Saturday, August 29, 2009

Why I did not stop Obasanjo from becoming President in 1999, by Alex Ekwueme (2)

*Reveals how he confronted Obasanjo
*My offence against Obasanjo
*Discloses why Afenifere dumped PDP in 1998

Alex Ekwueme! For Nigeria’s Second Republic vice president, this second part of his encounter with Sunday Vanguard is as explosive as is revealing. Sampler:
Did you ever have the opportunity to challenge Obasanjo regarding all these? ‘Yes, we were in the party caucus one day and I told him all the things he had done to me and people present were shaking because they hadn’t seen anybody talk to Obasanjo like that.’

Asked what would make him get so angry, he simply retorted, ‘nothing’. From the real formation of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the reasons for the pull out of Afenifere, Obasanjo’s choice of Atiku Abubakar as running mate in 1999, his confrontation with Obasanjo, how he could have stopped Obasanjo from becoming president, his views on the electoral reforms and many more, Ekwueme, soft-spoken displayed a sharp memory of events. Excerpts:

WHAT was the real strength of G-34 because before then there was NADECO and some people thought the two groups should have been integrated?

I would not want to talk about the attitude of NADECO to what went down then because they thought they had the monopoly of fighting for democracy and any other group that was trying to do something then was poaching on their territory and yet NADECO, only came up six months after Abacha had taken over government because I believe they believed that Abacha was going to handover to Abiola.

So they played along with him and when he didn’t do that they asked their people who had joined that government to resign and join NADECO but they had already compromised their position and that was why Abacha didn’t take them serious.

The letter from G-18 shook Abacha more than all the propaganda of NADECO over that period. First we had the All Politicians’Summit, which Abacha came to scatter. We then regrouped and formed the Institute of Civil Society, to sensitise the Nigerian public and the dangers of continued military rule which amounted to enslavement. We invited Justice Kayode Esho to chair the launching. We had a meeting in my house in Lagos and it was there that Northern members of the group – Rimi, Lar, Ciroma, Awoniyi – said that the impression had been created that all the north was behind Abacha. It was there that we agreed that the first salvo should be fired by the North, before the larger group would then come in.

Detailed memorandum

They met in Kaduna, did a letter to Abacha which Lar delivered. After that, we met again at Mainland Hotel, inviting people from all over the country and from there the group moved to 34 and then we prepared a more detailed memorandum and we set up a committee of four of us to finalise it – Prof. Uzodinma Nwala, Senator Onyeabor Obi, Prof. Jerry Gana and myself. We met in my office at Ademola Street and finalized it.

How did the idea of a political party emerge? At what point did that happen?
It was when Abacha died and Abdulsalami took over. They invited us as a group to the Villa. After the meeting we considered whether we should mid-wife a political party or that we should be the catalyst for a political party but not for us to be involved in that party that was to be formed.

So, it was just thrown open; we did not really agree on the specific plan of action. But we had another meeting at the Ladi Kwali Hall of Abuja Sheraton Hotel and Towers, where all the associations involved decided to form a political party. At the end of the day the associations agreed to form the party.

But Afenifere pulled out at the last minute, why?

I don’t want to speculate, but I think at that our first outing at Ladi Kwali Hall, which attracted people from all over Nigeria – the hall was full. The group representing Afenifere signed the memorandum of understanding, MOU, on August 13, at the Western House and the Ladi Kwali event was on August 18, and they also signed the MOU.

When I came in to chair the event, the type of thunderous response I received, especially from the Northern delegates to the meeting, must have sent a signal to the PCF that if they stayed in that group, they would be drowned. It was unfortunate because if they had stayed, we would not have been saddled with an Olusegun Obasanjo.

One of the leaders of PCF, alluded to what you just said, that it appeared as though plans had been concluded to install you as president, using that platform of the PDP and, therefore, the Muson Centre meeting would be boycotted?

We sent people to call them and even waited but they did not come’

So, how come after all the struggle by all of you, at what point, after the formation of the PDP, did the party fall into ‘wrong hands.’ What role did the military play?

Well, they made sure that Obasanjo was installed – they gave him many facilities to enable him win, materials and otherwise and they even campaigned for him. It was Babangida who convinced Sunday Awoniyi.

I was in Jos, Plateau State in February, 1999. The feeling at the convention ground, even before the voting started, was that you were likely going to clinch the ticket.

Would you say you did not try your best or that the military overwhelmed everybody?

For me, it’s unfortunate, but I’ve always lived not to regret things because God Almighty is always in control.

I was going to do a tie-back to the free presidential ticket which Lawal Kaita had offered you earlier. How do you philosophically look back at both events?
Okay, can you see now what somebody told you as being the reason why PCF pulled out and can you then imagine what would have happened if I had accepted the free, automatic ticket at Abuja.

Which one came before: The automatic ticket or the PCF pull out?

No, we were all there. The ticket had been offered to me in the presence of the PCF representatives and I turned it down so, to now go back and still feel that there was some sort of arrangement is a different thing all together.

Governorship candidates

The meeting where Kaita offered that ticket to me was some four or five days before the Ladi Kwali event. But they saw it as a script.

Some people also accuse you, just as you accused the PCF people who pulled out of PDP that had they stayed, Obasanjo wouldn’t have been imposed on the party. Conversely, had you also accepted the automatic ticket, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible for the military to browbeat the leadership of the party into supporting another candidate? Before you bring God into it again – I know God always has His own way – please answer the question, Sir?
You see, the approach Obasanjo used, the first day he came to the meeting in Abuja, he offered to underwrite the party’s preparation for the council elections with N130 million. During the campaigns for governorship elections, all those on the PDP platform, he backed almost all the successful PDP governorship candidates, using money to campaign for them to get nomination and then become governor so when he comes back to you to ask for your delegates’ votes, you have to pay back.

Before the convention, Obasanjo said, at the height of his impeachment crisis of 2002, that the North wanted the presidential aspirants on the platform of the PDP to sign an undertaking that they would do the bidding of the North. He said you initially refused to sign but you eventually signed. He even brought out a document which he said contained the minutes of the meeting.

So, what happened? Did you sign the document?

The issue was raised at Bolingo Hotel and my answer which was unassailable and a bit embarrassing to those who raised it was that ‘this is exactly what those who complain about the North are saying: that you monopolise certain ministries; that now, how do you think a president would work well and be successful if he does not appoint the best hands he has in his cabinet to take charge of key ministries and rather, if those ministries are reserved for certain class of people’. I also told them that this actually confirms what people are saying about the North. They felt embarrassed.

But Obasanjo brought out a document which he said were minutes of the meeting?
There can’t be minutes of any meeting because they met with each candidate separately.

Let’s move on. Obasanjo was said not to be qualified to even contest the primaries of your party but you people allowed him?

First, apart from the fact that Obasanjo did not deliver his State or local government area, he did not even win in his ward. What actually happened was that the responsibility was on the party secretariat.

A screening committee was set up to screen the aspirants and the names were published nationwide. Before the screening, Solomon Lar, as chairman of the PDP then, sacked the screening committee and set up a new committee, headed by the present chairman of the Population Commission, Makanma. When he was asked why he did that he said the previous committee had been published and, therefore, prone to compromise, which was rubbish.

Any way the national vice chairman of the party, for the south east, Sylvester Ugoh and the national vice chairman of the party, for the south south, Dr. Dele Cole, wrote a joint memorandum to the screening committee, quoting the resolution of the NEC on the conditions that aspirants must fulfill but that Obasanjo was not qualified to seek that office. When the screening committee got that letter from the south east and south south, they were confused and were at a loss regarding what to do. The screening committee chairman, who had just been put there by Solomon Lar, asked Lar what to do. Lar wrote to them and told them that it was too late to disqualify anybody late in the day. He said what they should do was to give Obasanjo provisional clearance and they wrote so.

We gathered that you chose not to pursue this at the convention ground, and that you said you did not want to set the country on fire?

