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A Failure All Around

This is the concluding portion of a five-part report on the demolition of Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar. The story began here.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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* 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. Neither did I hear back from the director of NCMM.

Update: (October 4, 2016) In a call to me on October 4, the officials of LABCA/LASPPPA who I’d spoken with on my visit to the agency 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. However, when I requested an interview with him or an on-the-record statement on the demolition, Mr. Fọlárìn-Coker declined, saying “No point. It will offend the system.”

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Postscript

By Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé Ọláìyá (two tracks):

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By Eric Adérẹ̀mí Awóbuyìdé:

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Appreciation

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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Excerpts from Noah Town by Leke Adesanya

bookcoverimageIf you ever come to Noah Town, you’ll probably arrive by coach. The long buses come off interstate  trunk roads from far and near, from smaller towns and villages were dreams of making it in the big city still has its allure.  The buses pour out streams of young men and women  hourly at almost a clockwork rate. They come with their dreams and aspirations, their bags and little savings. They are drawn to a metropolis where the street lights never go off and there is money to be made with beautiful bodies, willing hands or daring minds.   I know them. I was once like them.

Your coach should come to a stop at the terminal on Main Street, just at the beginning of the two mile stretch of long dual rows of hardware stores, fashion stores and business offices.  As you disembark , in the mornings, you might hear the dull drone of street sweeper trucks vacuuming the road. A soft feminine voice will welcome you to Noah Town over the terminal’s public address system , advising you to mind your luggage.

Touts may accost you, offering to help you get a cheaper hotel or unlicensed taxi , some with the intent  to unburden you of your few valuables. You would be better off strolling to the Visitor Centre to book a cab or walk a bit farther down the road to catch a local bus ride. Or maybe someone, perhaps a relative or friend has arranged to pick you up.  

Whatever are your options on arrival, you wouldn’t help but notice two old grey storey buildings situated almost opposite each other. Their Brazilian architecture with mock Roman marble columns  add a air of gravitas that make them stand out amid melange of functional matchbox shaped buildings. They are the two big banks of Noah Town.

Scores of men with crew cuts in blue or black suits march in confident strides  in and out of the two grand old buildings. On the right, if you are coming from the Terminus, next to the divisional police office is the local branch of National Bank.  And on the left,  behind a fibre glass  fountain cast of an elephant pumping water out of its trunk, is  the local land bank owned by former loan shark now turned legit financier, Mr Barido Freeman. Everybody calls him Barry.

He is reputed to be very influential. I have had occasion to meet him myself, informally of course, and I found him intimidating.  He owns a significant portion of the businesses and real estate in Noah Town. Sixty years old and not looking a day younger, Barry is big boned and tall, slightly balding but still working that regal look. What was left of his receding hairline, he grew into big white halo with brown dusts.

When you are told by your guide that he started out as an immigrant with nothing on him but a knapsack slung across his shoulder, you would probably be impressed too by what he has made of himself.  You would think, if he can, maybe you can. He is the stuff of which legends are made.

Barry manages to keep his family out of the tabloids.  Although he has never married , he had a love child, twenty years old Norah whose mother has been out of the picture since like forever.  Norah, I have heard, was worth her weight in trouble and then some. Twice expelled from expensive boarding schools abroad where Barry had hidden her, she eventually dropped out, called it quits and came back home.

Barry got her an office in the family business and engaged  Cuba, an ex-cop as her  bodyguard, mainly to keep her out of trouble. Cuba used to be an ambitious police officer on the rise till one day he shot a teenage kid playing with a toy gun and the top brass threw him under the bus. Taking care of Norah was a better paying job however and he intended to keep it forever. A shrewd guy, he kept Norah out of trouble mainly by making sure Barry never heard of it.  

A major challenge for Cuba on job was handling Nora’s long list of hangers-on, most of whom were willing to get whatever Nora requests of them even if it were illegal.  Prominent in that clique was Vera, her BFF and confidant.  Vera used to be a bartender at a night club on Boardwalk, Noah Town’s entertainment district, where she met Norah and the two hit it off.

