Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Review: Wordsmith at the Igbo anvil

By PERCY ZVOMUYA, Mail & Guardian

A debut novelist forges dialogue that compares with the best

Percy Zvomuya reviews I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani (Phoenix)

Anyone with an email address has, at one point or the other, received a mail that promises instant riches -- you know the communication that exclaims: "Congratulations!! We are happy to announce that you have won an email lottery jackpot prize in our international lottery promotion."

Or the email marked "CONFIDENTIAL", which begins, in conspiratorial tones: "I know that this email will be a big surprise to you, but I want you to calm down and read very carefully. I have a business which will be beneficial to both of us … the amount of money involved is US$5.7-million …"

Known as 419, the penal code under which this form of fraud is classified in Nigeria, the scams are given hilarious fictional treatment in Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's novel, I Do Not Come to You by Chance, shortlisted for this year's Commonwealth Writers' Prize. It features Kingsley (affectionately known as Kings), a chemical engineering graduate who, unable to get a job, ends up using his "grammar" -- as Nigerians call good English -- to scam foreigners out of millions of dollars.

I Do Not Come to You by Chance is a humorous work; often I found myself chuckling, sometimes even breaking out into loud laughter. In part Nwaubani has achieved this with her ability to capture the cadences of the speech of her characters. Melding streetwise lingo with original and improvised Igbo idioms, she manages to come up with strange and free-flowing dialogue. The result is startling sentences such as "My taste buds had been hearing the smell of my mother's cooking and my stomach had started talking".

Then there are improvised sentences, lines that appear to have passed through the smithy where they coin Igbo proverbs, for example: "Why are you swallowing Panadol for another person's headache?"

At its best it feels like text co-scripted by the streetwise Kenyan, Charles Mangua, the regal Chinua Achebe and the late Nigerian writers, Ken Saro Wiwa and Amos Tutuola.

I Do Not Come to You By Chance is set in a contemporary Nigeria that compares well with many other African republics -- for instance, the evening news is a "harmless serving of [the] state governor's daily activities", the government still pays out the pensions of people "who left this world more than 20 years ago" and admission to a government hospital is a sure way of dying.

Kingsley's poor, honest and hardworking father (with a degree from a university in the United Kingdom) falls ill, all government hospitals refuse to admit him until he pays a deposit, he eventually does and gets a bed, but his family has to provide everything else he needs for his well-being. The longer his father stays in hospital, the more the family is bled of the meagre pension money on which they depend and the more Kings is driven into the hands of Boniface (aka Cash Daddy), a rich uncle and a 419 scammer, who once stayed with Kings's family.

The first day Kings goes to see his relative is particularly dramatic, a sad indictment of consumerist Nigeria. A few minutes after Kings' arrival, Boniface takes one glance at his feet and remarks: "What's that you are wearing on your legs?" He then shouts at Kings: "Get out of my office." He tells his right-hand man, referred to as the protocol officer, to "take this man away. Make sure he's wearing new shoes before bringing him back. Go!"

Kings comes back a little later wearing new shoes, paving the way for his introduction into the rich world where "businessmen" have nicknames like Kanu Sterling, World Bank and Money Magnet. Remarking on the value of the pound, Cash Daddy says to Kanu Sterling: "Pound Sterling! The only currency with a surname!" The verbally inventive Cash Daddy reminded me of Nwaka, a character in Achebe's Arrow of God, who was such a great orator that he was known to his friends as the "Owner of Words".

I Do Not Come to You By Chance is a fascinating debut, wild and unrestrained, but it also shows the kind of errors that are typical of people with a lot to say and a thousand and one interesting ways to say these things. Like most works of fiction coming out of Africa, there's that perennial problem, sloppy editing. I love shaggy lines but some sentences feel laboured and overwritten and make me wonder how they escaped the machete of the editor.

Take these, for instance. "The air smelt of a mixture of fresh fish and locust beans. Large and small flies buzzed and perched about with alarming sovereignty and audacity. A sweaty, matronly waitress who looked like she knew all the flies by name galumphed to our table. Eating anything in that place would have been like signing a treaty for the invasion of my digestive system." I could go on.

And then there's the prologue, which, given the contemporary setting of this novel and the fact that only a generation has passed between Kings and his father, feels a bit anachronistic. Is it genuinely possible that, no matter how rural, Kings's mother could be so blinded by the aura of his father as to think of him as "an emissary from the spirit world on special assignments to the land of mere mortals"?

Then there's the hackneyed conclusion that one can predict 50 or so pages before the novel comes to a close. What could have been a compact, disciplined work, written in a funny and refreshing voice, in the end feels a tad drawn out, like a joke with a delayed punchline.

This criticism should in no way dilute the fact that Nwaubani is a genuine talent and one whose next novel I am looking forward to reading.

It would be remiss of me, after reading more than 340 pages of scam after scam, to point out that this review is no 419 scam.

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani will join local fiction writers Angela Makholwa and Zukiswa Wanner, Namibian librarian Ellen Ndeshi Namhila, Kenyan literary scholar Grace Musila, American author Jayne Cortez, Nigerian author Lola Shoneyin, poet Lebo Mashile, local literary matriarch Miriam Tladi and others in a literary symposium at the Windybrow theatre in Johannesburg on August 25 and 26 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Another Crises Nd'Igbo Must Address

By Godson Offoaro/Sun News Publishing

The gold-rimmed invitation card said it all. It is the announcement of the traditional marriage taking place somewhere in Isiala-Mbano. It read in part. “The families of Chikezie Okonkwo of Umukalla in Isiala-Mbano LGA Imo State and Chief Olabode Ibironke of Surulere in the Akoko South LGA, Ondo State, cordially invite you to the traditional wedding of their daughter, Chika Magdalene Okonkwo and Adeyinka Ibironke.

It went on and on to supply the names of the RSVPs and other little information a proud holder of such an expensive piece of invitation would need. If you looked closer, you would notice that there were something unique about the invitation. Yes, its uniqueness lay in the tribal differences aplenty in the card. Chika, female is Igbo. Yinka, male is Yoruba. They soon would be getting married. This type of invitation is now common in Igboland. Hardly any weekend passes in Igboland without a segment of its population giving away one daughter or the other's hand to marriage, to usually a “stranger” - a non-Igbo.

Igbo girls are deserting their homelands - in droves. They are going to other parts of Nigeria particularly, the North and the South west in search of better halves. It never used to be so. We are not talking about a millennium gone by. We are talking about say, last year's Xmas period and the following Easter. Keeping it in sharper perspective, Igbo women marrying men from other tribes gained a dramatic upsurge immediately after the Nigerian Civil War. Then desolate and desperate Igbo girls of marriage age, married whomever there was, that was available largely because their Igbo male marriageable counterparts had been decimated - in their hundreds of thousands by the war.

Now, there is a new upsurge. Why are Igbo girls deserting Igbo men of marriageable age in their thousands? The answer is multifaceted. The most obvious, Ngozi told this writer is the shortage of Igbo men of marriageable age. Reader, do not panic yet. Igbo boys have not been decimated in war as was the case between 1967 and 1970. The latest brand of shortage of marriageable Igbo male has a lot to do with economics of numbers.

There are many marriageable men around but not enough to get married to the girls - thus the upsurge in the number of Igbo girls to other lands, in search of husbands. In awe I had asked her to explain. “Uncle”, she began in obvious resigned mood. “The reason is simple. Our men of marriage age have no jobs. The unemployment palaver is hitting the marriage industry hardest in Igbo land. I had a fiancĂ© while I was in school.

We agreed to get married some day. But can you believe that, ten solid years after graduation, he has no job. I am marrying Aminu from Zonkwa, who is a Muslim and 20 years older than me out of desperation. Aminu, you may not believe it, Aminu already has a wife. I am going to be his wife number two. Age is not on my side. At 32, biological time for me is ticking away fast - if you know what I mean. I need to have a life. I need to settle down, bear children and begin to raise them.

There are no Igbo men who are ready to marry me. I would have even married any Igbo man, even as a second, third wife, but most Igbo men who are married are tied down by the dictates of their Christian faith which preaches one man one wife. It is not so in the northern and western parts of the country. That's why I am going up north to find a life partner. It is not the best for me. Desperate situations call for desperate solutions.”

When I spoke with Chika, whom I attended her colorful wedding (to Yinka) at one of the Pentecostal Churches in Owerri, recently she was even blunter. “I'll rather marry anyone other than Igbo, than get into prostitution. I am 34. I have no hope. My childhood boyfriend has left the country to Ghana. He keeps making promises that I should wait for him to make it, no matter how little. But you know a woman's biological clock ticks faster than that of the man. I do not know how long I would wait. I am a born again Christian.

I am not given to wayward type of life. I want to marry and settle down and begin to rear children. Unfortunately, I could not marry myself. So when Yinka showed up, I did not have to think of his tribe. All I needed was a husband. And that's why I am where I am now. I do not know what would have happened if I married any other person, but I am married and I will try to live with it. It is the best I can do for now.”

It was not fashionable to find Igbo girls marrying across the Niger River. If anything, the reverse used to be the case. It was the days gone by when men such as Nze Akanu Ibiam, Emeka Anyaoku, Nze Nwachukwu (Ike Nwachukwu's father) Chief Gideon Atuloma, former Speaker old Imo House of Assembly and other prominent Igbo personalities including this writer, went across the Niger or up north to go get married.

