Monday, September 23, 2013
Re: ASUU is on Strike Again. Who Cares? SMH
By Okechukwu Nwafor
I was shocked to read an article of the above title on 22nd September 2013 by Ikhide Ikheloa posted on his blog ‘IKHIDE’. What was really perplexing, to me, was not only the fact that this spurious diatribe came from a blogger and journalist of Ikhide’s standing, it is the fact that his vitriol was couched in opprobrious, offensive and despicable language that forces us to draw a compelling parallelism of Ikhide versus lecturers, who is more ‘thug’ than the other? When I read the article the second time, it was obvious to me that the fires of disgust that oozed from Ikhide’s pen threatened to cast his long journalistic career in ignominy. Quite contemptible, I thought, that Ikhide’s seeming journalistic promise would nose-dive shockingly into a reckless act of horrible invectives. The question I struggled is what would have disorientated Ikhide so suddenly that he would deploy such decayed languages as “thugs”, “narcissistic thugs”, “rogues in academic robes”, “mean looking men...” to address the cream of Nigerian academics and intellectuals?
The danger of this kind of article is that it has the capacity to mislead, to hoodwink, to hide the nitty-gritty of genuine struggle, to obviate authenticity, to circumvent authoritative principles and rubbish impeccable personalities subsumed under a collective. You lose no sleep when ‘thugs’ are guilty of generalisation but when journalists of Ikhide’s pedigree are guilty of unjustifiable and indefensible generalisation then you have cause to grieve over an impending insomnia.
It is important to puncture this balloon of empty deceit Ikhide has blown by reminding him that those he called ASUU are a group made up of so many characters you would ultimately summarise as the good, the bad and the ugly. Even in Ikihide’s clan and household I am sure that he harbours the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is akin to an Igbo proverb that says that every fence must harbour lizards in its wall. It means that you can never fence out the lizard. I stand to be corrected if ASUU is made up of saints only. I am a realist and wouldn’t live in a fool’s paradise if I argue otherwise. But what we must establish is the fact that ASUU as a body is not made up of all thugs. And that ASUU as a body does have genuine agitations.
First, what worries Ikhide is the sexual abuse in our universities prompting him to conclude that “ASUU members want to have sex with every child that walks into their pretend classrooms”. This kind of pronouncement is highly suspicious. If ‘some’ academic staff are guilty of sexual abuse, does that condemn a union to the same crime? What is clear is that Ikhide has allowed his charged emotions to becloud the kernel of argument in the ASUU struggle and many of the responses in his blog dealt with this. I would be unusually extravagant with words if I repeat these points here. Succinctly put, the fact of ASUU struggle is clear: the standard of living of an average lecturer during the military era was so poor that lecturers could not afford to buy a pair of shoe. It was a result of genuine agitation in the form of strikes that dragged the military and now the epileptic democracies to increase their salaries to what it is today. Yet it is still ranked among the lowest in Africa. Ikhide please go home and get your facts right. While ubiquitous postings abound on the need for infrastructural development in the Nigerian universities, I will clarify Ikhide on other institutional and autonomy matters concerning ASUU subsequently.
Second, Ikhide worries about ASUU website and angrily charges the reader: “Follow me, let’s go to the silly website of ASUU right here”. Now Ikhide goes on and condemns the faces of ASUU officials in the website by saying that the “men are mean-looking” while the only woman “has the cringe-worthy patronizing title of welfare secretary.” He did not spare the womenfolk here and went ahead to say that this only woman official of ASUU “does important things for the #OgasAtTheTop of ASUU. Maybe she is responsible for making pounded yam and bringing water so the men could wash their filthy hands”. Not only did Ikhide showed utter contempt for Nigerian women by this singular statement, he lends direct credence to the controvertible debate of women objectification. It was indeed a pity.
Let me address this internet stench that disorients Ikhide. Internet is a means of communication. Yet it is not the only means of communications. It is just a minute part. If ASUU has not put maximum concentration on the internet, it does not mean that all ASUU members are fools and analogue members. The manner of concern Ikhide expresses over this website shows that he would soon become a ventriloquist, like the colonialists, in a cause he does not need to develop a Stroke over its invention. ASUU did not invent the internet and it is their choice to either deploy it in disseminating information or choose other ubiquitous channels that would readily reach the Nigerian masses. They have been doing that effectively since the inception of the strike: going to churches to educate people, to opinion leaders, to individual stakeholders in every state, to their students (who have started demonstrating against the political class), among others. Indeed these medium of information dissemination proves more efficient than the internet because most of the above mentioned are far from the internet world. If Ikhide could denounce bloggers like me because we belong to the body of Nigerian academics then it is clear that his intention in this blog post was ultimately mischief-making rather than informative blogging. He forgot that ASUU branches have their respective websites through which they communicate their members, including facebook pages and blogs. He can check ours at Asuu Nau facebook.
