ktravula – a travelogue!

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A Failure All Around

This is the concluding portion of a three-part report on the demolition of Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar. The preceding long form reports can be found here (1, and 2).


One wonders how monuments are made in other places. Are they merely declared into existence or is active work usually done to make sure that the structures fulfil the physical role into which they have been designated? In the United States, when a building or structure is declared a “National Historic Landmark”, it is handed over to the National Park Service who then maintains it from then on, in perpetuity. About half of the historic landmarks in the US are still privately owned while under maintenance by the Park Service. In the case of Ilọ́jọ̀ Bar, one more thing that has boggled the mind is how – in spite of how high the stakes were for its survival – no one deemed it fit to insure it against accidental or deliberate demolition. Notwithstanding what has now happened, one wonders how things would have been different if either the Federal Government (through NCMM), the state government (through relevant ministries), the Brazilian consulate which had put premium on it over the years, and private stakeholders (Legacy Group, family members), etc, had taken out a joint insurance policy over the building to the cost of its current market value pending the determination of its fate.


Ilọ́jọ̀ Bar in 1954. Source: family

Asked and Unanswered

Who applied for the demolition permit? Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé didn’t say. How much was paid for the demolition itself? He didn’t know either. But approval was received from LASPPA. Why was that decision taken to pull down the structure? I asked my host. “We had to,” he said. “As a free citizen of this country, we have the right to buy, sell, or hold onto our property however we want. And as you can see in the documents yourself, we had pretty much no choice. They want to paint us as criminals and it’s unfair. We were afraid that the threats that Fáshọlá’s letter implied will come to pass if we didn’t do anything. But we couldn’t do it without permission. We applied to the appropriate authority, and got permission to proceed.” And why were the contravention notices not shown to the NCMM for immediate action? “We showed them all of these letters,” he said. “You want to know why the NCMM didn’t confront the state about these? You’ll have to ask them.”

The NCMM had, it turned out, written to LABCA after all. In a letter dated June 7, 2013 (seen here) and signed by Mrs. E.O. Ekuke (Curator), the agency intimates the state about the status of the building as a monument. It also informs LABCA that “there is an on-going high powered collaborative effort to carry out a full restoration of the building by… Lagos State Government, the NCMM, the Ọláìyá family, the Brazilian Embassy, and the Legacy 95 Group (as restoration architects).” It further states that the status quo be maintained and that “the building should not be demolished nor its prominent features altered as a national monument.” Since LABCA isn’t talking, I have sent an email to the director of NCMM, Mr. Yusuf Abdallah Usman, whose recent statement “ordered” the restoration of the demolished building. Did LABCA respond to this letter from his office? He or his office has not responded. I also wanted to know how much the Commission had spent on that building since it was acquired* in 1956. The statement put out however presented an indirect indictment on several government agencies involved. It seemed, in short, like finger pointing in four pages.

While I talked with him on Sunday, Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé had started working with the family lawyer to put out a press release in order to counter the current negative narrative about his family. This has now been published in The Nation on September 28, 2016. He read a few lines to me in his house in which he defended the decision of the family and laid the blames squarely at the feet of all the government agencies concerned, particularly LABCA. And to prove the family’s long-term open line of communication with LABCA over the years, he also brought out two complimentary cards from officials of the Agency with whom he had been in contact on the matter over the years. “If they hadn’t talked to us, like they claim”, he said, “where did I get these from?” One was from an Engineer Kúnlé Làmídì (MNSE) and another from someone called “Bldr.” T.A. Adéoyè. (“Bldr” probably stands for “builder”). I asked Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé why he thinks the Agency had so far denied any knowledge of the demolition or of any permit asking the family to “remove” the building. “I don’t know,” he said. You will have to ask them that too. “I will,” I replied. “I’ve tried.”

The Other Descendants

On the afternoon of Monday, September 26, 2016, in the office of the curator at the National Museum, Oníkan, I met with Mr. Eric Adéremí Awóbuyìdé. He is the third son of Deborah Ọláyẹmí Awóbuyìde (nee Ọláìyá), who was one of the original twenty-one surviving children of the Patriarch Ọmọlọ́nà. Deborah, who grew up at Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar before leaving to marry into the Awóbuyìdé family, died in 1994, survived by seven children one of who was Eric. He was the third child. This makes him a cousin to Daniel Adébọ̀wálé and a nephew to Victor Abímbọ́lá. But they are not on speaking terms. Mr. Daniel, on Sunday, had said that Eric was the one who separated himself, along with his children, from the rest of the main family. To Eric, the Ọláìyá boys were the ones who had deliberately kept him out of the loop so they could benefit from the property alone. But he benefited himself too. He had an office in the property, which he was free to use as he saw fit. One of his daughters, according to Daniel Adébọ̀wálé, also operated a public toilet in the monument, which upset many members of the family.


Mr. Eric Adérẹ̀mí Awóbuyìdé at the National Museum. Face and form disguised at his request.

Now at 73 years old, Eric Adérẹ̀mí stands at about five feet and nine inches, a sharp contrast to his Ìkòròdú cousin who stood at six-two. The mental acuity of both men struck me as being quite impressive in spite of health challenges they both faced in their advanced age. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé had acknowledged that symptoms of arthritis in his limbs kept him from going out much these days. His cousin, without having to say it, exhibited some form of hearing impairment that made me have to repeat questions a number of times before they were comprehended. We were meeting for the first time, yet they had both spoken to me like a long lost friend, openly and without preconditions.