To put this record straight. It was after the Nigerian Civil War that there was a surge in mass marriage of Igbo ladies to men from other parts of the country. It was part of the war booty, the girls having lost everything including their men and pride. It was in fact, then, a favor unto them done, that the surplus Igbo girls of marriageable age who could not be married were taken away by the all conquering members of the Nigerian armed forces. That was when Nigerian gallant soldiers like Olusegun Obasanjo married an Igbo lady and IBB married yet another.
It was not so, on the Nigerian side.

There, what happened was typical. After every war, there usually is a marriage boom, particularly on the side of the victorious. It happened at a lower scale, after World War I but happened more rapidly and very pronounced after World War II when the Allied forces of Europe with the aid of the United States, vanquished Hitler and his collaborators. The marriage boom of the years following the end of World II produced children known in American parlance as the baby boom generation. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and even Obama were products of the baby boom generation 1945 to 1960.

We can say without contradiction then, that Nigeria's baby boom years occurred soon after the civil war. With the no victor and no vanquished stance of General Yakubu Gowon, the defeated Biafra, which largely comprised of the Igbo race, rose to the occasion taking advantage of the three “Rs” of reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation, thus a delayed but sure case of baby boom occurred. The Udorji awards of 1974 helped too.
While the American government took a preemptive measure to prepare for the upsurge in the baby boom era, including what to do with their kids, education, employment, their welfare and retirement age, the Nigerian government it seemed never took any steps to address the expected upsurge that always came along with the successful prosecution of a war.

The effect, as events are now turning out, are being felt in the east, particularly, in Igboland, where women of marriageable age stayed at home without husbands and the attendant frustration that inevitably followed. Coupled with the twin evil of unemployment and global economic meltdown which began about a decade ago, the Nigerian marriage sector has also been affected.

Fortunately for other parts of Nigeria, social behaviors tied to cultural values have in one way or the other helped to lessen the burden of the inability of young adults to get married as at when due. It's not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with Igbo girls wedding young men from other tribes of Nigeria. The one thing that is wrong is the alarming growing number of these marriages without a reciprocal equivalent in the number of Igbo men marrying from other tribes. As the girls go so they go with Igbo culture.

As the girls, most of them highly educated leave, so do they drain Igbo brain. As the girls leave in droves so they leave with a big hole in Igbo economy. Ohanaze Ndiigbo should step in. The governors of all the Igbo speaking areas of Nigeria should see this as a crisis and address it accordingly. It is as important as having a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction.

What Chris Henry taught us: how an autopsy of the former Cincinnati Bengals' receiver's brain has helped doctors further research...

By Stefanie Loh, The Patriot News/Penn Live

Doctors Bennet Omalu and Julian Bailes are now looking into ways to help further concussion research


That’s Dr. Bennet Omalu’s middle name.

In the Igbo language of his native, Nigeria, it means “life is the greatest gift of all.”

So it’s somewhat ironic that a man who’s named for the miracle of life has dedicated his life to studying the secrets told in death.

The journey began in 2002.

Then a 34-year-old medical examiner in Pittsburgh, Omalu performed a routine autopsy on former Steelers’ offensive lineman Mike Webster.

Pittsburgh’s legendary All-Pro center had died suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 50. In the final years of his life, he’d been prone to bouts of memory loss and had gotten increasingly desperate, depressed and violent.

As a forensic neuropathologist by training, Omalu was used to looking at the brains of the dead, and a hunch told him that Webster’s was trying to tell him something. Extensive testing revealed that at the time of Webster's death, he was suffering from a kind of dementia that was likely the result of multiple concussions and blows to the head sustained throughout his football career. His brain had degenerated to the point that it resembled an Alzheimer’s-like dementia.

Omalu diagnosed the very first case of gridiron dementia in a deceased retired football player. He named the disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.


Now 41 and working as a medical examiner in California, Omalu has established himself at the forefront of concussion research. There is irrefutable evidence to prove that concussions sustained in sports can lead to permanent brain damage and degenerative brain disease – particularly in contact sports such as football.

People believe him now – especially after a landmark discovery he announced with his partner, West Virginia University Hospital’s head of neurosurgery Dr. Julian Bailes, earlier this summer.

On June 28, at a press conference in Morgantown, W.Va., Bailes and Omalu revealed that they’d found evidence of CTE in Chris Henry.

Henry was a 26-year-old wide receiver with the Cincinnati Bengals who died in December 2009 from injuries sustained after falling out the back of a moving pickup truck. When the receiver’s family first asked Omalu and Bailes to examine his brain, the doctors didn’t expect to find any evidence of CTE.

Henry was young and at the time of his death he was still an active NFL player. More importantly, he had no known history of concussion throughout his pro and college career, and was not known as a big-time hitter.

Both doctors were surprised when test samples of Henry’s brain came back dotted with brown splotches known as tau protein, a toxin that is typically a sign of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The discovery of CTE in Henry’s brain pushed the limits of everything the doctors thought they knew about the cause of the disease and reaffirmed that CTE wasn’t just caused by concussions.

Repetitive blows to the head that a football player is likely to sustain on a regular basis throughout his career can potentially result in the same disease.

The announcement kicked the football world into a frightened tizzy, and dozens of well-regarded national columnists fed the frenzy by churning out reams of copy overnight hypothesizing on what this meant for football’s existence.


Submitted photoDoctors Bennet Omalu and Julian Bailes are now looking into ways to help further concussion research.
In the six weeks that have passed since Omalu and Bailes announced their findings, the buzz has faded some.

As the NFL goes through its preseason schedule, and college and high school teams around the country fall back into the comfortable routine of two-a-days under the scorching end-of-summer heat, the media’s initial panic has dulled and morphed into a hum of excitement as America gears up for its favorite form of fall entertainment – football.

But Omalu and Bailes are far from done.

Now that they’ve established the legitimacy of their findings within the medical community, it’s time, the doctors say, to look beyond.

“We are moving the science forward. I’m currently working on a paper on the Omalu-Bailes classification of CTE,” Omalu says over the phone from his home in Lodi, Calif. where at 6 a.m. on a Monday morning, it’s not yet light out.

The paper will outline the different signs of CTE for the benefit of doctors all over the country.

“We’re trying to educate people to recognize CTE and detail the different manifestations of it so that more doctors will be able to identify it,” Omalu says. “When you educate other doctors on how to identify this disease you’re more likely to identify other cases and, in time, identify ways to kill the disease.”

With all the recent advancements in concussion management techniques, doctors such as Omalu and Bailes have shifted their focus from reaction to prevention, and – hopefully -- cure.

Last month, Bailes wrote two papers about a nutritional supplement that could revolutionize the treatment of concussions.

Published in the July 16 edition of the Journal of Neurosurgery, his findings were based on experiments conducted on laboratory rats and showed that an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA (most commonly found in infant formula) can help repair torn brain fibers if consumed after a concussion and help to reduce the adverse effects of concussions if taken regularly.

DHA is “technically a nutritional supplement that brains are made of,” Bailes said. “I think it’s a significant finding that should make a significant impact on anyone from athletes to military concussion victims.”

At the moment, there is no known cure for a concussion. According to Bailes, patients are given sleeping pills, pain medication and anti-depressants to help deal with the effects, but there is no medicine to prevent it.


What also has arisen from their research are the issues of genetic markers and genetic testing. Bailes and Omalu have found that 70 percent of the late athletes whose brains they have studied all shared one common gene – Apolipoprotein E-3, also known as ApoE-3

Genetic testing is still a Pandora’s box rife with ethical dilemmas. Yet, the prevalence of ApoE-3 in such a high percentage of the doctors’ CTE-positive subjects simply begs for more research.

It’s a prime example of how the Chris Henry case has raised as many questions as it’s answered.

“Chris Henry falls within the 70 percent-positive for that gene. So how strongly do our early findings provide a clue as to the risk factors of CTE? We have the world’s largest number of experts, but a relatively small [sample] number,” Bailes said. “Is this number enough?”

Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, the director of athletic medicine at Penn State University, thinks it’s theoretically possible to start screening players for the presence of ApoE-3, but that it will be expensive.

“It’s going to cost some money,” says Sebastianelli, who serves as the team doctor for the Nittany Lions’ football team. “But if you’re paying people $30 million over four years, you might want to get the [genetic] marker test. It might become a factor in the decision.

“If you have someone who has had three concussions, and they have the marker, you may not offer them more than a one-year deal. There’s always going to be somebody more genetically predisposed to concussion.”

To the average football fan, genetic testing for concussion susceptibility might sound a little extreme, but it’s a big part of the brainstorming now going around in medical circles as doctors try to come up with creative ways to keep athletes safe.

The consensus is that football, especially at the professional and collegiate level is getting faster, and the hits are getting harder.

According to Bailes, studies have shown that game speed has increased about 8 percent over the last 40 years, and the modern football player is about 20 percent larger.

“We’ve done a lot of research on the numbers. The game is so fast now that the resulting acceleration and deceleration, and the momentum changes are leading to much high energies,” Bailes said.

The doctors aren’t the only ones worried about the ferocity of the modern game.

“The truth of the matter is… somebody is going to die here in the NFL,” Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said in an interview with Sports Illustrated last September.

Bailes and Omalu are big advocates of what they call “taking the head out of the game.”

For instance, Bailes suggests taking linemen out of the three-point stance and having them start in an upright position.

“Linemen get more blows in there because they are doing every play head-to-head,” Bailes said.

Perhaps it’s even time to introduce some new rules.

Sebastianelli proffers a suggestion that he knows will meet with vociferous protests at all levels of the game: introducing a weight limit for each of the different positions.

“Why can’t you put a weight restriction on positions? We do it in wrestling,” Sebastianelli said. “It’ll cut down on doping – if you’ve got to make weight, you can’t play with anabolics.

“But that’s going to be so hotly contested, I’ll never see that happen.”