Coming to what Ikhide describes as “the dysfunctions in the Nigerian educational system” I will argue that ASUU must be exonerated from this feckless submission for certain reasons. Most remarkably, the autonomy which ASUU has struggled to attain is still far-fetched. As long as ASUU lacks full autonomy this dysfunction may continue. And what do I mean by this autonomy. First is the mode of election of Vice Chancellors. Ikhide may be angry to know that the mode of election of most Vice Chancellors in Nigerian universities is flawed. ASUU has little or no input in a situation whereby the political class has the final pronouncement in the selection of Vice chancellors. Second, ASUU has virtually no input in the recruitment of most of the lecturers on campus (the same cream that constitute ASUU members).
In a nation where mediocrity has virtually eclipsed excellence and integrity, merit has systematically disappeared, or made to disappear. For example, in many universities, the Vice Chancellors abuse the process of recruitment of lecturers and most employment are done on the platform of kinship ties, political compensation, Abuja connection, Politician X candidate and Politician Y candidate, Senator A’s letter head or Senator B’s Letter head, or either Minister D’s direct phone call or Minister Q’s phone call, among others. In one university a security man who could not write his name has been employed as a lecturer while in another university a girlfriend of one Vice Chancellor was employed and she has never entered the classroom for fear of embarrassment. Now why should Ikhide blame ASUU who have gone on strike so many times for the government to grant them the autonomy to insist on due process involving interviews and level playing ground for these recruitment processes? The answer is clear: the Igbo proverb again which says that “a disorganized clan is the gain of corrupt titled men”.
So if ASUU goes on strike for this anomalous process to be corrected Ikhide would, just like the moping sheep, refuse to connect to his senses to escape engulfing danger. Then the danger will ultimately consume him. No doubt, at least, to elevate my senses above Ikhide’s sheepish senses, I can admit that, according to Ikhide, “We have writers that cannot tell an adjective from a noun... engineers that threaten to build things that would collapse on the innocent...” But rather that subscribing to Ikhide that he “would not be shocked if the “academic supervisor” of the above is a member of ASUU” I would rather argue that I would not be shocked if the academic supervisor is a member of the political class’ dubious recruitment process. The Igbos again say that if one genuinely intends to search for the root of murder then one must trace it to the blacksmith who moulded the iron weapon. So Ikhide must spare ASUU and channel his vituperations to the political class who moulded the iron weapon. It is important to emphasise that Ikhide’s sorry conclusions does not obviate the fact that among ASUU members are strong intellectuals who have studied in the best universities in the world and whose impact in the Nigerian academic world have made Nigeria proud. Needless to mention names but that will be an assignment I will give Ikhide and if he still refuses to drain his blood of this poisonous venom of ASUU-hatred-syndrome, then we must forcibly conscript him and restrict him permanently to a sanatorium where justice will be done to his wildness. That will at least convince him that ASUU can tame the untameable.
Dr Okechukwu Nwafor is a former fellow of the Center for Humanities Research, (CHR) University of the Western Cape, South Africa and a former Research Associate at the Interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of Global Change (ICGC), University of Minnesota, USA. He now lectures at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
By Okechukwu Nwafor
October 16 2004
Pencils Art studio
Emma Nnaemeka Street
I sat on the studio, overlooking the street. There was the characteristic evening buzz. The noise on the street constituted a heavy pollution. The blaring horns from both cars and ‘Okadas’ (motor bikes) pierced my brains causing me intermittent loss of concentration. I had just finished sketching a portrait and I sat in front of my studio, ruminating, pondering, and trying to empty my pregnant mind.
My mind was heavy with many loads and as I tried to unload it, it gathered more. Thoughts of my country came; thoughts of my own immediate environment also came. The air of sadness and bitterness around me ceased to go. The general state of darkness produced strong dozes of anxiety and tension inside me. I shuddered. I thought of the responsibilities challenging me to manhood. I thought of this fight, which toughened with the passing days. I wore a pensive look. People walked past my studio and we exchanged greetings, though I was absent-minded. I tried to harden my emotions. I tried to take solace in the Lord. I tried to digest some inspirational words I learnt from Napoleon and Norman my friends, finally, I hardened. I said the following words:
Let the world go to blazes.
Let everybody go to blazes.
I don’t give a damn.
My thought pattern, however, changed to other things, having perhaps, rid my mind of poignant memories. I suddenly took a quick glimpse on the wall clock. 7.00pm. I stood up, parked my portraits inside the studio and left
Friday 29th Oct. 2004.
Today was hectic. Chigozie Anarado slept in my house on the 28th of Oct. 2004. We talked at length on many issues including marriage. Today being Friday he left and I rounded off a painting, which I started the previous day. I will be going to Enugu with Mr. Nwanna for the mounting of works for Africa Heritage 2004.