That issue came up at the convention ground because I had the minutes of the meeting where it was said that to qualify you have to win at some levels. The meeting of NEC on November 24 was that from President to councilor, you must win your state, local government and ward in that order for you to even qualify to seek to represent our party at the polls. The meeting of December 10, ratified that resolution and this was done preparatory to the December 5, LG elections with a view to ensuring that every aspirant participated fully in mobilizing people for the party.

The December 5 election was meant to determine which parties would qualify to be registered and you could not seek office on the platform of the party as president if you did not contribute to the success of the party for registration. It was very clear. In Jos, the constitution of the party as at that time, made the secretary the chief executive of the party. The chairman was like a board chairman but the secretary was like the managing director, chief executive who runs the party. Unfortunately, Okwei Nwodo allowed Solomon Lar to hijack the executive functions of the party.

But he said in a separate interview that he was already being tagged as an Igbo man wanting to help you, another Igbo, to secure the ticket of the party. That was how he explained it?

No, you can not just explain it away; you have to do the right thing and not thinking about what people would say about you; he abdicated; Solomon Lar started writing letters to INEC, to aspirants, to everybody.

Was it after the convention that Lar took over or before?

Before the convention; he just took over the role of the secretary of the party, just immediately after I handed over to him as chairman. So, at the convention, the way it was structured, once a ballot box was counted, it represented the others. After the first box was counted I knew Obasanjo would win and I had enough time to decide on what to do next. First, I had with me a copy of that meeting of NEC of November 24 and the other one of December 10, 1998. If after the announcement of the results, I had the chance to raise the matter and push.

Two, I could accept defeat and say Obasanjo, I support you. Or to say Obasanjo is not qualified and, therefore, of the seven of us who contested, only six of us were qualified to contest and I, having scored the highest among the six should be declared the winner and forward my name to INEC tomorrow. Of course what would have happened would have been that Nwodo would have forwarded my name to INEC because we had no time left. Lar, too, would have written to INEC and said it was Obasanjo because he was fully for Obasanjo.

So, INEC would have had two nominations from PDP which was the front-running party, and it was already becoming very clear that whoever emerged PDP candidate would become the president, that would have created confusion. The military could easily hang on to that excuse and meanwhile, the mob outside the Jos township stadium was very restive and could set houses on fire.

Eventually, I decided that my keenness to serve Nigeria and to make it a better place for my children and my children’s children should not blind me to the fact that Nigeria would have to exist first, before we can serve it, and that I, after all the struggle, would now, because of my own personal ambition, set the country on fire and prolong military rule, would be an unforgiveable act of selfishness and so I decided to allow it and support Obasanjo, hoping that he would appreciate all these sacrifices and understand because he did not know how the party was formed.

But if you had objected, you would have been doing the right thing, too. So, you chose not to do the right thing and we ended up with Obasanjo?

As I said, Nigeria would have to exist first before you can serve it; and today Nigeria is still surviving, even though remedial work needs to be done.

He picked Atiku Abubakar as running mate but some say it was a unilateral decision?
I’ll tell you what happened. That evening, after the convention, we met at Solomon Lar’s house.

Who were the ‘we’? Was Obasanjo still in Jos?

Yes, Obasanjo was there; the secretary of the party was there; Senator Onyeabor Obi was there; quite a few others were there. What we decided was that we would reconvene in Abuja the next day and decide on the running mate and submit to INEC. So, when we got back to Abuja the next day, INEC called Okwei Nwodo to remind him that that day was the last day for which the name of the presidential candidate and his running mate had to be submitted failing which it meant that PDP would not be contesting that election. Nwodo then called Obasanjo.

Why call the candidate and not the party chairman?

He called Obasanjo and not Lar. And Obasanjo told him that Atiku’s name should be submitted so that we could have our candidates.
So, it wasn’t as if there was a consensus on the choice of Atiku?
No, there was none. The meeting we scheduled to hold in Abuja could not hold any more because there was a deadline to meet and it had to be met. This was taken over by events.

But how come the meeting failed to take place? Was it because Obasanjo rushed Atiku’s name or because there was no time at all?

In fact, let me tell you, some people were still on their way from Jos when all this happened.

Then you would agree that Obasanjo was right in picking Atiku contrary to the sour grapes from some quarters?

Well, I think it was a well choreographed script which played out

With all these, at what point did the problem start?
You mean with me?

Yes, at what point did he start having problems with you – not you with him? Because after the Jos convention, it was obvious you were ready to work with him?

The next morning, in Hilton, Obasanjo came to my suite and told me that he would like me to be president of the Senate, so that he would control the executive, I would control the legislature, that way we could work together and move Nigeria forward. I kept quiet and he said, okay, if you don’t want to do it, I should give him somebody from the East based on the zoning formula. I said I would think about it.

Major player

Eventually I told him I wouldn’t do it. I nominated Senator Onyeabor Obi because he had the experience, coming from the Second Republic and a lawyer of 30 years standing and it was the MOU on power shift, of which Obi was a major player, which made it possible for Obasanjo himself to emerge.

But Onyeabor Obi never made it to the Senate?

He never did, that was part of it. Then, somebody had already been nominated for that senatorial district – Anambra South. To get the chap who had the ticket to step down was a problem. Senator I. K. Obiora was also aspiring and this other chap, Eriobuna were contesting. Obiora agreed to step down but Eriobuna never agreed and Chuba Okadigbo was very keen on becoming president of the Senate and I think he had a hand in ensuring that Eriobuna did not buckle.What was the question again?

I asked at what time did the two of you begin to part ways?

After that offer, he told me that on Thursday evening, there was going to be a fund-raising for his campaign and that he would like me to chair the event. I agreed. I was there, I chaired it. Danjuma was there, Dangote and a host of others. When he came to the East for the campaign, I met him at the airport and I brought him here to my house.

You mean he came to this house? Where did he sit in this living room?

Interesting! He sat exactly on the seat you are now (laughs). He then requested that he wanted to have a word with me in private and I agreed. We moved to the other side outside and he requested that he would like me to give him one person that he would make a minister and I asked him: ‘One person’? He said ‘yes’. I said ‘okay’.

So, from here we went to Okpara Square, I campaigned for him, from there to Awka, because at that time, the whole South East was still smarting from the events of the Jos convention and as I went campaigning for him, some thought I was a mental case.

From Awka to Asaba Stadium, we got there at night, we campaigned and I returned only to go back to Lagos to meet him at Ikeja.

Olu Falae emerged as AD/APP presidential candidate along with Umaru Shinkafi as running mate. But something happened. Pius Okigbo and Ben Nwabueze, I believe went on air to announce that Ohanaeze wanted the Igbo nation to vote for Falae. I found it difficult to take because they didn’t consult me and if anyone is going to claim that he founded PDP, without being immodest, I can make such a claim. So, how could I be campaigning for our candidate and my people would be told to vote for somebody else.

So, I went to the radio station here at my own cost, made a broadcast which was sent to all the stations in the eastern zone including Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Cross River. I went to Lagos and did the same on network radio that my people in the East should vote for Obasanjo. In spite of all these, I heard later that one of our people here who was close to him said Okigbo and Nwabueze wouldn’t have made such an announcement without my consent.

Who told you sir?

I won’t mention the name; but he believed the story.

Did he call you to find out what went wrong?

No, he just believed, in spite of all that he knew I did to counter that statement.

But all these were before the general election and people still saw you, the party leadership, moving round the country together and you stomached all these?
Of course we wanted the party to win. After the elections and swearing in, I gave him the one person he requested, Professor Barth Nnaji, someone I thought would make a difference because of what he had propounded to do to move Nigeria forward, to move away from crude oil to industrial development, based on the experience of the Asian Tigers. So, I nominated him and gave him the proposals from Nnaji. The guy is from Enugu State, any way and not from Anambra, not my state.

The next time we met he told me that in the military there is something they call a bad weather option, that if a dignitary is coming and you’re preparing for a parade and rain falls on that day and the weather changes, what do you do? What would be your fall back position. What he was telling me was that I should give him somebody else in case this one did not work. So, I gave him Ali Baba of blessed memory, who was from the Yola, Adamawa State.