Eric had an earnest tone of voice that suggested that he also wanted his side of the story widely told. He has some free time now, he said, having retired in 2004 as a Principal Registrar of the Lagos State High Court. His son, Ọláṣùpọ̀, who operated a lottery centre in the building before it was demolished, had spoken to me for my last report, and facilitated this connection. “My father knows everything,” he had said. “Ask him.” In Eric’s hand was a leather folder containing sheaves of documents he had brought for my sake. “This” referring to the folder, “is my office now,” he said, “Since they demolished the office I had at Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar, I have had to carry this with me.”

Audible in the earnest firmness of his voice was a huge sense of loss at the fate of his grandfather’s house and their childhood home. He had created an office for himself in the building specifically to be able to keep an eye on the property. This, he said, had been helpful a number of times when the demolition would have taken place except for his timely intervention by confronting the invading developers and sometimes calling the police. He it was who first alerted the National Commission on Museums and Monuments of the existence of an existential threat to their grandfather’s property by some invading developers who he suspected had taken their orders from other members of his family too ashamed of their role to show their face at the demolition site. Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé had acknowledged that on Sunday as well, disapprovingly. Eric’s role was also referenced in the statement by Yusuf Abdallah Usman, the Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, dated September 11, 2016.

Approvals and Reversals

As we spoke, Eric brought out a series of documents each looking almost as new as when they were printed. Some of them I had seen before at his cousin’s Ìkòròdú home, like the contravention notices and the Demolition Permit approval. Some I was seeing for the first time, like the reversal of the demolition permit issued earlier in the year. This I had not prepared for. There was a reversal of the Demolition Permit!? Yes! The letter, dated July 19, 2016 and signed by one “Tpl.” Badéjọ H.O., expressed “regret” for having approved the earlier permit that gave a go-ahead to the demolition request by the family. It acknowledged that the building was indeed a federally designated monument and blamed the confusion that caused the initial permit to be issued on not being informed by whoever had applied for the demolition permit that the building was indeed a monument. All emphasis mine!

A second letter came on August 30th, 2016, this time from the governor’s office, signed by Agboolá Dábírí (the Special Adviser on Central Business Districts) and Fọ́lọ́runshọ́ Fọlárìn-Coker (Commissioner for Tourism, Arts & Culture). The letter, originally addressed to the Special Adviser, Urban Development, Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, requested that the Demolition Permit already in circulation, in the hands of the elders of the Ọláìyá family, be withdrawn. It also requested that “a public announcement” be made by the ministry “to the effect that the property is a national monument and is to be preserved as such.”

A third and most earnestly written letter was addressed to the newly-elected governor of the state, Mr. Akínwùnmí Ambọ̀dé. Signed by the same two state officials already mentioned above, and also dated August 30th, 2016, it detailed the status of the structure as a national monument, alerted him to the presence of a wrongly-given Demolition Permit already in circulation, and of the existence of “a portion of the Ọláìyá family… intent on redeveloping the property for commercial reasons”. The letter implored the governor to “consider the purchase of the property from the Ọláìyá family for overriding public interest”, immediately revoke the outstanding permit for demolition, and begin “maintenance works “to restore the property for conservation purposes.”

Eric, on getting the letters became slightly less worried, but not any less wary. Whoever would apply for a demolition permit under the name of his dead grandfather was up to no good, he thought. So he made copies of the new letters and the demolition permit reversal order, enlarged them, and pasted them all around the property to deter all intruders. To forestall a surprise attack, he also started arriving at his office at five-thirty in the morning and leaving as late as possible after surveying the area for signs of any demolition equipment. Nevertheless, during the last year, there were at least three near successful attempts to tear down the building. One of them occurred under the protection of military men of the Nigerian Armed Forces (photos below) and ended with one of the arches of the structure broken by the caterpillar’s hydraulic extractor arm. The attack was, still, successfully stalled by the help of the resident crowd and the Nigerian Police Area A Command Center at Lion Building nearby. But Eric Adérẹ̀mí Awóbuyìdé’s worry doubled. The distance to the police station on a day of clear traffic is about six minutes. But on most days when the Island was busy and full, it could take twenty minutes or more. Plenty could go wrong in that time. Still, he hoped that the new governor would heed the call of the letter, and relieve him of his worries. That never happened.

One of the earlier attempts at demolishing the building was captured by a passerby. The soldiers seen here had come to protect those intending to demolish the building. They were repelled in the end by a crowd of concerned residents led by Eric Awóbuyìdé and eventually the Nigerian Police. Photo source: Eric Awóbuyìdé.

One of the earlier attempts at demolishing the building was captured by a passerby. The soldiers seen here had come to protect those intending to demolish the building. They were repelled in the end by a crowd of concerned residents led by Eric Awóbuyìdé and eventually the Nigerian Police. Photo source: Eric Awóbuyìdé.