We got to National Museum Enugu slated for Africa Heritage and expected to see PACA members mounting works but none of them were present safe for some unfamiliar boys we met mounting Africa Heritage Banners on the premises. We met the P.R.O of National Museum who also complained that he had not received any message from Ayo. Cliff called Ayo’s G.S.M number and got him on line. He directed Cliff to see the director to make arrangements for the opening of the premises the next day being Saturday to enable PACA members mount the works since the mounting could no longer hold on Friday 29th as planned. We did so and left for Ogui road. We stopped briefly at Noble Art shop where I bought 2 big tubes of white & cadmium yellow hue Winsor & Newton oil colour, at N1,600 each, 2 yards of canvas at N300 each. We arrived at PACA office where we met Chike Obeagu (painter), Ifeanyi Aniude (painter) & Ayo Adewumni all working together in readiness for the exhibition tomorrow. We left Enugu around 5.00pm. On our way back to Awka we could not stop discussing the problems associated with PACA, and life generally.
30th Oct. 2004
This morning, I was fired by an overwhelming desire to succeed. I always dreaded the thought of poverty. Sometimes I was gripped with a feeling of melancholia and desolation. I ground my teeth and flexed my muscles ever ready to defeat poverty in this battle of life. So, on this day, when this feeling came, I started my paintings again. I aimed for ten high quality sizable paintings for an exhibition. I worked as though there was no tomorrow. At about 9.30am, I went to Ofe Akwu joint and ate. I went and received the injection at Dr Akpati’s hospital. I forgot the injection the previous day, probably because of my moody state of mind. Since 2001 when my state of mind changed, I almost gravitated towards the condition of a hypochondriac. The thought of sickness had haunted me so much so that I almost became a drug addict. But sometimes I vigorously shook off such thought and pushed forward. That was temporarily after I had read through the pages of Napoleon Hill or Norman Pearce. Because of this I could not differentiate real illness from imaginary one. That was why when malaria struck me I almost gave up but thanks to Halfan and Dr. Akpati.
I came back and completed 3 paintings. 3.30pm. I went to Regina Caeli junction and ate foofoo & egwusi soup. I took my drugs and left for Benjamin Okolo father’s funeral. At the funeral venue I saw Jaco & K.C. We sat together and enjoyd good times. I commiserated with Benjamin, though I did that earlier. I gave him 200 Naira. I later left with K.C & Jaco to my house. They both saw my works. We all left and while K.C & Jaco went to St. Patrick Cathedral, I went to my Art Studio from where I went to send Nkiru mails.
I came back around 7.30pm and was re-visited by the ambition to defeat poverty. I swore to do so. I fed on indomie & egg.
Sunday 31st Oct. 2004
I wanted to work but was prevented by a stomach upset. I lay on the bed and rested for sometime. I went to Mr. Nwanna’s house and we both drove to Nnamdi Azikiwe University (Unizik), then to Alex Asigbo’s house. Alex was absent, but the wife gave Alex’s PhD thesis to Mr. Nwanna to deliver to his (Alex’s) supervisor at Ibadan. I gave the wife 200 Naira for the newborn baby. We drove back to my house where I drafted a note for Nkiru & enclosed 1,000 Naira & ear ring to be delivered by Mr. Nwanna to her at Ibadan. Mr. Nwanna left & I worked on Ifeoma Ozoemena’s portrait and some others. I rested once more and called Nkiru alerting her of Cliff’s arrival the next day to Ibadan around 9.00am. I went to church, came back and read. Then I slept.
Monday 1st Nov. 2004.
Today is the All Saints day. I went to 6.00am mass at St. Patrick Cathedral. I went to see Dr. Akpati for the final medical check-up. As I prepared to go to Unizik, Chioma Ezenagu called me and directed me to one Okey Chukwuogo who she said needed a portrait. I went to his (Chukwuogo’s) house beside the stadium. On entering the sitting room I saw Nnatuanya, an old artist friend and portraitist. We came for the same mission. Suddenly the man in question, Okey Chukwuogo, entered. He is an architect, a handsome looking man in his late forties. We all engaged in lively art discussion. He promised to give me a job and also to visit my Pencils studio the next day. I left for UNIZIK. At UNIZIK, I met Chris Ibenegbu and convinced him to go to Enugu with me for the opening ceremony of Afrika Heritage 2004. Since he had a car, I promised to buy fuel. At last we left. I bought 900 Naira worth of fuel on our way. We got to National Museum, Abakaliki Road Enugu, the venue of the exhibition at about 2.00pm. The exhibition opened with a performance by the Enugu State Cultural Troupe. Present during the opening ceremony were Director, National Museum Enugu, Barr. Mrs. Anyaegbunam, Henry Mujunga, PACA representative from Uganda, Director, Alliance Francaise Enugu, Syl Paris Koutoun, PACA representative from Benin Republic, Enyo Dackey, PACA representative from Togo, President PACA Nigeria, Nnaemeka Egwuibe, Ayo Adewunmi, Krydz Ikwuemesi and some other artists from the above mentioned countries. The exhibition was declared open by the Director, National Museum Enugu. After going through the works, I spoke with Krydz briefly and then left for Awka with Chris Ibenegbu. I came back and checked email but none from Nkiru. I also sent a mail to Carpenter.
Tuesday. 2nd Nov. 2004.