Was it that you couldn’t find somebody from your Anambra State or what?
Anambra had a lot of people and we were entitled to our quota as a state. For Anambra State, Onyeabor Obi was number one but Obasanjo preferred Menakaya, who supported him.

After taking all the people he wanted, I went to see him one day and he showed me the list and asked if I had any suggestions and I said the first name proposed by Anambra State should have been picked, that is Senator Onyeabor Obi and I made him understand that the MOU which brought about power shift was actually typed by Obi because in his Western House Office that night, his staff had all gone home so he had to do the typing himself and I felt even if for that reason alone he should be chosen.

Another name on the list which caught my attention was the female nominee from Plateau State where he said he wanted a woman. I told him the original list from Plateau State had a woman’s name so why not pick that woman, but instead you put another woman’s name there.

He said he would effect that change as suggested by me – at least that was what he told me there. When the list got to the Senate, because of the previous tango between Obi and Okadigbo, the latter went and ganged up with Anambra senators. Obi scaled the hurdle the first time but they canceled all that and started all over again. The second time, the senators from Anambra State said Obi didn’t have their support and, therefore, could not be passed.

What is more, they said the political adviser, Prof. A B C Nwosu was from Nnewi as Obi and that two of them could not come from the same place. But this was the same excuse in the case of Adamu Ciroma from Potiskum and his cousin, Adamu Maina Waziri. They represented Ciroma’s name but never represented Obi’s name – meanwhile, Waziri served as an adviser while Ciroma served as minister.

Did you ever have the opportunity to challenge him regarding all these?
Yes, we were in the party caucus one day and I told him all the things he had done to me and people present were shaking because they hadn’t seen anybody talk to Obasanjo like that.

That must have been immediately after he was sworn-in?
No, not immediately; much after that.

What was his response?

He just danced around it. He couldn’t answer straight. What answer would he have? These were all facts.

So, what was that final straw? At some point it was evident that you were no longer part of the mainstream PDP?

I can not even place my finger on any one single event but I think on the whole, Obasanjo felt I was too strong a character in a way and that he could do everything to undercut me and reduce my influence in the party or even in my own state and he undermined me.

As a matter of fact, he didn’t appoint any of the people I proposed, not one person. When I asked him he said the governor of Enugu State said he didn’t want Prof. Nnaji. The person I nominated. I asked him, ‘you said I should give you just one person, and yet, the governor of Enugu State (Chimaroke Nnamani) is going to veto my nominee? Somebody who came back from Orlando, Florida; someone Jim Nwobodo helped to become the governor is now going to veto my own nominee?’

What would make you snap, as in storm, get angry, scream at someone, because some of the instances you’ve mentioned are enough to make a man storm? What would make you angry?


Okay, how do you relieve yourself of stress?

I play lawn tennis. I play two sets.

Some people could not suffer Obasanjo and, therefore, were compelled to dump PDP and move on; with all these that you have talked about which transpired between you and Obasanjo as president, why didn’t you just take a walk?

The truth is that so many people who used the PDP as a spring board for getting power, once they lose that power and no longer have the power they quickly jump out of the party. A few whom the party used and who are committed still have an attachment to the party because of the original concept of the party as a behemoth that would capture the interests of the masses of Nigeria and in which the people will have great confidence are still there.

These governors dumping their parties for PDP, is it proper?

I’m open-minded about it. There is no provision in the constitution which goes against it but in the area of being a legislator, the constitution is clear. It doesn’t mean that it is morally okay but legally, what can you do. But talking about morality, how can somebody jump from PDP into your party and you hand him your ticket automatically. Look at Bauchi, the man had always been a PDP man, look at Imo State, Ohakim had been a PDP member since 1998, he comes into PPA and they hand him their ticket and the man now returns to where he came from and they are complaining.

Excessive administration

I wish there was another way round it that was why I said I have an open mind about it.

Would you say Yar’Adua is on the right track?

At least Nigerians and the party members are not groaning under another jackboot of a buccaneering and excessive administration. So, you give that to Yar’Adua.

Let’s look at President Yar’Adua. How would you assess him?

First, is that he is not a dictator. Certainly, Nigerians couldn’t have suffered another dictator after Obasanjo. His weak point would be that he does not move as fast as some people expect but you can make haste slowly.

Your state, Anambra would witness a gubernatorial election next January: What should Nigerians expect and how does it feel that you are from that state?
Do you watch cowboy films?

In Anambra State, PDP Anambra is comparable to a situation of all chiefs and no Indians. You know you’re supposed to have all Indians and one chief as leader, but in Anambra, it is all chiefs and no Indians. Everybody is a chief and everybody thinks he or she is capable of running the state. Many are concerned about the situation arising from over ambition. I once called a meeting of stakeholders from all the local governments where we reached some basic understanding on modus operandi and modus vivendi, but within a week, a full page advert was in the papers castigating me of supporting one faction against the other.

The buzz word today is about electoral reforms. Yar’Adua gained plaudits when he set up the Uwais Committee but the problem today with most people is the decision of government to appoint the umpire, the INEC chairman; if any other body appoints INEC chairman, would that solve our electoral problems?

I don’t know why people are so fixated about the appointment of the chairman of INEC. The important thing is that the chairman when appointed should not be removed any how and the chairman is well protected by the constitution.

Once the chairman knows that he can not be removed just like that, he would do the right thing. But to say that you want an executive function of appointing INEC chairman to be transferred to the judiciary, what about the appointment of the person who heads the Civil Service Commission, what about the Police Service Commission?

Elections at the local government level have been by far worse than what INEC conducted so how do we get out of the mire of electoral irresponsibility?
Everybody wants to control what he has: The PPA governor wants all the local government elected officials to belong to his party and it cuts across AC, ANPP, PDP and so on. The State Independent Electoral Commissions are manipulated in a way to achieve this.

Going Home

By Chika Unigwe

Whenever Mike tried to remember the day they fled Jos, he remembered grief: a sadness that his dog could not come with them. He also remembered that they left in the thick of night. He remembered a darkness he could not see through. Bad things always happened in the night.

But his brother disputed this. He said they left at dawn. With the crowing of the cocks and a sky of the lightest blue. Their mother had woken them up and told them to hurry, hurry, they had to leave on a trip in their father’s car.

And they had entered the car (without taking a shower) with face caps on their heads and brightly coloured sun glasses around their necks and Mike had sung My Bonny is over the ocean, My Bonny is over the sea, Oh bring back my bonny to me, to me, his mouth stinking of morning breath. And Egbuna ought to remember better. He was older.

Their mother would never talk about that day, not even when the brothers disputed in heated voices, shouting, “You’re wrong!” above each other’s heads. And not even when their voices exploded into fights which only subsided in lachrymose reconciliation would she say a word.

When they appealed to her directly, “Mother, tell us. When did we leave? Morning or night?” she ignored them. Or she said, “Memories are like plates. You don’t leave them dirty.”

Asking their father was not an option. There was a stiffness to him as if he was cut out of cardboard which made him unapproachable. Their mother said that the war had stolen most of his voice so that he spoke in monosyllables like a car bumper sticker.

Mike was eight when they left Jos but he could not remember their father any other way. In any case he was not one to be relied on to tell stories. A story teller had to have an excess of words, a belly full of tales that were eager to rush out. Their mother with her look of Christian meekness and a love for storytelling was the parent to approach.

However on this one topic, she would not talk. The brothers learnt to live with their versions of the truth and when their mother started showing signs of dementia in old age, they clung even more fiercely to their own truths. It was easier.

But in her final days, the gods breathed into their mother’s head and she, inhaling their breath was hit with a lucidity that stunned her sons and an obvious need to unburden herself so that she - without any prompting - told them the story of how they had fled Jos.

It was the first time she had ever told the story, believing staunchly in the days and years after the war when she was much healthier, that certain memories were better buried. And now in her last days believing that the words would rot in her stomach if she did not expel them, she called her sons by her bedside and filled their eyes with remembrance.

