter incompetence. For hours afterwards, I kept asking, how do you leave a Federal Government College, a symbol of our commitment to unity, to education, how do you leave one unguarded in a region where you are at war with a group who thinks that education is haram? What was that about a checkpoint near the school? What was that? The school should have been garrisoned! My outrage has since become tempered and is herein replaced with pleading. Please end this. End it, my government. You can not be allowed to be stupid about this. You cannot be anything but brave and resolute. Just end the killings.”

—    Imasuen is the author of the novel Fine Boys

 

Chika Unigwe

“As a young girl, I was a boarder at a Federal Government College for six years. Before going to FGGC Bwari, Abuja, I had never been to the northern part of the country. I had hardly met any Non-Igbo Nigerian. The only Muslim I knew was a man who was considered eccentric because he was Igbo and Muslim. I remember being so excited I could not wait to leave. I remember that when the day finally came, I cried for a long time in the car that my mother threatened to have the driver turn back. She’d register me at one of the state schools near our house and I’d be a day student, she said. I thought of the biscuits and powdered milk and milo packed in my suitcase. I thought of the pocket money in my purse which I would have to return, and I stopped crying. However, even though I cried at the beginning of every term from missing home, I always looked forward to going back to school. Those six years at FGGC Bwari, Abuja, were some of the most glorious years of my childhood. Living with fellow students drawn from all over the country and across religious divides, I learned tolerance and open-mindedness. Before meals, we said both Christian and Muslim prayers. Whatever our parents believed in, at school we were one. And as one, we obeyed the bedtime bell at 9 PM daily. Whatever happened during the day, whatever petty squabbles we had,  we never feared for our safety. It would never have occurred to us that we could wake up to men in our hostels butchering us in the name of religion. When I heard of the Yobe attack on students ( and students in a school designed specifically to foster unity) , I could not imagine the horror. Boko Haram seems intent on ruining Nigeria. Sadly, the Nigerian government seems to be doing precious little to halt them.”

Unigwe is the author of the novel ‘On Black Sister’s Street’

 

Ismail Bala Garba

“For a long time in our country now blood has been flowing almost ceaselessly. We have become disillusioned and can’t seem to avert the cycle of death that has so blithely marked our country. It is time this madness should stop. Enough is enough”

Dr Garba is a poet and lecturer at the Bayero University, Kano

 

Wale Okediran

“With the recent revelation that at least 136 students have been killed in separate attacks on schools in Yobe State in less than a year, it is now very obvious that the Boko Haram issue has reached very worrisome dimensions.

The development has also confirmed that rather than an all-out military exercise, a combination of dialogue, intelligence gathering and provision of poverty alleviation measures in the affected areas should be undertaken.

If need be, Nigeria should also not shy away from requesting for foreign assistance especially in the area of intelligence gathering, border patrol and surveillance including the use of drones.

In view of the observations by some of the residents of the recent Yobe attack that Military checkpoints in the area were removed a day before the attack, it is very important that a thorough shake up of the military officials in the area be undertaken. This is to discover and remove possible moles in the military who may be working hand in hand with the insurgents.

Finally, it is important to heed the recent advice given by the Borno State Government for the Federal Government to improve the current morale and fire power of the military which in the governor’s opinion are far lower than that of the insurgents.”

Dr. Okediran, author of ‘Tenants of the House’, is a former national president, Association Of Nigerian Authors.

 

Chinyere Obi-Obasi

“It is very unfortunate that this is happening. Never in this country have we witnessed anything of this magnitude. We appeal to government to bring this under control. We also entreat the members of this sect to desist forthwith from further attacks.”

Mrs Obi Obasi was shortlisted for the NLNG prize for her children story ‘The Great Fall’

 

BM Dzukogi

“This Boko Haram thing is becoming a known mystery in the sense that what used appear like a bad joke with a short lifespan has now turned into a general death fertilized by ineffective, inefficient military operations supported dutifully by an unwilling government that is ineptly unserious securing the citizens. The totality of these suggests what Governor Nyako said that the whole thing may not be unconnected with the Nigerian army, Federal Government and some Western countries to have a grip on national resources. Don’t be surprised if the bloodletting stops immediately after the 2015 elections.”

