Sunday, January 31, 2010

Decision 2010

By Anthony Akaeze, Newswatch

All is now set for the gubernatorial election in Anambra State taking place February 6

They spent the last moments of the event smiling and exchanging banters as if they are the best of friends. They are not. They are but rivals in search of a diadem. And each one of them had, in the last few months, traversed the state to canvass for votes as the Febuary 6, 2010 governorship election in Anambra State approaches.

Tagged the “Anambra Great Debate,” the event, which held in Awka January 26, was organised by The Anambra Rebirth and Anambra State Good Governance Forum for the purpose of familiarising Anambra indigenes at home and abroad, and Nigerians in general with the governorship candidates in the state and letting them know their manifestos for the state. By the time the debate ended, some people probably had changed or made up their mind on whom to vote for, as each of the six candidates separately took his turn at the forum to once more appeal to the people of the state for support to enable him clinch the governorship slot in the February 6, election.

The debate, in many ways, marked the beginning of the end of political campaigns in the state, which for many of the candidates, began many months ago.

It was billed to host seven candidates but only six turned up. They include Peter Obi, the incumbent governor of Anambra State who will run on the ticket of the All Progressives People’s Grand Alliance, APGA; Chukwuma Soludo of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP; Andy Uba of the Labour Party, LP; Nicholas Ukachukwu of the Hope Democratic Party, Chris Ngige of the Action Congress, AC, and Okey Nwosu of African Democratic Congress, ADC. Uche Ekwunife, the candidate of the Progressive People’s Alliance, PPA, was absent. Her media aide said she went on a campaign tour to a community in the state and could not attend the debate because the timing clashed with her political programmes which involved many of her supporters at the grassroots level. “She went on a community tour of Awada Obosi. The appointment had been fixed and had previously been shifted twice. The truth is that she has a high regard for the organisers of the debate and would have been part of it but for the fact that it conflicted with the community tour,” said Clem Aguiyi, her media assistant.

The seven candidates were chosen out of a motley 25 who registered for the election. The organisers considered them the front runners or serious contenders. But the decision did not go down well with the excluded candidates and they sought to make a show of it.

Midway into the programme which lasted two hours, a mild drama ensued when two of the excluded candidates walked up to the podium to apparently register their displeasure and protest their non inclusion. But an official came up and pushed them away. Soon, mobile policemen mounted the stage to prevent any trouble and possible disruption of the programme. For about ten minutes, the hall became rowdy, leading Reuben Abati, one of the three panelists, to appeal for calm.

But that incident did not take away the shine nor distract the contestants from further appealing to the consciousness of Anambra people.

Nwosu insisted that his decision to run for governor was borne out of the poor leadership the state has witnessed. “The biggest problem in Anambra State is that of leadership. Those who claim to lead us have failed us,” he said. According to him, rather than offer service to the people, past and present leaders of the state had drained the state’s scarce resources. He promised to provide the right leadership if elected governor.

Soludo also pooh-poohed the poor quality leadership in the state as the reason why he chose to join the gubernatorial race. Saying that his state had suffered from poor leadership since its creation, the former Central Bank governor reiterated his desire to utilise the resources of the state and turn it into a model for others. He promised to deploy every mechanism, “both formal and informal,” to create wealth through micro-credit schemes and agriculture. But his manifesto, he insisted, would be anchored on security which he described as the “bedrock of my programme and masterplan for a new beginning.”

Andy Uba said part of his plan would be to turn Anambra State into a food basket. Anambra State, he said, is blessed with fertile lands but these have not been harnessed because “there’s no system and infrastructure to assist the local people to bring their food into other parts of Nigeria.”

For Ukachukwu, the task of governing Anambra requires someone with a track record of achievement and experience. He said he loves taking on challanges and that was what has motivated him to offer himself for service. If voted into office, he would create jobs and wealth for Anambra people and provide effective leadership.

Ngige said he was inspired by the need to make a difference. Just as in previous electioneering campaigns, Ngige, a former governor of the state, said he was seeking to return to government house Awka to consolidate on his previous achievements. Part of his mission, this time, he said, would be to transform Onitsha, the commercial town, into a beautiful city that people would be proud of. Politics to him, is “not a means for personal aggrandisement" but for service to the people.

Obi, the incumbent governor, believes that his government, since the past few years has come to represent the new face of Anambra State. Apart from his achievements in the various sectors which he believes are enough to earn him a second term, Obi, who also blamed his predecessor for contributing to the state of insecurity in the state through the kidnapping saga involving him and his erstwhile godfather, noted that his government had been able to entrench credibility in the system, such that “the best people and right role models are celebrated” as against the previous system where people of questionable character, were the role models.

While the men were busy appealing for votes at the Emmaus House, venue of the event, Ekwunife was out in the streets canvassing for hers. She told her supporters at the Obosi rally that she would make the difference in government if elected into office. Her views that day were not different from what she told Newswatch in Awka the week before. “The issue at stake is not about gender, age or religion but about somebody with the confidence and capacity, who understands and can govern the state. We will make the people proud once they trust us with their mandate,” she said, adding that “in Igbo land, we say that when things go wrong, we usually look for a woman. So the time has come when we should think of supporting a woman. When you talk of proper change, changing from one man to another is not real change. Let’s change from man to woman.”

Anambra State has never had a more robust, if not competitive political run. What the people want to see now is a free and fair election. But some people already have their doubt about the capacity of INEC (The Independent National Electoral Commission), to conduct a free and fair election. Ndu Nnatuanya, a resident of Awka, is one of such pessimists. He told Newswatch in Awka two weeks ago that “the problem is that INEC has shown that it cannot guarantee a free and fair election. For example, seventy percent of the people have no voters card. INEC did not inform the people when the voters registration was going on. They said the exercise would last one month, but they only informed the people two weeks before the expiration. Even then, people that went to register could not find INEC. I didn’t see INEC at Ugbugbankwa or Amikwo where they were supposed to be registering people. The exercise has since ended. I don’t see how they can conduct free and fair election since many people couldn’t register and as such are ineligible to vote.”

That is not the only source of worry. Recently, there were reports in the newspapers that some electoral materials meant for the Anambra election were intercepted at Ihiala by policemen. This further raised fears as to whether there would be a credible election devoid of rigging. Such fears are not out of place. But Maurice Iwu, the chairman of INEC, told Newswatch, last week, that INEC has put in place the necessary machinery to conduct a free and fair election in Anambra on February 6. He said: “We have done all the necessary preparations to have a hitch-free election. We have done the voters registration. We have displayed the voters register, made the corrections and we have distributed the register to all the parties concerned. We have also followed the timetable we laid out. There is no date that we have missed.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Assassinations too many: 53 Cases Recorded over the Years

By Vincent Ukpong Kalu, Sun News Online

The assassination of Mr. Dipo Dina, the Action Congress (AC) Ogun State standard bearer in the 2007 governorship election, last Monday, has once again brought to the fore the bloodletting in the country’s politics. At the last count, there are about 53 cases, with many of them unresolved by security agencies.

Politically motivated killings started during the military era. For instance, on October 19, 1986, an eminent journalists and founding editor of Newswatch, Mr. Dele Giwa, was assassinated with a parcel bomb. Elder statesman and NADECO financier, Pa Alfred Rewane was murdered in his Ikeja GRA residence, in 2004. Also, Mrs. Kudirat, wife of Chief M.K.O.Abiola, the acclaimed winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election, was killed in Lagos.

Under democracy, there has been an avalanche of politically motivated killings. The list is endless and the victims range from the mighty to the relatively unknown politicians.

On December 23, 2001, Chief Bola Ige, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, was brutally killed in his residence at Ibadan, Oyo State. Chief Harry Marshal, a chieftain of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) was, on March 5, 2003, murdered in his residence. He was a staunch member of Peoples Democratic Party and later defected to ANPP. The police claimed that they arrested the killers and paraded them before newsmen, but a weekly news magazine investigated and reported that the suspected criminals had been in police custody even before then. According to the magazine, the police brought out the suspects and promised them to own up to killing Marshal and get freedom.

On February 6, 2004, unknown gunmen killed PDP National Vice Chairman (South South), Chief Aminasoari Dikibo, in Delta State. The police said it was an armed robbery attack, while the family and most Nigerians think otherwise. On September 9, 1999, Sunday Ugwu, elder brother of Nwabueze Ugwu, a legislator representing Nkanu East in Enugu State, was killed in an alleged case of mistaken identity. Mr. Victor Nwankwo, Managing Director of Fourth Dimension Publishers and younger brother of Chief Arthur Nwankwo, was assassinated in Enugu in 2006.

On February 8, 2003, unknown gunmen killed Chief Ogbonnaya Uche, ANPP senatorial candidate for Orlu zone in his Owerri home. He was to contest the April 2003 general election against Senator Arthur Nzeribe.
Theodore Agwatu, Principal Secretary of Imo State governor, was also murdered in Owerri, the same way Issa Zaria, a Kwara State ANPP chieftain, was killed. Also felled by assassins’ bullets was Yemi Oni, Ekiti State Alliance for Democracy (AD) chieftain while returning from a campaign rally.

On March 4, 2004, Chief Andrew Agom, PDP trustee and ex-Nigeria Airways boss, was killed in the convoy of the then governor of Benue State, George Akume. Almost at the same time, the caretaker Chairman of Bassa Local Government, Luke Shigaba, was killed by unknown gunmen. He was said to have handed over as a caretaker chairman of the LGA two weeks earlier before picking the PDP ticket for the March 27 2004 council election.

In the same of month of March 2004, a lecturer with Alvan Ikoku College of Education, unidentified assassin in his office gruesomely murdered Chief Uche Ogbe in his office in cold blood. On September 6, 2003, a lawyer, Dipo Garba and his wife, Bosede were assassinated at their resident on Fulani Road, Kurmin Marshi, a suburb of Kaduna. Unknown gunmen in the presence of three of the children including a 10-month-old baby girl shot them.
Dr. Tony Iloegbunam, Head of Department, Geology and Mining, Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT) was shot dead by unknown two gunmen in his office about 11.30 am on November 12, 2003.

On December 23,2004, candidate for the vacant stool of Unuvworo of Ekpan in Delta State, Godwin Merarosue Itegu was killed by suspected assassins who invaded his residence. Two friends who were with him were also shot. A retired Central Bank of Nigeria staffer, Alhaji Sule Abubakari Okponbi was killed in his hometown at Agenegbode, Etsako East LG, Edo State. He was abducted by a nine-man gang and assassinated on November 22, 2005.