I took my portraits to my studio, Pencils Art Studio in readiness for Arc. Okey Chukwuogo’s visits. I waited till 10.00 am but he did not come so I left for National Secondary School (NSS). I booked an appointment with N.S.S to deliver a lecture on the career prospects of Fine and Applied Arts to the students. I did that successfully. The students were thrilled. The management in appreciation gave me a brown envelope containing N2,000. As I was rounding off, Okey Chukwuogo called me on phone. I told him I was on my way.
I met him in my studio with Chioma Ezenagu, a third year Theatre Arts student and a friend who introduced me to Okey. I discussed with Okey and listened to his criticisms of my works, some of which I did not take. They later left. Chioma came back later and met me inside Unity compound where we were struggling to kill a snake that had just ran into some heaps of planks. We later killed the snake. I went with Chioma to Ken’s fast food joint where I bought food for both of us.
Wed. 3rd Nov. 2004.
I left for UNIZIK for a lecture with 3rd year students. After the lecture I left for Pencils Art Studio. Mr. Amifor came. Innocent Okoye also came and after spending time with them they both left. Uche Osunkwo also came. I later went to Onwurah Street where I met with my Mum.
by Okechukwu Nwafor
Do you really love me?
Of course I love you?
How can you ask that?
Are you sure you really love me?
Yes I love you my love.
For Jean-Luc Nancy
If love is Occidental
And closes itself into the sentimental
then is it a dream?
If love is mean
Then it means that hate is as good as love
And if the saying that no one
ever loved anyone
the way everyone
wants to be loved
then be it known that no one could ever be totally loved
nor could anyone ever be hated
And for Jean-Luc Nancy
Is love not erotic?
Yet disguises as realistic
And quite imperfect
In its attempt to perfect
If I may ask Jean-Luc Nancy
What do you mean when you say that ‘thinking is love’?
And if I shower in a pool of love
Does it mean that I will glitter with the glimmer of love?
Plato do you think that Jean-Luc Nancy
Understands the philosophy of love?
Stanley is thinking love and is love thinking?
If it is then Bridget do you think that love is thinking out of the box
or is love not a paradox?
Charles are you guilty of love as charged or not guilty?
And if you are not guilty
what do you think when Nancy complains
of the nature of love
which is the “contradiction of contradiction and of noncontradiction.”
Now Nancy let me ask
Is love the possibility of an impossibility or the impossibility of a possibility?
Or Morris do you think that love does not love hate
Or that hate actually loves love.
why confuse us?
Do you really love us
But I think you do
Please I am asking all of you
Do you people think he loves us?
By Okechukwu Nwafor
The collection of poems by Obumneme Ezeonu opens with a poem titled “Nobody Knows My Name” being a poem he dedicated to the late American novelist, James Baldwin. This poem fumes with profound sincerity needed to re-examine the worth of contemporary living in Nigeria. The poetic style lends itself into the nature of phobia that characterizes present-day Nigeria. It seems for Ezeonu that life is that inner pathos occasioned by a nameless memoir on earth. The poem seems to suggest that when living is jeopardized by anonymity, individuals are compelled to resign inexorably to drunkenness, self-pity, agony or desolation. These translate to a process of dying. Here Ezeonu is haunted by this dangerous feeling of dejection in the face of rejection. He wishes posterity to celebrate his nameless renown much as they (posterity) should reminisce his obscurity in a world characterized by injustice and inequality. Moreover, his poems underscore the potentials and limits of activism and social justice which perhaps epitomizes his personality as someone “halfway between militant and writer” (Bleiker 2000: 273).
The second poem titled ‘A Way to Die”, dedicated to Late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, seems to reinforce the irony of life using simile in a very productive manner. There is a creative interweaving of paradox and aphorism that elicits such a biting spontaneity in the reader. A note of ambivalence in the poem seems to mark Ojukwu as a hero whose life and exit were constituted by reckless denials, discredit and unresolved conundrums. Quite undoubtedly, unresolved conundrums are recurrent factors in this book seen especially in such poems as “When we run amok for wealth”. This poem feels the pulse of a contemporary moment where the pursuit of wealth would eventually extinguish the passion and fire of gainful living. The poem paints a gloomy picture of the Nigerian state in a highly suggestive manner. It seems to suggest that we can never live to embody the good in man if we continue to run amok for wealth. When Ezeonu pours out his stream of cascading thoughts into the canvas of our grieving emotions, he leaves no stone unturned. He scribbles these painful graffiti on the walls of our heart, forcing us to shed blood as tears. But we never did. This is because we seem to have imbibed that ambivalent maxim of Fela’s “Suffering and Smiling”.
“Suffering and Smiling” (p.15) is the third verse of the poem “Unemployment” and it paints an ever-ambivalent picture of today’s Nigeria: sublime yet dangerous, painful yet enjoyable, ugly yet beautiful. It is eminent that most Nigerians can approach so much suffering with such serenity and peace of mind. Indeed one can state that Ezeonu’s paradoxical use of language in “suffering and smiling” invokes a world that is both genuine and tactless; an astonishing and audacious work of metaphor in which the limits of being a Nigerian are brutally interrogated and rewritten.