She said it started with the wife of the Igbo headmaster who was hacked to death in her own home. Neither Mike nor Egbuna remembered the headmaster’s wife. “She called you her boyfriends and Mike especially was shy of her. Every time she came Mike would run and hide in the bedroom. She was very fond of both of you.”

Her gate men had colluded and murdered her while her husband was away on a school trip. “That day, that same day, I swore we were leaving the North. I knew the Hausa meant business then. ” And they did not leave in a car.

They left on the train. From Jos to Makurdi then to Enugu where the hills were green even at that time of the year. And all through the trip, they chanted chaka chaka gwom gwom chaka chaka gwom gwom until she got a headache and asked them to shut the hell up.

It was also around that time that she began swearing, interspersing her speech with words that did not go at all with her Christian face.

nd on which trip did Mike sing My Bonny then? Egbuna asked

That was on an earlier trip, on a visit home when Mike did not know the words properly and thought bonny referred to a bone, their mother laughed. Mike had spent hours in the car singing,

"My boneys ova de okshoon

My boneys ova de seeeee

My boney ovad okshoon

Oh bringback my boneyt me


On the train she told the children that they were no longer allowed to speak Hausa. “Hausa is the language of the enemy, ndiausa.” That was the only explanation she had given Mike, the only one of the two children to ask for an explanation.

The headmaster’s wife was her best friend. She was also the president of the Igbo Women’s Christian Mother’s Union and after she was killed her head was left at the front door of St. Theresa’s as a warning to the other women. “It still had a scarf tied around it. And the eyes...”

Mike told his mother to stop talking. She said if she stopped she would never get past the lump that stuck in her throat, she had kept quiet for too long, she did not want to die with a belly full of rotten tales. And then she started to cry, her wailing embarrassing Egbuna and Mike who had never seen her cry, not even at their father’s funeral many years before.

Did they not remember the Headmaster’s wife? No, they said. She made them akara balls that shone like gold. She called the akara nuggets. Egbuna said if he thought hard enough, he remembered a woman with a round face sailing into the house smelling of akara.

Egbuna said he remembered the woman with a loud voice who shouted merrily, “Where are my little husbands? I’ve got nuggets for them.” Mike said he did not remember.

It did not matter if he remembered, their mother said. What mattered was the story. “Stories help us to remember,” she said. And Mike heard the accusation in the cadences of her voice. He saw it fleck her eyes when she looked at him. He looked away from her face and settled his gaze on the fridge purring quietly beside the dying woman’s bed.

His parents had never understood. And now he knew that his mother would never forgive him, that even in her dementia when she waited for a long-dead husband to reappear, when she smiled at her sons with the politeness reserved for strangers and asked them who they were, her anger and resentment at Mike had remained.

He knew that she still hoped to redeem him. Her choice of words, not his. He did not believe he needed redemption.

They had left Jos in the morning with a suitcase full of clothes and a hope that they would be able to return soon; that the threat to Igbo lives would be quelled. Ten months after they left, the civil war broke out.

“The smell was already in the air. It was there long before the headmaster’s wife was killed . There had been rumours. Rumours that flew by night and smashed through the glass of our windows. Do you remember when the sitting-room window was broken by a group of small boys?"

Her sons did not remember. “Small children. Boys as young as ten. They shouted nyamiri, Igbo, go home! And the security guard could not catch them no matter how fast he ran. Do you remember him? He had knock-knees and sometimes slept at his post but he was a wonderful man. He - ”

“If the rumours had been doing the rounds for a bit, why did so many people stay on?”

“Do not take words from my mouth. I am still talking,” she snapped at Egbuna. In her last days, their mother had also become incredibly authoritarian. The meekness of her face had been steadily replaced by a look of steel.

“We heard that ndiausa had vowed to kill one million Igbo to avenge the death of their Sardauna who was killed in the coup. They said Igbo soldiers killed the Sardauna and so we had to pay. Your father paid no attention to those rumours. ”

They had stayed in Onitsha for thirteen months, renting a duplex in GRA. Mike could never remember living in Onitsha but Egbuna had scraps of memories from there: a heavy gate that squealed when it was swung open and on which he and Mike idled away hours swinging from it; a very short orange tree which they nicknamed osisi mammywata, the mermaid’s tree; a kitchen that stank of kerosene fumes.

In their mother’s eye, they saw the house in Onitsha. It was bigger than they remembered with walls papered in yellow and green; the only house with wall papering for miles. It had been occupied by a British couple who nostalgic for their home in an English countryside had imported the wall paper into Onitsha.

When they left the country they left behind a set of matching pots and pans with glass covers. But even those did not make up for what their mother missed, what she had left behind in Jos:

The gold-edged china that was left in the dining room cupboard because their father had ordered that only the most essential necessities be packed because he believed that things would get back to normal before long. “Your father was wrong. I tried to tell him but he was a stubborn man.”

The huge flower vases with drawings of Oriental women on them. They stayed on the porch. “And every night I saw them in my dreams, bleeding.”

The silver-coloured knight on the table whose stomach opened outwards to reveal a bottle and whose shoulders held six miniature glasses that visitors to the house always commented on and Mike hoped one day to inherit.

And Scotch, the trained Labrador that not only answered to its name, but gave a paw when asked and stood and sat at command. Mike had loved Scotch with a European passion and even though he had not been bought specifically for him, everyone called it Mike’s dog.

And their father always told guests how he had paid thirty pounds so that their dog could shake and stand and sit when ordered.

Did they remember the toilet with a bidet? Mike did not. Egbuna remembered because it was in the bidet he washed his clothes.

Did they remember how they left Onitsha? Mike remembered that it was on an afternoon. Their father came in from town to announce that, isolated as they were from the rest of the city in GRA, they had not realized that there was nobody left in the city. “Onitsha agbago oso,’ he told his wife. “Onitsha has run.”

“We bundled you into the car, do you remember? You were eating an egg, Mike.” And Mike remembered the taste of a stolen egg that filled his mouth.

And remembered that fear and guilt combined to make him forget himself and he had spoken in Hausa to his mother, saying sorry he stole the boiled egg she had been hoarding. She had slapped him hard across the face and he was sure it was not because of the egg.

“Outside Onitsha we were stopped by a soldier. A young man, a boy, not much older than Egbuna was then really. Twelve maybe. Thirteen, tops. He looked like he was playing soldier. It turned out he was defecting. Poor boy. He was tired of the fighting. He made your father give him his shirt.

He put a gun to your father’s head and shouted into his face. I was shaking like a leaf but your father... your father was like a nail, ntu. He always kept his head. He asked the young man calmly not to shout because he was scaring you two. And then he pulled off his shirt like it was nothing and handed it over.

Then the soldier forced us to give him a lift to Uzuakoli which was out of our way. But... we made it to Osumenyi in one piece. Not many people can say that. We survived the war whole as a family.”

Their mother’s eyes were magic. They dimmed and shone in turn. “We survived but ndiausa killed your father.” Their mother was convinced that their father started dying the day he was made to run away from Jos; the prostrate cancer which killed him in 1973, three years after they moved back to Onitsha at the end of the war, was just an outward symptom of his inner death.

She would never forgive that. And she did not expect her sons to either. Which was why when Mike took the step he did, long before her dementia started, she had called him a sabo, a saboteur.

In Osumenyi, Mike and Egbuna complained of a starkness they could not get used to. The huge compound in Jos had three mango trees, a few orange trees and, oh-pride-of prides, a cashew tree that was the only one for miles and which fruit Egbuna mischievously called the dangling breasts of Mrs. Winternight.

Mrs. Winternight was the British head teacher of the school Mike and Egbuna attended. “Egbuna called osumenyi nwoke isi nkwocha - the bald man - do you remember?” Egbuna remembered bareness where trees should have been and sand that danced in the harmattan wind. Mike remembered missing Jos.

Mike never managed to feel at home in osumenyi. And it was not because, having grown up in a city, he was unused to the provincial ways of a village. His problem was more intimate, more crushing: unable to speak good Igbo he was bullied in school.