On May 15, 2005, AD chieftain and leading financier of Oranmiyan Group in Osun State, Alabi Olkoju, was murdered in Gbongan area of the state by suspected assassins. On July 17, Alhaji, Lateef Olaniyan (alias Lati Osogbo), a close associate of Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu was murdered at Elewure Bus stop, Sango, Ibadan.
On September, 28, 2004, the Executive Director (Services) of Nigeria Gas Company, Alhaji Ahmed Abdullah, was killed along NNPC Housing Complex road, Ekpan in Uvwie LG, Delta, Delta State by assassins. On October 12,2004, a popular pilot and air safety activist, Captain Jerry Agbeyegbe, was brutally killed in Lagos as he was cruising in his BMW car with a girl he had picked up on Victoria Island.

On January 4, 2005, a prominent medical doctor in Oyo State, Dr. Phillip Oguuniran, member of the state Hospital Management Board, was killed by yet to be identified assassins. On August 13, 2002, Mrs. Janet Olapede, a leader of PDP in Oniparaga, Ondo State, was clubbed to death by assassins.
That was not to be the end of the killing, as on August 15, 2002 Alhaji Ahmed Pategi, also a PDP Chairman in Kwara State, was assassinated at a place near Aiyetoro in Kogi State. Iyalekhue, former Edo State Commissioner of Police, was assassinated on July 31,2001.

On September 10, 2002, assassins also hacked Chief Igwe Barnabas, an Onitsha branch chairman of Nigerian Bar Association and his wife, Abigail Amaka down. The lawyer was said to be so critical of Anambra State government under Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju.

Hon. Odunayo Olagbaju, who represented Ile-Ife constituency in Osun House of Assembly, was murdered on December 21, 2001, two days after Bola Ige was killed. Another Ibadan businesswoman, Mrs. Suliat Adedeji, was murdered at the same time.

PDP chieftain and chairman, Community Development Committee (CDC), Warri-South West Council, Sunny Deghele, was shot dead on December 12, 2005. In March, 2004, Kogi State Electoral Commissioner, Chief Phillip Oloronipa, was killed at his residence in Kabba, Kogi State. On July 16, 2005, the PDP Assistant National Director, Research and Planning, Anthony Ozioko, was killed at his residence in Sabon-Gwagwa, Abuja by unknown gunmen.

On June 30, 2006 gubernatorial aspirant of Advanced Congress of Democrats in Plateau State, Jesse Arukwu, was abducted and on the second day, his lifeless body was found around his house in Bassa LG, Plateau.

Unknown gunmen on July 2006, assassinated Engr. Funsho Williams, PDP gubernatorial aspirant in Lagos State for 2007 general election in his home, in Ikoyi, Lagos. Incidentally, on the day Funsho Williams was buried, another gubernatorial hopeful of PDP, in Ekiti State, Dr. Ayo Daramola, was killed at his home in Ekiti.
On February 17, 2006, PDP chieftain, Robert Ogbonlu, was killed by gunmen in Obiaruku, Delta State. Also, Hassan Olejoku, an associate of former Lagos State governor, Ahmed Tinubu, was also sent to untimely grave by assassins.

Two gunmen assassinated Assistant Bishop of the Anglican Church in Bida, Niger State, Ven. Elijah Yisa on January 26, 2006 in his residence. Also, a lecturer with the Department of Social Studies, College of Education, Katsina-Ala, Julius Uga, was killed by assassins on July 10, 2006. Chief Godwin Ugokwe (Alias Boiling), an Aba-based international businessman, was murdered on August 20, 2006.

On January 14, 2006, suspected assassins invaded the home of former Kano State governor, Abubkar Rimi and killed his wife. On December 25, 2005, Delta State businessman, Mr. Jackson Edema, alias Sunny Deghele, was assassinated in front of his residence. October1 2005 saw the murder of Chief Peter Ofudje, a traditional chief in Effurum, headquarters of Uvwie LG of Delta State.

Last year, Bayo Ohu, The Guardian Newspaper Assistant News Editor, was murdered in his home at 9, Oyebiji Street, off Odukoya Estate, Akowonjo, Lagos, by gunmen. His murder is reminiscent of the death of Godwin Agbroko, Chairman, Thisday Editorial Board, on the eve of Christmas in 2006 at Iyana Isolo, Lagos. Agbroko was returning from work when he was murdered in his car a stone throw to a police station by yet to be identified gunmen. His assailants did not take anything from his car.

He died before rescue could come to him. Abayomi Ogundeji, another journalist, also of ThisDay, was killed in cold blood on August 17, 2008. His death was surrounded by controversy, as fingers pointed at the Nigerian Police. Even as the matter is in court, a principal witness was assassinated at her home.

In 1983, Agwu Okpanku, a journalist with Daily Nation, published by the late Chief K. O. Mbadiwe, was killed and his corpse dumped beside the railway track in Umuahia to create the impression that a moving train hit him.
Bagauda Kalto of TheNews magazine was taken from his hotel room at Durbar Hotel, Kaduna and killed during the oppressive regime of the late General Sani Abacha.

Chinedu Ofoaro of The Guardian was also killed between Owerri and Onitsha during the military government of General Abacha. Gunmen flagged down the commercial vehicle he was travelling in and singled him out. His corpse was not seen. His family petitioned the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa panel and blamed his disappearance on government.

Charles Nsiegbe, Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s associates, was assassinated on November 21, 2009.

In all these killings, the various Inspectors General of Police have promised to leave no stone unturned in arresting the culprits. However, at the end of the day the murder cases are not resolved. It is also important to note that the police have always said, each time somebody is killed, that it is a case of armed robber. Nigerians have always condemned such hasty declarations. Indeed, wife of the late Mr. Bayo Ohu, The Guardian assistant news editor, underlined this when she expressed disappointment that the police declared the killing of her husband a robbery case, when the assailants did not take anything from their home, except their victim’s phones and laptop.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chinua Achebe: What Nigeria means to me

"Being a Nigerian is absymally and unbelievably exciting," Chinua Achebe in 1967. Photo: Michael Neal

Chinua Achebe The Guardian Books

Nigerian nationality was for me and my generation an acquired taste – like cheese. Or better still, like ballroom dancing. Not dancing per se, for that came naturally; but this titillating version of slow-slow-quick-quick-slow performed in close body contact with a female against a strange, elusive beat. I found, however, that once I had overcome my initial awkwardness I could do it pretty well.

Perhaps these irreverent analogies would only occur to someone like me, born into a strongly multiethnic, multi­lingual, multireligious, somewhat chaotic colonial situation. The first passport I ever carried described me as a "British Protected Person", an unexciting identity embodied in a phrase that no one was likely to die for. I don't mean it was entirely devoid of emotive meaning. After all, "British" meant you were located somewhere in the flaming red portion of the world map, a quarter of the entire globe in those days and called "the British Empire, where the sun never sets". It had a good ring to it in my childhood ears – a magical fraternity, vague but vicariously glorious.

My earliest awareness in the town of Ogidi did not include any of that British stuff, nor indeed the Nigerian stuff. That came with progress in school. Ogidi is one of a thousand or more "towns" that make up the Igbo nation, one of Nigeria's (indeed Africa's) largest ethnic groups. But the Igbo, numbering more than 10 million, are a curious "nation". They have been called names such as "stateless" or "acephalous" by anthropologists; "argumentative" by those sent to administer them. But what the Igbo are is not the negative suggested by such descriptions but strongly, positively, in favour of small-scale political organisation so that (as they would say) every man's eye would reach where things are happening. So every one of the thousand towns was a mini-state with complete jurisdiction over its affairs. A sense of civic attachment to their numerous towns was more real for precolonial Igbo people than any unitary pan-Igbo feeling. This made them notoriously difficult to govern centrally, as the British discovered but never appreciated nor quite forgave. Their dislike was demonstrated during the Biafran tragedy, when they accused the Igbo of threatening to break up a nation-state they had carefully and laboriously put together.

The paradox of Biafra was that the Igbo themselves had originally championed the Nigerian nation more spiritedly than other Nigerians. One proof of this: the British had thrown more of them into jail for sedition than any others during the two decades or so of pre-independence agitation and troublemaking. So the Igbo were second to none on the nationalist front when Britain finally conceded independence to Nigeria in 1960, a move that, in retrospect, seems like a masterstroke of tactical withdrawal to achieve a ­supreme strategic advantage.

At the time we were proud of what we had just achieved. True, Ghana had beaten us to it by three years, but then Ghana was a tiny affair, easy to manage, compared to the huge lumbering giant called Nigeria. We did not have to be vociferous like Ghana; just our presence was enough. Indeed, the elephant was our national emblem; our airline's was the flying elephant! Nigerian troops soon distinguished themselves in a big way in the United Nations peacekeeping efforts in the Congo. Our elephant, defying aerodynamics, was flying.

Travelling as a Nigerian was exciting. People listened to us. Our money was worth more than the dollar. In 1961 when the driver of a bus in the British colony of Northern Rhodesia asked me what I was doing sitting in the front of the bus, I told him nonchalantly that I was going to Victoria Falls. In amazement he stooped lower and asked where I came from. I replied, even more casually: "Nigeria, if you must know; and, by the way, in Nigeria we sit where we like in the bus."

Back home I took up the rather important position of director of external broadcasting, an entirely new radio service aimed primarily at our African neighbours. I could do it in those days, because our politicians had yet to learn the uses of information control and did not immediately attempt to regiment our output. They were learning fast, though. But before I could get enmeshed in that, something much nastier had seized hold of all of us.

The six-year-old Nigerian federation was falling apart from the severe strain of regional animosity and ineffectual central authority. The transparent failure of the electoral process to translate the will of the electorate into recognisable results at the polls led to mass frustration and violence. While western Nigeria, one of the four regions, was going up literally in flames, the quiet and dignified Nigerian prime minister was hosting a Commonwealth conference to extricate Harold Wilson from a mess he had got himself into in faraway Rhodesia. But so tense was the local situation that the visiting heads of government had to be airlifted by helicopter from the Lagos airport into a secluded suburb to avoid the rampaging crowds.

Nigeria's first military coup took place even as those dignitaries were flying out of Lagos again at the end of their conference. One of them, Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus, was in fact still in the country.