Like any street hustler, Vera knew she had found a winning lottery ticket with Norah. How did I get involved with this clique?  Stay with me, I was going to explain.

Vera and I once dated, very briefly. Vera also happens to have a twin brother called Jude. Jude and I, we go way back to the time we were still hungry backpackers just come off a bus on Main Street. That was a life time ago, of course.

Jude and I are now business partners, we run a little taxi operation that is thriving very well, thank you very much. Nothing fancy, just a dozen old cars in great working condition and a long list of repeat loyal patrons.

We started out as two unlicensed cab drivers willing to work all night in what was then the notorious Boardwalk. Later we formed a partnership, got licensed and started adding more cars and drivers. We evolved into an effective relationship; he handles the drivers’ scheduling and getting of corporate customers while I take care of the back office and car maintenance issues.  

Once two guys have had a big fight and then gotten over it, they tend to bond well.  That was what happened to Jude and I. I could implicitly trust him to have my back, at least until the events I am narrating to you now started.

One ordinary Tuesday, Jude dropped by at lunch to inform me that we have an inquiry from a prospective investor. Barry – yeah, that Barry – wanted to buy out our little operation. Could I look at our books and come up with a working valuation, just in case this turned out to be a real deal?

Sure, I replied. I acted all cool about it though I was very, very excited.  I mean if the price is right, like five times annual revenues, surely why not?  But then he clarified.  What he really wanted to know was, at what price was I willing to cash out. They wanted to buy me out and let Jude run the operation.

By the way, by then, he was hanging out a  lot with Norah . And I was worried about her Daddy. Barry was like the king of Noah Town and rumour had it, he might or might not have had mob ties. If you don’t cooperate with his type, there was the unspoken threat that he might not be pleased. This was scary to me.  I don’t want to end up drowning in the Noah Lagoon like some overconfident yokel who dared above his match. And since I love the feel of fresh cash stacks in my palm like the next guy, I felt I had better play along.  

I doubled my calculated asking price, asked for not half but all of five times annual revenues. We shook hands over that and he said I should give him some time to iron it out with his principal, Barry. I started to look at Jude funny from then on. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I started to daydream of the day I’ll get to seat with Jude, Norah & co. , and firm up the terms of sale. I knew what I would do with the money when it hits my account. I would take a long holiday first, to somewhere far from Noah Town. I have earned it. I’ll go somewhere where it is cold in summer. Maybe I could learn to ski in middle age, who knows?  

Those were my thoughts until a Saturday, some days later, when I picked up a copy of the local evening tabloid and read the headline, “Barry’s Girl Kidnapped”. I had a premonition that, after that event, things wouldn’t turn out exactly as planned.

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Blurb

It was meant to be a safe job. They  fake a kidnap of the millionaire’s daughter, collect the ransom and share it with her. But then things started to go wrong. As the body count continues to rise, Tony finds himself in the cross-hairs of a deadly gang as he tries to save his best friend’s widow.

Links

Available on Okada Books :

http://www.okadabooks.com/book/about/noah_town/12419

Available on Kindle ;

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MG4KELQ

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Aké Festival 2016: How History is Made

A festival is just a festival, isn’t it? A gathering of tribes, a place of ideas and relationships, a week-long commingling of the most cerebral kind. But it is also something else: an annual attempt to write the history of the continent’s literary track in the minds of its practitioners and for posterity. This latter purpose is usually the least stated on the invitation brochure.

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Participation in this year’s events, I’ve said elsewhere, is my most memorable, but not for the obvious reason of my meeting (and working with) Ngugi wa Thiong’o who is the guiding light of my work in indigenous language advocacy. Or perhaps that is the reason. It won’t matter anyway. The history of this year’s events is being written in different inks and by different observers towards different but complementary ends.