Dzukogi is the DG, Niger State Book Development Agency

 

Ahmed Maiwada

“There was a time in the past when human life was said to be brutish and short. It was the time when only the fittest survived. Then man witnessed the evolution of government, which is an individual or a group of individuals vested with legitimacy to control the conducts of the strong and weak, etc, with society. And, government has come a very long way since then; the best of them rising up against any individual or group that threatens the lives or limbs of other members of society, and the worst of it being one that raises no finger against such wickedness in its area of jurisdiction. Nigerian government, in exhibiting nonchalance regarding the consistent massacre of defenceless Nigerians clearly mirrors to us the horrific fact that the worst government ever known to man is the one that currently sits at the helm of affairs of this country, Nigeria.”

Maiwada is a lawyer, poet and author of the novel ‘Musdoki’

Gimba Kakanda

“I have been emotionally defeated by the activities of the Boko Haram. The killings of innocent school kids in Yobe, just a few days after 20 school girls were reportedly abducted in Borno, is a reason for every thinking Nigerian to understand that this country is a disaster. Yet our policians are playing politics  with the security of the nation. More heartbreaking is the vulnerability of Nigerians to political polarisation, such that no citizen is even willing to stand up to demand explanations, and also ask the government to account for how such a huge security vote was used and yet the war against terrorism is obviously only being prosecuted in propagandas.

I listened to the President’s responses to the happenings in northeast during that stage-managed show called “presidential media chat”, and his indirect concession of defeat in another of his promises to “prosecute (the) war against terror.” It dampened my spirit. His ‘threat’ to withdraw soldiers stationed in Borno to prove a point to Shettima was an extraordinarily dumb wisecrack, because I don’t think Shettima was actually being ungrateful; I think he was only crying, that the soldiers are exposed to undermined danger, yet ill-prepared.

Of course, I’d be similarly devastated and even suspicious, aware of how trillions of naira were obviously cornered in Abuja without me. The Borno issues were badly handled in that chat. They gave away Mr President’s wicked sense of humour. For that, he shouldn’t make any more effort to be funny outside his bedroom. There’s no honour in chuckling at a funeral!

Yet Nigerians remain in their bedrooms and offices tweeting at perceived injustice and incompetence, and expecting such cyber-venting to change the system.  This is how we’ll keep watching the ruins of a section of the country from the sidelines until bombs begin to land in our backwards. We don’t learn. We really need to study the middle-east to see how some of the most beautiful countries and cities in the world are now dominated by the apparitions of terrorism.  It’s either we begin to prepare for many funerals in our towns and cities as soon as the insurgents are done with our brothers and sisters at the remote towns and villages of the northeast, or we must come together, with our demands harmonised in the quest to reclaim the country even if by crying for foreign interventions. There’s no excuse to be political or bigoted in times of such national tragedies.”

Kakanda is the author of the poetry collection ‘Safari Pants

Toni Kan

“For about one week now, scores of lives have been lost daily to marauding Boko Haram terrorists. The time to say enough is now!

The brutal killings have assumed a whole new frightening accent; the murder of children, school children sent to school and thus in contravention of what these blood thirsty terrorists refer to as ‘haram.’

But is it not ‘haram’ for these monsters who operate under the cover of darkness to spill the blood of the young, the innocent and the defenceless?

These modern day worshipers of Moloch are committing crimes that even the most hardened Sicilian Mafioso would baulk at because it is a time honoured truth that combatants sheathe their swords when women and children and even the infirm are involved.

But not these ones, men whose blood thirst can only be sated with the blood of innocents. We say no more!

President Jonathan as Commander-in-chief must rise up to the challenge. Nigeria is under siege. Today, the theater of war may be Borno and Yobe states but what happens if and when this madness is exported down South? And must we wait that long to act?

And this is for the elders and Statesmen from the north; we cannot play politics with human lives. Speak up! Condemn this bloodletting in the strongest terms.

And the military; why do you run when Boko Haram approaches? Are you well armed and equipped and motivated or are the funds allocated to fight Boko Haram ending up elsewhere?

The time to say enough is now. It is time to rise up with one voice and condemn this madness for what it really is. Boko Haram is an affront, a misnomer, a blood thirsty dance that must not be allowed to continue.

