ktravula – a travelogue!

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“Never Look An American In the Eye”

In my last book review, I lamented the dearth of travel writing books by African authors. I have since been scolded for failing to reference a number of other old and new works that tackle the subject matter, so I’m currently looking for Isaac Delano’s The Soul of Nigeria, Babatunde Shadeko’s The Magic Land of Nigeria, Noo Saro Wiwa’s Transwonderland, and Eavesdropping, a collection of essays and travelogues in America by Deji Haastrup.

But one of the example works I pointed to as examples of contemporary works detailing honest and intimate travel experiences of travel was Okey Ndibe’s Never Look An American In the Eye (Soho Press. October, 2016). I have now finished reading a review copy of the work and I can say that it was a thoroughly delightful experience. Having lived in America for a while myself, I am always interested in reading accounts of others who have lived in the country, experienced in ways similar to or different from mine. But with this book, except that both of us had entered the United States for the first time at twenty-eight years old, the experiences could not be any dissimilar, which added a lot of excitement to its reading.

okey

Out October 11, 2016

The title comes from a piece of advice given to the author by his uncle in the village. He, the uncle, not having experienced America in any other way except from the plot of Westerns shown on Nigerian screens where eye contact was the ostensible cause of major conflicts that resulted in lots of gunfire, decided that his nephew on the way to America needed such a good prep. As we know now, from our experience with Americans, the opposite turns out to be true. This leads to a number of awkward, interesting, and hilarious scenarios, one including contact with law-enforcement.

The book is a collection of connected stories about the author’s life in Nigeria and his migration to America. Okey Ndibe is currently a columnist for a number of Nigerian publications. He is also the author of two well-received novels Arrows of Rain (2000) and Foreign Gods Inc (2014). He had arrived in the United States first as a maiden editor of a new international magazine, in the late eighties, before he achieved these later successes, but during which time he was already an accomplished reporter for a major Nigerian publication. In the US, after his stint as an editor, he became a student, and later, a reluctant but ultimately appreciative citizen. The book covers all these periods in his life with tales that paint the picture of an individual with an expansive curiosity and a healthy sense of humour towards misfortunes and uncertainties. The stories follow each other in an unsual order which was slightly disorientating, but ultimately successful in pushing the story forward towards a fitting end. Read to find out why.

As a memoir, it’s an engaging work filled with optimism, written in a style that is neither pretentiously grand nor mindlessly plain. As literature, it is clever in its deceiving simplicity. As travel writing, it is a welcome addition to a trove of like-minded works by Africans traveling around the world. It is a work accessible without being insipid, serious without being morose, and honest without being overexposing or patronising. The handling of his contact and relationships with legends of African literature Wọlé Ṣóyínká and Chinua Achebe deserves credit for its normalcy and honesty. We see them both as humans, chasing human pursuits, and vulnerable to human frailties and human disappointments.

It balances an important narrative about migration, culture, disappointments, love, and restlessness with an outlook that is both sunny and measured. I don’t want to say “circumspect” because that presupposes an unwillingness to take risks. What the work is is the opening of doors into a time in the life of its author which also coincides with a significant time in the life of a country he was leaving behind and the one he eventually adopts. There was no risk to be taken or avoided as far as the writing goes. The story needed to be told well, and it was.

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The hardcover is 224 pages long, but doesn’t feel like it. The book will be released on October 11, 2016 and can be pre-ordered here. I will be speaking with the author in a public Book Chat in the next Aké Festival in Abẹ́òkuta this November. If you’re in the area, do drop by to hear him answer a number of questions I’m deliberately keeping away from this review :). Go buy/pre-order the book.

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Petition from the Legacy Group

The Legacy Group, a public interest advocacy group dedicated, among other things, to the protection of historical monuments around Nigeria has put up a petition to bring to book the destroyers of Ọláìyá House.

You can read and sign the petition here.

Photo taken today at the demolition site. The signboard by the state government is gone, stolen overnight.

Photo taken today (21/9/2016) at the demolition site. The signboard erected on Sunday by the state government is gone now, stolen overnight, according to the sellers around.

The Lagos @ 50 Committee, a group set up to celebrate the 50 years of the existence of Lagos State has also released a statement, which you can read here. The Group boasts of Africa’s first Nobel Laureate Wọlé Ṣóyínká as one of its members, so this is potentially huge.

Reporting on the demolition is still ongoing. Anyone with tips, leaks, complaints, confessions, etc, can reach me – even anonymously – at kt@ktravula.com.

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Video from Olaiya House Demolition

As promised, here is the exclusive video from the demolition at Ilojo Bar on Sunday, September 11, 2016.

I’m still pursuing leads into the story. I have questions for the developers who pulled the building down, the ministry officials who gave permission to it, and the ministry officials who have now sealed off the building. If you have any other relevant tip or you know whom I can speak with, please drop me a line at kt@ktravula.com.

Sign the petition by the Legacy Group here.