A while ago, someone wondered whether canons are being built around conversations on African language literature, and I responded that festivals, Facebook conversations, and interactions surrounding relevant seminal works of criticism all contribute, in small ways, to the complete tapestry whose form may not always be evident from the current standpoint of one literary thread. I still believe that. For all the memorability I’ve ascribed to this year’s event, I was not there when this apparently notable conversation took place, and I’m all the poorer for it. But the questions raised by this subsequent review of the event by Mr. Rótińwá, separate from the mass cheering on the spot that may have convinced a casual observer of a different takeaway, will live on. And there are many more of those.

A panel I moderated (video below), set up ostensibly to explore the similar and divergent themes in the memoirs of two important African writers (of different languages), ended up on an even more memorable note: the relevance of archiving and the role of manual writing in the preservation of a writer’s legacy and growth. When I thought of questioning the Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou about what he described as an obsessive write-and-destroy habit that had his travel box littered with disposed writings on paper that he no longer liked, I wanted to satiate my curiosity. But I also thought of the episode as possibly illustrative of the obsessiveness of writers generally during the process of creating. In the end, I – and, as it turned out, the audience – got enlightened by a more substantive conversation around the place of preservation of paper drafts (and archiving in general) in the understanding of the writer’s creative and personal trajectory, thanks to Emma Shercliff, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Alain himself.

What the conversation illustrated for me, among others, was a lack of consensus, today, on the “proper” way of creating and shepherding manuscripts. Those of us who grew up in the internet age have taken for granted the benefit of crowd storage and the power of an easy copy/paste/delete on a word processor to care about the true grit of manual writing, crossing out, and re-writing until the draft is perfect, while still keeping the original draft either as a guiding light of the initial intention and insurance against future impulsiveness or as sentimental record of the individual step in the process. But more than that, as Alain and Ngugi pointed out, there is also a financial (as well as archival) incentive for this old-school process: there are scholars, students, and future enthusiasts of the writer’s life and work that will pay a fortune to have access to the initial drafts of whatever eventually becomes a well-accepted work. This helps the culture of criticism and better opens up the writer to perhaps better study.

When he writes on the computer, he said, Alain treats each line of writing as an indelible record that needs special care and preservation. As he puts it, he has different versions of the same work on his computer and would rather create a new one each time than edit the already written one – in spite of the ease given by computers to do so. Isn’t that fascinating? To think that the ubiquity of computers isn’t yet sufficient motivation – in relevant writing quarters – to ditch the drudgery of manual or manual-like documentation. Perhaps not enough has been written about this rebellion and/or the benefit of such active labour in this age of 140-character fickleness. Forget the fight between the Kindle and paperback books. Pen vs Keyboard is where the conversation needs (and will continue) to happen. I will likely forget many of the other questions I asked on that panel but the response to (and conversation around) this one on pen and paper writing and documentation will, and should, live forever.

ake3

The Makerere Conference of 1962 is notable today for a particular conversation on the use of English (and other colonial languages) in African literature. Not much from that conference has lived on in popular lore as that particular debate has. In every edition of the Aké Arts and Book Festival, looking out for such usually short but relevant spark that outlasts a week of commingling has become my yearly obsession. It is to the credit of the organisers that the opportunities are many for such dynamic conversation, debates, arguments, fawning, performance, and even lust (as this report rebelliously recalls). But we remember differently, as it is often said, which is probably for the better. It all comes together eventually. And the culture is richer for it.

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Aké of the Resident Onlooker

img_20161115_174423 I pack my bag last-minute and travel in a dusty cab to a dream in Abẹ́òkuta.

I get a roommate, two yellow shirts and out of myself. Briefly I wonder if the email I have just sent to my boss will guarantee my being sacked. Then I stop wondering and look up. Yellow light from hanging chandeliers. Poised and bright and sure. I assume that the chandelier is aware of self. It knows that first it was sand, then crystals, then light. In this way, looking up makes me feeling better. Inside of my Abẹ́òkuta dream I decide to try, like the chandelier, and form myself.

Welcome to Aké Arts and Book Festival.