The conversation, over an hour long, went into many tangents many for which I already had corroboration. When we were done, I asked him what he would want now, going forward. What would he want to happen? He looked wistful. “I’m Awóbuyìdé”, he said. “The male children of Ọláìyá and their sons have decided how they want the family to be run, and it is unfortunate. I’ve told Victor Ọláìyá to back off. He is a trumpeter. What does a trumpeter know about law and real estate?” He seemed really peeved by what he thought was a betrayal by his famous uncle. “When my grandfather looks back at us, he would see that I tried my best to protect his property! I can’t say the same for his children,” he said, and continued: “What I would hope for is that whoever did this should be shamed and prosecuted. The governor is culpable. We have to prosecute him too. I blame him for everything. He knows something. He could have stopped this if he wanted to. He wanted this to happen. Please print this on the front pages, with a good picture of my grandfather’s house. I want Buhari to see it. I want the whole world to read about it.”

Another photo from the earlier invasion feauting the same caterpiller and armed soldiers. Source: Eric Awóbuyìdé

Another photo from the earlier demolition attempt featuring the same caterpillar that eventually pulled it down. On this day, Eric said, a part of the building was damaged before the invasion was rebuffed. Source: Eric Awóbuyìdé

He continued, “I would also wish that nobody else be allowed to build anything else on that spot. Turning it into a public recreation park would be more acceptable to me than a stupid plaza,” he concluded.

The Last Days of Ilọ́jọ̀ Bar

When the building, once known as Casa do Fernandez, was bought in 1933 by Alfred Ọmọlọ́nà Ọláìyá, it cost £2500. By 1956 when, as Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar, it was “acquired”* by the Colonial Government as a national monument, it must have cost perhaps double that value. Three and a half weeks ago, while it still stood in its home spot, anything from 50 million (£122,695) to 200 million naira (£490,780) would have been needed just to restore the structure back to a decent habitable state, which is close enough to the current value of the piece of land of that size alone in Lagos Island.


Ilọ́jọ̀ Bar, left, in its heyday. Source: Asiri Magazine

At some point in the past when the conversations among the stakeholders (State Government, NCMM, Brazilian Embassy, Legacy Group, and the Ọláìyá Family) went well, a sum of thirty million naira (£73,346) of the targeted fundraising was proposed as payment to the Oláìyá family as a token for their gifting of the structure to a national/artistic/cultural purpose. That money was never raised, of course. The gala planned to facilitate the it never took place. Perhaps because of the transition from one state administration to another, perhaps because of a lack of interest in the value of history, perhaps because of a terrible misunderstanding between agents of government, perhaps because of an administration’s interest in the cosmetics of new real estate projects than the value of old ones, or perhaps because of an incompetence or malice that reaches to the high levels of our government, the story ends in a tragedy.

In real figures, a structure as this which marked the history of more than just an extended family of a rich businessman, but that of a city and a country, is invaluable. It had more than money could buy. By the end of Sunday, September 11th, 2016, a permanent scar was created, not just on the soil, but on the soul of a country, leaving a putrid trail of shame in the hands of more than just a handful of people and government agencies. An officer of the National Museum, on being alerted that the demolition was about to start that Sunday morning, began calling the police officers who had, on other occasions, come promptly and stopped the intruders before damage was done. On this day however they had other things to do unless material incentive was provided. “We asked them to come and at least stop the intruders first, and ask for money later, but we were not successful”, he told me, choosing to remain anonymous. “It was too late… and we don’t have the power to forcefully summon the police to our use – as much as that would have helped.”

A diesel-operated CAT 320 caterpillar with a hydraulic extractor arm had arrived at Number 2, Bámgbóṣe Street since the day dawned. That morning, as daylight began, while Lagos Island stayed calm, enjoying a well-deserved holiday, the menacing machine roared to life.


* It turns out that Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar may not have been properly acquired as a monument either. According to Mr. Daniel Adérẹ̀mi Ọláìyá, the structure was “acquired” in mouth only, with no material compensation to the occupants nor a mutual agreement on resettlement options. This, he said, nullified such an acquisition by the British Colonial Administration, and subsequent civilian and military administrators of the country who had laid claim to the structure over the years.

When I inquired about this from the Legacy Group, who has now started an online petition to have the building built back to exact dimensions (they have the drawings, after all), the response was “Yes… [the family] should have been compensated outright, or with a share of profits made from the proposed tourism function of the building.” It would be helpful to get clarification from officials of the National Commission on Museums and Monuments about just what responsibility that agency had and how it fulfilled it over the years, to Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar, its owners, the state government on whose land the property stood, and to the country at large.

Officials from LABCA or LASPPPA never did respond to any of my requests.

Update: (October 4, 2016) In a call to me on October 4, the officials who I’d spoken with on my visit to the organisation complained that I’d painted them in my writing as being “uncooperative” when, according to them, they had been sufficiently helpful by telling me to “hold on” while the issue was “being investigated”. I responded, as I do now, that public interest wasn’t been served by their obvious stonewalling. I do not hold them, these public relations officials, responsible for anything here other than failing to connect me with their bosses and failing to have official on-the-record responses. They were quite friendly and helpful otherwise, and I thank them for talking to me. But the record showed that their bosses who were clearly aware of the role of their agencies in the matter chose silence and obfuscation when a public statement would have helped. 