The prime minister and two regional premiers were killed by the coup-makers. In the bitter, suspicious atmosphere of the time, a naively idealistic coup proved a terrible disaster. It was interpreted with plausibility as a plot by the ambitious Igbo of the east to take control of Nigeria. Six months later, northern officers carried out a revenge coup in which they killed Igbo officers and men in large numbers. If it had ended there, the matter might have been seen as a tragic interlude in nation building, a horrendous tit for tat. But the northerners turned on Igbo civilians living in the north and unleashed waves of brutal massacres, which Colin Legum of the Observer was the first to describe as a pogrom. It was estimated that 30,000 civilian men, women and children died in these massacres. Igbos were fleeing in hundreds of thousands from all parts of Nigeria to their homeland in the east.

I was one of the last to flee from Lagos. I simply could not bring myself quickly enough to accept that I could no longer live in my nation's capital, although the facts clearly said so. One Sunday morning I was telephoned from Broadcasting House and informed that armed soldiers who appeared drunk had come looking for me to test which was stronger, my pen or their gun.

The offence of my pen was that it had written a novel called A Man of the People, a bitter satire on political corruption in an African country that resembled Nigeria. I wanted the novel to be a denunciation of the kind of independence that people were experiencing in postcolonial ­Nigeria and many other countries in the 1960s, and I intended it to scare my countrymen into good behaviour with a frightening cautionary tale. The best monster I could come up with was a military coup d'├ętat, which every sane Nigerian at the time knew was rather far-fetched. But life and art had got so entangled that season that the publication of the novel and Nigeria's first military coup happened within two days of each other.

Critics abroad called me a prophet, but some of my countrymen saw it differently: my novel was proof of my complicity in the first coup.

I was very lucky that Sunday morning. The drunken soldiers, after leaving Broadcasting House, went to a residence I had recently vacated. Meanwhile I was able to take my wife and two small children into hiding, from where I finally sent them to my ancestral home in eastern Nigeria. A week or two later, unknown callers asked for me on the telephone at my hideout. My host denied my presence. It was time then to leave Lagos.

My feeling was one of profound disappointment. Not ­because mobs were hunting down and killing in the most savage manner innocent civilians in many parts of northern Nigeria, but because the federal government sat by and let it happen. The final consequence of this failure of the state to fulfil its primary obligation to its citizens was the secession of eastern Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra. The demise of Nigeria at that point was averted only by Britain's spirited diplomatic and military support of its model colony. It was Britain and the Soviet Union that together crushed the upstart ­Biafran state. At the end of the 30-month war, Biafra was a vast smouldering rubble. The cost in human lives was a staggering two million souls, making it one of the bloodiest civil wars in human history.

I found it difficult to forgive Nigeria and my countrymen and women for the political nonchalance and cruelty that unleashed upon us these terrible events, which set us back a whole generation and robbed us of the chance, clearly within our grasp, to become a medium-rank developed nation in the 20th century.

My immediate response was to leave Nigeria at the end of the war, having honourably, I hoped, stayed around long enough to receive whatever retribution might be due to me for renouncing Nigeria for 30 months. Fortunately the federal government proclaimed a general amnesty, and the only punishment I received was the general financial and emotional indemnity that war losers pay, and some relatively minor personal harassment. I went abroad to New England, to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and stayed four years and then another year at the University of Connecticut. It was by far my longest exile from Nigeria and it gave me time to reflect and to heal somewhat. Without setting out consciously to do so, I was redefining my relationship to Nigeria. I realised that I could not reject her, but neither could it be business as usual. What was Nigeria to me?

Our 1960 national anthem, given to us as a parting gift by a British housewife in England, had called Nigeria "our sovereign motherland". The current anthem, put together by a committee of Nigerian intellectuals and actually worse than the first one, invokes the father image. But it has occurred to me that Nigeria is neither my mother nor my father. Nigeria is a child. Gifted, enormously talented, prodigiously endowed and incredibly wayward.

Being a Nigerian is abysmally frustrating and unbelievably exciting. I have said somewhere that in my next reincarnation I want to be a Nigerian again; but I have also, in a rather angry book called The Trouble with Nigeria, dismissed Nigerian travel advertisements with the suggestion that only a tourist with a kinky addiction to self-flagellation would pick Nigeria for a holiday. And I mean both.

Nigeria needs help. Nigerians have their work cut out for them – to coax this unruly child along the path of useful creative development. We are the parents of Nigeria, not vice versa. A generation will come, if we do our work patiently and well – and given luck – a generation that will call Nigeria father or mother. But not yet.

Meanwhile our present work is not entirely without its blessing and reward. This wayward child can show now and again great intimations of ­affection. I have seen this flow towards me at certain critical moments.

When I was in America after the Biafran war, an army officer who sat on the council of my university in Nigeria as representative of the federal military government pressured the university to call me back home. This officer had fought in the field against my fellow Biafrans during the war and had been seriously wounded. He had every right to be bitter against people like me. I had never met him, but he knew my work and was himself a poet.

More recently, after a motor accident in 2001 that left me with serious injuries, I have witnessed an outflow of affection from Nigerians at every level. I am still dumbfounded by it. The hard words Nigeria and I have said to each other begin to look like words of anxious love, not hate. Nigeria is a country where nobody can wake up in the morning and ask: what can I do now? There is work for all.

The Man Who Rediscovered Africa: How Achebe's novels captured the soul of a continent -- and helped me discover my own history

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Salon

This article also appears as the introduction to Chinua Achebe’s "The African Trilogy: Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, and Arrow of God" now available through Everyman’s Library.

When, in 1958, the London publishers William Heinemann received a manuscript of Chinua Achebe’s "Things Fall Apart," they were unsure whether to publish it. The central question, according to editor Alan Hill, was this: "Would anyone possibly buy a novel by an African?" Not only were there a mere handful of examples of African writing in English at the time – such as Amos Tutuola’s surreal "The Palm-Wine Drinkard" and Cyprian Ekwensi’s novel of contemporary Lagos, "People of the City" – but none of them had the ambition, the subtlety, or the confidence of "Things Fall Apart."

Chinua Achebe had initially conceived it as a story of three generations: a man in pre-colonial Igboland who struggles against the changes brought by the first European missionaries and administrators; his son who converts to Christianity and receives some Western education; and his grandson who is educated in England and is living the life of the new elite on the cusp of independence. Achebe later scaled down the novel, focusing only on the first generation, to produce a carefully observed story of the African-European colonial encounter set among the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria in the 1890s, with the tragic hero Okonkwo at its center. Achebe’s second novel, "No Longer At Ease," would skip a generation and tell the story of Okonkwo’s grandson, Obi, a civil servant in 1950s Lagos. His third novel, "Arrow of God," about an Igbo priest and a British district officer in 1920s Igboland, can be read as representative of the times of Okonkwo’s son. All three novels, taken together as Achebe’s "African Trilogy," create a full and beautifully nuanced arc, a human chronicle of the cultural and political changes that brought about what is now seen as the modern African state.

After William Heinemann overcame their reservations and published "Things Fall Apart" in June 1958, it became a critical success. Achebe, the Times Literary Supplement wrote, had "genuinely succeeded in presenting tribal life from the inside." A novelty indeed. "Things Fall Apart" was pioneering not in its subject but in its African point of view, as there were already many well-regarded books about Africans written by non-Africans; tribal life had already been endlessly portrayed from the outside. Achebe himself first read some of the better-known examples of these "colonialism classics" as a secondary school student in the 1940s. "I did not see myself as an African to begin with," he has written about his response to the African characters. "I took sides with the white men against the savages. The white man was good and reasonable and intelligent and courageous. The savages arrayed against him were sinister and stupid or, at the most, cunning. I hated their guts." As Achebe matured and became more critical in his reading, he began to understand the enormous power that stories had, and how much this power was shaped by who told the stories and by how they were told. As a university student in the 1950s, in addition to reading Wordsworth, Shakespeare and Coleridge, Achebe also read Joyce Carey’s "Mister Johnson," a novel set in Nigeria, which Time magazine had named the "best book ever written about Africa." Achebe disagreed. Not only was the Nigerian character in the novel unrecognizable to him and his classmates but he also detected, in the description of Nigerians, "an undertow of uncharitableness ... a contagion of distaste, hatred, and mockery."

There has been much written about Chinua Achebe’s "Things Fall Apart" as a response to Mister Johnson, and one likes to think that Achebe would have written his novel even if he had not read Cary’s. Still, the prejudiced representation of African characters in literature could not but have had an influence on Achebe’s development as a writer. He would, years later, write a famous essay about the portrayal of Africans in Joseph Conrad’s classic novel "Heart of Darkness," arguing not that Conrad should not have written honestly about the racism of the time, but that Conrad failed to hold an authorial rejection of that worldview.

The strangeness of seeing oneself distorted in literature – and indeed of not seeing oneself at all – was part of my own childhood. I grew up in the Nigerian university town of Nsukka in the 1980s, reading a lot of British children’s books. My early writing mimicked the books I was reading: all my characters were white and all my stories were set in England. Then I read "Things Fall Apart." It was a glorious shock of discovery, as was "Arrow of God," which I read shortly afterwards; I did not know in a concrete way until then that people like me could exist in literature. Here was a book that was unapologetically African, that was achingly familiar, but that was, also, exotic because it detailed the life of my people a hundred years before. Because I was educated in a Nigerian system that taught me little of my pre-colonial past, because I could not, for example, imagine with any accuracy how life had been organized in my part of the world in 1890, Achebe’s novels became strangely personal. "Things Fall Apart" was no longer a novel about a man whose exaggerated masculinity and encompassing fear of weakness make it impossible for him to adapt to the changes in his society, it became the life my great-grandfather might have lived. "Arrow of God" was no longer just about the British administration’s creation of warrant chiefs, and the linked destinies of two men – one an Igbo priest the other a British administrator – it became the story of my ancestral hometown during my grandfather’s time. "And No Longer at Ease" transcended the story of an educated young Nigerian struggling with the pressure of new urban expectations in Lagos, and became the story of my father’s generation.

Later, as an adult confronting the portrayals of Africa in non-African literature – Africa as a place without history, without humanity, without hope – and filled with that peculiar sense of defensiveness and vulnerability that comes with knowing that your humanity is seen as negotiable, I would turn again to Achebe’s novels. In the stark, sheer poetry of "Things Fall Apart," in the humor and complexity of "Arrow of God," I found a gentle reprimand: Don’t you dare believe other people’s stories of you.