Buy me books is the shawarma here. Young interested-in-arts girls are hot. They know what freedom looks like; uncased minds and breasts. Established authors and interested-in-arts men play the game. They came for nag free beer and lack of strings fuck. Sometimes. Mostly, just intelligent conversation while looking up and down upright boobies.

And in the middle of this is the Aké Bookstore. Where the wires meet. Where the one line flirt test ends in a let-me-buy-that-for-you. And laughter walks to hotel rooms booked thanks to Mark Essien. Love at Aké.

img_20161116_204130The men who have written things are fragile and light weight. The women are liquid fire unconcerned by your discomfort at their brightness. You should invite only women next year I say to Lọlá when my heart is expanding, full with Títílọpẹ́ and Lebo’s words. The panel with Panashe and Chinelo. Kadaria Ahmed. The women are busy! A truth Títílọpẹ́ tells.

There is talk about labia and clitoris. About mental health and terrorism. Science fiction and horror. Prison stories and what not.

It is not all good. For one, I end up on the last day after the closing ceremony with blue balls. I am yet to forget his shoes or shirt and I have never wanted like I did there. Another bad is the food which has the appeal of perfectly warmed cardboard paper. The lines for the food are long, it sells out, and hungry feet shuffle to the next panel to get their minds filled.

Let us not talk about Brymo. Or Fálànà or Àdùnní Nefertiti. Words in virtual ink seated on glowing screens cannot describe feeling evoked by these musicians audio beauty.

img_20161117_111609A film of torture victims who talk in victory chants summoned by courageous sputters of languages you cannot inhibit, is shown. Aké Festival is about freedom. The finding of borderless spaces beneath your skin. Everyone’s vulnerability scouting the rooms and halls, feeling corners for awkward that fit theirs. It is space to remember you are not alone in being. Space to reject your not-enough-ness. It is six days of flirting with Moje and laughing with Títí, staring at Fọpẹ́’s ass, meeting Kọ́lá and Fu’ad. Hearing, “how long have you had your hair for?” Seeing authors handle their fame and remembering that a compliment is an unfortunate thing.  Six days of wanting to sit next to Ráyọ̀ and say ‘I worry if you are happy in the evenings. I am happy for your existence in life and on Twitter. ‘

On many afternoons, in between tweeting, I run walk behind the big rectangle with brand names, push out tears and lock the toilet door. Then I slip to the floor and start to cry. This is new. I feel as though I am tilting to the left, like the world is flat but flapping, side to side and I am tilting. My back is firm against the thing that separates this stall from the next and I part my curtain tears and ask God when the thing separating me in life from me in death will tilt and fall.

img_20161117_160902“Nobody has ever fallen while climbing Olúmọ rock”, the tour guide assures as we near the peak. His sing-song voice brings to mind the praise singer of the Aláké of Ẹ̀gbáland whom we have just visited.

Near the Etisalat lounge I play a game of guess-whose-smile-is-a-function-of-their-perceived-need-to-portray-societally-acceptable-demeanor. I count 5 in all.

On the day that we form a most inefficient assembling line and haul 6,000 plus plastic bottles of carbonated poison to the store, I find joy. I meet Phidelia with the nice breasts. Somebody throws a crate out of tangent and breaks the showglass where the food is displayed. I discover that if I shake my head Justin Bieber-ish enough and sit cross-legged on the floor, I can convince self that self is cool. We are too tired to feign regret for long.

There are arguments about homophobia and second time volunteers are a bit disillusioned. Lọlá is like lightning sharing space with coconut candy balls in tight plastic and Ify has nice shoes. Jessica wears quiet smiles accentuated with almost black lip sticks and Tósin is the saner, meaner version of crazy Ayọ̀. I don’t know about Nanzing, mostly because he is the only one of the team who is this line of thought is not fully formed.

img_20161119_092440I wake up one day and it is Sunday. Aké festival has ended with a brown envelope in my bag packed full with books. I find that the person who responded to my tweet for a ride to Lagos is a man I curved politely the night before. He had very bad things in mind. I block him on Twitter where he went to find me, and refuse to ask “why me”, although I desperately want to.