Update: (October 19, 2016) The Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mr Fọ́lọ́runshọ́ Fọlárin-Coker has been removed from office. As at this moment, I don’t know if it has anything to do with the demolition of Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar, but I’ll be checking.



By Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé Ọláìyá:



By Eric Adérẹ̀mí Awóbuyìdé:




I’m grateful to Ìbíwùnmí Ọláìyá and Ọláṣùpọ̀ Awóbuyìdé for facilitating the interview with their uncle and father respectively; to Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé Ọláìyá and Mr. Eric Adérẹ̀mí Awóbuyìdé for entrusting me with their stories; to Abby Ògúnsànyà for connecting me to Ìbíwùnmí; to Jahman Aníkúlápó and Yẹmí Adésànyà for editing suggestions; to the Ọlọ́ládé Bámidélé and Àlàbí Williams/Abraham Ogbodo of Premium Times and The Guardian respectively for the syndication opportunity; to Oluwalóní for support and patience; and finally to all anonymous sources quoted on this report.

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Across the West African Coast: Gambia

by Yẹmí Adésànyà


Gambia started on quite a happy note: a small serene country with clean beaches and monkeyed trees. I went to bed to the sloshing sound of the moiling Atlantic Ocean, drowning the indistinct chatter from drinkers at the outdoor pool-side bar. I loved Gambia at first sight.


Work too started on a good note, and I quickly made my way to Timbooktoo Bookshop, aiming only to deliver a few copies of Musings of a Tangled Tongue as pre-arranged, but leaving the store with ten new books for my bibliophilic babies.

The despair that found me comfortably ensconced in Brufut was not brewed in Banjul. A part of me perished in Gambia; a part I had hitherto taken for granted, but nevertheless nurtured and savoured, since a time I have no surviving memory of.

My younger sister was due to have a surgery in Lagos, and my last communication with her the day before my trip was hope-laden: I would come see her and her new baby as soon as I returned. It was not to be. I returned to Lagos to the new baby only. My sister had died during the elective cesarean section. Nigeria had taken a huge chuck of my heart, and I was in Gambia suffocating. My howls were drowned by the obstreperous sea outside my window, with every wave of the tide washing away my dream of enjoying the city’s understated beauty. The waves, only the night before reminiscent of an alluring melody, had turned irreversibly to an immutable threnody. Olaitan’s death is a loss that cannot be licked by the lapse of time.

I was only counting down to departure after I was notified of this tragedy, life would never be the same.

gambia1Time went by quickly in Banjul, work took the day, while evenings sought comfort curled up in bed, taking depressing walks by the beach and eating only fresh mangoes; the surrounding beauty recessed to the background of a solemn promise that I would be back.gambia5gambia4

I ate the Gambian equivalent of Jollof rice too, on my first day at work; a disappointing presentation, and befitting mediocre taste. But I’m glad I got that out of the way, and quickly filed that experience away beside its Accra compadre.
When it dawned on me by Friday afternoon that my time was up in the city, I inquired of my colleagues about Gambia and if there was anywhere one could see in town. I was not in a good frame of mind, and needed a distraction, something else to remember the peaceful country by other than my muffled yowls.


The Kachikally Crocodile Pool was the place everyone suggested, it wasn’t too far from the office and the incredible tales sounded exhilarating: harmless crocodiles living peacefully with locals! Some of them were said to have filed out of the pool once to pay homage to the deceased founder. And visitors could touch the harmless reptiles. This sounded insuperably menacing to me, but tickled my bereavement-sedated sense of adventure.

The crocodile pool was only about five minutes’ drive from the office; in the heart of Bakau village, an otherwise unremarkable residential settlement next to Banjul–Gambia’s capital city. The pool is owned by the Bojangs, a friendly family representative on sight to welcome us. Everyone in sight looked unperturbed, including the sun-bathing crocodiles. The pool is encircled with wire mesh; this was to keep humans out of the pool really, as there was sufficient allowance for the crocs to come outside unto the open dry land. Park attendants too were on hand, encouraging us not to run or panic.

gambia10True to the legend, the crocodiles appeared harmless, as least they were not hunting us; I touched one of them, eventually, after I was able to overcome my morbid fear of being eaten alive.

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How To Look Crazy in Kigali

by Laila Le Guen

There’s nothing wrong with looking a little crazy on a trip. In fact, it can be a fun way to make friends. I know, I know, crazy is probably not what you’re going for. You’ve researched the weather and fashion trends, packed adequately and learnt three words of Kinyarwanda. You’ll totally blend in. Except…

Take it from me, looking crazy doesn’t happen on purpose and preparedness has little to do with it. There’s just a sort of disinhibition that happens when you smell the air of a new place that makes you giddy and you may sometimes act in ways locals consider eccentric, whether they let it on or not.

There’s plenty of places online where you can find tips on where to stay, what to do, what to eat in Kigali. This is a different – though equally thorough –  type of guide on quirky things to do and say in Kigali.

<center>Photographer: Gwendolyn Stansbury/ IFPRI</center>

Photographer: Gwendolyn Stansbury/ IFPRI

Enquire about safety

It only takes a year or two of living in Nairobi (or Lagos, I’m sure) for safety concerns to become second nature. I’ve learnt to never ride in a car without first checking if the doors are locked and I would not dream of walking around by myself after nightfall in an unknown neighbourhood, nor would I board a random taxi if I could help it. These habits die hard, even when you know that Kigali is generally very safe.