Another measure could be to limit the area that plays can unfold within.

“You look at some of these formations they are running nowadays, and between the defensive back and the wideout, there may be a 30-yard head start,” Sebastianelli said.

That basically means one guy has more time and space to get a big running start before hurling himself into his opponent at high force.

“You may need to change some of the formations [and mandate] that plays can’t spread out over more than eight to 10 yards instead of 25 yards,” Sebastianelli said.

Players and coaches alike balk at what many consider drastic measures that will forever alter the game.

Many also point to the constantly-evolving helmet technologies as one way to guard against concussions.

But Bailes says people tend to overestimate the helmet’s protective qualities.

“I don’t want to discount the importance of helmets. I think it’s important for athletes and their parents to know that you [should] get the best helmet you can, and the best equipment. But I do think the helmet is obviously limited,” Bailes says. “I think it’s been overlooked and overly optimistic that the helmet is the answer.”

Even though spearing is against the rules and most coaches teach players to not lead with their heads, there are still players who run helmet-first into a tackle. In those instances, the bulky, heavy modern helmets can give the athlete a false sense of security, Omalu says, drawing a contrast between football and rugby players to explain why a helmet can be used as a weapon.

While concussions are also rampant in rugby, “the good thing about [rugby players] is that they don’t wear helmets,” Omalu said. “So if you’re always hitting with your head, it’s going to hurt you.”


After the years of opposition he faced when he first tried to publicize CTE, Omalu has firsthand experience with animosity from high-placed people in positions of power.

But he would like the world to know that contrary to what some of his detractors originally believed, he is not out to derail the multi-billion dollar industry that is football and its place in American society.

All he wants is for people to realize that there are serious, potentially life-damaging risks associated with playing the game.

“Like cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health, and it is fully explained to every individual, qualify it that by playing football, you stand the risk of suffering permanent brain damage,” Omalu said. “Don’t hold back that information from the public. Full disclosure.”

This, after all, is the legacy of Mike Webster, Chris Henry and all the other athletes whose brains have helped to advance the study of CTE.

Their deaths have brought answers to light. But even those answers open more questions every day.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


By Okenwa Nwosu, MD, Igbo Forum

“It was the city that drew the great generation of Igbo, and indeed Southern Nigerian modernists. The city of the great Zik, whose statue still adorns an important historical site of the city; the city of Denis Osadebe, Mbonu Ojike, Nwafor Orizu, Ikejiani, Raymond Amanze Njoku, Pius Okigbo, Chike Obi, Sylvanus Cookey, Birabi, Ben Enwonwu, Cyprian Ekwensi, and too many others too numerous to mention.
It was the city, whose centrality in the evolution of modern Nigerian culture has been recorded permanently in Emmanuel Obiechina’s canonical study of the literature now called, “Onitsha Market Literature,” produced in the great forges of its little presses, much like the grub street, which basically disseminated the most significant tradition of city penny literature in that march towards the modern. Onitsha once had a great newspaper too: the Nigerian Spokesman, which gave this city its certain flavor.

The city exhibits the marks of dystopia. Yet it is a city of possibilities, if only the Anambra state government, can think slightly out of the box and commence an ambitious City redevelopment plan, by bringing a number of things to bear: the reconstitution of Onitsha as a Metropolitan district with its own city government, and execution of a plan that would integrate Ogidi, Obosi, Nnewi, Oba, and the surrounding districts, as part of the conurbation of a new Onitsha Metropolitan District.

This metropolitan authority should then think about raising property and other municipal taxes and begin the very clear process of redesigning and rebuilding Onitsha as a modern, 21st century city that should integrate the grandeur of its own history as the first epicenter of Igbo modernity, and promote that history as part of its culture and image, and its new offering.

This is what great cities do. It should also work inexorably towards the development of its valuable water front into a great residential, business and culture district, with splendid private and public residential facilities, fine offices, great restaurants, galleries, theatres, well designed public parks, and such a place that would draw people to its profitable use, and that would enrich the city significantly; and in some ways, connect it to its twin city across the river, Asaba, for the benefit of all.”

Obi Nwakanma

IF you asked most people today to go to Aba or Onitsha to settle and live, the first impulse would be to think that you are placing a curse on them. And I am totally serious. Young men and women, the most productive and active catalysts of city life, do not find any incentives to go to these once thriving cities of the East to settle, and live a full life.

I once asked a friend of mine who grew up in Onitsha, and who now teaches at the University of Denver, Colorado, if he could ever think about living in Onitsha or raising his children in Onitsha, and his response to me was quite frank: “there is nothing for me in Onitsha!” he said.

It was no longer even the city in which he grew up. The decay of a city like Onitsha is so terrifying that an encounter with both the image and reality of the city is nightmarish - a true ghostly miasma that is.

Until you have felt and seen it, it is quite unimaginable. The sludge of human and industrial waste that runs on the public and private spaces; the sense of the brokenness of everything; the disorder in city planning; in code enforcement; in street planning; in the general ordering and layout of the city makes Onitsha today, one of the most polluted and certainly one of the most ungainly sites of human habitation anywhere on God’s earth.

Yet encrusted in that pod of waste is a possible gem; a once well planned city which becomes only clear from the air, which has only been distorted by the barbarous rage of a most philistine generation for whom beauty and civility are alien values.

Onitsha still has some of the finest colonial architecture which are indeed great set pieces and which could just be rehabbed with a little imagination, care, and some respect for heritage. Yet also, Onitsha is dotted with some of the most monstrous forms of architecture, a pretence at the high-rise apartments, which give little room for aesthetics. The buildings are often largely utilitarian.

They are most times constructed with little rhyme or reason, possibly inspired by the competitiveness of the Onitsha landlord who draws the design on the sand, and builds just to prove to everyone else that his “four decking is higher than yours.”

The result in Onitsha, as one drives in, is a sense or an impression of a vast project – those low income, box-like constructions of high-rise apartments that dot the landscape of American urban ghettoes that are infested with drugs, prostitution and poverty. I have nothing, of course, against urban housing, but let it be built with respect for the people, with a sense of spatiality, with some aesthetic purpose.

Onitsha’s image suffers from its certain lack of awareness of its own history or importance. My early vision of Onitsha was shaped by an early encounter with Chinua Achebe’s novella, Chike and the River, a book I read in primary five.

I also associated Onitsha with what one imagined to be the magnificent bridge across the Niger at Onitsha, which even now, remains as powerful as New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, as an authentic symbol of Nigeria’s entry into high technological modernity.

The Brooklyn Bridge has been celebrated in the epic poetry of great American Romantic and modernist poets like Walt Whitman and Hart Crane, but not the bridge across the lordly Niger in Onitsha. Onitsha was for many years the cultural and commercial center of the East – something of the Boston of Southern Nigeria – with its place as the epicentre of Christian missionary movement into the Igbo heartland.

For many years, it was the headquarters of the Church of the Niger. It was the city of Basden and the Archbishop Denis, as well as the Joseph Shanahans. Those icons of the Roman and the Anglican churches, who ironically were also figures of early Igbo modernity of the late 19th century.

Onitsha was the intellectual capital of Southern Nigeria, with its famous parochial schools, like the Christ the Kings College, the Catholic boarding school for boys, or the Denis Memorial Grammar School, the Anglican equivalent, or the Queen of the Rosary School, the Catholic boarding school for girls, or the famous St. Charles Teachers College, and so many pioneer schools that made Onitsha the gathering of the early Igbo towards cultural modernity.

It was the city that drew the great generation of Igbo, and indeed Southern Nigerian modernists. The city of the great Zik, whose statue still adorns an important historical site of the city; the city of Denis Osadebe, Mbonu Ojike, Nwafor Orizu, Ikejiani, Raymond Amanze Njoku, Pius Okigbo, Chike Obi, Sylvanus Cookey, Birabi, Ben Enwonwu, Cyprian Ekwensi, and too many others too numerous to mention.

It was the city, whose centrality in the evolution of modern Nigerian culture has been recorded permanently in Emmanuel Obiechina’s canonical study of the literature now called, “Onitsha Market Literature,” produced in the great forges of its little presses, much like the grub street, which basically disseminated the most significant tradition of city penny literature in that march towards the modern. Onitsha once had a great newspaper too: the Nigerian Spokesman, which gave this city its certain flavor.

I could go on and on, but I hope the picture is clear, that from the time of the Saro and Caribbean middle class of lawyers, doctors, teachers, and so on, who first constituted the society and culture of Onitsha, of the Onitsha Literary Society, funded by a remarkable whiteman whose grave is still marked in one silent corner of the of the Onitsha city cemetery, to today, a city like Onitsha has undergone radical transformation. A cultured middle class seems absent.

The city exhibits the marks of dystopia. Yet it is a city of possibilities, if only the Anambra state government, can think slightly out of the box and commence an ambitious City redevelopment plan, by bringing a number of things to bear: the reconstitution of Onitsha as a Metropolitan district with its own city government, and execution of a plan that would integrate Ogidi, Obosi, Nnewi, Oba, and the surrounding districts, as part of the conurbation of a new Onitsha Metropolitan District.

This metropolitan authority should then think about raising property and other municipal taxes and begin the very clear process of redesigning and rebuilding Onitsha as a modern, 21st century city that should integrate the grandeur of its own history as the first epicenter of Igbo modernity, and promote that history as part of its culture and image, and its new offering.

This is what great cities do. It should also work inexorably towards the development of its valuable water front into a great residential, business and culture district, with splendid private and public residential facilities, fine offices, great restaurants, galleries, theatres, well designed public parks, and such a place that would draw people to its profitable use, and that would enrich the city significantly; and in some ways, connect it to its twin city across the river, Asaba, for the benefit of all.