Considering the time and circumstances under which he wrote, perhaps Chinua Achebe sensed that his work would become, for a generation of Africans, both literature and history. He has written that he would be satisfied if his novels did no more than teach his readers that their past "was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them." He has, on occasion, adopted a somewhat anthropological voice in his fiction: "Fortunately among these people," we are told in "Things Fall Apart," "a man was judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father." But what is remarkable is that Achebe’s art never sinks under this burden of responsibility. A reader expecting to find simple answers in Chinua Achebe’s work will be disappointed, because he is a writer who embraces honesty and ambiguity and who complicates every situation. His criticism of the effects of colonialism on the Igbo is implicit, but so is his interrogation of the internal structure of Igbo society. When Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son in "Things Fall Apart," breaks away from his family and community to join the Christians, it is a victory for the Europeans but also a victory for Nwoye, who finds peace and an outlet for deep disillusions he had long been nursing about his people’s traditions. When a character says, "The White man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act as one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart," the reader is aware that Achebe’s narrative is as much about the knife as it is about the vulnerabilities, the internal complexities, the cracks that already existed.

Achebe writes spare, elegant sentences in English but it is a Nigerian English and often, more specifically, an Igbo English. All three novels are filled with direct translations from the Igbo, resulting in expressions like "still carrying breakfast" and "what is called 'the box is moving?'" as well as in laugh-out-loud lines, especially for an Igbo-speaking reader, like "the white man whose father or mother nobody knows." It is, however, the rendition of proverbs, of speech, of manners of speaking, that elevate Achebe’s novels into a celebration of language. In "Arrow of God," for example, Ezeulu eloquently captures his own cautious progressiveness when he tells his son whom he has decided to send to the missionary school: "I am like the bird eneke-nti-oba. When his friends asked him why he was always on the wing he replied: men of today have learnt to shoot without missing and so I have learnt to fly without perching…the world is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well you do not stand in one place."

Achebe takes his characters seriously but not too seriously; he finds subtly subversive ways to question them and even laugh at them, and he refuses to rescue them from their foibles. Okonkwo, perhaps the best-known character in modern African writing in English, is the quintessential Strong Man, and is ruled by a profound fear that blinds him. His insecurities result in a relentless harshness and an extremist view of masculinity – he is so terrified of being thought weak that he destroys a person he loves and yet the reader empathizes with his remorse, repressed as it is.

It is impossible, especially for the contemporary reader, not to be struck by the portrayal of gender in "Things Fall Apart," and the equating of weakness and inability with femaleness. More interesting, however, and perhaps more revealing, are the subtle ways in which Achebe interrogates this patriarchy: Okonkwo denigrates women and yet the child he most respects is his daughter Ezinma, the only character who dares to answer back to him and who happens to be confident and forthright in a way that his male children are not. My favorite part of the novel, and a small part indeed, is the love story of the old couple Ozoemena and Ndulue. When Ndulue dies, his wife Ozoemena goes to his hut to see his body and then goes into her own hut and is later found dead there. Okonkwo’s friend Obierika recalls, "It was always said that Ndulue and Ozoemena had one mind. I remember when I was a young boy and there was a song about them. He could not do anything without telling her." This recollection troubles Okonkwo because, in his eyes, it casts doubts on Ndulue’s authentic masculinity. He says, "I thought he was a strong man in his youth." The others agree that Ndulue was a strong man and had led the clan to war in those days. They do not see, as Okonkwo obviously does, a contradiction between the old man’s greatness in the realm of masculinity and his mutually dependent relationship with his wife.

It is this rigidity of Okonkwo’s, in addition to his uncompromising nature, his rashness, his excesses, for which the reader feels impatience. Yet, when placed in the context of the many small humiliations of the colonial encounter, his actions become worthy of empathy. The power structures of his society have been so easily overturned. Okonkwo is left struggling to understand a world in which the dignity he had always taken for granted has disappeared, in which elders are treated with scorn and he, proud warrior that he is, is flogged by agents of the District commissioner. The reader is moved to understand the helpless rage, and final violent actions, that are Okonkwo’s response to the enormous, and perhaps baffling, political and economic power that came with Christianity and Colonialism. We are left, in the end, with an unforgettable tragic character: a man who is gravely flawed but who has also been gravely wronged.

Ezeulu, the character at the center of "Arrow of God," which remains my favorite novel, is both flawed and wronged like Okonkwo, and is also held captive by what he imagines his society expects of him. Unlike Okonkwo, a character who was clearly in Achebe’s control, Ezeulu is wondrously unwieldy and his deep complexity lends "Arrow of God" much of its enduring power. I suspect that, as happens in the best fiction, Chinua Achebe did not have complete control over this character; ultimately the spirit of Ezeulu dictated how his story would be told. "Arrow of God" is told from the points of view of both Ezeulu and the British district commissioner Winterbottom; when the novel begins, the central event has already occurred, much like a Greek drama, and what Achebe explores is the aftermath. Ezeulu has testified against his own people in a land case with the neighboring town, because he is determined to speak the truth, and this action has earned him the respect of the district officer the as well as the ire of his local opponents. It will also act as a catalyst that – added to Ezeulu’s stubborness, his idealism, his pride – will contribute to his tragic end.

Like "Things Fall Apart," "Arrow of God" shows the angry helplessness of people in the face of formalized European power: powerful men are treated with scorn by government agents, great men are flogged, the justice system is replaced by one the people do not understand and do not have a say in, and the internal dynamics of the society is turned around.

In "No Longer at Ease," however, this helplessness is replaced by something inchoate but less suffocating, because the terms have changed during the short-lived optimism of independence. Obi, struggling with the pressures of the new Nigerian society, captures this change when he thinks of his boss the Englishman Mr. Green, who he is sure "loved Africa but only Africa of a certain kind: the Africa of Charles the messenger, the Africa of his gardenboy and stewardboy. In 1900 Mr Green might have ranked among the greatest missionaries, in 1935 he would have made do with slapping headmasters in the presence of their pupils, but in 1957 he could only curse and swear."

Achebe writes in the realist tradition and there are often traces of the autobiographical in his work. He was born in 1930 in the Igbo town of Ogidi, southeastern Nigeria. His parents were firm Christians but many of his relatives had retained the Igbo religion and so he grew up a witness to both sides of his heritage and, more importantly, a recipient of stories from both. Influences of his great-uncle, a wealthy and important man who had allowed the first missionaries to stay in his compound but later asked them to leave because he found their music too sad, are obvious in "Things Fall Apart." He worked as a radio producer in Lagos in the 1950s and the details of this life – film shows and clubs and bars, observing formerly expatriate clubs that were now admitting a few Nigerians – give "No Longer at Ease" its verisimilitude. It was through a radio program that Achebe heard the story of an Igbo priest in a nearby town who, as a result of a number of events with the British administration, had postponed the sacred New Yam festival, which had never been done before. He decided to go and visit this town and the story inspired "Arrow of God."

All of Achebe’s work is, in some way, about strong communitarian values, the use of language as collective art, the central place of storytelling and the importance of symbolic acts and objects in keeping a community together. The American writer John Updike, after reading "Arrow of God," wrote to Achebe to say that a western writer would not have allowed the destruction of a character as rich as Ezeulu. This is debatable, but perhaps what Updike had understood was that Achebe was as much concerned with a person as he was with a people, an idea well captured in the proverb that a character in Arrow of God recites: "An animal rubs its itching flank against a tree, but a man asks his kinsman to scratch him."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


By Dan Onwukwe, NBF News

In two different locations in the South-East last week – Owerri and elsewhere in Anambra state, a distance of about 40 kilometres – two major events took place almost contemporaneously. It is doubtful if the architects of the happening in Anambra were aware of what was happening in Owerri, the Imo State Capital. Or, it didn’t matter to them. But it brings to the fore the terrifying memories of an intractable political problem for which the event at Owerri was organised.

Indeed, inside Dr Sam Mbakwe Hall at Concord Hotel, a workshop on “The Prevention of electoral violence in Nigeria” was taking place. It was the brainchild of AMPROK Technologies Limited in collaboration of the |Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Undoubtedly, our politics remains vulnerable to violence. How to tame the beast of political violence has become, perhaps more than ever before much more threatening and urgent to tackle. With the Anambra governorship election (February 6) just a matter of days, political violence has become, possibly, a more important national issue than the health of President Umaru Yar’Adua. But unknown to the speakers of the workshop which included the Chiarman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Maurice Iwu, Governor Ikedi Ohakim, Msgr Mathew Hassan Kukah, former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Sir Mike Okiro (retd), the current IGP, Ogbonna onovo, former Nigerians envoy to the USA, Prof George Obiozor, speaker, Imo House of Assembly, Rt. Hoon Goodluck Opia, a firestorm of two violent attacks had been unleashed on the campaign convoy of Prof Chukwuma Charles Soludo, the PDP candidate in the February 6 election in Anambra. The two attacks took place within four days.

It claimed the life of a supporter and critically injured several others. The Police said they are still investigating the matter. But the chairman of Soludo campaign organisation, Chief Okey Muo-Aroh had promised fire-for-fire. “We in the PDP have more than ample capacity,” he said, “to meet any exigencies that the present violence may introduce.” He warned, “this will be the last time we (in PDP) will be at the receiving end.” This might not be an empty threat, because over time, Nigerian politicians have shown their insatiable appetite to unleash violence in order to win elections.

What happened to the Soludo campaign train must be particularly dispiriting to Prof Iwu. Reason: few hours before the violence, Iwu had gleefully in his paper at the workshop in Owerri, praised the political campaigns so far in Anambra ahead of the election. Iwu had said in his paper: “In spite of the high noise, the numerous litigations and heated disputations within the various political parties and between political parties and candidates, there has been no report of violence in the campaign for governorship election in Anambra state. This is the way it should be. It is a mark of maturity and we hope and pray that the spirit and disposition which are currently at play in the state will continue all through the election and beyond.” INEC boss must have been shocked by the renewed political violence in Anambra State, just when he thought things are beginning to look up and the politicians perhaps learning their lessons the hard way.

All that, however means that we are entering an especially dangerous phase in our electoral process. That means in effect that political violence must be taken very seriously. That, indeed, is foreboding, says the CEO of AMPROK Technologies, organisers of the workshop, Prince Obinna Okwuaka. He must know, having been in politics for years and suffered political intimidation as a senatorial candidate of APGA in the 2007 elections, Okwuaka sees electoral violence as a threatening phenomenon that has, in his words, “featured prominently and dangerously in all elections conducted in Nigeria since 1963….” The truth is that from 1960s when the defunct Western region was derisively labelled the Wild, Wild West, and the then Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) (alias Demo) was scornly called the “Southpaw” of the feudal Northern People’s Congress, Nigerian Politicians and their supporters are yet to show any restraint nor finesse of language in elections matters. Violence has therefore become the fear factor. It is the fear of what violence can do against the will of the people.