I want to know why, somehow, the rapey crowd hovers around me.

But if you are female and have just experienced Aké you are firmly situated in yourself. No person, irrespective of the happenings between their legs and lack of sense upstairs can make your notion of self waver. Inside my 6 day-dream in Abẹ́òkuta, the goal is a success. I have found self.

Me – lover of books and men with red shoes – return to Lagos, armed with new friends. My name is Stephanie.

________

Stephanie Ohumu is a writer who doesn’t understand why bios have to be written in third person. She currently lives on Twitter: @SI_Ohumu.

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Press Release: Irawo Poetry Anthology

PRESS RELEASE – Ibadan, November 21, 2016

Irawo Poetry Anthology:

48 poems celebrating 48 years of Irawo University Centre, Ibadan

We are glad to announce that 48 poems have been accepted for publication in the 2017 Irawo Poetry Anthology.

 

Irawo University Centre is a private hall of residence for male students, principally of the University of Ibadan. This Centre is one of the numerous educational and social welfare projects promoted by the Educational Co-operation Society, a non-profit oriented body. Irawo was established in 1969, admitted her first residents in 1972 and moved to its definitive site in 1990. That same year, the University of Ibadan recognized Irawo University Centre as “a private hall of residence associated with the university” – the first to be thus acknowledged in the Nigeria University System. The key aim of Irawo is to contribute to the academic, professional, human, cultural and spiritual formation of the student. To do this, emphasis is placed on creating in Irawo an atmosphere conducive to serious academic work.

It will be recalled that earlier this year we made a call for submissions for the Irawo Poetry Anthology as part of activities to commemorate the 48th Anniversary of Irawo University Centre. The proceeds from the sale of the anthology will be ploughed into the Irawo Development Fund. The themes for the call for submissions were poems reflecting the following: justice, unity, strength, perseverance, progress, love and diversity. The call for entry closed at 12 midnight of August 31, 2016.

We received a total of 107 submissions from 54 Nigerian poets. The poems went through a blind review process by three renowned Nigerian writers. The three distinguished judges are: Tádé Ìpàdéọlá (lawyer, author of Sahara Testaments which won the 2013 NLNG Prize for Poetry and winner of the 2009 Delphic Laurel in Poetry), Mark Nwagwu (Professor of Molecular & Cell Biology and author of the poetry trilogy – Helen not of Troy, Cat Man Dew and HelenaVenus) and Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún (Fulbright scholar, writer, linguist, Editor of The Sail Literary Anthology and irawo-poetry-anthology-posterFounder of YorubaName.com).

The 48 considered suitable by the judges for the Irawo Poetry Anthology are listed below.

S/No Title Poet
1 Crux Lawrence Aniawana
2 Timi Uchenna J. Obi-Ibeh
3 The Voice Ogunlaye Olatunde
4 A Letter to the Future Chidiebere G. Udeokechukwu
5 The Key Stanley Aduaka
6 Broken Boluwatife Afolabi
7 A Song of Colours Boluwatife Afolabi
8 Can Two Be One? Oluwatoyosi Agbaaikin
9 Is Love? Oluwatoyosi Agbaaikin
10 Ifunaya…. Ololade Akinlabi
11 The Scales, the Blindfold and the Sword Obinna Amaji
12 Bed of Stone Amamchukwu Chinonoso
13 Ife Mi Amamchukwu Chinonoso
14 Friendly Foes Amamchukwu Chinonoso
15 Awaken Sandra Arukwe
16 Tomorrow Sandra Arukwe
17 Herald Bukoye Emmanuel
18 One Bukoye Emmanuel
19 Vigor and Vapor Kelvin Enumah
20 Quake; the Future at Stake Kelvin Enumah
21 A Fu Gi Anaya Norbert Gora
22 The Broken Last Straw Ikeobi Samuel Chukwubuokem
23 Sapele Water Emuobome Jemikalajah
24 Ikenike Emuobome Jemikalajah
25 Lost Ones Fumbi Ajumobi
26 Dear Dunni Mofoluwawo O Mojolaoluwa
27 The Sun Will Smile Chuks Obi
28 Behind Bars Chuks Obi
29 The Sun Shall Soon Shine Ojo Oreluwa
30 Let’s Stay Together… Segun Onaade
31 Abiku Teleola Onifade
32 Kafanchan Ayomide Owoyemi
33 Kiniun Onibudo Ayomide Owoyemi
34 Palm Tree Oluwatobi Moses Sotanmide
35 One Day Oluwatobi Moses Sotanmide
36 Innocent Till Proven Guilty Chidi Joe Umechukwu
37 Virtual Reality Olufemi Abidogun
38 My Memorabilia Tumilara Adesina
39 Story of our Toppled Storey Tumilara Adesina
40 Moving Clouds Ebisike Chinedum
41 Unity Mofoluwawo Favour Ona-Ara
42 Dawn Taiwo Olawehinmi
43 The Housewife Luke Ogar
44 The Ghost Town Luke Ogar
45 Island of Ice Emmanuel Nwobi
46 Rumble in the Jungle Emmanuel Nwobi
47 The Repose of an Anthill Emmanuel Nwobi
48 Back to our Roots Mahuemolen Odibo