He remembered his classmates forming a circle round him and taunting him with songs about being Hausa, asking him to go back to Ugwuausa where he belonged. Even Egbuna seemed to avoid him at school. Bigger, and better at speaking Igbo, Egbuna had no trouble fitting in.

When he complained to his mother, she said he carried the enemy in his heart.

Four years after they fled Jos, the war ended and their father moved them back to Onitsha where Egbunna slot in like a key.

“You loved Onitsha, both of you. Finally a house with trees. You remember the guava trees? Egbuna spent all day climbing them. We started rebuilding our lives. We started to forget Jos. But who could forget the massacre? Who could forget the dead?”

Egbunna said he remembered the trees. He loved Onitsha. He remembered the neighbours’ son who became his best friend. Mike remembered missing Jos. He remembered school days spent hiding in the toilet because of schoolmates who laughed at the way he spoke his Igbo.

Four years of living in the East and his Igbo had not much improved. He remembered secretly praying that their father would move them back to Jos where his friends were. He whispered this prayer fervently at night when the family met for prayer time in the L-shaped sitting room with a grand piano which no one ever played.

Their father dominated the prayer time, breaking his moratorium of short, clipped sentences to say verbose prayers in a language so grand that Mike was worried that his own prayer would be pushed aside for his father’s more ornate one.

And his father’s prayer had no room to accommodate his because the older man had no desire to return to the part of the country he referred to as “ the cesspit of hell from which - Oh God, almighty ocean that never dries up, Osimmiri agwu agwu, The Spinner of all Life’s tales - you delivered thine own people from!”

While his brother and mother shouted an Amen that reverberated the walls of the house in response, Mike countered it with his own fevered request in Hausa, the only language he could live fully in.

“We were home where we were wanted. Your father always said that even if someone told him there was gold falling out of the sky in Jos, he’d never go back. He’d never go back to the North.” Her eyes held Mike’s. He knew what she was accusing him of.

She knew how much he missed his friends in Jos. How in the twenty five years he was away from Jos, the city never left his mind.

Now he thought that maybe what he missed was not just his friends but his entire childhood: the mornings of a compulsory boiled egg and a bowl of quaker oats sweetened with condensed milk; birds singing outside his window; parents who showed no signs of getting old or wrinkly; the school playground where he never felt left out; Saturday mornings spent traipsing the neighbourhood with his best friend, Musa and their catapults looking for birds to shoot out of trees. He always yearned for Jos.

And the yearning wove a lasso around his neck and would not let go until he gave in and took a job working in a bank in Jos after graduation, carrying in his head the memories of a home that sheltered him as a young boy and carrying on his back, the weight of his mother’s anger.

Chika Unigwe is a Nigerian writer based in Belgium. Her novel, ‘On Black Sisters' Street', about the lives of Nigerian prostitutes in Europe, is published by Jonathan Cape.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The New Face Of Imo

By Obi Nwakanma

I WAS home to Imo State this past May to bury my father who died on May 3 at the Federal Medical Centre in Umuahia and was buried on June 6, 2009 in his home at Mbaise. Just as an aside, I wish to thank all those who through their messages, gifts, prayers and presence supported and stood by my family throughout the period of the funeral rites.

They are, of course, too numerous to mention here. I took time off in that period between May and July after the events to do some research, and travel widely across Nigeria, and particularly within Eastern Nigeria. I spent a lot of time in my country home and in Owerri visiting, listening, observing and talking with folk.

Two things struck me immediately: Owerri, the main city of Imo State is overweight and bulging with people. The population explosion in Owerri is not inexplicable: the situation in the Niger delta has forced many families to relocate to the relatively safer and nearby cities in Aba and Owerri only between thirty and forty-five minutes away from Port-Harcourt. As an uncle of mine also hinted to me, many people especially from Imo State who retire are finding Owerri an amenable and convenient place to resettle, away from the hurly-burly of Lagos, and indeed sometimes, of New York.

That is a good thing for Owerri, and for its economic and social development; but it does seem that the Imo state government has not yet cottoned on to this, or anticipated the rapid human influx into Owerri, a phenomenon of growth to which it must respond. The effect is that the expanding population growth of Owerri has not quite been matched with infrastructural growth. Indeed the city of Owerri is increasingly a commuter’s nightmare.

There are frequent traffic jawlocks, never before known in that city, as much from the number of new cars and commuters on the streets as from unpaved corrugated roads flooding from the seasonal rains. Many of the city streets and roads built in the Mbakwe era are in urgent need of repair, while newer city streets and evolving layouts seem haphazard, unplanned, unpaved, and without macadam. Above all, the extant design of Owerri is convenient and limited to a much smaller population cluster, and require a new urban re-design, expansion and redevelopment both to accommodate contemporary realities and to anticipate, even stimulate new economic growth and investments.

The second thing that struck me, and this in the general background to Governor Ikedi Ohakim’s signature statement about creating the “new face of Imo,” is that Ohakim’s new face of Imo seems to be more on billboards than on actual terra firma. Everywhere you go to in Owerri, you’d encounter in bold, colourful billboards, advertisements with Governor Ohakim’s face, or the chubby faces of Kanu Nwankwo and Onyeka Onwenu, proclaiming the new face of Imo, and on the roads, other billboards that advertise the ambitions of what is called IRROMA; the sobriquet for “Imo Rural Roads Maintenance Agency.”

Rural roads in Imo, of course remain atrocious. I had many a bumpy ride myself on those rural roads. It did seem to me, and this is the point, that Ikedi Ohakim’s program in Imo State resides more in the imagination and in slogans rather than in actual output.

I did encounter a lot of cynicism and chuckling about the “new face of Imo” and to be fair, I also encountered some, like the university don, Dr. Nath Onu, director of the Centre For Erosion Studies and professor of geophysics at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, who saw some hopeful signs: “we must give the governor a chance.

“Too many things went wrong before him!” he said. Such optimism did not cut it in real terms for me. So I asked a friend of mine who works closely with the governor currently, whom I visited: “where is this new face of Imo?” and he did say, “we have the ideas, people like Fashola in Lagos have the money.” Now, ain’t that something? I was tempted to ask about what happened to the grants that a state like Imo received, and let’s not even talk about the local taxes, since there are no obvious new investments in infrastructure statewide: in education, there have been no upgrades in schools facilities from the primary to the tertiary.

Owerri could have been a better fallback city to all those expatriates fleeing Port-Harcourt, but both residential and commercial property development in the city is rather basic; cultural life, including the prospects of divers dinning experience is limited; there is simply nothing to do in Owerri except the weekend carousals of sex tourists, in a city where the major investments are mostly in three-star hotels, always booked to the full at the weekends. There has to be something more to the new face of Imo beyond the billboards and the rhetorics.

There has to be more within the plan and its actual implementation to relocate the state’s “talented tenth” back from the dispersal, for one clear phenomenon which has attracted scant attention is diminution of local productive capacity: the average population in Imo State, as in much of the South-Eastern Nigeria, especially in the rural areas is mostly an aged rather than a young population. Rural development has collapsed.

There is little going on. The best, most qualified and active population are outside of Imo State. Real economic and social development is about highly developed manpower. To start with, the real new face of Imo must show not only a bold new plan, beyond the promises on the billboard, but also must begin with actual redevelopment and expansion of the urban facilities in Owerri, Okigwe, and Orlu.

BOOK REVIEW: The Thing Around Your Neck

At Home and Abroad by Neha Bhatt/New Delhi

The Thing Around Your Neck stays with you from beginning till end, and beyond. It’s unlikely it would take more than a few pages for you to be drawn in by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s casual, free-flowing narrative style. Her collection of 12 elegant short stories has made an utterly intimate space. The stories inhabit Nigeria and America, nestling among the growing human aspirations and inevitable frustrations, which is what ultimately connects the people of the two countries.

It’s a fine balance the Nigerian author writes with. As heartwarming as each of her people are (they never seem to be merely characters in a story, for she writes as if they were her people, lives she has carefully observed; and many are of Igbo descent, an ethnic group that she belongs to), there is a quiet pain in equal measure.