This is why Msgr Mathew Hassan Kukah in his enriched paper in Owerri described election violence as the “first born child of an illegitimate government.” With unflappable zeal, eloquence and anecdotes, Kukah said “electoral violence shortens the distance of our path to collective destruction.” He warned politicians to note that as long as they continue to swim to power through the blood of electoral violence, one day, now or in the future, they will drown in the pool of that blood.” The sad thing Kukah added, is that our politicians will drag Nigeria to this precipice around their necks. Harsh words, it seems, from Kukah but that is really the terrifying thing about the consequences of electoral violence on the polity.

The sadder thing as INEC boss observes, is that the electoral body under the present law is helpless in reining in erring politicians. According to Iwu, the expectation is that in due course, Nigerian politicians and all stakeholders in the electoral process will realise that elections are not war and that the society will not be better off with the tension, plots and high costs that elections impose on the nation and the citizens.

It bears repeating: what drives or propels Nigerian politicians to employ violence in electoral contests? Or put differently, what is it about our politics that drives violence? Is it our environment that sows these seeds of violence? Is it in the gene of the politicians and their supporters? Better stills is our electoral process devised and designed in such a way that we cannot avoid the outbreak of violence? In other words, is violence an integral part of our political culture? I do not have all the answers, but those who should know such as Prof Iwu, Kukah, and governors like Ohakim say they have a handle why the sums cannot add up to the whole .

I will try to replicate what they have said at the Owerri workshop. According to the Imo State governor whose election is still a subject of disputation three years after, he was sworn in, the causes of electoral violence include weak electoral laws, non-independence of INEC, manipulation of the electoral process by the political parties; use of security agencies to rig election as well as tons of money at the disposal of politicians who use such funds to “purchase the instruments of violence and influence electoral officials and security agencies.” Other causes, Ohakim said, include collaboration and ignoble role of some electoral officials, lack of internal democracy in the political parties, unemployment, hunger and poverty and lack of adequate enlightenment of the electorate. These causes, Ohakim maintains, must be addressed squarely if violence in the electoral contest will be minimised.

But an institutional framework that will guarantee free and fair elections next year is absolutely necessary, says Ohakim. Words are not enough. Action speaks louder than words. And this is where the problem squarely rests. In this regard, Iwu insists that in as much as electoral reform is necessary for the sustenance of Nigerian democracy, it must start with the “reform of the attitude and behaviour of individual politicians”. And unless the politicians, the political parties, the voters, the media and, indeed, all stakeholders reform their basic attitude to politics and elections, nothing much will be achieved. But Kukah reserves the hardest words for the politicians, whom he describes as the “worst enemies of our democratic values, the worst transgressors of the rule of law” in the subversion of the moral basis of our politics.

U.S. Federal Government Spends US$4.5 Billion on Outsourced Translation and Interpreting Services

New market research report from Common Sense Advisory details third-party language services spending over the past two decades

By Melissa C. Gillepsie, PR - Common Sense Advisory

Boston, MA, January 19, 2010 --( As the Obama administration turns its focus to counter-terrorism activities in places like Nigeria and Yemen, who will translate the intelligence-related intercepts, including audio recordings and transcripts from languages such as Igbo, Yoruba, and Yemeni Arabic? In addition to direct employees, the U.S. government depends on thousands of small businesses for critical translation and interpreting services related to defense and intelligence activities, resulting in lucrative business opportunities.

A new report from market research firm Common Sense Advisory provides a detailed review of federal government expenditures on language services from 1990 through 2009. “Language Services and the U.S. Federal Government” shows which agencies spend the most on linguistic support, both yearly and overall, and lists the top-ranked government suppliers.

The report finds that the federal government has spent US$4.5 billion on outsourced language services since 1990. “Thirty companies earned more than US$17 million each by providing language services to the federal government over the past two decades,” explained Nataly Kelly, senior analyst at Common Sense Advisory, who led the research initiative. “Fueled by both foreign policy initiatives and language policy actions for domestic multilingual populations, U.S. government spending on translation and interpreting services is at an all-time high.”

The 89-page report includes:
- A comprehensive review of 54,358 contracts for translation and interpreting services, including 2,810 award actions of US$100,000 or more
- Detailed breakdowns of the US$4.5 billion spent on language services over the past two decades
- A list of the 20 federal agencies that make up more than 96 percent of federal translation and interpreting spending
- A ranked listing of the top-spending federal agencies for each year from 1990-2009
- A ranked listing of the top language service providers (LSPs) for each year from 1990-2009
- A comparison of language services spending under both Democratic and Republican presidents
- The top agencies that issue contracts to non-U.S.-based providers
- Maps that show locations of government suppliers, both in the U.S. and throughout the world, for each year from 1990-2009

The report also shows correlations between political parties of U.S. presidents, budgetary priorities, and spending habits. “In spite of the economic downturn, 47 percent of the total expenditure over the past two decades – US$2.1 billion – was paid out to translation and interpreting companies in the past two years alone,” comments Kelly. “The increased spending on language services serves to highlight an important fact - effective communication across multiple languages is vital to the U.S. government both for its interactions with other nations and to serve the diverse base of constituents within its borders.”

"Language Services and the U.S. Federal Government" is the first comprehensive report on federal third-party translation and interpreting spending produced by Common Sense Advisory, and is available as part of a subscription to clients. For more information about this report and others, visit

About Common Sense Advisory
Common Sense Advisory, Inc. is an independent research and analysis firm specializing in the on- and offline operations driving business globalization, internationalization, translation, interpretation, and localization. Its research, consulting, and training help organizations improve the quality of global business. For more information about Common Sense Advisory's research, reports, and globalization and localization consulting services visit: or

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cyprian Ekwensi’s film heritage and Igbo film legacy(2)

By Amanze Akpuda, Vanguard

In his book, Cyprian Ekwensi, Ernest Emenyonu captures aspects of Ekwensi’s disposition to film in the 1950s. For instance, beyond revealing how Ekwensi “wrote and broadcast plays and stories for the BBC Overseas Service” , Emenyonu demonstrates how “once in 1954 his voice was ‘dubbed’ on to the sound track of the film Man of Africa, which was shown at the Venice Film Festival that year” .

Furthermore, Emenyonu also observes that before appearing as a University Professor in a film meant to celebrate Ghana’s political independence in 1957, Ekwensi had functioned in an important way in presenting a film commemorating Queen Elizabeth 11’s visit to Nigeria in 1956. According to Emenyonu, Ekwensi performed the role of one of the commentators when the film Nigeria Greets the Queen was produced.
That Ekwensi wrote a memorable film script called Bend a Little in the same 1950s is a good indication that he must have been a film addict having seen enough films to be able to develop interest in giving back to the cinema world what he derived from same.

The remarkable acknowledgement in West African Review of June 1955 of Ekwensi’s great contribution to the film industry as a script writer must be properly contextualized to affirm that it must be a man from a culture that cherishes films who would go the extra mile of involving himself in script writing, acting and part production.
The 1960s decade is also another era that shows that Ekwensi was like some of his peers, a highly sensitive moviegoer. It is in this period that Ekwensi reveals through interviews he granted Lewis Nkosi and Dennis Duerden that he was a remarkable film connoisseur. Both interviews show what the author of Jagua Nana has in common with the film world and part of what qualifies the need to have it filmed in the 1960s.

In an earlier study, I had cause to state that Cyprian Ekwensi’s knowledge of tendencies in film cultures was comparable to Wole Soyinka’s. My argument then as now is that as with Wole Soyinka who in a 1963 essay also talks knowledgeably about Japanese cinema, Cyprian Ekwensi also showed a high level of acquaintance in an interview with Dennis Duerden, comparing what he tries to do in his novel, Jagua Nana to details from the Japanese feature film, Rashomon, His is the disposition of a man who has been to the movie world and invariably sought to domesticate perspective drawn from such a world in some of his novels (“Ekwensi”).

No doubt, the November, 1964, interview Ekwensi had with Dennis Duerden is one which shows Ekwensi’s predisposition to cinema and at the same time theatre. While emphasizing to what extent it can be said that “the duty of any fiction writer is to seek truth” or that “truth can be seen in many facets”, Ekwensi makes the following provocative analogy:
I don’t know if you remember the Japanese film ‘Rashomon’, in which a woman tells a story that she was raped in the middle of a forest Now this is the simple story of ‘Rashomon’ and then we begin to see this incident through various eyes-the man himself, who is a soldier who is accused of this-the woman herself and so on. It is the duty of the novelist like a surgeon to keep dissecting until he gets to this cancer, to the truth, to where truth is embedded.

In other words, Ekwensi was the type of novelist who apart from being addicted to the film world would also wish to translate the multiple points of view with which film narratives are often constructed into the world of the novel. His familiarity with Japanese cinema would demonstrate his level of versatility and leisure preferences.

However, It is in the earlier August, 1962, interview with Lewis Nkosi that Cyprian Ekwensi also proves the axiom that like his mentor, Nnamdi Azikiwe, that his knowledge of happenings in national cinemas in Europe and the Americas must have been a follow-up of a tradition of longstanding film viewership. While responding to Nkosi’s question about the filming of Jagua Nana, Cyprian Ekwensi volunteers as follows:
the work is to be filmed in the dry season, that is end of October, beginning of November. And the company is called Delphia. It’s a new company, but all the members are old and famous filmmakers. The producer is going to be Alberto Latuada who’s well known internationally. And Italy, as you know is an up-and-coming center for filmmaking, almost stealing the Oscar from Hollywood.

Granted the projection that Cyprian Ekwensi gives to Alberto Latuada as a leading Italian filmmaker, one can be convinced that he was a very knowledgeable film addict. In other words, Ekwensi’s emphasis that although the company filming his Jagua Nana may be new, “the members are old and famous filmmakers” is not a casual remark.
That Ekwensi would show such familiarity with Italian Cinema, especially in terms of its overall rating through its major producers and maybe actors and actresses, is quite revealing.