Nwachukwu Egbunike and Emmanuel Nwobi

Editors

Irawo Poetry Anthology

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Befriending Lagos: A Benin Story

By Stephanie Ohumu

It is October, in the year of Donald Trump, 2016. I have recently moved to Lagos.  On the first day of work, I start to live. I walk in, breasts uncased and participate in surprising normalcy. Wild and free breasts do not bother the people here.  This is how I know that I will be fine in this Lagos. Just fine.

img_20161026_162122My name is Stephanie and I am 20. Inside of my heart is mourning for Benin, where I have lived all my life. This isn’t a story you have not read before. If you can believe census figures,  Lagos is home to 18 million. Many of whom were  not born here.

Everybody comes to Lagos with stifled love for their birthplace and hungry yearning for the city that will make them. Yawn. This is about, well, fuck if I know.

I am living in Yaba. Alágoméjì, if you’re big on details. In a serviced apartment with flatmates on the same evolutionary level as me. There are no fights. Every day, I walk to work. It is just by the corner on Herbert Macaulay. At night, I walk back home. And sleep. This is my routine until, one morning inside of Slack, I sort of cease to be employed.

img_20161002_214230Now I have to move out of the apartment where the generator comes on at 9 and dies at 6. I move to Kétu. In truth, this is when I truly move to Lagos. To the yellow of marwas, renaming of bole (appaz it is called bọ̀lì here) and boarding calls to Ọbáléndé, repeated until you are certain that that Tekno song you can’t get out of your head was low key produced by a conductor at Toll Gate.

So far,  this is what Lagos means to me:

Proof.
That if you are mentally ill, the people in your head will relocate with you to new cities. Go to the doctor and start your treatment. Migration is not a treatment plan for bipolar.

An uncurled palm.
This is a space to trace lines of uninhibited passage. If you can walk it, walk it. Be, but only if you dare. Proclaim your batch number and run with it. Stop. Change your style. Be like that until the next stop.

Evidence of life.
screenshot-205In the very many heads of tired bodies awaiting the arrival of BRT buses. In the secondary school student occupying a world in Yorùbá to which my illiteracy bars me entry. The same one I will teach to check her Gmail as an assignment in a dingy café. Life is happening in this city of multiples, in multiples, daily.

And I am here. Existing in the pace of this place. One hurried foot and then the next. Power walking to catch a bus that will be replaced by another in a moment not because haste is required but because it is expected. I have just moved to Lagos and life is happening. So this is me, atop the uncurled palm, paying tribute to the city by living alongside it.

One month in mind.

On the anniversary of your migration, we remember the Benin girl you once were.

Signed,
Phoenix, for the Tenants in Her Head.

____________

Stephanie Ohumu is a writer who doesn’t understand why bios have to be written in third person. She currently lives on Twitter: @SI_Ohumu.

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