This is the only way to stimulate growth and economic development on a scale that is purposive and significant. I have used Onitsha clearly as a foil even in my description of the other city, Aba. I have always said that one of the most important reflections of the kind of mindset that have destroyed once well-made cities like Aba, designed by Pius Okigbo as Development Officer in 1947, is in the destruction of the Aba golf course and its parceling off to speculators who quickly turned this once beautiful place into a monstrous space.

Aba and Port-Harcourt are also inevitably bound to shake hands and rejoin themselves at the hip, as it was once conceived, sooner than later.

And so it is important for the authorities in those two cities to begin the process of joint planning and remodeling, including creating joint sewer districts, protected forest areas, river and lake recreation areas, that would link the triad development from Owerri, Aba and Port-Harcourt, starting at the Owerrinta Port, near Okpala.

But as it is, it seems like very little thinking is going on at a grand scale in government. These cities cannot recover their economic powers, if they do not attract the right kind of human energy. It is imperative therefore, to draw people back, with great schools, great city hospitals, great museums and galleries, and generally, great environments to live and nurture families in a healthy and sustainable way.

Monday, August 16, 2010

No Proper Political Parties In Nigeria

Written by Chris Ajaero, Demola Abimboye & Dike Onwuamaeze, Newswatch

Monday, 16 August 2010

Odia Ofeimun, poet, social critic and political activist, speaks to Chris Ajaero, assistant general editor, Demola Abimboye, principal associate editor, and Dike Onwuamaeze, principal staff writer, on the absence of credible opposition parties in Nigeria and what they should do to give the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, a tough battle in the 2011 polls. Excerpts:

Newswatch: We are gradually moving to 2011 which is an election year in Nigeria. Although we have more than 50 registered political parties, virtually all the leading politicians are scrambling for the PDP presidential ticket. Is that good for the political health of the country?

Ofeimun: When you say all the leading politicians, by definition, they are leading because they were the big men either in government or the political parties. You have former vice-president, former heads of state and such people running for the PDP ticket. But there may be other people running who are actually leading but who are not known because their political parties have not built proper platforms that are recognisable and distinct.

A platform is made up of a body of ideas describing the state of the nation and how the problems can be solved. Not one of the political parties has managed to do it well. But in terms of candidacy, you can actually say that although the most visible people we know are running for the PDP ticket, there are other people who are angling to displace them, who ought to be better noticed, but for the fact that the media is over attracted by the had been. If we take a hard look at what is going on, it is not so much of a description of the PDP as a party, it is a description of Nigeria; the way we have been and the way we are.

Frankly, Nigeria lacks a political culture based on respect for the population. It is a political culture that is very leader-centred. Leader-centred to the point where unless a leader moves, the people do not move. Nigerians appear to grant too much idiosyncrasy credence to their leaders, so that leaders no longer feel they owe them anything. A leader can move because he knows the people will follow. The question is, why is our society so? It is largely because whoever comes to power is freed of all constraints, has the power to move resources anywhere he pleases without accountability.

Newswatch: You said that there are leaders from other political parties who are not known. Is it proper that with just a few months to the 2011 election, they are still sitting on the fence?

Ofeimun: How much of Barack Obama did you know until he became a hot candidate? I personally did not give him a chance, but once he was able to beat Hilary Clinton, I knew he had a good chance of winning. So, there may be such people in Nigeria that you do not know.

The problem with the Nigerian party system is that all the political parties amount to one. In other words, they all behave the same way. So, if they behave the same way, the distinction made between them because of the names they give to themselves really amount to very little.

The content that is completely missing in all parties across Nigeria is that the human content of government policy is completely absent. There is no concern for the government worker in Nigeria, there is no concern for the children and their future because a government that says it wants development and has no serious educational policy which covers the whole population is not a serious government.

Newswatch: On Monday, August 9, the Action Congress, AC, held a national convention in Lagos, and resolved to merge with the Democratic People’s Party, DPP, and factions of ANPP, and other parties. Do you think that the merger would work?
Ofeimun: The first question you should ask yourself is around what are they forming this coalition? In those days, when Obafemi Awolowo used to be the leader, anytime you talk about a coalition, he will say coalition is not a bad thing, but come, what are we going to do for the masses? And because Awolowo always asked that question, none of the other political parties ever understood him. They deliberately misunderstood him because they imagined that he was just generally raising stupid questions to slow down things or to make himself look important. But it was a very serious matter.

When the coalition between the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, and Nnamdi Azikiwe’s party, the Nigerian People’s Party, NPP, in the Second Republic was going on, do you know what they were asking for? That they wanted to make their leader an ambassador plenipotentiary with a private jet attached. All the things they asked for had nothing to do with the very masses they said they were leading. The UPN led by Awolowo never talked about what its leaders would gain. Whenever they discussed coalition, UPN began by saying what shall we give our people after we had formed the coalition. After you have identified those things, then you will begin to talk about who would do what job. But if I remember rightly, the only thing the NPP demanded from the UPN at that time was that an Igbo man should be Secretary to the Government and that was one thing that Awolowo could not grant because at that time, Gray Longe was the Secretary to the Federal Government and Awolowo said if I have to become the president of the country and the man I will remove from office is from an area where they voted for me, I will look like an ingrate, I will not do it.

To be honest, the kind of coalition you are seeing all around are not based on policies. They are based on the ambition of individuals. In Nigeria, we have very ambitious people but none of them has a programme, none of them has a policy that they can sell to Nigerians as a basis for aspiring to lead.

You heard about the mega party talk. The mega party is dead. It was bound to die because it was not based on anything but how individuals can acquire power for their selfish interests.

Newswatch: During the First and Second Republics, we had credible opposition parties like the ones formed by the late Obafemi Awolowo. When did the country start derailing so much so that we no longer have credible opposition parties today?
Ofeimun: Ah! Don’t put it that way. Nigerians have always said that there were no opposition parties. That all the parties looked the same. It was a blackmail imported from outside and pursued by very many Nigerian intellectuals and academics in order to rubbish the only opposition party in existence at that time.

But the truth is that all the parties were not the same. Some parties were not federalist. You must draw a line between those who wanted free education, press freedom, as well as industrialisation and those who did not, who just wanted to be in government to share loot. So, to a certain extent, you can say that there was a time when there was actually a proper political opposition and it was marked by the programmes it wanted to effect.

Newswatch: In the political history of Nigeria, mergers and alliances have always crumbled. How do we get a formidable opposition that will give PDP a tough battle in the 2011 polls?

Ofeimun: The first thing is to make it impossible for a person to actually become a leader unless he has been actually voted for. If aspiring politicians realise that they genuinely need the vote of that fellow in the slum to win an election, they will do something about that slum. But because they know that every election can be rigged, they do nothing about it. Science is there to help Nigeria out of rigging. A biometric system will make it impossible to rig elections in Nigeria.

Newswatch: If by 2011, we still have a behemoth like the PDP and there is no strong opposition party, will that be healthy for the Nigerian polity?

Ofeimun: PDP is not a behemoth, the government is the behemoth. Frankly, the PDP as a party does not exist on ground. It is a gathering of elite thieves in the society. They do it well. If you don’t share in the loot, you are knocked out. Talking about the PDP as a party is a mistake. It is about a system of government that is not accountable to itself.

Newswatch: So, what is the way forward so as to stop the country from drifting into a one party state?

Ofeimun: Form proper political parties. And as I have been saying, a proper political party is one which has a platform. A platform is built on programmes and policies which you are prepared to carry into government. If you don’t have that platform on which to stand, when people vote for you, they are voting for the wind.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

2011: Support for Jonathan ‘ll Strengthen Nigeria’s Unity

This Day Interview

Chief (Hon.) Gabriel Pidomson, is a former member of the Rivers State House of Assembly and Secretary to the Government of Rivers State (SSG) during the administration of Mr. Celestine Omehia. In this interview with Chuks Okocha, he speaks on zoning and its implications for future generations

What do you make out of the last meeting of Northern governors as regards the zoning controversy?

This question must necessarily be addressed from the Nigerian political perspective in view of Nigeria’s socio-economic position today. This creates imperatives in several ramifications, from a strategic perspective and in view of what is expected from our future as a country and our leaders in particular, the position of the Northern governors is null and void, devoid of any unifying ramification. The reason is that Nigeria has grown beyond Northern, Southern, Eastern, or Western geo-political politics or rather expected to have grown beyond tribal sentiments. Governors should not be talking about tribe or regional dichotomy 50 years after our independence. Tribal and religious sentiments and any of such factors that set us apart should be trashed by the expectations of conventional wisdom.

Multi-cultural countries like Canada, United States, Russia, Mexico and others have over the years found it expedient to sheath ethnic rancour and aggregate efforts toward national development and unity, and have been able to move forward. In this context, the Northern governors’ position on the Presidency, apart from being divisive, lacks both merit and vision. At this stage in our history, governors are not expected to advocate dichotomy. They should focus on developmental strides, their future and the future of their children.

I want to say and stand to be quoted that Northern governors have a date with history. God has placed them at a strategic point in the history of this country. They can constitute themselves into agents of national setback or work in tandem with what God desires of them to do in order to recast the foundation of this country on equity and justice. They can do this by uniting in support of President Goodluck Jonathan come 2011, in order to change Nigeria into a country where citizens, irrespective of tribe or religion are assured of equal opportunities at any time to aspire for any office.