This is moreso when his assessment was meant to have taken care of Latuada’s reputation, as a filmmaker at the end of the 1950s. Comparatively, it can be argued that Latuada by the end of the 1950s had not really made the type of names film makers such as Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Robert Rosellini from his country or Satyajit Ray, Martin Scorcese or Cecil De Mille, the maker of Ten Commandments (1923) among others had. Nonetheless, the type of identification Ekwensi gives Latuada is a good confirmation of the fact that he was familiar with Alberto Latuada’s films and the reception they had got, hence Ekwensi’s admission that Latuada is ‘’well-known internationally”.

After all, in the period immediately after the Second World War, Alberto Latuada (also Lattuada) had become justifiably famous for such films as II Bandito (“The Bandit) in 1946 and II Mulino del Po (The Mill on the Po River) in 1948. By 1950, Alberto Lattuada had in association with his famous countryman and colleague, Federico Fellini, produced Luci del varieta (Variety Lights) (see Thompson and Bordwell 416).

At the same time, one finds in the submission that “and Italy, as you know, is an up-and-coming center for filmmaking, almost stealing the Oscar from Hollywood” evidence to confirm Ekwensi’s deep familiarity with Italian cinema.

For anyone to be following the trend in the famous Oscar Awards, which may well be the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for cinema as to make such a definitive statement way back in the early 1960s such a fellow must have been, literally speaking, a reader of films and especially national cinemas.

No doubt, long before 1954 when, according to Emenyonu, Ekwensi’s voice graced the sound track of Man of Africa shown at the 1954 Venice Film Festival, Ekwensi had displayed a strong attachment to movies and their rating at International cinema events. For instance, it is instructive to note that the Japanese film, Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, that he mentions in his November, 1964 interview with Dennis Duerden won the Best Foreign Film award at the Oscar Awards of 1951. In other words, Ekwensi was very early in the day, very conversant with developments at major film festivals and Award ceremonies.

Cyprian Ekwensi’s familiarity with Italian cinema and the waves it was making in the international circuit in the period before his August, 1962 interview with Lewis Nkosi can be best gauged by his knowledge of Albert Lattuada and by implication Lattuada’s collaborator, Federico Fellini.

Although Ekwensi does not emphasize the fact that Federico Fellini and Alberto Lattuada owned Capitolium Film, the outfit that produced Luci el Varieta (or Variety Lights) in 1950, there is no doubt that Ekwensi’s claim that the team to be led by Lattuada had “old and famous filmmakers” or that “the producer is going to be Alberto Latuada who’s well known internationally” must have derived from his first hand knowledge of Lattuada’s profile in the late 1940s and probably through the 1950s. In this regard, notwithstanding Fellini’s claim that “I regard the film [Variety lights] as one of mine”, he concedes that given that “it’s very hard for me to remember things … Lattuada and I formed a company with our wives, and everything was a cooperative venture, I can’t remember exactly what I directed or what he directed” .

However, while accepting responsibility for the imperfections associated with The White Sheik which Charles Thomas Samuels regards as Fellini’s “greatest” film, Fellini reasons that it was because “that was the first scene I directed myself”. Fellini confesses that “earlier Lattuada has given me technical advice”. Of course, that is as it should be. After all, long before 1950, Fellini had collaborated with Lattuada on two films.

The years include 1947, when, according to Bert Cardullo, Fellini “collaborates with director Alberto Latuada on the screenplay for If delilto di Giovanni £p/scapo”and in 1948, when Fellini “works with Latuada on the scripts of Senza pieta and // Mulino del po”. In his introduction to Federico Fellini: Interviews, Bert Cardulllo is more assertive in acknowledging Fellini’s “several assignments in the late 1940s as a co-screenwriter or assistant director for Pietro Gerrni and Alberto Lattuada” .

Granted the foregoing, one can then appreciate the background to Ekwensi’s observation that Italy was in contention with Hollywood for the Oscar Awards. Ekwensi no doubt must have been responding to the fact that the Oscar Awards for Best Foreign Film had gone to Italy twice in the 1950s and twice in the early 1960s. And somehow, Lattuada’s partner, Federico Fellini had a fair share of those Oscars. Outside the general information gleaned from Chambers Film and TV Handbook, Bert Cardullo provides more detailed information about Federico Fellini’s rating as a leading Italian filmmaker. For instance, in 1954 the same year that Ekwensi’s voice made the soundtrack of Man of Africa premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Fellini received the Silver Lion Award at the same festival.

In 1956, Fellini’s La Strada received the Oscar for the Best Foreign Film. That same year, La Strada won a New York Film Critics’ Award for Best Foreign Film. 1957 saw Fellini’s Le notti di Cabiria (The Nights of Cabiria) win an Oscar as Best Foreign Film. According to Bert Cardullo, in 1957 at the Cannes Film Festival, “Giulietta Masina is voted Best Actress … for her work in this film”.

The early 1960s is another remarkable period for Italian cinema as almost personified in the work of Federico Fellini. In this regard, Bert Cardullo reveals that apart from receiving “the Best Film Award at Cannes” in 1960, Fellini’s La doice vita also made film history in 1961 when it garnered awards for the Director. According to Cardullo, in 1961, “La Dolce Vita receives a New York Film Critics’ Award and a National Board of Review citation as Best Foreign Film. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for his work on this picture”. 1963 would be another significant year for Fellini and Italian cinema as a whole. It is the year Feilini’s 81/2 also called Otto e Mezzo got released and, according to Bert Carduilo, “receives an Academy Award, a New York Film Critics’ Award, and a National Board of Review Citation as Best Foreign Film” . At the same time, 8 1/2 got Fellini a nomination “for an Academy Award as Best Director for his work on this picture”.
As the foregoing demonstrate, one can with hindsight describe Ekwensi as a highly perceptive film addict and commentator. Outside intellectuals like Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe this type of film knowledge is almost unrivalled in the Nigerian society of the time Ekwensi got interviewed in 1962,

The 1973 interview Cyprian Ekwensi granted Bernth Lindfors is yet another source that throws more light on Ekwensi’s multiple experience in the film industry as a fan, writer, actor, producer, editor and critic. No doubt, as with what we have said about Azikiwe, from the various responses Ekwensi gives in this interview it would be intellectually fraudulent to dismiss the Igbo man as a newcomer tc the world of Cinema spectatorship.

As a film fan, Ekwensi makes quite significant statements about his familiarity with Hollywood and Bollywood film traditions. It is in the Lindfors interview that Ekwensi robustly admits that the influence of films in his stories is derived from the fact that “I’m a great Cinema fan” (Lindfors Interviews 122). Moreover, he reveals that he is acquainted with the star system in the Hollywood of that era. Such explains why Ekwensi enthusiastically admits that “I used to know all the actors by name – people like Robert Taylor, Randolph Scott, Gary Cooper and Bill Boys” . Furthermore, he demonstrates some knowledge of the plot and general ideology of the Hollywood film. As he confesses “all those stones about Wyoming and the ranches and the trails and so on. I loved that kind of thing, just for the joy of it”. Concerning the improbability of the film ideology promoted by Hollywood, Ekwensi observes that “it’s not meant to be anything serious. Nobody takes it seriously or really believes that one cowboy holding a revolver with a range of fifty yards can kill a whole tribe of Indians. It’s not true”.

The Gary Cooper that Ekwensi acknowledges as a major actor was prominent in Hollywood of the 1940s and 1950s. Beyond appearing in Meet John Doe (1941) and High Noon (1952) among several others, Gary Cooper is isolated by Richard Maltby as one of the “top stars” in 1944 recognized alongside Bing Crosby (566). In 1953, according to Maltby, Gary Cooper is identified as “the top box office star”. Two other film critics, Lee Strasberg and Richard Dyer demonstrate why one should see Ekwensi’s recognition of Gary Cooper as very significant. For instance, “Gary Cooper, John Wayne and Spencer Tracy”, according to Lee Strasberg, are remarkable for their perfection of the Stanislavskian idea of acting whereby “they try not to act but to be themselves, to respond or react.

They refuse to do or say anything they feel not to be consonant with their own characters”. Elsewhere, in 1987, Richard Dyer, the author of Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society corroborates the same testimony. In Dyer’s reasoning whoever appreciates Gary Cooper or Doris Day, “precisely what you value about them is that they are always ‘themselves’ – no matter how different their roles, they bear witness to the continuousness of their own roles”.

It is Ekwensi the playwright who had “also written radio plays, including a radio adaptation of People of the City which was broadcast by the BBC” that we also encounter as a writer of film scripts. Here, it is instructive to note that way back in 1962 when he granted an interview to Afrique, Chinua Achebe had acknowledged that Ekwensi “does articles and film scripts” . Thus Ekwensi’s profile as a writer of film scripts was almost public knowledge by 1962. Of the filmscripts he may have written, Ekwensi in his interview with Bernth Lindfors seems to remember only one humorous one entitled “Stretch a Little, Bend a Little” and the one he did for Nigeria’s Independence. After explaining the characteristically allegorical feature of the “Stretch a Little … “ filmscript, Ekwensi informs Lindfors that “the film was produced by Victor Gover around the 1960s – a short film, about ten minutes. And it was done by puppets on strings, not real wives, not breathing human beings”.

Although Ekwensi admits to Bernth Lindfors that”! have also acted in films”, it is only one that he talks about. This is the Ghana independence film, “Work in Transit” which Ekwensi notes was “produced by an Englishman named Scan Graham”. In narrating his level of involvement, Ekwensi remarks that “I played the part of a University lecturer. One of the difficult scenes was where I had to do an Ewe dance”. Knowing that Ekwensi had acted in the 1960s in a film called Omowaie as reported by Chidi Ikonne, one can then appreciate that given the forum of an interview that was not necessarily focused on his exploits as a film person, Ekwensi may have had to be as sketchy as possible.

Cyprian Ekwensi features in John A. William’s Omowaie, The Chid Returns Home a 1960s film which, according to Chidi Ikonne, numbers among those that “have made definite attempts to break away from the stereotyped ‘African’ film with its implicit or explicit racial prejudice” . Regarding the focus of Omowaie which he observes as having been “produced in Nigeria in the early sixties”, Ikonne reveals that “the picture not only dramatizes what should be the attitude of the modern black man to his past, but also explored the past and present heritage of the black man”.

Probably in his capacity as the Director of Information at the Federal Ministry of Imformation, Lagos, Cyprian Ekwensi acts as a cultural ambassador and in his interaction with John A. Williams is presented as informing him about the urgency of the need for the black man to “retain the essences of his own blackness” .