It will be pertinent to dwell more critically on the title of this book, “A Way to Die.” The American poet Hart Crane dived from a passenger ship and drowned himself. His last words: “Good-bye, everybody.” For Crane, a way to die is to wave goodbye to depraved humanity before a suicide mission. Certain individuals have died more fatally or more peacefully but it is instructive that Obumneme Ezeonu captures the drama of death in his poem, A Way to Die. However, it seems that the only verse in Ezeonu’s poem that addresses something close to the deadly excesses of Crane is “some die like a reverberating echo, receding but heard.” Crane is the reverberating echo that receded yet heard. His works demystify death in that logic: he is physically absent yet commands imposing presence through his works. I would rather add to Ezeonu’s verses that “some die like unsung heroes, who have bidden farewell without a word.” Crane fits into this verse.
While Crane exposes a way to die, other great individuals have pronounced the nature of ways to die. For example, in the last words of the Scottish Physiologist, Dr William Hunter: “If I had the strength to hold a pen, I would write down how easy and pleasant a thing it is to die” (Bleiker 2000: 273). Hunter’s declaration, no doubt, casts dying as a gratifying process which individuals should embrace without apprehension or fear. If Hunter deploys words to moderate death and mollify its ominous characterization then it means that life itself could be a systematic collection of words needed to moderate severe human conditions. It means that words could be used to weave thorny life into malleable robe of gratification. Or that words could also be deployed in binding blissful living into hard resin of immutable sorrow. This later version, in my mind, is exactly what Ezeonu’s A Way to Die does in this collection. Therefore this collection encapsulates the tragedy of life, the folly of struggle, the acme of sorrow and the irony of fate. While a few poems deal with joys of living, a good majority dwell of melancholia and despondency as the current blight of Nigerians’ psycho-social consciousness.
What strikes one with admiration are the sheer finesse, skill and ingenuity that aggregate in Ezeonu’s poetry. He gives us so much to rest upon, so much which communicates his disenchantment and cynicism with the contemporary society in Nigeria, especially through a solemn kind of emotional engagement that solicits our entire devotion. His collection is replete with a prognosis of danger, a lamentable feeling, a menacing outcry of emptiness and eternal damnation.
Pablo Neruda, a former Chilean diplomat, called for an “engaged poetry, one that speaks not only of love and beauty, but that is also permeated with a profound concern for social justice, for the impurity of the human condition” (Ibid, 273). Indeed Ezeonu’s commitment to the cause of social justice in unquestionable from his words:
The world is spinning on its head
Buoyed on a mind gravely led
This roaring wind blows nobody well
But we’ve got a franchise from hell
Abomination has come to stay
Evil ways are back from holiday....
In a time when the minds of average Nigerians are pervaded by a disheartening euphoria and a psychology of resignation, it is instructive that Ezeonu’s poetry can serve to envision and re-vision a new form of socio-political life, one that weaves collective crises into an urgent poetic intervention.
Roland Bleiker observes that poetry began as a form of speaking that revolved around rhyme and other regularities (273). In this regard, one can argue that the rhythmic and rhyming elements of Ezeonu’s poetry seem to fulfil the function of social and moral memory. This, in my mind, is what is needed to maximize our likelihood of remembering and transcend the commonly perceived Nigerian syndrome of collective amnesia. In actualizing this task of remembering, one notices that this stylistic component of rhyme marks Ezeonu as a serious and active producer of meaning from non-meaning. To a large extent, Ezeonu deviates from the reigning trend of free verse which has seemed to arrest the attention of the younger generation of poets and which casts them as inactive writers who neither want to labour nor sweat.
In his continuous exploration of the imageries of violence, another poem titled Pandemonium in the North captures the increasing insecurity in Northern Nigeria. Ezeonu declares thus:
I see sorrows, tears and blood...
Hunger and starvation
In the North.
This is a political poem as much as a poem that mirrors the poetics of (in)security. For quite some time now, Northern Nigeria has been embroiled in severe terrorism and insecurity championed by the Boko Haram sect. In recognition of this, and given his other haunting thematic such as “What the Madman of Umunachi Said (2)”, “My Life is a book”, “Death of an Uncle”, “Unemployment”, among others, it is most befitting to describe Ezeonu’s poems as mementos of a national mess, loaded with heavy burdens of tragic events and armed with the yoke of political mis-governance. It is most remarkable that in “Unemployment” despite the fact that Ezeonu “has lost his dreams again” he exhibits a heroic defiance of extraordinary faith. Ezeonu writes:
I trudge home in despair
Clutching my fate
A bunch of diplomas
That evades the eyes of luck
Suffering and Smiling
I hear the sound of Fela
Lifting my spirits
Beyond the agony of another lost day
The personification of providence is seen in “the eyes of luck” and powerfully used to understudy the illicit abuse of office in Nigeria: a place where struggle does not survive on the platform of integrity, professionalism and meritocracy. Instead the use of “luck” serves as a tactical and ostensibly political language euphemistically shifting the real causes of unemployment. One would rather not want to believe that “a bunch of diplomas” would consistently “evade the eyes of luck” if excellence were not sacrificed on the altar of mediocrity.