As a father, a Nigerian and a writer who values human life and dignity, I lend my voice to this campaign; Boko Haram must be condemned by Muslims and Christians alike because who is this GOD THAT DELIGHTS IN THE BLOOD OF INNOCENTS?”

Kan is the author of ‘Nights of the Creaking Beds’

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Letter to the 20 Abducted Girls of Borno

Dear sisters,
My thoughts are with you, the 20 abducted girls of Borno, daughters of the absent country. I wish I could reassure you that your country will not rest until you are found and your abductors are brought to justice, but that would be a lie. Your country will pray for you, that is a certainty, waiting for angels to come rescue you. That will most likely not happen so you will be forgotten, like the abducted daughters of Yelwan Shendam who spent years in slavery, in the heart of this country, in this age, being raped and bearing children for the men who killed their husbands and sons. And the government denied such barbarism was happening under its watch when we all knew.
What can we do for you, daughters of loss? Our outrage is inane. We will rant, and make demands that those monsters with big guns will ignore, and our government too will ignore, or threaten us with a seven-year jail term for saying this is not right, for demanding that things should be made right.
In the final analysis, sisters, you are a minor inconvenience to our overlords. You are getting in the way of the looting and cavorting and posturing for the next elections, and our government knows it’s priorities. You are not it. Your lives, beautiful and promising as they are, are not it.
In the final analysis, we, the children of this blighted realm, are even more lost, imploding with our outrage that will do you know good, that will not prevent the perpetuation of such savagery being done in the name of God. Don’t ask me what God, sisters, for they say it is the same God you serve, the one who made you and lovingly breathed life into you. That God. The ways of men confound me, I tell you.
I have no consolation for you, sisters, I have no reassuring words. And this rant is just another expression of my impotent rage. Just another inconsequential voice in the cacophony of your loss.
Eternally baffled
Abubakar

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Kingdom of Goons

It is amazing that the fate of a country like Nigeria is being determined by those who have the biggest guns. From the suicidal Boko Haram, whose ideology and demands are as tenuous as they are untenable, to the bigots called the Niger Delta Militants, whose vision does not advance beyond their noses and have been feted by the powers that be, to the armed, uniformed brigands called the Nigerian security operatives, led by the army, that is at best as barbaric in its approach to fighting these other groups of brigands as they all are in their continued massacre of Nigerians.
To add to the Boko Haram killings, the army’s occasional mass slaughter of the people it is sworn to protect and the lawlessness of the Niger Delta Militants, (criminalities for which no one has been brought to book), the fact that Asari Dokubo actually called a press conference in Abuja and issued Nigerians the ultimatum to re-elect President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 or face total annihilation is a brazen display of impunity.
The fact that an election is open to be contested and that Nigerians, under the guise of democracy, have the right to choose (not that their choices really matter) who their leaders would be does not seem to register with Mr. Dokubo. That he presumes to be able to take away the franchise of Nigerians, whose only comfort remains the illusions of going through the motions of elections, is, at best, an insult on the collective sensibilities of Nigerians, and the constitution of the federal republic.
His bravado is as astonishing as the fact that the man is still walking free and had not, at any point in time, been quizzed by security operatives. Well, it would have been astonishing in others climes where logic prevails. But this is Nigeria.
If the president’s henchman and Special Adviser on Amnesty, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, speaking in the US, actually said that there would be total chaos if Jonathan is not re-elected and his boss did not bother to call him to order, then the implication would be that the president is assenting to these blatant threats against Nigerians whose worth, in the first instance, does not amount to much in the eyes of their leaders.
For how else would one explain the wanton killings of Nigerians and the often lame condemnations of such atrocities by the government, condemnations that are not worth more than the paper on which the press statements are issued? The tragedies of Baga and Boston are pointers enough. Where the American government vowed to bring the murderers of three of its citizens to justice, and did so within a short time, the Nigerian government in its usual manner ‘condemned’ the massacre of about 200 of its citizens and has proceeded to protect the perpetrators of this barbarity.
While it is unfair to make comparisons between the two countries considering the huge difference in resources between them, one cannot help but ponder the obvious lack of political will to address these issues in Nigeria. Our approach to acts of terror targeted at the ordinary citizens is to mount inexplicable checkpoints that inconvenience the victims of terror or ultimately obliterate entire communities besieged by terrorists; or have the government acting as a mouthpiece to terror groups, exonerating them from crimes they have publicly admitted to; or at best, in moves that will shock the entirety of the nation, hire Isreali spies to spy on Nigerians. It is indeed baffling that when other sane countries expend resources and commit men to keep away foreign spies, Nigeria is actually inviting them in and paying them tax payers’ money to come. Only in Nigeria!
And now we have arrived the point where this illusion that operates under the guise of democracy in Nigeria has reached the abominable level of who has the biggest dog. While the militants are threatening everyone else with President Jonathan, whose gilded accomplishments in office seem obvious only to them, Boko Haram is busy trying to dictate how Nigerians live and breathe and what God they should worship, and in precisely what fashion. The police seem preoccupied with mounting indiscriminate checkpoints and barricading public roads, accepting tokens and waving on motorists, whose trunks might just be laden with explosives. And then, of course, on nights when soldiers decide to go on rampage, God help you that your neighbourhood is not the target.
And where exactly does all this leave the average Nigerian whose earnest desire is to escape the vicious jaws of poverty, have shelter over his head from the ravages of the elements, and do other things that other normal human beings in normal climes do?
Disenfranchised. By those who, because they have guns, presume they can take away the one illusion we cherish, even though it is killing us, the illusion of being able to elect our leaders and hold them to account, the illusion of running one of the most expensive governments in the entire world that, ironically, doesn’t give a damn whether we are killed by thugs chanting god’s name or that of some marine spirits, or glorified Goths in uniforms.
When the CIA made its 2015 breakup theory, what did the Nigerian government do? Issue condemnations and call the Americans names. Now it would seem that Nigerians, not minding the help of Gaddafi in training and planting Dokubo and his likes, and Alqaeeda and certain Nigerian politicians for generously contributing BH to the mix, are working very hard to bring this prediction to pass.
There must be a reason for all this. The succession of ineptitude that has been our leadership; the massive corruption that has characterised our administrations without exception, and our daily lives as ordinary citizens; the total disregard for the worth of each other, all these have contributed in no small measure to making Nigeria a kingdom of bloodthirsty goons.
But regardless, I believe that whatever change we want to see, will have to start with us, as individuals, then as communities, then as a nation. Only then can we tell goons like Shekau and Dokubo and Kuku, and whoever else, that you can’t presume to dictate how we live or what choices we make.