In the same 1960s, 1965 to be precise, Cyprian Ekwensi featured in another film. This is a documentary entitled In Search of Myself. According to Femi Shaka, “the film featured renowned Nigerian artistic figures such as Chinua Achebe, Onuora Nzekwu, Cyprian Ekwensi, Demas Nwoko, Simon Okeke, and Duro Ladipo”.

The production of “a film on Nigeria’s independence” is another experience that presents Cyprian Ekwensi not only as a film script writer but also an editor and producer. Concerning his job as an editor of the film in question, Ekwensi reveals to Lindfors as follows:
the Nigerian Film Unit – this was before I became Director – spent a lot of time shooting throughout the country, and they had this mass of celluloid and scenes which they didn’t know what to do with. So I sat for hours and hours and hours in London (I was flown over to London specially for this), trying to make some sense out of it.

In addressing what became of the tamed “mass of celluloid and scenes”, Ekwensi admits that “eventually I was able to produce a script and to do the narration myself”. Thus, we have from Ekwensi’s testimony another evidence of his sense of versatility as a film hand.

Perhaps what remains to complete the picture on Ekwensi’s profile as a film buff is to highlight his status as a film critic (and censor). As with his model, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ekwensi shows a sensitivity to the offerings from Hollywood. Beyond admitting that in the pre-independence era, “there were really serious films – Humphrey Bogart and so forth, mainly American films”, Cyprian Ekwensi also reflects on his rating of Indian films.

For instance, while he has a very low regard for Indian films, he still has reservations for the excesses of Hollywood. Concerning what he considers the low quality of Indian movies, Ekwensi notes that “at Independence the film distributors suddenly discovered that they didn’t need to wrack their brains going through lists of the best films in different countries – they didn’t need to make the effort. Provided they got an Indian film full of fantasy, this was enough to earn them their money, so why work, why worry?” . In appreciating what was made of Mario Puzo’s novel, The Godfather, Ekwensi notes that today we are being treated to The Godfather in Lagos.

I’ve seen The Godfather, I’ve read the novel, and I think it’s a corrupting film. We live now in an age of violence, and I didn’t think that there should be this dramatization of the techniques of violence. There are incidents in that film (and I know the censor must have cut a lot) which are suggestive of killing, which would make one try to kill. If I were the censor, I wouldn’t have passed that film.

From the foregoing, one can appreciate that the Cyprian Ekwensi who started his entertainment career on the stage in Jos in the late 1930s and who would later become a major film addict, actor, scriptwriter, producer, editor, director and so on is like Nnamdi Azikiwe’s case another concrete illustration of the fact that the Igbo man is not hostile to the world of cinema. If the British Broadcasting Corporation would refer to Ekwensi’s film heritage way back in 1947, long before Onitsha Market Literature proclaimed such a group sensibility to the literary world, it then means that Ekwensi must have displayed this taste quite early in his life. And having grown among his kith and kin, there is no doubt that as would be shown in texts of Onitsha market Literature, Ekwensi’s disposition to cinema is representative of a group consciousness. It is within this contest that Adiele Afigbo informed me that “in the 1950s the halls were always packed full in cinema houses in Onitsha, Aba and Enugu”.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prof Soyinka..Only a blighted Nation Neglects Its Brightest…

Prof. Wole Soyinka at a press briefing in Lagos on the Niger Delta crisis. Photo: Sylva Eleanya.

By Emma Okocha, Vanguard

”A dying man needs to die, as a sleeping man needs to sleep , and there comes a time when it is wrong , as well as useless to resist.” – Stewart Alsop; Stay of Execution.

”Even in totalitarian states, the time comes when past errors are admitted. In Nigeria , we fail to establish a climate of inquiry.When power is placed in the service of vicious reaction a language must be called into being which does its best to appropriate such obscenity of power and fling its excesses back in its face.

The cold reality of power is, of course, that it has to be endured. Even when it is culpable and seen to be so, its effective reality is that it cannot be escaped for a duration, be this regulated by constitutional agreements, or subject to abrupt termination by a contending interest.

All that is left then to the populace over which it is made manifest, is an attitude towards it, outwardly expressed or internalized. It is this, which constitutes the accessible arena of public activity – acknowledged to be also of the mind as of public expression – media criticism, street demonstrations civil disobedience etc….Books and all forms of writing have always been objects of terror to those who seek to suppress truth.”

‘The level of contempt for civilian life has finally reached its nadir, more armor is seen patrolling the townships and the villages today than any during the civil war. I believe, however, that the will of our people cannot be broken.

The current phase of despondency is understandable; one does not see the the tentative foundations of one’s nation smashed repeatedly by juggernauts out of control without an acute sense of futility. Yet the alternative, to abandon one’s goal is such a negation of existence that one can only view it as worse than physical annihilation. Our people have just undergone a savaging , contemptuously inflicted upon them …..”

Nobel Laurette Wole Soyinka in his Preface, The Man Died, October 1983

”It is only a blighted nation that neglects its brightest….these people, I’m talking about are not produced in hundreds.”

1975 Coup Destroyed Nigeria, Chief P. C . Asiodu, to Willy Eya, the Sunday Sun, Jan.10, 2010

Norman Cantor and Richard Scneider in their classic, How To Study History, defines history as a study of what men have done and said and thought in the past.

Progressively, they went on to describe History as a biography, that is, a work of the creative imagination in which the author attempts to recreate the life and thoughts of particular men who actually lived at a certain time. While the political-institutional historians may not come with us on this , we may borrow a leaf from the school of intellectual historians.

To this school, History is regarded as the development of higher thoughts and feeling, that is, embracing the study of of philosophy, art, literature, science and mathematics.

Hence, in the waning days of 2008 autumn, at a Harvard International Conference, enter the Nigerian world renowned bard. Not given to much hyperbole, Chinua Achebe on his wheel chair, decided to don the hat of an intellectual historian, as he tried very hard to acknowledge the presence of the multidimensional, genius in our midst.

The revered author, recounted the misery that was Biafra. The starvation of children, the bombs that destroyed families and cities. He stated that eventhough the enclave took the very worse, the saddest day for Biafra and Biafrans was the day it was rumored that ”The Man had died in a Nigerian cell.”

Biafra flew their flag at half mast and for days amidst more destruction and casualties from the air, across the battle fields, the Biafran people mourned the ’supposed passage’ of the only true Nigerian they dearly loved and respected for his courage and friendship.

When the Niger Delta insurgents, refused to trust their destiny in the hands of the Nigerian diplomat at the UN, it was Professor Wole Soyinka they chose, to negotiate for them and represent their interests with the Federal government.

When the same Niger Delta militants struck the Atlas doves in Lagos and the OPC wanted some fight, it was Prof. Soyinka that intervened to save the day.

The OPC did not listen to any other but would rather defer to him. They have followed him and know he would not betray their cause.

At the last Achebe Colloquium in Rhode Island, after everybody had gone to bed, we discussed the Nigerian problem and in the presence of Chief Solomon Asemota, the leader of the Niger Delta.

Without much sleep the Professor was on his way to Boston the following morning for another conference this time on Darfur, Sudan. Apart from Sudan, was he not the international voice that stood against the tyranny and the savagery of Ugandan’sIdiAmin.

While his fellow renowned Literati mused their opposition in their kitchens, the Shango apostle, was all over the world openly, condemning the cannibal Head of State for his grave human rights violations against his people, and specifically exonerating a confused African perspective from the heinous crimes of the former Ugandan heavyweight champion, who had boasted of his love and readiness to marry the Queen of England. In search of heroes, some of the uninitiated African actors were already falling to the Amin ploy.

They were falling to the evil machinations of the IdiAmin propaganda of not only ”marrying the Queen” but of his plans to cage the imperialistic hold on Uganda.

Professor Soyinka was unrelenting and having suffered from IdiAmin’s kind, he was able to discern and define the beast for what he was.

Always staking his life, his safety, Professor Wole Soyinka has over the years, continued to dare the African oppressors, starting from the eerie day, an unknown masked man took over the radio station in Ibadan in 1965, to announce the correct election results!!

In his war classic of the Man Died he was the first Nigerian from inside the sordid incaceration of Kikiri maximum security prisons, to announce to the world the horrific death of the late Nigerian Secretary- General of the Post and Telegraph Workers Union.

According to courageous the Professor, ”GogoNzeribe was arrested for some undisclosed offence during Gowon’s regime,and imprisoned in Dodan
Barracks, where he died of starvation…!! He was arrested and brought out daily, for flogging.

One day he fought back, and this resulted in orders that he should be permanently locked up in a solitary cell and forgotten. ” He was the first and only voice that blew the whistle on the Asaba, Ishiagu and Igbodo genocide visited on the Western Ibos, when the Federal Army took over the Midwest, in September, 1967. When the butchers were sure that Ogbeosuwah was covered up by sand it was the same Shango prophet, who

characteristically from a detention hole, wrote about the Midwest atrocities. ”In Shaki before my transfer, I received eye witness accounts from a Federal soldier, a young school -leaver who saw his ideals shattered by the wanton execution of civilians.

He protested and feeling that his life was in danger, he fled to Lagos. He was arrested and incarcerated. The daily executions and torture were still in progress when he left.

He saw entire Mid West Ibo families wiped out in cold blood….” [ See, The Man Died, page 121-122] Therefore we are not surprised that after the deaths of GaniFawehmni, ChumaUbani, BekoRansomeKuti, TunjiOtagbeye the mantle of Civic Society leadership should now naturally fall on the shoulders of the prophet the masses already know his own sacrifices for their cause.

So who is that historian of whatever school, who would attempt writing the history of contemporary Nigeria, without first giving to his readers, some chapters, on the life and times of the most activist renaissance leader of our people.

Professor Emeritus, Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laurette, Poet, Playwrite, Dramatist, Novelist, Essayist, Activist, Human Rights Crusader, Nigeria’s most internationally recognized face, African Ambassador, Alphonse Fletcher Fellow, Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Yale and Visiting Professor, Harvard, please take over the ship and in your own fraternal orders, AHOY!!
Whatever is happening now in Abuja with him in command, speaks of his restless foolhardiness and his abiding patriotism.