In the poem titled “Life is very much like a poem,” we see a deft interweaving of personification and simile. Here, life becomes a feminine gender that compares to a poem; a poem that is itself “short and poignant”, “immortal,” “humorous,” “emotional,” “beautiful,” to name a few. The powerful use of simile in this poem seems to drain the last drop of optimism in our pool of hope. This construction rather becomes a metaphor that problematizes the link between conviction and hopelessness. Either in “Ziena, child of destiny,” or in “Unemployment,” or in “A way to die,” we see how simile is deployed to capture the complex occurrences and even inconsistencies and contradictions in the poet’s life. These are, however, accepted as the poet’s effort to make sense of certain socio-political phenomena in Nigeria.
In Ezeonu’s work, modern poetry’s subversion of realism is given a tangible exigency reminiscent of what the French philosopher, Henri Lefebvre, describes as “a false
world” (1991: 5). Ezeonu’s poems connect us with the impressive promises of social realism, the pathos and struggle of daily life, and the grand betrayals of governance that pretends to ‘democratize’ us. In “The Infidel” Ezeonu mocks the pretensions of religious bigots, exposes their hypocrisy and delusions, but always returns to the struggling, human voices of the misled and dispossessed.
“Memorabilia,” “Abominations has come to Stay,” “Death of an Uncle,” “Here I Lie,” “The Lingering Hope,” “After Death,” “The Infidel” all invoke a certain poetic modernity that enables us to address the jaggedness – the corruption, the insecurity, and death – that is central to our structural, economic, and psychological reality. However, while “Memorabilia” recognizes the hidden fatality of a death that lurks by the corner of every vibrant life, “Death of an Uncle” ponders the vile with which apocalypse stifles the very strength of struggle. While “Abomination has come to Stay” mourns the blatant impunity of acculturation and globalization, “Here I Lie” bemoans the wasteful remnants of temporality. Yet if the exegesis of death is revealed in “After Death”, “The Infidel” only reflects the violent and fundamentalist relations leading to death itself. If we must insist on understanding the process of dying better, then we may be compelled to believe Sylvia Plaith who says: “Dying is an art like everything else, I do it exceptionally well.” Now considering Plaith’s position it means that each of us does dying exceptionally well, especially if we believe that living is a process of dying. However, it does seem that “The Infidel” rejects the existential interdependence of faiths, problematizes it and promotes a new politics of religious irresponsibility and injustice.
Ezeonu strongly believes that even in the midst of all these terrible happenings that:
Nothing weird under the sun
Can frighten my feet to run
Nothing strange on earth
Can make me hold my breath (p.14).
This is an audacious pronouncement and a confident assertion that may lead us to query the other side of Ezeonu’s personality. This other side flickers with a dim glow of optimism in such poems as “I am love,” “The jilted lover,” “I choose Knowledge.” Therefore, in conclusion, it would be quite unrealistic to dismiss Ezeonu as a cynic or one with a crestfallen heart. While his woebegone lyrics might serve as emollient tonic for the already downtrodden, he, at the same time, allows confident songs to interject his deep psychological melancholia. Ezeonu seems to believe that one needs to mitigate the harshness of life with the ebullience and passion of brotherhood. In this vein “Tatoo girl” and the likes interrupt the macabre undertone of the entire lyrics drawing us to a conclusion that life, for Ezeonu, is a poem where the good, the bad and the ugly wrestle for verses and stanzas.
Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life: Volume 1, Introduction, J. Moore (transl.), (London: Verso, 1991).
Roland Bleiker, “Editor’s Introduction” Alternatives, Vol. 25. No.3. 2000: 273.
Saturday, February 16, 2013
A Journey to Zambia for the Insaka International Artists’ Workshop.
Having been invited to participate in the Insaka International Artists’ Workshop in Zambia I wrote the following letter to the then Vice Chancellor of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University where I teach:
Department of Fine and Applied Arts
Nnamdi Azikiwe University
11TH July, 2007.
The Vice Chancellor,
Nnamdi Azikiwe University
Conference Documentation Committee
Faculty of Arts, UNIZIK.
Department of Fine and Applied Arts, UNIZIK.
APPLICATION FOR PERMISSION AND FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO TRAVEL TO SIAVONGA, ZAMBIA FOR THE 4TH INSAKA INTERNATIONAL ARTISTS WORKSHOP
I wish to seek for your permission and financial assistance to travel to Siavonga, Zambia for the 4th Insaka International artists workshop taking place between 31st August to 13th September 2007.
Out of all the Nigerian applicants, I was the only one selected for the workshop and the selection was based on the proposal written, professional achievements and photos of artworks submitted.