So here I am, on a weekday night at Sundowner in Kimihurura, enjoying a lasagna dish and pretending to read while in fact I’m distracted by the lights, the music and the hum of conversations coming from every corner of the pub. I had strolled to Sundowner before nightfall and found myself in a bind: should I walk back in the dark or take a cab to cover just 500m?

After requesting the bill, I debated whether to ask the waiter. I didn’t want to cede to fear but I also wasn’t going to take unnecessary risks in a city where I knew nobody. I figured there was no harm in asking, only the threat of awkwardness.

Awkwardness did occur when the waiter gently laughed at my incongruous question and assured me it was safe. So I walked back feeling tense the whole way, even though the most threatening presence was a bunch of barking dogs behind a closed gate.

When in Kigali, you can afford to chill. And that’s great, if you actually manage to put aside old habits and actually chill. I’m not saying muggings don’t happen, but your guard doesn’t need to be up all the time. Feel free to take a holiday from your high alert default mode, was the message Kigali residents kept reiterating.

Get on the bus

2-kigali-moto-dylanwaltersThanks to consistent signage and well-organised bus terminals, public transport routes are really easy to navigate in Kigali and I tried to use them as much as possible. I find the slow rhythm of the ride an occasion to breathe, to wander, to observe the movement of the city.

A visitor to Kigali, much like Kampala, won’t really need to use buses, as motorcycle taxis (moto) are inexpensive and so numerous that you’ll never wait long before catching one. So when I asked for information about bus routes to strangers at the bus stop and to my host, they inevitably looked bewildered. Why would I choose to take the bus and “waste” half an hour, when I could just hail a moto and have virtually no chance of getting lost?

I could see how it sounded weird and irrational. For me, the joy of riding the bus is in the figuring out of the paths through the city, in the conversations you strike up with strangers, in the languages you overhear. And how else would I have experienced the prepaid “Tap&Go” card system used on many routes in the Rwandan capital?

Pavement passion

For three days, I explored parts of the hilly capital on foot and I did so with my eyes to my feet. Not to avoid potholes or puddles but because I couldn’t stop staring at the beautiful Kigali pavements. Just the fact of their existence in every part of the city filled me with joy.

I might have raved about them to every person who would humour me…

Pedestrians in Nairobi get the short end of the stick since pavements – where they even exist – are seen as a space open for dumping stones and rubble when they are not used as a parking lot extension. Most of the time, you’re walking on the roadside.

Kigali residents, I’ll say it again: your pavements are wonderful.

How much hadi la gare?

3-kigali-tapngo-laila-cc0-licenseSince I could never guess which language someone would prefer speaking and Kinyarwanda was not an option for me, I tried English, Kiswahili and French successively (not necessarily in this order). While this linguistic trio makes for strange multilingual introductions, it proved to be a winning strategy in everyday communication.

For moto rides, knowing basic round numbers in French is very helpful (you’ll be counting in hundreds, potentially up to a thousand). Even when we initially spoke English, the driver would often quote a price in French.

Kiswahili is also a good language to have in your toolkit. Many Kigali residents speak it and you’re likely to come across swahiliphone Congolese people as well, so do try it: reactions were always very warm and I found it quite easy to engage with strangers in Kiswahili.

Most of the time, the situation called for a mix of English, French and Swahili because things like ‘sauce provençale’ don’t really translate. Not to worry though: even if your only available option in this context is English, you’ll still be able to get by just fine.


It took me all of two days to be able to pronounce the name of the nearest landmark to my guesthouse.

I had one of those retrospectively hilarious moments where it’s late at night and you’re trying to explain to the moto driver where you stay but, this time of all times, you have no language in common and the words that come out of your mouth don’t seem to find any resonance.

I kept repeating different versions of the name ‘Rojugire’ but the look of recognition never came. On top of that, we were both getting soaked under the pouring rain!

I ended up walking back with a kind stranger from the pub who happened to know the neighbourhood like the back of his hand because he had grown up there. While we huddled under his umbrella, he told me about the time he got mugged in Nairobi. It sounded like a variation on the universal East African travel story: I went to Nairobi and I got my phone stolen. We made nervous jokes about how unwise it would be to have a stranger walk you home at 11pm in Nairobi.

This trip was about contrast and wonder. Three days in Kigali is enough time to be charmed by perfect pavements and enjoy views over hill after hill, but not enough to to start noticing the flaws that would likely drive one mad after a year.

Do you feel like unleashing your own brand of crazy on Kigali yet? I sure hope so.


Laila Le Guen is a 2016 aKoma Amplify fellow based in Nairobi. Growing up in France, her dreams of getting to know the world outside her small town were nourished by books from the public library. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Brainstorm, Aerodrome, Afrolivresque and Saraba.

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Nigeria’s New Feminism – Say-You-Are-One-Of-Us-Or-Else

by Yẹ́misí Aríbisálà


yemisi2My name is Yẹ́misí Aríbisálà. Because of context I must state that I am not a feminist nor will I ever be one. As made clear from the paragraphs below, the “or else” will come to my door and meet it open.