So, I want to use this opportunity to call on the Northern governors to support Goodluck Jonathan; forget the issue of whether somebody is from the North or South because North-South divide is a mere abstract perception of the true configuration of this country. Even in the North, you have North and South. In the South, you have the North and South. Governors should elevate themselves above divisive abstractions that hold little for national unity and the image we hope to present of ourselves to the international community. If we continue to talk about tribe, then it means that the over 300 tribes that make up this country can agitate for a shot at the presidency based on rotation, meaning about 75 tenures and three centuries before it goes round. Thrashing the idea of rotational presidency and zoning of elective offices would create the opportunity for every citizen of Nigeria to at any point in time aspire to any position, based on competence and together, we can build a stronger nation driven to greater heights by unity of followers and transformational leadership. I wish to reiterate that governors from the North should see this as an opportunity, given them at this point in time to support somebody that will usher in the wind of change towards the direction we expect to go in our year of golden jubilee.

What about the argument of the Northern governors that the gentlemen agreement of the PDP on zoning should be respected?

First of all, I want to say unequivocally that such idea should be dropped. I don’t understand what you mean by gentleman agreement? Gentleman agreement that is right or wrong? Is this agreement in tandem with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which they swore to protect and defend? These are critical questions that need to be asked. We should not say that there is a gentlemen agreement and because of that, the foundation and basis of our unity should be violently attacked. I think this is an opportunity for us to right the wrong that had been done by the PDP constitution. Yes, I am a member of PDP, and would remain a member, but even illiterates are aware that any law, guideline, regulation or the constitution of any organization that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is to the extent of that inconsistency null and void.

So, we should not be talking about gentleman agreement. Governors, senators and all our leaders should begin to look at current events in this country from a different, but positive perspectives. The emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan should teach us valuable lessons and drive home to them the message that God is bent on transforming this country. I am very sure that Northern governors and indeed all governors are destined to play strong roles in re-writing the history of Nigeria, the writing of which has already started. They should sheath their swords; forget about North and South dichotomy, for the sake of the stability of our country, for the sake of peace and the direction that our dear country is headed.

But they are not stopping Jonathan from contesting, except that they may not offer him their support?

Why are we talking about support here? The reason Goodluck needs their support is because it is necessary for all of us to come together as one fist. It doesn’t mean that anybody cannot contest; I can also contest that office. Consultation and consensus within and outside the PDP is necessary because it is imperative that this country unite as one in view of the change and new direction that is within the power of our generation to propagate. It is important that national consensus bear on the fact that we are moving forward in right direction and that zoning is a strategy that is apt to exclude the best of our generation based on ethnicity, and it is wrong. Moreso, it is not in tandem with the constitution, violates the fundamental human rights of young and capable people who would love to aspire to positions of responsibility come 2011 and beyond.

On the other hand, consensus is necessary within the PDP so that any person that emerges would enjoy the party’s support. If Goodluck Jonathan, like any other party member emerges, he should be supported and not discriminated against, based on his tribe, current position or environmental dynamics. Note that the position that Goodluck occupies today, it is God Who put him there. The manner of his ascendancy to the position of President is a clear testimony to what God wants to do in this country and so, North, South, East and West and all the over 300 ethnic nationalities in this country need to aggregate their support for change, unity, progress, and a new Nigeria. For now, the only glaring symbol of that change is Goodluck. He should be supported to ensure that change is embedded in the polity of this nation. One way to ensure this is to gather around Goodluck and support him to win a free and fair election.

Apart from Northern governors, are the South-south governors sincerely in support of Goodluck?

That is another question. The same call I am making to the Northern governors is the same call I am making to the South-south, South-east, and South-west governors. Specifically, I am calling on the South-south governors to support Goodluck Jonathan not because he is from the South-South or because he is the President of Nigeria. I am calling on them to support Goodluck Jonathan because of the wind of change he represents. I don’t want to be talking about South- south governors, Eastern governors, the Northern governors or the Southern-western governors. Let me make it clear that South-south governors should not support Jonathan because there is no alternative. They should see him as a son from the South-south ordained by God to turn Nigeria towards a positive path of growth. This, perhaps, is God’s 50th anniversary gift to Nigerians. I think it is myopic and short-sighted to assume anything to the contrary. We should look at the distant tendencies of immediate situations.

I am calling on South-south governors to unite for Goodluck Jonathan since charity begins at home and because their rallying behind Goodluck Jonathan will create the required impetus necessary to strengthen the resolve of Northern governors to also support Goodluck. Such support is bound to reverberate among Eastern and Western governors and by extension, the whole country. Most especially, the PDP need to unite in this purpose so that we can use this party to usher in the wind of change in this country and steer this country towards another direction, a direction that tally with the will of God.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

North and South

By Obi Nwakanma, The Orbit/Vanguard

For most Nigerians from the South, anybody above ridge of the Benue is a “northerner” – Ndi-Hausa – as the Igbo used to say. They were lazy cattle-rearers, and illiterate.

They were generally all religious fanatics. In more recent times, they are the trouble with Nigeria, since “they” have “ruled” Nigeria for much of its postcolonial years. This means, only the northerners have caused Nigeria’s troubles and dragged us all back because of the North’s absolute lack of commitment to Nigeria, and their absolute lack of know-how about how to govern a modern nation.

This is absolutely false. It is as false as the general image in the mind of other Nigerians of the Yoruba – whom I have been told, even by so-called educated and, you might think, sophisticated Nigerians, as “dirty, fun-loving, corrupt and clannish.” This too is absolute nonsense. It is as nonsensical as the image of the Igbo whom many Nigerians see as money-grabbing, greedy, and lawless.

In the past, it was the Igbo who were often described as “clannish.” But that aspect of their national character has been displaced by the Yoruba in the popular Nigerian imagination. It is clear that Nigerians hardly or genuinely know each other.

Every minority from the south is the “Niger delta” – oppressed, and blameless; a victim of Nigeria’s cruel majority ethnic groups. This, of course, is not true. Very key members of the minority groups – north and south – have been complicit in the Nigerian crisis. Minorities have also governed as Heads of the government of Nigeria – Balewa, Gowon and Babangida. Now, Jonathan, is a Southern minority. The image of the southern minorities has been the result of the certain fervour of the Nigerian media which has basically also made the “minorities” question a regional question rather than a situation of human injustice.

There are religious minorities in many places; there are ethnic minorities. For instance, if you have one thousand Yoruba or Efik or Hausa people living in Owerri with an overwhelming Igbo population, they constitute a minority population irrespective of where they come from.

If you have ten Igbo living in Obubra, the Igbo are minority irrespective of their general or putative number in Nigeria. There are other kinds of minorities: paraplegics for instance are minorities. There is a Lebanese-Nigerian minority living in Kano and Ibadan, and such places. These minority populations have questions which ought to be fully addressed with the context of the polity. How we treat the infirm and the weak define the quality of our consciousness.

Those too have rights and ought to be protected by law where the provisions of law are inadequate. But I was talking about this divide – the national divide that makes Nigeria schizophrenic. I have had cause to enter very furious and testy debates on the question of Nigeria with regards to its imbalances. First let me say that the current talk by many southerners that the North, especially through the military ran Nigeria and underdeveloped it is false.

The closer truth is that a very complex alliance of business interests from the North and the South, with their international banking and security links ran Nigeria, and continues to run Nigeria. The ordinary northerner – Hausa or Fulani or Berom or even Tiv – has not benefited in any significant way from the so-called rule of Northerners. Individual northerners and southerners have benefited in immense ways, from their close associations and links with power, and we must pay heed to this fact.

The perplexing level of hatred we promote about each other has made it impossible for Nigerians –North and South – to take ownership of their nation, and to establish a clear reason for taking this country beyond its origin as a contraption of the British. Let me of course say that we have unburied ghosts: the Igbo still feel betrayed by the massive loss of lives from the pogroms and the civil war, and to the various religious riots in which they were targeted.

The image of the North of Nigeria as the hotbed of religious fanaticism and intolerance persists. In the northern mind, the South exists as a greedy, troublesome, cunning, oppressive and inhospitable lot. The South sees the North as a useless drainpipe on Nigeria.

They view the North from the prism that shows us its indolent elite or rulers. There are many truths in the broad canvas of images, but there are also many norths as there are many souths. Nigeria is made of people – complex and varied: kind, cruel, greedy, industrious; the zealot and the one of measured faith.

Nigeria’s diversity is both rich and troubling. There are currently serious separatists movements, North and south, and we all think that each of us keep the other from a certain manifest destiny

There may be truth in all that. But there is also truth in the possibility of what might become Nigeria if it is truly and properly governed. The evolution of modern Nigeria must come with our overcoming these forms of estrangements and a willingness to deal with the question of power – for at the core of the Nigerian crisis is the question of power: who has it and who does what with it. Perhaps we might learn something from Kenyans this week, who went peacefully to the polls to vote for a reduction in the power of the president.

Perhaps Nigerians must place this question of executive power before a ballot. Nigeria must also come to terms with the other issues of political reform: a restructuring of the nation into six regions to reduce both the cost of administering Nigeria, and to create serious institutions, stronger and more competitive than the current postage-stamp sized states that drain the national wealth through unnecessary administrative costs.

Nigeria also needs a new kind of leadership. As analysts follow the current elections, two candidates seem immediately viable: the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, and former military head of state, Mr. Muhamadu Buhari, a retired Major-General of the Nigerian Army. Nigerians must ignore the North-South question in making their choice. Let us examine each of these men by the contents of their character and the quality of their service.

Goodluck Jonathan is highly educated – a research scientist, and also from the Niger Delta – a region which makes a claim for a historical debt owed to it by Nigeria. Buhari comes with a past of stern and disciplined leadership, although there are those who claim that there many chips in his armour. Perhaps many more might emerge for this race. Nigerians owe it to themselves to hold each man who comes to serve to account for their past, and for their vision of the future.