This is 31-year-old Adichie’s third book. The first two, released within the last few years — Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun — are prizewinning works.

The title story of her new collection, “The Thing Around Your Neck”, works wonderfully as a metaphor for the rest of the book, and delicately so. Told in second person (a technique that is incredibly delightful to read here, and thankfully she repeats it in another story in this collection), this story has a young Nigerian girl who moves to America in search of better financial prospects at its heart. The move isn’t at all what she imagined it might be, yet, in despair, she’s finally able to let go, of that thing around her neck that has troubled her for so long.

This is a recurring theme throughout the book: Nigerian families and their fragmented lives, their past and unnerving present, based firmly within but sometimes very far away from their homeland.

Adichie has a way with words, a flawless style that is so alive it breathes. She could be telling you these stories at an informal gathering over tea. Her tone is consistent and thoroughly engaging, and lyrical in both familiar (the less privileged of her countrymen are fascinated by the West, much like us Indians) and unfamiliar (the immigrant life) surroundings.

She expertly masks the most painful and intense experiences with her gentle, no-fuss manner, her perceptions being remarkably sensitive and surreal. Her stories stay aloof of any stark, negative connotations, lending a unique, positive quality to a book with a theme such as this. There is an understated and unaffected poise, with a confident, soothing strain running through each of the unusual situations at the crux of these stories. And these are tales that you would want to hear and relish, perhaps reading just one at a time before moving on to the next.

For that reason it’s difficult, and perhaps unfair, to try and pick a favourite, or even to summarise any story from this collection. It does, however, appear that young Nigerian women — on the brink of something new, exploring, learning, growing — are the author’s favourite protagonists, and are most endearing at that, perhaps because they are the ones most full of hope.

In “On Monday of Last Week”, a young woman, in America and thus far from home, experiences an inexplicable thrill at the admiring, if fake, glances of another woman. Another Nigerian woman in America, in “Imitation”, decides to pull the plug on her supposedly cheating husband who visits from their homeland only a few months a year.

In “A Private Experience”, a medical student’s unruffled life unravels in a matter of hours when she hides with a Muslim woman during a riot in Nigeria.

These are stories that span minutes, sometimes decades, and run a little more than 20 pages each, but will last a great deal longer in the reader’s mind.

Let Nobody Tell Me

By Okey Ndibe

The Igbo have this cautionary tale about the perils of royal hubris. It concerns a man named Eze Onyeagwanam - roughly translated as: “King let nobody tell me.” This royal personage is credited with combining disastrous decisions with hectoring pride. If anybody sought to persuade the king against treading some ruinous path, the king screamed: “Don’t tell me!” In time, the king’s aides learned to keep their counsel to themselves. Even when the king took a manifestly foolish step, his hapless advisors assured him that his action was the paragon of wisdom.

There are different accounts of how the king came to grief. Here’s my favourite: One day, the king set out for the marketplace. He was stark naked, in a drunken revelry. As he strode to his destination, none of his scandalized subjects dared warn him about his flapping manhood. The imperious man stunned onlookers when he finally arrived at the market.

It was one scandal too many for his subjects.

Acting swiftly, they deposed the man and led him away to an asylum - where he spent the rest of his days among other deranged habitu├ęs.

Lately, I have been thinking about the undeniable connection between Eze Onyeagwanam’s legend and Nigeria’s crop of crass leaders. Nigeria appears cursed, not with one, but a multitude of Eze Onyeagwanams. Morally and ethically naked men and women dominate the country’s public space, but pass themselves off as lavishly dressed.

Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an Abuja stop as part of her 11-day tour to a number of African countries. Even before she arrived in Africa’s most populous - and most grandly disappointing - nation, the American media were speculating that she would speak candidly about Nigeria’s woes, especially corruption and record-setting history of fraudulent elections.

Mrs. Clinton lived up to the billing. At a town hall meeting in Abuja, she spoke in a manner that was uncharacteristically direct for a chief diplomat. “The most immediate source of the disconnect between Nigeria’s wealth and its poverty,” she said, was “a failure of governance at the federal, state and local levels.” In a country where militancy has become the disorder of the day, the American secretary stated that “Lack of transparency and accountability has eroded the legitimacy of the government and contributed to the rise of groups that embrace violence and reject the authority of the state.”

In speaking so directly, Mrs. Clinton gave Nigeria’s rulers (yes, they rule, but don’t know a thing about leading) a taste of what President Barack Obama thinks of them. Obama riled Nigeria’s rulers when he snubbed them and instead visited neighbouring Ghana in July.

Mrs. Clinton took a swipe at Mr. Umaru Yar’Adua’s non-record in the fight against corruption. Her verdict on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was unflattering. “The EFCC, which was doing well, has kind of fallen off in the last one year,” she said. “We will like to see it come back to business to be able to partner with us.” Her dour and - going by the enthusiastic applause she got - accurate portrait of Nigeria elicited the laughable pledge by Yar’Adua to continue combating corruption.

Once Mrs. Clinton left Nigeria, the Eze Onyeagwanam impulse was activated. Officials of Nigeria’s ruling party assured that nothing was amiss in Nigeria. David Mark, who presides over a high-priced but largely sleeping Senate, echoed that sentiment. A man who left a career in the military with amazing wealth, Mr.

Mark told reporters that Mrs. Clinton’s take on Nigeria was misconceived. Where she abhorred Nigeria’s wishy-washy elections, the senator argued, “We will decide for ourselves what we want as our democratic system.” And the kind of system “we” have chosen is one where the ruling party captures any states and posts that catch its fancy, regardless of what the voters say! Mark, a beneficiary of a questionable election, asked with a straight face: “What is the problem with the [Nigerian] electoral system?”

For him, Mrs. Clinton’s statement that Nigerians lack a credible register of voters arose from her inadequate education. “That is the sort of thing we get ourselves into when we don’t educate those we ought to,” he bemoaned. Had the US Secretary attended Mr. Mark’s classroom, she would have learned that “This country is a sovereign nation, Nigerians belong to Nigerians and we would decide for ourselves the way we want to move ourselves forward.” How exactly are Mr. Mark and co moving their nation forward? New Inspector General of Police Ogbonnaya Onovo has asked the legislature to empower the police to shoot during elections.

Does anybody in her or his wildest imagination foresee the police shooting supporters of the ruling party? Mr. Maurice Iwu, who oversees Nigeria’s infamous brand of elections, recently stated that only the military can conduct credible elections. As I sat down to write, news came that veteran actor and broadcaster, Pete Edochie, had been kidnapped in Anambra.

That’s a portrait of Mr. Mark’s country marching forward into perdition.

He Who Brings Kolanut Brings Life

By Nicholas Ibekwe

"Onye wetara oji, wetara ndu" (He who brings kolanut brings life) said Ray Anumba, the public relations officer of the Mbari Cultural Centre in Owerri, as he broke the customary kolanut -a symbol of welcome and acceptance among the Igbos. Saying a brief prayer, he called on Chineke (God) to bless our mission at the centre.

The Mbari Cultural Centre is where cultural heritage meets entertainment -one of the must-see sites in Imo State. It provides a connection, an attempt at bridging the gap between two civilisations - the old and the new.

Perhaps the best way to describe the Mbari centre is to compare it with the effect derived from watching a celluloid movie on a digital technology. It is both a space where one communes with the ancestors and a haven of relaxation.

The Mbari house

The Mbari House is a reflection of the people's mode of worship, fears, superstitions, conquests, and prejudices. Centrally located within the complex, the Mbari House is an imposing open-air museum that serves as the focal point of the Cultural Centre.

According to my guide, Mr. Anumba, the mbari Houses are very popular in Owerri-Igbo, and other parts of Igboland. Whatever god a particular mbari house is dedicated to, takes the central position. Accordingly, the cultural centre's own mbari house is dedicated to Chukwu Abiama (the supreme deity in Igbo mythology), and so the image forms the central focus inside the structure.

"The Mbari is the Igbo traditional form of arts, normally conducted to appease the gods in a particular situation," Anumba said. "Maybe there is an epidemic or something the community wants to achieve, they will erect an mbari house to appease the (relevant) god."