I wish to solicit for your financial support to the tune of one hundred and sixty thousand naira (N160,000.00) as the Insaka committee cannot provide this for any of the participants.
The financial support will be used to settle the expenses as follows:
1.Travelling expenses to and from Lusaka, Zambia: N120,000.00
2. Overnight expenses in Siavonga for two weeks: N40,000.00
I believe this exhibition will further elevate the status of our institution and also showcase the laudable gestures of this present administration and even initiate a working relationship between UNIZIK and the host group through which other projects may be achieved.
Enclosed below is a copy of my letter from Insaka.
I await your kind reply.
Okechukwu NWAFOR (Lecturer II)
Department of Fine and Applied Arts,
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.
The letter was approved by Prof. Ilochi Okafor, the then Vice Chancellor together with the sum of 60 thousand Naira. I went to Abuja for my Visa and after about two weeks of rigorous Visa process, I secured the Visa for Zambia. Below is a report I wrote concerning the Workshop:
The story began and ended in Butete, the serene, sleepy village south of Zambia where the artists lived and worked during the workshop. Lurked within the dry, infertile side of Zambia, Butete indeed may not be among the blessed children of nature as artists arrived in the desolate and forlorn landscape of this land which may have lacked rainfall for as long as 12 months or more. Greeted by an indigent inhabitants and a windy but dry weather, artists settled to the little abode of a bay comprising about fifteen thatched- roofed houses built by a European known as Kennedy. The houses had short walls which created an impression of one lying in the open-thanks to our sleeping bags and blankets. For the organisers of this workshop, the choice of the venue was advisedly for a purpose: firstly, to evade comfort and uphold Chaim Potok’s view that ‘Comfort is the death of art’ and secondly to afford artists an opportunity to experience the calmness of a great lake-Lake Kariba, the largest man-made lake in the world, which lies beside our abode. Despite the harshness of life for Butete locals, artists convened under a most calculating union and allowed the extenuating circumstances of Butete and Lake Kariba to govern their creative instincts. Eventually, all adversities were cushioned by the common interest as ideas took precedence over suffering or in philosophical parlance, ‘mind ascended over matter’.
On the workshop were: myself from Nigeria, Ruth from Scotland, Bevas from New York, Aditi from India, Maryan from Kenya, Sheila from Uganda, Clarence from Zimbabwe, Marna from South Africa and Daniel from South Africa too. We were nine invited artists and twelve artists from Zambia.
The very first day of the workshop was the day I arrived Lusaka and could not join them. I, Daniel from South Africa and Bevas from New York arrived late so we joined the rest on 3rd September.
3rd September 2007: Everybody had started work. Some people worked on oil, some on acrylic, some on wood and some on stone while some like me tried their hands on installation. I had collected chips from the sculptors’ wood and used them to build a base for a painting. As dusk approached artists retreated to their tents and prepared for the dinner. After dinner, the artists gathered together as Zenzele Chulu, the coordinator of Insaka in Zambia made an introduction and overview of previous workshops in slide format.
The night was now dark and sounds of drumbeats echoed from a little distance. Chulu announced that the sounds were that of the little village children who had come to interact with us. This was part of the aims of the workshop-interaction with the local community. The children formed a circle as one or two of them danced to the middle to the rhythm of the drums. They were excellent drummers and dancers. The artists watched in admiration and eventually few of us joined them. It was a fulfilling night.
4th September 2007: Work commenced as usual after breakfast. Most artists were trying something new. Marna from South Africa and Aditi from India were trying their hands on wood which according to them was their first time. I had finished an installation on a tree using polyethene bags. It looked interesting. We took a walk into the village. We trekked close to the Kariba Lake and interacted with the villagers and took photos with them. In the evening immediately after dinner there was an art presentation by myself and Daniel. I spoke on War as my topic while Daniel spoke on Confinement.
5th September 2007: Work commenced. Everybody concentrated. There was lunch and dinner after which Marna from South Africa and Aditi from India presented their works.
6th September 2007 (Thursday): After breakfast we were told that we will be going on a boat ride on the kariba Lake. The ride was in batches. Some went ahead of us. We drove in a truck for about 20 kilometers and came to a village where the boat was waiting. We entered and although I was afraid initially but as the boat moved, my fear was allayed. At the middle of the lake we saw 3 Hippos. The day rolled by and today’s presentation was by Alumedi from Zambia and Clarence from Zimbabwe.
7th September 2007: Work continued. From my work position, the sound from the sculptors’ machines was strong. It reminded me of my days in University of Nigeria when we worked into the night and the sound of similar machines wafted from the sculpture studio into our own painting studio. But the difference here was that Zambian sculptors worked mainly on stone because there is availability of hard stones.
8th September 2007 (Saturday): Today we went to Kariba Bridge. This bridge demarcates Zambia and Zimbabwe and the dam was a joint project between the two countries. This is where the major electric power of both countries was generated. From this bridge one could see Zimbabwe hidden by steep hills and lonely border. From here we went to a lake side where we swam. The journey back to the bay took 1 and half hours. Today, Tom Phiri from Zambia, Lombe Insama from Zambia and Ruth MacDougall from Scotland presented their works.