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NTA, Nigerians and the Delusion of Grandeur

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Watching ‘Africa’s largest TV network’ sucks. That is why Nigerians, supposed proud owners of this unwieldy beast called the NTA, do not bother. They, like most humans of appreciable self esteem, do not fancy mirrors that project their hideous warts and hairy moles in 3D.

 Seriously, understanding Nigeria’s problem is not rocket science. And you don’t have to read Chinua Achebe’s seminal piece, The Trouble with Nigeria to figure it out. If you still have the heart to examine what the trouble is with the ‘Giant of Africa’ all you need to do is subject yourself to the torture of watching the NTA. Not in lethal dose, just enough to shed light on things. Consider it, if you like, a sort of purgatory for sins done against your country, say handing out that N20 note to the policeman at the road block, or receiving it, or making away with drugs meant for people who really need it, or asking that fine girl to meet you at that hotel or else she would most definitely fail her exam, or asking for kola for things that kola aren’t meant to buy, and other such things. Consider it a purgatory for those.

You see, the NTA will tell you everything is well with the country even if students of Nassarawa State University are being massacred by brutal soldiers because the students, in the puckish spirit of youthful exuberance, have taken to the streets to protest water shortages on campus. The NTA will not tell you that soldiers washed the dirty students with a rain of bullets, and blood. The NTA will show you pictures of students barricading the road and tell you something like, ‘It took the prompt action of security agents to disperse the unruly students.’ or other such inanities.

Don’t be surprised, they are just tapping into the Nigerian ‘It-is-well’ mindset. Nothing can happen that is worse than what has happened before. And seriously, we have about 150 million Nigerians competing for space, so if a mere four, who could, by some freak fate, be the next Einstein or Soyinka are wasted, there is absolutely no need bugging anyone about it. The parents of the deceased will go home and bury their children. Nigeria will move on. No one will ask for justice. The NTA knows this so it will not bother you with such trifling details to ruin your dinner. If it’s not your son who was gunned down, you really don’t need to bother.