Apart from being a shrine, a typical Mbari house provides a record of the people and their history. "One thing about the Mbari house is that, once done, it tells the story of the people's lives, their culture and the deities that have effect in their lives," Mr. Anumba explained.

The image of the Chukwu Abiama in the cultural centre's mbari house is inscribed with Nsibidi script, the sacred writing of the Igbo people. Also written on the image, are the four market days of the Igbos: Eke, Ovie, Afor and Nkwo.

The following are also on display: sculptures depicting Nworie, a river goddess; eke-Nworie, a sacred python -totem of the goddess; Amadioha, the god of lightning and thunder; as well as lesser deities and spirits like Agbara, Mbataku, Ofor, Umune and Agwo (spirit of mischief).

Other artworks include the ikoro, a medium of communication; and Onye afotoro (showing someone that died of a swollen stomach, considered a bad omen). Unusual sightings and creatures are also commemorated -like the Eyi Nnunu (ostrich) and alakuku the giant (called Nwokoro Uku in some parts).

The arrival of the colonialists changed traditional Igbo society forever. The Igbo refer to the white colonials as human gods who took over and changed their society and put a new order in place. Hardly surprising, therefore, that depictions of the colonial administration and its officers are to be found in some mbari houses.

Among these sculptural studies of colonial administrators, are: Nwa Disi -a corruption of District Commissioner (DC); Ndi No Na Ilo Ikpe (people in the court); and Ndi No Na Gba (prisoners).

The Mbari Museum kitchen

The Mbari Museum Kitchen is the relaxation spot within the centre; and appeals to the taste buds with a selection of Igbo traditional cuisine. Established in 2003, the museum kitchen is a popular night spot; visitors are entertained with highlife music by the Omenimo Band.

The Mbari Museum kitchen is actively engaged in research studies to discover and showcase new ways of preparing and serving Igbo dishes. It recently hosted a food exhibition during which it was discovered that there are about 12 types of soups eaten by the Imo people.

The American ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Sanders, was hosted to a feast of traditional dishes at the Mbari Museum Kitchen during her visit to Imo State.

The Mbari Amphitheatre

The amphitheatre attached to the Mbari Cultural Centre is located at the extreme of the premises. Currently undergoing refurbishment that will transform it from an open-air amphitheatre to an all-season, covered amphitheatre, it promises to be a visitor's delight when completed.

With a seating capacity of 3,000, the amphitheatre, comes with an ultra-modern hall to be used for arts exhibitions.

According to Mr. Anumba, discussions are ongoing with the US embassy to build an ICT centre to assist artists and cultural researchers in executing their projects and field studies. It would also help to connect artists the world over.

Incorporated into the refurbished design of the amphitheatre is an orchestra pit for performing musicians.

Behind the amphitheatre is a botanical garden whose goal is to salvage trees and plants indigenous to the region. Some of the trees in the garden - like the Ukwa (breadfruit), Ugiri and Ogbono - are endangered species. Therefore, the Mbari Cultural Centre looks to a sustainable future even as it celebrates the Igbo past.

Know Your Igbo

>>Nsibidi: A system of writings in the form of formalised pictograms in which the Igbo language was first written down. After the decline of Nsibidi, it became a system of communication among secret societies. Inscribed on the sculpture of Chukwu Abiama (the supreme God), displayed in the Mbari Cultural Centre, Nsibidi is now also a major source of inspiration for Igbo artists.

>> The Igbo calendar: The Igbos have four market days - Eke, Ovie, Afor and Nkwo. These also doubles as days of the week; four days make a week; seven weeks make a month.

>> Mbari: the name derives from the Igbo word for ‘Creation'. Specific to the Owerri-Igbo people of Imo State, mbaris are sacred open-sided mud houses built to honour a deity.

Chukwu Abiama: the great high god in Igbo mythology, who created the chis (personal gods) and other deities.

>> Ala: is the earth deity, revered for her powers of fertility over humans and the land. Daughter of Chukwu, she is the highest Igbo goddess. Ala is also the goddess of death.

>> Amadioha: is the god of lightning and thunder, said to be the messenger of the gods. Amadioha is said to have worked inside an mbari, painting clay images with the assistance of his wife.

Anyanwu: is the sun goddess; name translates to ‘Eye of the Sun' - the source of life and health for all living creatures.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Avoiding the Next Obama

By L. E. Ikenga, American Thinker

In times like these, it is tempting to focus only on the issue at hand. But if you do, you do so at your own peril. As I watch what is happening to this great country, I find myself just shaking my head more and more while thinking, Mark Twain was absolutely right: "history does not always repeat itself, but it does often rhyme."

My Igbo parents came to this great country from Nigeria. They arrived a few years after Nigeria's independence from Great Britain. In Nigeria, it was a time of unprecedented cultural and political turmoil, which allowed politicians very much like Barack Obama to continue to seep into Nigeria's political system. These politicians all promised a change from the past. And unfortunately, they ended up fulfilling their promises. What these politicians ended up changing was the very fabric of the African societies, which they had been taught to see as unsophisticated and inferior.

I call these men, who appeared all over Africa in the wake of independence, African Colonial politicians (ACP's). They were the direct offspring of the European Imperialists, imposing radical European leftist political theory on tribal cultures. ACP's and their unscrupulous followers were able to almost completely destroy many African cultures.

For the most part, these ACP's were intellectual frauds, completely unworthy of the honors bestowed upon them. But they sounded and looked good; so the people listened to them. With their fancy Oxbridge degrees, grandiloquent speeches given with perfectly accented "Queen's English", finely tailored European suits, and fabled family histories, ACP's took the masses by storm.

ACP's convinced their constituents that they were as dumb as baboons and did not have what it took to make good decisions for themselves and for the future. They made Africans feel embarrassed about their entire histories and conservative values. They persuaded Africans to follow the "European way" of doing things, and assured that this blueprint for progress was one that could not fail.

The people believed them. And so, over the course of many decades, and by means of the standard instruments of cultural indoctrination that included liberal education, elite professional career paths, and new religious and political paradigms, Africans began to consume ideas and theories that implicitly alienated them from their own roots. Today, many of those Africans and their respective cultures are well on their way to being nothing more than topics for discussion at some freshman anthropology seminar at some elite university.

Colonialism in Africa ended but the ACP remained. He is now a touchstone in African political culture -- and so are his imperialist policies. The ACP will never go away. He dominates all politics, all of the time. His presence is ubiquitous. He is being cloned by the thousands everyday at universities in Africa and in other parts of the world. Marxist mentors rear him in his professional and private life. Thus, he has been taught to see himself as a benevolent Pan-Africanist. Instead, he is an uncontrollable cancer, steadily pushing African cultures to the point of extinction.

This all happened because African conservatives lost their way, took their cultures for granted, and underestimated the cupidity of their wanton politicians. They failed to make adjustments that would have helped to preserve their necessary values. The challenge for any culture is knowing when and how to make these adjustments, because if you do not, you die.

Africans allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by smooth-talking elitist charlatans; they are now paying a very dear price for this.

Politically speaking, most of Africa is now the laughingstock of the world with little to show for all of the progress that was once so intensely promised. In his 1947 essay, Path to Nigerian Freedom, Chief Obafemi Awolowo declared that,

"... the educated elite in Nigeria were qualified by natural rights to lead their fellow nationals into higher political development."

Chief Awolowo, where is that development now?

It is a very painful thing to know that something that you hold dear will soon cease to exist. It is even more painful to know that you are only one of a small few who can actually see that it is happening. This is what I am faced with. My Igbo heritage, passed down especially by my mother, has become a very precious thing to me, particularly because it is something that will soon cease to exist. I am sure that my great-grandchildren's children will have to go to some Museum of Natural History to know who I was, and so I continue to fight to make sure that they have something to see.

All of this is because my ancestors did not make the necessary adjustments. And most importantly, they never saw that there was always a large troupe of African colonial politicians, each impatiently waiting in the wings for the chance to audition for the role of a lifetime. (Obama's 2004 DNC speech was an audition.)