9th September2007 (Sunday): Some Christian participants attended the local church while others worked. Today Mulenga from Zambia, Sheila from Uganda, Partrick from Zambia and Adrain from Zambia presented their works.
10th September2007: Work continued. Presentation was by Bevas from New York, Maryan from Kenya, Lutanda from Zambia.
11th September 2007: Today was the final day for production. Most artists had finished while some were rounding off. Later in the day, the mounting started. The trees around Butete bay provided the base for the mounting of works. After dinner most of us gathered together in what appeared as the grand finale of all night sessions in Butete bay. There was no topic initially but Bevas introduced a topic, ‘My First Love’. It was very exciting listening to one another recount his or her first love experience. So private a topic was it that some people like Marna from South Africa, Sheila from Uganda and Aditi from India declined to join. But it was an attempt to kill the boring long hours of the night and create alternate leisure that propelled us into those private stories. The discussion continued and Marna, I and some others had provided some drinks which everybody enjoyed while the discussion lasted. The night advanced and the weather was becoming chilling cold. Clarence took us into more daring, adventurous stories of youthful lust and exuberance but because it was seen as an adult forum people’s sense of decency may not have been offended. It was a night of laughter, excitement and fraternization.
12th September 2007: The opening ceremony of the exhibition was today. Each artist endeavoured to mount his works on the trees scattered around the bay. The invitees had started arriving. Around 3pm, Mr Bright Chimba of The National Arts Council, Zambia made a speech and the representative of the Minister of Community Development and Social Welfare Mr. Wesley Kaonga formally declared the exhibition open. Also in attendance were representative of The Kenyan High Commissioner, Helen kenani and representative of The Nigerian High Commissioner in Zambia, Nnamdi. A bus filled with Zambian artists arrived. Most of them wore dreadlocks and raucously formed a beehive in the once serene environs of Butete bay. At nightfall around 10pm, most of these artists gathered around a bonfire singing, dancing and beating drums. I joined them and we beat drums until past midnight.
13th September 2007: (Thursday). Works had been dismantled and packed in the long truck. The artists mounted the lorry and soon we set off for the four hour journey back to Lusaka. The journey was rough because it was an unusual road of snaking turns made more dangerous by the ubiquitous presence of heavy trucks and trailers. The risk was compounded by the ongoing reconstruction which was aimed at widening the narrow road, forcing motorists to use one lane. We got to Lusaka in the evening. Works were dismantled. We checked into Kuombouka backpackers, a guest house located along Makanta close, Lusaka.
14th September 2007: Departure.
My interactions with Zambian artists were not restricted to the art domain. As a journalist, I had engaged some of them in discussions involving a wide range of issues. For example, I discovered that Nigerian home video is more popular in Zambia than any other film industry including that of Hollywood. Every Zambian I met seems to know much about Nigerian film actors and actresses more than myself. The most popular is Osuofia (Nkem Owoh) and Genevieve. And they seem to be fascinated by Osuofia’s music, “I Go Chop Your Dollar” more than the films. Moreso, Chinua Achebe commands more popularity than any other Nigerian writer. Most Zambians have either read or heard about “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe.
In a nutshell, to most Zambians, Nigeria remains a figure of fame, honour and accomplishment; a nation made more visible by her ingenious populace.
* * * * * *
Kariba Dam in my mind is one of the greatest human feats and the dam itself could be the largest in the world. The construction of the dam was actually by a demarcation of a tributary of the Zambezi River by a very high wall which could have gulped millions of dollars. Looking down from the bridge one could feel the towering and imposing sensation of a height stretching about 500 metres down. At the lake side in Siavonga, we stopped and I bought some oranges from some Zimbabwean women. These women were keen to know where I came from. Having told them that I am a Nigerian, they asked me if we were shooting a film. They only recognize Nigeria through home video from what I understood. The town of Siavonga where this lake side is located has electricity (unlike Butete where we lived) and development is religiously conservative as people have not got that radical vigour possessed by inhabitants of even the remotest village in my country, Nigeria.
Arrival at Lusaka International Airport. L-R Zenzele Chuku, Okechukwu Nwafor, Jerry Miko. September 2007.
Okechukwu Nwafor with Daniel Mosako in Siavonga, Zambia, September, 2007.
Okechukwu Nwafor with Swala Lubinda (Right), a Zambian artist and her friend. Lusaka, Zambia, September 2007
A trek to the village in Siavonga, Zambia, September 2007.
Arrival at Lusaka International Airport. L-R Zenzele Chuku, Okechukwu Nwafor, Jerry Miko. September 2007.
Okechukwu Nwafor with Daniel Mosako in Siavonga, Zambia, September, 2007.
Okechukwu Nwafor with Swala Lubinda (Right), a Zambian artist and her friend. Lusaka, Zambia, September 2007
A trek to the village in Siavonga, Zambia, September 2007.