The question of North and South – the inchoate binary that symbolizes our discontent with each other and with this inheritance from the British called Nigeria – must come close a bit. This is the year of our jubilee. Let it be the year of our renewal too. Whoever wins in this election must convene a conference of the nations in search of healing and reconciliation. Otherwise there will be no point wasting our time.

Knife-edge power struggle

By Ocherome Nnanna, Vanguard

THE issue of zoning: to be or not to be, is now being taken away from the discussion or debate level. The two sides to the dispute: the South-South and the conservative section of the Northern political class, are now sabre-rattling. They are mobilising their instruments of intimidation with a view to coercing the nation to succumb to their respective demands.
In the South-South, apart from the unanimous decision of the six states there to support President Goodluck Jonathan’s undeclared bid for the presidency, the ex-commanders of the militant cartels have, after series of meetings, issued a warning that there would be war of Jonathan is frightened out of the presidential race.

On the other hand, following the voting by 10 to seven in favour of zoning by the Northern Governors’ Forum last week, the hawkish Northern conservatives have become more emboldened to raise the stakes and force the nation to make a Northerner the president of Nigeria in 2011.

According to a story published in the Monday issue of Vanguard newspapers, a prominent traditional and religious leader from the North West has been enlisted to, in effect, incite the people of the North by telling them that if Jonathan becomes president next year in spite of their agitation their land, culture and religion would be “jeopardised”.

I hope this is just one of those harmless newspaper speculations. If it is true that this unnamed foremost traditional ruler has allowed himself to be roped into this dangerous regional game that could threaten the future of this nation, then we really have to watch it.

It will be a matter of considerable shock to me if, indeed, the royal father thusly described will allow himself to be enlisted by desperate politicians to meddle directly in the affairs of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), whose zoning arrangement is at issue.

It will be surprising because since he ascended to the throne of his ancestors a few years ago, he has been a major bridge builder across the various divides of this beleaguered country. People like us have already started looking up to him to call in the dogs when things begin to get out of hand.

It will be a pity if it is the dogs now calling him to join their regional army where a section of the North will be pitched in a winner-takes-all war of nerves with a section of the South.

When traditional rulers who also represent religious authority become involved in a mundane issue such as the zoning controversy, the danger is that very soon the masses will be called to action, especially in a volatile environment such as Northern Nigeria. More dangerous than that is that the military could become negatively affected by primordial sentiment and intervene in a way that could lead to the Somalia, Sudan, Congo, Liberia, Burundi and Rwanda scenarios.

Our royal fathers and the clergy should keep out of the politics of PDP in their own interest and that of the nation. Let them remember our history and be cautioned by the famous Yoruba adage that says the person who rides the tiger will surely end up in its belly, as tigers are not meant to be ridden like horses. Let them also be warned by another popular Yoruba proverb that says the person who crowns the king is often the first to be destroyed by the king.

The masquerade you dressed up could turn its cane on you first. If it is true that first class traditional rulers are enlisting in the army of the political desperados, let them be reminded that it was these same people who, while in military uniform, deposed and enthroned Sultans of Sokoto at will. They brought down the prestige of that institution and demystified it.

It is only the noble efforts of Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III that is gradually restoring the Sultanate.
We should dump this zoning noisemaking and encourage all interested aspirants to elected office to tell us how they intend to repair Nigeria to enable us choose who to vote for. That is what we want to hear. This land belongs to all of us.

We all have religions and cultures we are proud of and will defend if need be. We will not be intimidated by anyone. If zoning is all that politicians have to talk about they should shut up and take a walk.

For Jonathan, food for thought

ONE of my readers sent me this text message which I hereby share you. It says: “Nnanna, I woke up this morning to realise that no journalist has written on the failed attempt to kill President Jonathan! I read in The Punch newspaper few days ago that the President’s plane developed fault in the air. Nagging thoughts have since assailed my mind.

Supposed the plane had gone far and reached highest altitude before the discovery of the fault? Who checked the plane and certified it airworthy in Addis Ababa? Who in Nigeria checked and certified the plane fit for the journey?

When and how did the fault develop? Samora Machel of Mozambique was killed when his plane exploded in the air. General Zia Ul Haq of Pakistan was killed in a similar manner. The deaths of both presidents were planned and clinically executed.

They don’t want Jonathan to run for 2011 election and the man wants to contest. So, Jonathan is being targeted for elimination…”.

Let me translate an exhortation over Radio Biafra rendered in Igbo during the war. Jonathan will do well to heed it: Onye ndi iro gbara gburugburu na-eche ndu ya nche mgbe n’ile. Umu Biafra, onye arahul’ura! “He who is surrounded by enemies guards his life at all times. Biafrans, never fall asleep!”

Pomp as Ohakim Visited Lagos


Recently, Imo State Governor Ikedi Ohakim was hosted in Lagos by two Igbo groups. Charles Ajunwa who attended the events reports that the governor seized the opportunity to give account of his stewardship to Imo indigenes resident in Lagos

Two different Igbo organisations in Lagos, The Ndigbo Lagos and Imo State Towns Development Association (ISTDAL), recently hosted Imo State governor, Ikedi Ohakim in Lagos. The events had political colouration as they were held, one week after Ohakim secured a landmark victory at the Supreme Court in the protracted suit instituted against him by his opponent in the 2007 governorship election, Chief Martin Agbaso who is the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

During his meeting with members of Ndigbo Lagos which was attended by important personalities like Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd), Nigeria’s former Ambassador to United States of America, Chief George Obiozor, Prof. Anya O. Anya, Prof. Green Nwankwo, President, Ndigbo Lagos, Chief Chris Eze and many others. Ohakim who was still basking in the eupheria of his legal victory, explained his administration’s activities in the past three years.
He said that he had to battle not less than 24 court cases and 348 petitions written against him. Beside, he said that there were six fire incidents at the Government House, two attempts at his life and 150 articles planted in various news media, aimed at pulling him down.

The governor, who was accompanied by his commissioners and other personal aides, said for Igbos to achieve their manifest destiny, they have to come together, noting that the structure of Nigeria as presently constituted, doesn’t favour an Igboman. Ohakim who lamented the none cooperation among Igbos, said presently, there are 18 requests for state creation in the South-east zone.

According to Ohakim, this development doesn’t augur well for the South-east in its aspiration to have an additional state created in the zone.
On the menace of kidnapping in the South-east, Ohakim said that the five South-east governors are working together to ensure that the criminal act is nipped in the bud.
According to him, the governors have met with President Goodluck Jonathan on the issue of kidnapping adding that their decision not to participate in the 2011 presidential election was premised on the need to provide adequate security for the people of the zone.

“ Between 1999 to 2007 the whole five governors from Igboland were all presidential candidates. They continue to fight among themselves,none of them attracted one kobo project to Igboland from the Federal Government. They were only concerned with taking their campaigns from Yola to Maidugiri while Igboland was suffering.
“Because we are working together we decided that five of us, irrespective of party’s lineage should stay together because if one of us start to contest presidential election it will destroy Igboland. Others can contest but five of us signed memorandum of understanding not to contest, that we will stay together to find solution to Igbo problems. That, when any contestant comes to us, we will give him conditions on the projects he will do in Igboland if elected as president,” he said.

On allegation of multiple taxation against Igbos doing business in Lagos, Ohakim said when he discussed the matter with his counterpart in Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, he assured him that there was nothing like multiple taxation in Lagos. He also said that Fashola assured him that Igbos in Lagos are being carried along in the scheme of things by his administration.
Speaking on the resignation of the former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, Ohakim while denying having any hand in matter said that the former chairman resigned on his own to enable him face his case in the court. He said that he has a lot of respect for Ogbulafor saying that Ogbulafor was one of those that convinced him to return back to PDP from the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA).

“He resigned in order to go and face his matter in the court. We are still best friends and I don’t have anything against him”. he said.
Speaking at a civic reception held in his honour at the National Stadium, Surulere, Ohakim said his government is working tirelessly to fulfill all his promises to Imo people, despite the litigation distraction which his government had encountered.

“You are aware that in the last three years, the government and people of Imo State have been subjected to sustained distraction through serial litigations. But we thank God that we have put all that behind us now. My plea is that you do not ever join those who insist on destabilizing Imo State. Do not let anybody deceive you with rumours and disinformation about what is happening in the state.

“I am proud to say that notwithstanding the distractions, we have done well for Imo State. But let me quickly say that we owe our astounding success in the past three years to your unflinching support for our programmes and policies. It was not easy at the beginning. Some of our programmes initially brought inconveniences to our citizens but you showed a remarkable understanding knowing that the pain was only temporary.” Ohakim declared.

Having encountered a pletora of problems when he assumed office in plathora Ohakim said that he confronted the problems with his initiative of the New Face of Imo. According to him, the people of Imo deserve change of attitude, values, new kind of politics, courageous, purposeful and determined leadership capable of linking Imo to national and global network to create economy that provides opportunities for self-actualization.

Ohakim said in three years that his administration reclaimed the environment from degrading filth and illegal structures. “We opened up our state through massive road construction and rehabilitation; we rehabilitated abandoned and dilapidated infrastructures;we rehabilitated 200 water schemes across the state;we revamped our agriculture, we improved our healthcare system drastically reducing infant and maternal death;we provided better security through the operation Festival;we restructured transportation in our capital, Owerri by phasing out commercial motorcycles and introducing modern buses, taxis and tricycles,” he said.