The Barack Obamas of the world helped to kill off so many cultures throughout the African continent. He is now here, with his Bacchic attendants, working hard to kill (conservative) American culture. He is killing everything that this country stands for. He is doing it under the guise of altruism. However, there is nothing altruistic about Obama. Instead, what we are witnessing is the greatest comedy of fateful errors that the world has seen in quite some time. The gods must be laughing like crazy.

The move towards the Euro-style imperialist socialism that has taken over this country has been a long time coming. For decades, oblivious youth have been indoctrinated at American universities to sympathize with far-left values; the entertainment industry is filled with leftist blowhards who wear the mask of intellect; liberals of all stripes have become unselfconscious in mocking (Christian) religious customs, and the juggernaut that is the left-stream media has been sealing the deal for years, helping to make this Republic increasingly vulnerable to demagoguery and despotism.

During the campaign, there was a reason why Obama's handlers kept telling him to say, "We are the ones we have been waiting for!" So many are waiting in the wings for their chance to audition. Obama is now the playing the lead role. But new faces will come and take his place when he is done.

This is why our nation is under siege with "all Obama, all the time". They want you to focus on him so that you do not see what is coming. As difficult as it may be to believe, Obama is probably not the worst that this far-left faction will use to win future elections. There will be others who will be more "eloquent", more charismatic, more racially mixed, more (once) oppressed by "the man"...

In closing, I offer a wish list. If I could go back in time and meet some of my ancestors, here are a few things that I would tell them to watch out for and consider. And to my fellow American Conservatives, here are a few things to help us avoid the next Obama:

Brand name market academics: the killers of common sense

I cannot emphasize enough how these types of people continue to destroy cultures throughout the world. I have seen it happen; I am seeing it happen. Most of their ideas are based on book theories and not reality. They cannot relate to everyday people. Bottom line: if someone needs to tell you where they went to school in order to explain why they voted a certain way, change the subject, or better yet, if you can, just walk away.

Spread your message, especially to the young

One of the biggest mistakes that many Igbos continue to make is not teaching their kids about their ancestry and culture. In the West especially, some of those kids do not speak the language, understand any of the traditions, nor do they have the desire to visit the land of their forefathers. By default, these children have become Igbos in name only. A person without knowledge of their history and culture is like a tree without roots-a shell of a thing that can be easily blown away. Ironically, irreverence towards one's culture and history is always part of a tradition that is passed down from one generation to the next. Be the one to put an end to this tradition.

In praise of patriarchs

The whole truth, not half of it. The Igbos are a patriarchal people, and I grew up listening to fantastic tales of how my great forefathers lived impeccable lives. I understand why this was necessary but some of those tales just bordered on the absurd. I might as well have been reading the Aeneid. Patriarchs are people, and it is equally important that we learn from their successes AND their failures. Avoiding talk of their failures leads to a loss of trust from those who really want to learn. The reality is that many Igbo patriarchs made crucial mistakes, which allowed the Imperialists to gain access and power; this must be acknowledged. The American Founders achieved tremendous goals. The United States Constitution is the Crown Jewel of Western civilization. The Founders paved the way for liberty and justice for all; this was no small feat. But mistakes were still made, and the legacy of some of those mistakes still haunt us today. Telling the whole truth is what sets people free.

Intellectual integrity

The Imperialists let the genie out. It is now up to you to put it back in the bottle. The Igbos allowed many things to be redefined for them by Imperialists who then took these new definitions and ran with them in order to make the Africans feel inferior. One of my favorites is how the Imperialists began calling African medicinal herbalists, "witchdoctors". (I always crack up when I hear this word!)

Something similar is starting to happen with the word racism. The far-lefties are now using this word willy-nilly to defame innocent people. Racism, in my opinion, is something very specific: an assault -- of any kind -- that attacks the humanity of a specific ethnic group. A racist is someone who believes in and sees the good in these attacks. And then there is bigotry; and there are bigots. By thoughtlessly throwing around the word racism we truly dishonor the memory of those who, throughout human history, actually went through the real thing. Imperialists and their liberal offspring, have no real intellectual integrity. They will stoop to any low to get their message across. Do not let these fools tell you what is and what isn't.

African Colonial Politicians and Black Liberationist Preachers: Best Friends Forever

This point is more for future African and American generations. ACP's and BLP's go together like peanut butter & jelly. Black Liberation Theology (and all of its strange offshoots) is wreaking havoc in Africa and it will soon do the same here. The pastor and politician work like a tag-team to rob people of their dignity, culture, and political capital. Both teach their congregants/constituents to wear their (imagined) victim status like a badge of honor. By using all sorts of hocus-pocus and mumbo-jumbo techniques, they exact votes, cash, and "AMENS!" from lost and impressionable people. The less of a real history that people have to "cling to" the more they will seek these soothsayer/snake oil sales people out.

Countries like Nigeria most definitely have what I call a "pastor problem", and it looks like America is starting to have one too. As many have already figured out, the Obama-Wright relationship was no chance coincidence. Despite the Showtime at the Apollo theatrics in which they engaged the nation during the election, right now, both are laughing all the way to the bank.

Chukwu duwe anyi (May God be with us).

New Book: Voices of Generation Past...

A Globe Newswire Press Release

Listen To The Voices Of Generations Past -- New Book is a Fascinating Social Commentary About the Igbo, an African Tribe

ROSEDALE, N.Y., Aug. 4, 2009 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- What happens when an African tribe is exposed to new knowledge especially from Western civilization -- will the people learn to adapt to change or will they stubbornly cling to old customs and beliefs? Listen to Voices Of Generations Past: The Belief of the Igbo, an African Tribe as author Emmanuel Nwozuzu presents a fascinating social commentary.

Voices Of Generations Past: The Belief of the Igbo, an African Tribe narrates conflicts between the old and the new belief systems in Odinala, a Nigerian village. The conflicts are brought about by the slave trade, WW I, WW II, the Great Influenza, and the introduction of the Western system of education. Follow the life of Nna Pius and his attempts in teaching young people to depict the cultural changes that took place at that time.

In Odinala, family lasts forever -- even at the end of life of its members, and this belief found its way into their religion practiced at the time. Nna Pius grew up in a traditional way of life, became immersed in it, and when he became exposed to Western civilization, he observed conflicts in his life -- some of which he was not totally aware of and so he relied on his instincts to guide him. In Odinala, traditional practices represent one of the most important influences on the present generation, which reflect the rigid belief of the power and wisdom of their ancestors. However, Nna Pius believes that there are some customs that should be made away with, regardless of what the ancestors said. According to him, relevant customs are those that help people solve their present problems within the context of common good.

Voices Of Generations Past will give readers an intimate glimpse of the lives of the Odinala people -- how their beliefs ruled their life and how change began to permeate their culture. The beginning of modern times, however, did not necessarily mean better times. The author includes his own insights on the plight of the Odinala people as well as suggestions on how they can achieve progress. The proceeds of Voices Of Generations Past will be used to support the Sportif Drinking Water Project in Nigeria.

Voices Of Generations Past will be featured in the New York Library Association Book Exhibit in Niagara Falls, New York, from October 15-16, 2009. For more information, log on to: Xlibris

About the Author

Emmanuel Ibezimako Nwozuzu was a teacher in New York City Department of Education until he retired in 2005. He taught a wide variety of subjects including Chemistry and Reading and Writing in New York high schools including home instruction schools. He obtained his BS degree in the University of Nigeria Nsukka, Master's and Doctor of Philosophy at the Iowa State University of Science and Technology in Ames, Iowa, United States. Before coming to the United States, he was a member of the famous West African Examination Board Council and later became the Principal of the prestigious Community Secondary School, Dengi, Plateau State, Nigeria. The first science laboratory in the school was named after him in recognition of his contributions to teaching and learning in the school. The author, while teaching in New York schools received the prestigious U.S. Presidential Scholars Program Teacher Recognition Award in 2005. At present, he is a private educational consultant.