Over the last few months and especially after an interview in recent days, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has become the woman that we all love to hate. What irony. I only have one indictment for her regarding the attacks on social media for words spoken to the press in that interview: It is that she wittingly contributed to the creation of the “We”, the same mob that turned against her. It is what happens when people are not allowed to go away and really think and decide what they believe as individuals, and they are coaxed and persuaded and ushered into making decisions in groups. What happens when we all become a “body of feminists” without a a coalition of working, dissenting brains is that we are and become a mob.

The most recent social media uproar against Adichie is over her differentiation between feminisms – hers and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s. It is allegedly also about Adichie’s arrogance and the way she expresses herself that seems to condescend to the person being addressed. It is about causing a rift between feminists and seeming thereby to designate some as intellectuals and others as liberal and possibly nonintellectual. That feminists should not be distinguished thusly is the crux of the protest. Lastly it is about a supposed change of position indicated by Adichie’s permission to Beyoncé three years ago to use her words in the song Flawless suddenly retrospectively retracted in the interview. Or if not retracted, sidestepped in a clarification that said that giving permission for the use of her words in no way indicated that she and Beyoncé’s feminisms were moving along the same track.

So people are angered by the backtracking and the condescension and the lack of acknowledgement by Adichie that she got plenty of mileage in allowing Beyonce to insert her words in her song. But really the whole thing is about being fed up with Adichie’s condescension.

Here are my thoughts:

Adichie’s responsibility to her audience is completely different from Beyoncé Knowles-Carter.  Both may be in the public eye but Adichie is an intellectual and a woman of words. Someone whose philosophy cannot and should not be ignored. It is not a philosophy of entertainment that belongs to Beyoncé.  The philosophy of entertainment allows all kinds of things that real life will not accommodate. For example, a woman in entertaining people may take her clothes off and bend over to show her crotch in front of a room full of people and they will clap and encore her. In real life, she cannot do this, she may be dragged off to an asylum.

If certain people do not like the fact that the artist has exposed herself, they don’t have to go to her show the next time, and if she really offends, she can pass it off as intrinsic in the licence of artistic expression. Not so Adichie. Even though she doesn’t have a very effective PR body advising her on how to manage the balance between the transience of celebrity and the more crucial creation of art and a strong body of ideas that will surely outlive her, she is still operating in real time, in real life where people do not react liberally or placidly to the showing of crotches and cleavages and erotic dancing. Even when people try to pretend that they have blurred the differences between entertainment and reality, we should not believe them. They are being false. Real life is real life and entertainment is entertainment. And we all understand that no matter what happens in the rooms of Big Brother Africa, the contestants have to go home.


Chimamanda Adichie. Photo source: MyCelebrityAndI

I do not like Beyoncé’s art nor her expression of it, but that is irrelevant because I don’t have to go and watch her or buy her records.  More importantly, because she is an entertainer even if one who likes to include political material in her art, I don’t have to take anything she says to the bank. I don’t have to accept her philosophy of life and relationships. I don’t have to ascribe to my daughter sitting in a car and performing oral sex on a man and agree that this is liberal and open-minded. I don’t have to take her seriously at all. I don’t have to take a bat to a car. The agreement is that she is an entertainer and even if I am carried away by her beauty and power, and feel all hot and wonderful after her show, I don’t have to believe any of it. This is the contract of entertainment that exists but which people are attempting to falsely blur. Beyonce’s art is often about channelling pain and joys of relationships with men with very questionable language. The nudity, sexual language, and violence are in my opinion not powerful at all – not in any way about real power – and should be considered with great caution even in the realms of entertainment. But I am unwilling to tell people what to consider as entertainment. I love Billie Holiday’s music but on no account can I consider her doormat hood to husbands and lovers as expressed in her art as a sensible philosophy to life.

The contrast is that we cannot ignore Adichie. Not only because she carries enormous intellectual potential whether we like her or not, and possesses a great influence over generations of Nigerian women, but also because her views are daily being written down and concretised. She is a philosopher of real life in real time. More importantly, Adichie belongs to Nigeria and she is a beacon of that which is possible for the Nigerian woman. We cannot underestimate her worth nor her work. The attempts to disregard her are also a falsehood. Having said that, I must add that I dislike Adichie’s Americanah’s treatment of relationships between men and women. Her portrayals of traditional, non-“liberated” women in that work are uncharitable and tapered. Without a good balance of her art, her work, and her personal brand, she willingly inserts a fragility in her writing. Again I cannot take liberties in telling people how to live their lives. She can do what she wants. Adichie in the end is a powerful Nigerian intellectual with serious responsibilities.

In my opinion if Adichie informally retracted the permission she gave to Beyoncé to use her words in her song Flawless, then it was the right thing to do. Retrospectively, it is the right thing to do. If she never really gave it, then even better for Adichie’s ideas are in fact too good for Beyoncé’s entertainment. Too bad if Adichie did not know that, or if she saw it as an opportunity three years ago to get her words attention. If a person makes a decision one year then three years later changes that decision. That is what is called growth. And rather the person should be commended for growing and for changing their minds than castigated for speaking.

I will never pretend that I don’t change my mind.

The Yorùbá hold as sacred the head. That head has a mouth in it and each person has a head and a mouth. We can take this as a pointer towards individual thought and speech. We all have our irritating quirks, our mannerisms that rub people the wrong way, our crazy headless ideologies. We are all work in progress.