Continuing, Ohakim said that his government took definite steps to redeem the educational system in the state by returning 44 schools to the missionaries adding that more schools will be returned to their various owners. Apart from bringing the Nigerian Stock Exchange to Owerri, Ohakim said his government had also enhanced the administration of justice in the state by rehabilitating the courts and attracting a Federal Court of Appeal to Owerri, which he said had improved the welfare of judicial officers in the state.
The state government, according to Ohakim, reformed the local government administration system. “Today, the local governments have assets in excess of N11 billion,” adding “we reduced community disputes and brought peace to our people.”

He said workers in the state were paid the new minimum wage in addition to 15 per cent increment to their wages. “We reduced the huge pension arrears of over N4.7 billion we met at the inception of this administration as well as contractor debts.
“In three years, we achieved all these feats even in the wake of global economic meltdown and grossly reduced resources. Yet, in three years, we have not retrenched workers in Imo State. This is because we have blocked all avenues of free funds for political jobbers, contract scams, looting and misappropriation of the resources of our state,” Ohakim said.
Though he said there were desperate efforts by some citizens of the state to truncate the cordial relationship his administration maintains with the central government through frivolous petitions, Ohakim said a lot of projects have been attracted from the Federal Government.

He said that the Elele-Owerri road dualization worth N25 billion, the Oguta sea port worth N15 billion, a Naval Base at Oguta worth N20 billion, the Ishinweke-Onich Uboma Road worth N5 billion, the NDDC Ukwuoji-Ehime Road worth N3 billion, two power sub-stations at Aboh Mbaise and Ideator South worth N7 billion, MDG projects worth over N2 billion and RAMP FG/World Bank project worth over US $60 million were all attracted into Imo State from the Federal Government.
Ohakim who promised that there are better days ahead, said to achieve more glories for the state, all citizens should continue to support his government by investing at home, no matter how small the project is.

“We shall count on you to contribute in raising the Internally Generated Revenue of the state by paying ground rents and re-certifying the documents of your landed property in Imo State and assisting those at home to pay taxes. We shall continue to count on you to be peace makers in your communities. You must ensure that youths in your community do not join the criminal gangs as robbers or kidnappers. I shall not hesitate to sign the death warrant as provided by law, if anyone was convicted of kidnapping in the state,” Ohakim declared.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My intention is to contribute to the writing of the romance genre in Nigeria – Myne Whitman


By McPhillips Nwachukwu, Vanguard

Myne Whitman is a Nigerian born and United States based writer, poet and blogger. Recently, she came out with her first novel, A Heart To Mend, a fictional narrative, which seeks to revive the fading romance form in nation’s narrative oeuvre. In this e-mail interview, the novelist, Nkem Okotcha, who prefers to write with the Pen name, Myne Whitman, a transliteration of her real names, brilliantly and critically responds to some engaging issues raised from the deep journey around her narrative universe. She spoke to McPhilips Nwachukwu.

Nkem, tell me about yourself, about your world of childhood and growing up and how the experiences helped to shape your adult visions?

I am a Nigerian blogger, writer and poet. I am also the author of A Heart to Mend, my first novel. I live in Seattle with my husband and write full time. I write mostly romance and love poems though recently I have been trying my pen at literary short stories. I am currently working on my next novel, also a romance. ..

I was born at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu, Nigeria and I grew up in that city till my middle secondary school. I attended Ekulu Primary School, Queens School Enugu, Special Science School Agulu and Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka.

I remember as a child studying a lot, reading everything I could lay my hands on, and then trying to play the rest of the time. My mother was a school teacher and my father worked for the electoral commission, so the love of reading and education came from them and from the environment of Enugu, which is a part an academic and civil service city.

This early background made me very cosmopolitan because I went to school with people from all across the country and outside. Reading a lot makes me sometimes come across as quiet but I do like a good loud debate too, having watched my father and his friends talk politics and football. In three words, I will describe myself as friendly, caring and fun-loving. I realized early on through books that it was possible to be whoever and do whatever you wanted to do. I learnt to stretch my wings even further when I first left the country. I have been a teacher, NGO consultant, banker, skate-hire attendant, and researcher and have worked for the government both in Nigeria and Scotland.

Your real name is Nkem, which in Igbo means Mine. Etymologically , nkem in Igbo pre-supposes both affection, if you like, deep love and possession. And also the title of your work is A Heart to Mend. What have names got to do with your story and whose heart is being mended?

LOL…let me say here that none of my characters is based on me or anyone I know in particular but on a cumulative of my experience. My name has nothing to do with the story, and as you can see I did not even publish under my real name. That said, I love my name and what it means. There is a longer form of course, but I have been called the short form for as long as I can remember by everyone around me including my parents. It was funny when, as I grew older, I realized that it was also a term of romantic endearment between couples.

In A Heart to Mend, the hearts being mended are those of my characters, Edward and Gladys. They’re just people of my imaginings, though since I try to make my stories as real as possible, they also share our fears and hopes, our victories and our pain. Some people say they seem free from some of the usual constraints we real persons face, but if you look closely, you may even recognize one or more of them. For these readers who also identify with the book and the themes/characters in it, I hope their hearts will be mended too.

At another level, locations have a way of affecting one’s state of mind and heart. How has both your home and diaspora experiences helped in shaping the tenor of this narrative?

The narrative of A Heart to mend is very instinctive, you know, from my heart and from my head too. I believe my writing has been shaped more from growing up in Nigeria than the few years I have lived outside the country. You should bear in mind that I am practically a novice at writing. I entered this writing business, really, from outside. My entire background has been in sciences; I studied biological science for my first degree, then public health research for my masters. I’ve never had any formal training in writing. So what I write is from my own personal makeup, and less from what I have picked up in writing books and online courses, which go more toward the craft.

Who I am, my identity, has been more influenced by my Nigerian experience. There was so much to draw from especially in terms of storytelling. There were so many books around me, from the children’s stories in Sugar Girl, Eze goes to school, born with a Silver Spoon, etc to Pacesetters and through to the African Writers Series.

There were also the soaps we watched like Checkmate and ripples and of course Nollywood. The western worldview crept in not through my time outside Nigeria but via the works of Enid Blyton, the Lady Bird fairytales, Mills & Boon, James Hadley Chase and the movies I saw, from both Hollywood and Bollywood. I always had that storytelling instinct, and through all these channels, I always looked for the story. So now, when I write, what I do is to find the kernel of a story and then tell it.

Why did you write A Heart To Mend ?

First and foremost I wanted to write a story of love and finding oneself. I also felt that there were not enough romance novels set in contemporary Nigeria, and that I could do something to change that. Therefore, a lot of these themes in A Heart to Mend are motivated by events or stories I’ve heard or read about in real life Nigeria of the last few years. The characters and issues dealt with in the book are therefore meant to be relevant for contemporary life and relationships.

Again, I have always been intrigued by the principle of unconditional love. When I started reading the Mills and Boon Romance novels as a young adult, their stories had a big influence on me and my writing. My imagined and written stories changed from adventures to romance. So now that I decided on full time writing, I was moved to go back to that genre.

In a world that is plagued by unquantified hate tendencies, with wars and rumours of war becoming familiar ring tones. Tell me, from where does one begin to mend afflicted hearts?

I agree with you about the sort of world we live in nowadays. This stress of this tumultuous life has indeed led to many people experiencing heartbreak in one form or the other. In my opinion, one can begin to mend these broken hearts through talking or writing about love.

Romance novels are all about love, in its various manifestations: between parents and their children, between siblings and most importantly, between a man and a woman. As so many songs say, love is truly beautiful and it does make the world go around. When one strips basic human behavior to its barest form, you find that we’re all looking for love in one way or another.

You might be surprised that what you wrote as a simple romantic form is giving rise to some socio political reading. But seriously, can there be a real love story in what seems to be a hopeless and hate inhabited world?

Yes there can. In a romance novel, the two major characters cannot develop satisfying, romantic relationships between each other unless they have some understanding of love. The love story starts from when they lack love but desire it for themselves to when they have full knowledge of it and their lives have been changed. It is the same in real life.

Also, if we say there can be no love stories, do we mean that all the people that get married everyday do not love each other? I don’t think this is so. Therefore, love and romance give hope and makes life worth living. Love is the only way to overcome hate and hopelessness.

By the way, I understood that your story is set in Nigeria. And from the reviews I have read about the novel, it does appear that the entire tapestry and universe of the story is Nigeria and about Nigerians. What are your intentions in doing this?

The primary intention was to contribute to the writing of the romance genre in Nigerian literature. I grew up reading books like Evbu, My Love of the Pacesetters fame, written by Helen Ovbiagele but they disappeared along the line. There has been a sort of renaissance in the writing and book publishing industry in Nigeria and I wanted to add my voice in a unique way.

May be home sickness? you want to use the narrative thread to heal home nostalgia?

Well, I won’t deny that I get homesick for Nigeria and my family and friends back here but my writing is not about that. I have been writing long before I relocated which was just a few years ago and I know that I can always visit when I want. The nostalgia that has a hand in my writing has to be that of reading books set in Nigeria and written by Nigerians. I read a lot of those and I want the younger generation to have that experience too which I believe is a good one, even as we talk about rebranding Nigeria and recreating a positive national identity.

One would have really expected to read your Diaspora experience about love. Don’t you think it is high time African writers began to write trans Atlantic narratives?

Of course there are African writers who write about their diaspora narrative. For example, a lot of the short stories in Chimamanda Adichie’s collection, This thing Around Your Neck, are from her immigrant experience in America or a fictionalized version of it. Several other writers, including Seffi Atta, Teju Cole and Jude Dibia have also explored the theme in their novels.