Countrymen, a lot is amiss within the Nigerian federation. This is the time to ride the train or remain a sinner spectator. Such men like Professor Wole Soyinka are not produced in hundreds. Only the blighted nation neglects its bright minds.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Imo: Story of decay despite Ohakim's promises of a New Face

By Kodilinye Obiagwu, Guardian

NEAR a major roundabout leading to the Imo State Government House, Owerri, a billboard displays in very bold and unmistakeable features, the picture of the state governor, Ikedi Ohakim: A pair of cupped palms cradles the governor's smiling bust. Inscribed on the billboard are these words: "Imo is in the hands of God." Those words were taken from an address, "A Blueprint For The New Face Of Imo," delivered by Ohakim as governor-elect on May 16, 2007 to the 2007 Transition Committee of the new face of Imo. In that speech, Ohakim said, "I shall do a new thing in Imo State."

Two years after, the people of Imo State have experienced those "new things" in radio jingles, newspaper advertorials, glossy state-sponsored publications and colourful billboards. Very little are on the ground.

At inception, the State Government harped on sanitation of the state. Two years later, a billboard at the gate of Dan Anyiam Stadium proclaims that sense of cleanliness amid empty water sachets littering the gutters. This is despite the ban on sachet water (pure water). The story is told of how shortly after the ban, the producers of sachet water reached an agreement with the enforcers of the ban, the Environmental Transformation Commission (ENTRACO). Part of the deal was that the producers would manage the disposal of the sachets and for that, a packet of sachet water, N5 elsewhere, costs N10 in Owerri metropolis. As it is, the deal is not working.

Mr. Edwin Akubuiro an engineer and Director of Research and Publicity for the New Face Organisation, said that Ohakim's new face agenda goes beyond cleaning Imo. He claims that it is visible in the roads construction "as all the entry points into Owerri city are dualised."

However, of the five entry points to Owerri, only the Onitsha-Owerri Road, a federal road, is dualised.

The Owerri-Okigwe exit road, which presently terminates at Orji, has been under construction in the last two years. The story is that the contract was awarded to Zerok, a construction firm said to be owned by the former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, who is also chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA) on which ticket Ohakim was elected. And when Ohakim fell out with Kalu, he (governor) eased up on the road after the contractor had started work. The Orji Road (a nightmare for motorists), is the shortest route to the governor's village in Okohia, Isiala Mbano. But the story is that with work dragging and in virtual abeyance, the governor opts for a longer route through the Mbaise Road.

the dualised Owerri-Umuahia Road is one point of controversy. In reality, there is nothing like a dualised Owerri-Umuahia Road. The part of the dualised road ends at Egbu, only three kilometres from the Owerri city. And derisively, it is called the dualised Owerri-Egbu Road. President Musa Yar'Adua commissioned the road as Owerri-Umuahia Road in July 2009, when Ohakim decamped to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). A bill of N6 billion is tagged on the road.

the Owerri-Orlu road is demarcated by concrete boulders and the 'dualisation' terminates within Owerri city.

Owerri-Port Harcourt Road, another federal road, is not dualised.
Another new thing according to Akubuiro is "the establishment of the Royal Orks Refining and Petrochemical Company, which is sited in Egbema, Oguta council." This is still a plan, yet to take off.

The refinery located in Umuokanne in Ohaji Egbema close to the village of the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Goodluck Opiah, is there only in name. Recently, some members of the community protested and wanted to reclaim their lands since government was not ready to commence work beyond laying the foundation. It is said that over N93 million has been committed to the project.

Another example of the new face of Imo "is seen in the Oguta Wonder Lake made up of a resort and conference centre designed as a tourist haven." This also is yet to take off. The project is linked to a N40 billion Imo State Development Bond from which the state has received N18.5 billion. It is said that the Oguta Wonder Lake has gulped the money. When the State House of Assembly approved the now controversial bond, the House ad hoc committee stated that the bond would be used to finance specific projects. The projects are: "Imo State equity investment in the Imo Wonder Lake resort and conference centre; Critical Road projects; various water schemes and all other capital projects as encapsulated in the 2008 project." Some stakeholders have dragged the governor and the House of Assembly to court over the loan.

Another "big" project going on in Imo is the dredging of the Nworie River. The dredging, has attracted a lot of controversy essentially because, few people see the economic necessity of the project. "Dredging is a wrong term for the work we see on the river or stream," said Ikenna Opara, an architect in Owerri.

In addition to the vague purpose of the project, the cost of the project is another subject of controversy. Akubuiro had said that Ohakim "used his sagacity and got the intervention of the Federal Government and N8.5 billion of Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC) funds." He explains that, "Imo is not a counterpart funder," but got the NDDC support "since Imo is a littoral state." But a lot of confusion surrounds this. For example, in his first briefing on the project at the Assumpta Pastoral Centre, Owerri, the then Project Co-ordinator and the Commissioner for Petroleum and Environment, Dr. Aloysius Agunwa put the cost at N8 billion of the state government's fund.

The Commissioner for Information and Strategy Dr. Amanze Obi restated this to journalists in Owerri.

The former Special Adviser to the governor on project, monitoring, Ben Ekwueme, also an engineer, told reporters in Owerri that the cost was N9 billion.

With the conflicting positions of the government officials over the funding and cost of the project, sources in the project monitoring of the NDDC however said that, "the project is not on NDDC list. But the project could be listed in the 2010 budget." The sources clarified further that it is unlikely that the NDDC will commit more that N1 billion in the project and that the funding will be implemented in phases and not once and for all remittance.

A billboard at the dredging site, which displays a picture of President Umaru Yar'Adua and Ohakim hints at the idea behind the project, something to the effect that, "Ohakim wants to create a waterfront along the banks of the river," explained Opara. A taxi driver said: "The money being spent here could have been used to revive some of the dead industries like the Standard Shoe Industry so that unemployed graduates will have jobs. The governor cannot point to any project that has had an impact on the lives of the people."

Of serious concern is the state's debt profile. The revenue allocation to the state by the federation account allocation committee for the month of September alone shows that the contractual obligation, the Irrevocable Standing Payment Order (ISPO) for Imo amounted to N358, 424, 768.53k, a staggering debt, a substantial part of which was traced to the era of the late Dr. Sam Mbakwe. Those who spoke about it, sounded quite worried particularly when put beside the N40 billion Imo State Development Bond. A fallout of this is that at maturity, the loan will be deducted from the state's federal allocation at source and 27 councils show that on the average, the councils of the state are directly suffering from this. The details of revenue allocation to the 27 councils show that on average they realise about N75 million monthly. But they get between N20 million and N25 million monthly. The National Chairman of the African Liberation Party (ALP), Chief Emmanuel Osita Okereke, believes bankruptcy is staring Imo in the face.

Ohakim's agenda on rural roads seems pegged on what is called IRROMA (Imo Rural Roads Maintenance Agency). Despite the investment in this agency, not much is seen in rural roads. The Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Kezie Ogaziechi had told an interviewer that the money deducted at source from the joint account with councils was used "to fund seminars, workshops and IRROMA." Actually, caterpillars, heavy-duty trucks and some equipment were purchased and distributed to the councils. But a council chairman who preferred anonymity said, "they came and carried away all the trucks. And we hear they used them to set up a very visible construction company in the state."

Although road construction and maintenance got N16, 066,422,000 in the 2008 budget, in Owerri, most layout roads are not tarred or constructed; and most of the major roads are in disrepair. The Assumpta Cathedral Roundabout popularly called 'Control' is chaotic as vehicles coming from or going to Port Harcourt (Rivers State) or Onitsha, (Anambra State) or to the New Owerri pass through it. The ring road network in Owerri, which is designed to divert traffic from the city centre, is not functional because the roads are bad. The access road into the park of the Imo Transport Corporation (ITC) in Owerri and the entire park is as if the place is recovering from the physical devastation of a war.

The kerbs or walkways in New Owerri, are overtaken by weeds and in various stages of abandonment; the gutters are filled with sand. Most parts of the median on the dualised carriageway into New Owerri are overgrown with bush. The joke is - "there is so much green and no clean in New Owerri." The Kim Kim tricycle and the Keke Keke New Face, which replaced the commercial motor bikes (okada) find it difficult to manoeuvre through the bad spots while the flood ravaged urban roads in Orlu urban beg for maintenance.

Early this year, the Federal Government released N12 million to Imo for control of erosion. When the money was released, members of the New Face Organisation in Ideato South in a newspaper advert praised the governor. Despite their praises, work is yet to commence on the Dikenafai Ideato South, erosion site, one of the worst erosion spots in the state.

Other points of concern are the epileptic solar powered streetlights in New Owerri and the abandoned residential houses for parliamentarians, which was built by the late Mbakwe. The buildings are overgrown with bushes.

The Ohakim administration touts the maintenance culture. But little of that is seen at the Imo State University Teaching Hospital (IMSUTH), which was commissioned by former president, Olusegun Obasanjo on May 23, 2007. Although the lawns are well kept and the flowers are green, but the road leading to the hospital is in a state of disrepair. Equipment like the Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine (MRI), CT scan etc procured by the former administration have been abandoned for sometime now.

However, the health sector boasts the accreditation of the Imo State University College of Medicine and the graduation of the first batch of medical doctors this year.

On his first visit to Imo on January 21, 2008, President Musa Yar'Adua commissioned the Okigwe water scheme. The scheme, built since 1980, had laid waste since 2006. The government claimed to have spent over N1 billion to rehabilitate the project, but the scheme is not so functional. Public water supply is poor despite the other water schemes the government said it has put in place.

President Yar'Adua laid the foundation stone of the New Imo Government House in the New Nekede Area. Weeds have taken over the place, no access road, and the only sign of work is the foundation of a multipurpose hall. On July 25, 2009 Yar'Adua commissioned the ultra modern complex of the Court of Appeal, the digitalised studios and transmitters of the over N2 billion Imo Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) in New Owerri and the new secretariat of the PDP. But the radio did not even transmit on the day of its commissioning. The Appeal Court complex is a refurbished building that used to house a trade union secretariat.

In Imo, there is lamentation in many quarters that the governor has mobilised for a relentless media campaign whose refrain, "a new thing is happening in Imo" is rated as fictitious.

An Imo resident, Noberth Ekendu stated: "It is time Ohakim and his men started documenting the number and length of roads they have either built or rehabilitated in each of the 27 councils, the number of schools and hospitals they have built or rehabilitated, the number of water works they have initiated, completed or rehabilitated, the number of social amenities they have built or rehabilitated, the actual contribution they have made to the security of the state, the structures and institutional facilities they have erected for the past two years, the number of employment they have generated and where and what they have contributed to the growth of agriculture, science and technology, sports; what they have done to the industrial development of Imo. These are the measures they would be judged with and not the number of pages of newspapers they buy to celebrate their fictitious achievements or the number of giant bill boards they erect to advertise themselves."