The NTA, you will notice, during your hours of purgatory, will inundate you with looping news of the good things happening in the country. They know very well that Nigerians are the world’s happiest people so they won’t broadcast anything to sully that reputation. NTA capitalizes on Nigeria’s delusion of grandeur and overwhelm you with the good things happening in your backyard that, for some bizarre reason, are invisible to your naked eyes; Multi-billion naira road projects that terminate just a few meters beyond the camera frame, big-budget water projects that manage to trickle out some drops for the ceremonial drink of the President, governor or commissioning government official and then quickly fall into disuse because the pumps were never good to start with, and are soon sold off by the government employees charged with putting it to public use.

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News of bomb blasts or people in relaxation spots  being gunned down, or the little trouble of civil unrest in Jos or Kafanchan or other such places where Nigerians are being killed daily are not good for public consumption; but thanks-giving services by thieving politicians like Bode George or the resurrecting first lady will surely be aired live. Miserable Nigerians, famished or depressed because their sick relatives can’t experience this death-defying miracle that seems to happen only in German hospitals, will see other happy Nigerians dancing in flowing gowns, and the world will think we are all happy.

When Nigerians were enraged by fuel subsidy removal, bad governance and blatant corruption and took to the streets to protest for days, bringing the nation to a standstill, the NTA played mute and occasionally, aired pictures of some rented rascals carrying placards pledging eternal support for the subsidy removal. That is the NTA for you.

The NTA, like Nigerians, abhors changes and all attempts to be dragged into the first world, or any semblance of it, is a change sure to bring some discomfort. NTA prefers to remain antiquated, as it has always been. Consider, for instance, Ben Bruce’s spirited attempt to modernise the NTA. He made the logo trendier, used some cool colours, something more in sync with the new millennium, he made the NTA watchable, put it on air for 24 hours with some innovative programming. But then he was kicked out and Tony Iredia cleaned out everything he did, brought back that old, rusty logo and that iconic but annoying sig tune that kicks off the news at nine.

The NTA is reliable. It supports every government in power. Have you forgotten how they were busy singing General Abacha’s praises, saying he was the only man, out of a hundred million others, capable of running Nigeria? They were busy singing ‘Who the cap fits’ – a great disservice to the legendary Bob Marley, when Abacha keeled over and died. And the tune changed immediately the following morning and Abacha suddenly became a criminal, and his aides wanted men.

Ironically, even under democracy, this humiliating arse-licking has not ceased. It seemed ingrained, primal even. Ahead of the 2011 elections, I had reasons to do a content analysis of NTA’s coverage of the run up to the presidential elections. A pattern emerged. The ruling party and every reprobate who will speak in its favour were given precedence. The ruling party always got the first 18 minutes of the news; that is a minimum. The opposition parties shared some eight minutes, some getting four at most. And when I asked NTA’s Executive Director News, Malam Garba Mamu about this in a published interview, (Sunday Trust, March 6, 2011), he said they were under no compulsion to favour one party over the other and that no one had ever come from the government to sanction what they broadcast or didn’t.

Well, during the subsidy protest, we knew there was a directive from the ministry of Information barring NTA from reporting on the protests, but when they were under no compulsion, as Mr. Mamu claimed, during the campaigns, the NTA chose to censor itself in favour of the clichéd powers that be.

So how does the NTA mirror the trouble with Nigeria? And why do Nigerians loath, or at best disregard, Africa’s biggest network?

Because it reflects, rather too vividly, our shortcomings as individuals, and as a people. For one, we are always talking, like the NTA, but are we saying the right things, are we talking about the things that matter?

We disregard the bigger picture for irritating frivolities and when we have a chance to seize our destiny and do with it as we please; we are given over to this incurable affliction of arse-licking, whether for petty regional, tribal or religious sentiments. We praise our thieving leaders only to rain curses on their balding heads once their backs are turned. We are fixated on an idea of imagined glory, for which we have the potential, but for some inexplicable reasons seem unable to realise.

We hate the NTA because we are just as annoying. And the trouble with Nigeria, frankly, is us—the Nigerians. We may shout revolution all we want, but if we don’t start the change within ourselves, we might as well be casting pebbles in the belly of the great, big sea. And what good would that do anyone, really?

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