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PHOTOS: The Demolition of Ilojo Bar

These are exclusive photographs from Sunday, September 11th, 2016, during the demolition of the famous Lagos Island national monument Ilojo Bar (also called Casa do Fernandez or Ọláìyá House). Read more about that here and here.

These photos came via an eye-witness (who chooses to remain anonymous) who had found himself at the site and, shocked by the unfolding scene, documented it in photography and video. See the heartbreaking photos below.

Use freely but with appropriate attribution.

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Before the Storm: This public notice hung on the house declares the building to be a Federal Government protected property. At least two of these were two clearly visible on the structure.

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Here the notice of protection of the site as a national monument was torn down with the remnant of the building itself.

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Spectators and Scavengers



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Update on the Demolition of Olaiya House

I spent some time this afternoon at the site of Ọláìyá House/Ilojo Bar, a national monument, the contentious demolition of which I reported on yesterday and which has raised lots of angry voices including this petition by the Legacy Nigeria Group.

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Agents of LASBCA arriving to pull down the artificial fence.

I arrived there at around 1.55pm, just minutes after the officials of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) got there to begin opening up the corrugated roofing sheets which had been constructed to protect the site of demolition from public eyes.

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A view from within the enclosure, before the work began.

I sneaked into the enclosure and took a few shots of the workers. I also made a small panoramic video clip against the background of the pounding noise.

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There was no visible law enforcement. Just men in the uniform of the LASBCA and their supervisors.

Later I was accosted by two senior officials from the state ministry who wanted to know what I was doing in the enclosure. Told them I was a journalist and interested and curious citizen. But not being able to produce a “journalist” identity card, I was asked to leave.

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I was later referred to the PRO of the ministry, who gave me his phone number and promised to answer any questions I have at a later date, but not at the venue.

There were a few cameras on sight as well as a small television crew from TVC news who had wanted to interview the LASBCA director, Mr. Ọládọ̀tun Lásojú. They got their way after about an hour, when the demolition of the fence was done.

When I left the enclosure, I returned outside to eavesdrop on the surrounding conversations by observers and passers-by, and also talk to residents.

Here is what I gathered so far, from the scene, and from talking to eye-witnesses of the original demolition:

  1. Ilojo Bar was pulled down on Sunday, September 11, 2016, a day before the Eid Holidays which began on Monday the 12th. (Heartbreaking photos here)
  2. The demolition took about five hours to complete.
  3. At the time of demolition, there was nobody in the building. They had been served some notice ahead of time (perhaps a few days, perhaps a few hours) and they had evacuated, along with their properties.
  4. During and the demolition, area boys auctioned off parts of the building to the highest bidder. A part of the building (photo attached) was sold for 700 naira to a local resident who wanted it as souvenir and who has shared the photo with me.
  5. For the period of the demolition, nobody stopped the demolition crew. They operated freely.
  6. The “developer” who supervised the demolishing of the building had documented approval (either from a ministry in the state or a Federal one) to complete the task. Still unclear which. His name as he gave it to newsmen was “Onitolo”. (Source)
  7. After the building was completely pulled down on Sunday, and valuable parts of it auctioned out, the land was fenced around with corrugated roofing sheets, held together by thin wooden planks.
  8. There has been a conflict over the building for a while now, with competing descendants of the family taking their cases to Abuja over many years. The building could not have been pulled down without some form of support by government officials.
  9. [I’ll update as more facts become clear]
Bought for 700 naira on site

Bought for 700 naira on site

***

But before the pulling down of the roofing fence was complete, a group of men from the area came in to challenge the LASBCA workers and to ask them for their permit from the State Government to come work on a private property. They either didn’t have any, or weren’t willing to produce it. This got the invaders pretty incensed.

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The invaders

There was a lot of shuffle and near breakdown of order, but no punches were thrown. One of the men claims to have obtained the original permit to pull down Ilojo Bar. I tried but I couldn’t get him to show me the document he had so I could photograph it.

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The man in the white and red t-shirt coordinated the initial opposition and had plenty to say to the cameras later on. He is known as “Onitolo” and claims to have documented permit from the “government” which permitted him to supervise the demolition of the building. More here.

After a few hours of work and plenty arguments with the invading men, the LASBCA was finally done pulling down the artificial fencing. They then erected a green sign post they had brought along on which Lagos state asserts its claim to the space, warning trespassers off.

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New sign

Then there was a short press conference for the television crew.

The Press Conference

The Press Conference with the head of the LASBCA Mr. Ọládọ̀tun Lásoju (wearing the cap) and the General Manager of the Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority (LASPPPA), Mr. Rẹ̀mí Oni-Orísan (speaking)

I managed to shout in one indignant question about why the state couldn’t stop the demolition while it was in progress. The response was in itself a question: “What if they demolished it during the holidays when officials weren’t around?” I couldn’t get a follow-up in because the PRO held me back informing me that I hadn’t shown her that I was a journalist, and I was being a nuisance to the television recording.

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***

I have obtained exclusive video of the original demolition from Sunday, September 11. Watch it here.

I left the venue at around 3.05pm.

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