The truth is that each writer has to seek for a voice that matches their world view and mine, as I have come to see, comes out best writing about Nigeria and Nigerians. That said however, the narrative in A Heart to Mend, has the major characters travelling between Nigeria, London and New York.

That was exactly what classic hate writers of Europe like Joseph Conrad, Joyce Cary, Ridder Haggard and their brothers did in such novels like Heart of Darkness, Mister Johnson, King Solomon’s Mine, She among others. Is there anything wrong about writing back to them, through such experiences as yours?

Such Experiences as mine? LOL…I don’t understand what you mean by that o. My experiences in the United Kingdom and the States have been quite good. Apart from that, my novels are not autobiographies, so it’s not about me. Also, I do not write to add to the hate and discrimination in the world but to add love and romance. For now, I will leave political writing and rebuttals of racism to others who choose to do so.

Also I choose to go forward instead of backwards. You see, those writers you mentioned wrote for the days they lived in and I believe the world as a whole has moved on from those days. I read Rider Haggard’s king Solomon’s Mines and She as a teenager and they were basically adventure stories. Of course the rise of the civil rights movement in America in the sixties and seventies meant that those writers received a lot of flak for their portrayal of Africans in their books. Chinua Achebe wrote “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” in 1975 as a response to Joseph Conrad. All this was before I was born.

How’s the novel doing in terms of reception?

A Heart to Mend has been very well received indeed as the mails continue to pour in from different parts of the world. One of the advantages of Authorhouse as a self-publishing company is that they have a very wide reach. So A Heart to mend is available from Canada, to the United States, England, India, and from South Africa and Indonesia to Australia. The publishers called me recently to encourage me to hurry up with my second book because they want us to ride the wave this one is creating. I told them that this is just the beginning, lol…

To what extent has the new communication media of facebook, twitter and blogging helped in promoting the novel?

Having a blog, (which recently won several awards including Blog of the Year at the Nigerian Blog Awards) really helped me in my writing especially with the feedback and critique I got from my readers. The fact is that the world has come to terms with the internet age and other less conventional means of getting a book to an audience are beginning to take root. Talk about eBooks, kindles and Nooks and other such technology.

Also my blog was part of the reason I decided to publish. I had such a loyal following that I wanted to give them a chance to read the complete story. Most of them had been following it on my blog and were very supportive. It was through the support of fellow bloggers that I did my first blog tour and all the publicity that came with that. After that I joined Facebook and Twitter and the following has been growing since.

What is your program for the novel for the home market?

A Heart to Mend had a public presentation in Lagos in April and was very well received. There has been several articles and features in the daily Newspapers in the country since then and the Nigerian Publishers are doing their best with the distribution. So far they are very happy with the reception the book has been getting. They have fans calling them up or metting them half way in order to get the book. A lot of them had found out about the book online from my blog, Youtube, Facebook or Twitter.

The book is currently available in several cities including Lagos, Ibadan, Ife, Abuja, Maiduguri, Onitsha, Port Harcourt and some Nigerian online resellers like,,, among others. I get emails from some people who have read it praising it and asking for more.

A governor, clapping with one hand

By Obi Nwakanma, The Orbit/Vanguard

A reader of this column sent me a note last week thanking me for bringing the situation in Imo state to light, and for being in what he calls “informed opposition.” I did thank him, but I made it clear that I’m not in opposition to Ohakim. I am a critic of the government that he leads.

An opposition is an organized platform – a sort of government in waiting – with its alternative programs and ideas in clear distinction from the government of the day in a democracy. Sometimes they draw critical insights from informed sources to canvas their position among the electorate. But there is no opposition in Imo state. There is political opportunism. That is why the Imo state government is looking, and increasingly sounding surreal and weird.

We grew up in the East as the inheritors of fine examples of robust and dynamic leadership that saw Nnamdi Azikiwe straddling the African imagination like a force of nature, or men like Michael Iheonukara Okpara, whose leadership of the East remains without compare. While the Igbo was riding the crest of development and progress from 1957 to 1967, it felt like the rest of Nigeria could not touch its political helms, what with such colorful and eponymous names among its leaders: Akanu Ibiam, educator and missionary doctor, who approached public service with the instincts of a missionary.

Denis Osadebe – poet and brilliant legal mind, whose parliamentary skills were legendary. K.O. Mbadiwe – man of timbre and caterpillar, not only full of rhetoric and bombast, but also full of purpose. A first class political strategist and negotiator who knew his personal interest alright, but never messed with the group interest, for always, the group was the basis of their politics. There was Mbonu Ojike, brilliant economic thinker of his generation, whose early death robbed the Igbo and Nigeria greatly.

There was Nwafor Orizu; there was Jaja Wachukwu, there was Eni Njoku, there was Nwapa, there was Reuben Uzoma; there was Raymond Amanze Njoku, and there were numerous others, any of whom could have, were they born in any other clime, led any nation politically. I have said that perhaps the divine author of things played a terrible joke on the East and the Igbo particularly: he sent them a glut of first class men in one generation, and in a later generation gave them only burnt offering – political lilliputs whose conduct of politics insults the illustrious past of our 20th century political ancestors. Today, there is no memorable Igbo politician.

At the eventual passing of the great Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the last of the relay of great Igbo leaders of the 20th century, the Igbo of Nigeria will not have a single memorable political figure who could rally them to great political purpose. For a people whose leaders were at the fore of the independence movement, this would be a great lesson in irony. The irony was made most poignant in the ring-kissing visit of Ikedi Ohakim, governor of Imo state, last week to Raji Fashola, governor of Lagos state.

The highlights of that visit mark Mr. Ohakim, not only as a second fiddler, but also as a governor without a clear social or economic program, who does not deserve to be re-elected in the forthcoming elections as the governor over a great state like Imo. We must help him return him quickly to his personal business in Lagos, where he says Governor Raji Fashola has made the lives of the Igbo residents worth living and Igbo businesses secure. “I have come to greet a great man, so that I too will be great” said Ikedi Ohakim to Raji Fashola in Lagos.

It sounds cute and gracious. But it also sounds like the servile declaration of a hopeful almajirin to his lordly benefactor. Ohakim was recently paid the left-handed compliment of the Sarduana Award for leadership. It is therefore not surprising from where Ikedi Ohakim draws his inspirations and examples: not from the great Zik or Okpara or Mbakwe. The trouble is that he is on his way to leading Imo state to beggarly ruin.

True, Fashola stays in Lagos and directs its transmutation from a vast slum, while Ohakim gallivants, paying courtesy visits, and spouting strange excuses for his lack of achievement. Once, his excuse was that his opponents had stymied his mandate in court with litigation, and his hands were tied. Now, the Supreme Court has declared him governor, no such excuse is valid any longer.

Now it is revenue: while Lagos has all the revenue, Ohakim says, Imo has all the ideas. This is poppycock of course. Across the fence in Enugu, we see slow but apparent change. Imo is richer in revenue and resources than Enugu. But Enugu has greater purpose. Governor Ohakim needs now to account for the revenue accruing to Imo state in the last three years-plus of his administration. There is no evidence of infrastructural investment. There is, of course, a lot of hot talk about really hot plans to build Oguta and Nworie into tourist utopia.

There is nothing on the ground. There is much talk about rural roads. I went round Imo state last year, I saw only signposts proposing IRROMA. The road from Owerri to Umuahia, much touted as dualized, and commissioned by the late president Yar Adua, is in fact a glorified dirt road, not expanded, but divided with concrete barriers into a narrow two way macadam. Every school and hospital I visited in Imo state was in profound stages of decay. The main city, Owerri, is overcrowded and has lost the serenity of which Owerri was once known because of serious code violations.

There is no evidence of new plans to recreate the city, or build new well developed counties and satellites, or even invest in new urban centers like Orlu, Okigwe, Oguta or the Ahiara-Aboh conurbation. At the office of the Owerri Capital Development Authority, there was nothing left but two old earth-movers, and a huge sign. There was an overwhelming sense of insecurity in Imo State – I had never felt more unsafe in my life.

The greatest development in Owerri is “Keke Napep” and the vast number of posters advertising Governor Ohakim colourfully. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that Ikedi Ohakim was playing hoochie with Imo state. It has possibly to do with the party – the PPA with which he came to power in Imo state – which was some sort of ersatz arrangement foisted between Olusegun Obasanjo and Orji Uzor-Kalu on the East. It had no ideas.

But it also seems to me that much has to do with Mr. Ohakim’s own limitations: his servility to the golden calf of self-imagery for instance. I take again from Ohakim’s statement to Raji Fashola to highlight my concern: “people came from the Lagos” Ohakim said, and asked the Igbo to invest in the stock market. The crash of the stock market, he claims is the cause of the kidnapping in the South-East because Igbo lost their investment.

Ohakim is wrong on several fronts, but let me quickly say that the crime situation in the South-East is connected to the rapid impoverishment and alienation of a critical segment of the population as a result of the inability of government to provide social programs that would cushion the harsh economic environment, stimulate re-investment, create opportunities for young entrepreneurs and expand the growth of the job market both at the public and private sectors.

What does Imo do with its federal allocations? What is its exact tax base? Perhaps it is time the people themselves – long used to indolence and quiet desperation -get some backbone, and demand for accounting for the use of public funds, through either establishing an independent citizens auditing of the state’s finances or through the auditing oversight of its House of Assembly – which seems consistently complicit with the executive arm.

It is time to stop our governor panhandling from Lagos; time to plug all the leaks through which public funds disappear. In short, it is time to get the priorities right in Imo state. It is time for this governor to stop clapping with one hand and get some serious work done.