I am appalled that I can count on the fingers of one hand the people who stood up for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a week of strong personal attacks against her from women like her, from women to feminists on social media. Not surprising, as a few weeks before that on Ikhide Ikheloa’s facebook page it was the annihilation of another woman, Abiodun Kuforiji Nkwocha, using language that made one’s mouth fall open in shock and disgust.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is not a friend, a relative, nor even an acquaintance that I bump into once a year. I did sit next to her for two weeks in 2012 during the Farafina’s Writers Workshop. I disagree with many of her ideas, as I am sure that she disagrees with mine. Yet I have a responsibility to look at her and say – this is a woman like myself, with her own traumas and challenges and insecurities. More flesh and blood than a feminist philosophy or tract. More present than BBOG or some vague profile of a woman who is a victim of domestic violence, or some powerless hungry hawker of a girl. She is a woman, a mother and a wife. One day her daughter might google in her name and find the hate and vitriol and ugliness spouted against her. It is self-preservation on my part. I don’t want my daughter to be the google-r and see that I am a grasshopper in a swarm of locust attacking one person by consensus – telling her she cannot speak her mind. My role as a woman is not to gag other women and take away their voice – whatever it sounds like. Debate(s) should, happen but not on vicious personal terms.

yemisi3Why be the fighter for the rights of some faceless woman who I don’t know when I am going to be part of a mob rolling out the old tires and lighting a fire for burning another woman That I Do Know. If you do not like the woman, nor agree with her, is it possible to agree to disagree with decorum then let her be? I can determine that I find her tone arrogant but I don’t have to retaliate arrogance with arrogance. I can stay out of her way completely if it helps. I don’t even have to accept her philosophy for real life either. I don’t. Whatever my decision, it must be clear that like all tides things have a way of turning around.

I hope that if a mob does stand opposite me one day, someone will say “I know her, that lady that cooks moin moin on the internet. Let her be.”


Yẹ́misí Aríbisálà is the author of a new memoir titled Longthroat Memoirs: Soups,  Sex and Nigerian tastebuds. (Cassava Republic, 2016)

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In Pursuit of a Canon

One of the issues that came out of the conversation, yesterday, at the Q&A part of the Press Conference to announce the winner of the Nigeria (LNG) Prize for Literature is whether the judges on the award panel are too old to understand contemporary literature. It was an indirect hit in form of a question from one of the journalists in the room about the currency of the judges’ knowledge about current trends. But the chair of the advisory council, Professor Ayọ̀ Bánjọ, picked up the snark and addressed it fully, defending his team’s savvy and curiosity: “Because we’re old doesn’t mean that we don’t know what is going on. We try to keep up.” Or something to that effect.

But he also went on to suggest that the public make their work easier (if not also superfluous) by generating sufficient debate around each year’s long-listed (and shortlisted) works in order to enrich the canon with smart takes, appraisal, and criticism of each of the work during and after the process of the Prize announcement. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, If you don’t engage the work and create an industry of conversations around them and around the trade, we as judges, may be denied an opportunity to be familiar what is new, and we’d be forced instead to judge the works we are given by the standards with which we are familiar, which may not always be modern. It was both a humble cry for help and a smart take on the state of literary criticism in the country.

Perhaps aware of a criticism of the Prize as being rich in money but not in the elevation of the craft, Professor Bánjọ was throwing the challenge back to the community to not leave the important work of the whole process – criticism, which enhances the value of the work and engages the audience on a second level – to the judges alone. Notable was the fact that no one was rewarded this year with the prize for Literary Criticism which had always been a part of the annual award.


He has a point. Many writers who have won the Nigerian Prize – as also pointed out by another questioner – have gone into oblivion with no follow-up work, as if the cash payout of the award had delivered a knockout punch to their creative ability or drive. Certainly, the point can be made that if the work of past winners of such a prestigious prize do not gain more critical interest after such an honour, or increase in sales at the bookstores, or even show up in more quantity on book stands as a result of the award boost, the Prize would have failed in a major way. And what creates this kind of interest is not just the distribution of the books at the award ceremony as the NLNG already does, or a donation of copies to public libraries which is also a good thing, but a critical engagement by other writers and critics of each work as soon as the long list is made, and before/after the award winner is announced.

This is where the indictment of the community is deserved.

The Caine Prize is a much smaller prize in terms of cash reward, but has been deemed way more prestigious across the continent for its sustenance of critical conversation on African literary production though it only rewards writers working in the short story form. There is a couple of reasons for that. The prize has an active online engagement strategy that covers the continent, involves the writing community, and stays connected to the source of important conversations regarding the writers it shortlists. It also has an annual retreat/writer’s workshop in which writers are made to produce works that are then published as an annual anthology. It does this on a budget most likely smaller than that of a prize that awards $100k to an individual every year.

But perhaps more importantly, for the Caine Prize, is that writers and critics also pay attention to each shortlisted story, which are usually carefully reviewed online before the prize announcement. Notable among these annual exercises is the Caine Prize Blogathon founded by Aaron Bady through which interested critics take on each or all of the shortlisted stories each year, and review them individually and as against the criteria of the prize. I have been a part of this exercise since 2013 and enjoyed the process, which brings me much closer to the works than I would ordinarily have. We’d never know how much this annual exercise affects the decision of the judges, but responses to past editions of the Blogathon shows that the large literary community across the continent does pay attention to what is being said and how. It enriches the profession, helps the writers, benefits the readers interested in critical engagement, and makes the prize better.

We need the same for the Nigerian Prize for Literature. All shortlisted books should be made available for free – if possible – to interested reviewers for critical engagement on online and print platforms. Maybe it will make the prize better. But certainly, it will enrich the community of Nigerian readers, and writers.

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The Nigerian Prize For Literature 2016: The Judges’ Report

Editor’s note: Today, at Sheraton Hotel, Ikẹjà, Lagos, the winner of the 2016 Nigeria Prize for Literature was announced as Abubakar Adam Ibrahim for his novel Season of Crimson Blossoms (Parressia, 2015) and for the “competent manner in which Ibrahim demonstrated the execution of his work.” Here is the full speech given by Emeritus Professor Ayọ̀ Bánjọ, the Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Prize, on the justification for the prize, and other commentary on the whole judging process.





The Nigeria Prize for Literature is an annual competition which awards annual prizes to winning entries in the literary genres of Prose Fiction, Drama, Poetry and Children’s Literature on a rotational basis.

This year, the genre in focus is Prose Fiction. The following advertised rules were applied during the process of short listing and selecting the winning entry.  

Eligibility: The competition is open to all Nigerians anywhere in the world. This does not mean that writing about other peoples and cultures in a foreign setting is acceptable.

Relevance should be interpreted as consistency with the goals and aspirations of the Nigerian nation and its peoples – specifically, respect for their traditions and their identity as Africans.

Publishing: The prize is meant to encourage local publishing and book distribution, among other goals. Books published outside the country are eligible for entry. Only properly published texts are acceptable. However, efficient editing and good presentation of text are considered essential parts of publishing and are taken into account during the process of evaluation. The quality of the language is important, and errors of style and grammar are  considered major blemishes; these errors may not pass as typographical errors.

Genre: for this year’s competition, a basic distinction is drawn between fiction – that is imaginative prose which may incorporate factual materials and non-fiction like history, biography and sociological tracts which sometimes feature in the submissions for the competition.

This year’s completion has attracted a strong field with such high quality that even without this current shortlist of 3 books there would have still been a winner.



All the three shortlisted texts cover a wide range of urgent societal and cultural issues such as the status of women in a patriarchal society, the education of youths, the search for identity, the danger of youth unemployment, corruption, insurgency, religious hypocrisy, migration, broken homes and single parenthood and attendant impact on women and children who are usually at the receiving end of most of these problems.

  • Chika Unigwe’s Night Dancer, tells the familiar story of the continuing marginalization of women in Igbo society. The author shows a strong awareness of this context by  the flavoring of the narrative with linguistic and cultural insertions. The novel tells the story of Mma, a young woman’s anguished search for her roots from the opening of the novel when she feels that she has been denied by her mother, until she gradually discovers that her mother had been deeply hurt by both her matrimonial and maiden families. In the course of Mma’s adventures in excavating her identity and her mother’s past, she is predictably confronted by the same cultural inhibitions that her mother had rebelled against. Mma’s own denunciation of those traditions and her belated adulation of a mother she had despised at the beginning of the novel is a slow and painful process of discovering the truth of her family background, and a radical change in her perception and understanding of this background. All this is aimed at validating Unigwe’s passionate call for the extension of the frontiers of women’s space in society.
  • Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday is a book about contemporary Northern Nigerian Society as seen through the eyes of a young man. The narrative is told from within a deviant community seen through the first person consciousness of street boys, popularly described as al-majiri. Virtually abandoned by parents and community the  young boy, who tells the story in his own words, finds his survival through a brotherhood of other street boys. Their small outcast community is exploited by politicians and the brutally victimized as scapegoats by law enforcement agencies.  They inevitably patronized and taken over by leaders of religious sects and become a source of recruitment terrorist groups. One of the strong points of the novel is its insight into the social mechanisms that lead to national crisis and terrorism or the social processes that give rise to religious fundamentalism and political hypocrisy, corruption and exploitation.
  • Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms is a very skillful and sympathetic narrative handling of a most psychologically and emotionally painful between an aging widow, who seeks release from her culturally imposed sexual repression, and a young outcast leader of a group of “weed” – i.e. hard drug – dealers who are ready thugs for politicians. In the background as immediately cause of the widow’s troubles, is the violent history of ethnic hatred and conflicts in Jos, placed within the larger context of contemporary Nigerian history with its complex and sometimes violent intertwining of politics, religion and culture. The novel moves from its evocative and passionate first sentence through a web of anxious moments to a tragic and painful conclusion with hardly a moment of respite.  All through its projects through is main action, the implications of certain key social issues for younger audience – key issues such as early marriage, drug abuse and impact of relationships on human action. It is a novel whose narrow domestic action has wider universal relevance beyond its relevance for its immediate setting.

On behalf of the advisory board of the Nigeria Prize for Literature and of the judges and international consultant, I have the pleasure of announcing as the winner of this year’s entry, Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim.


The award ceremony will take place early next year.

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