Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Art Matriarch

Frances Ademola tells the story of how art has evolved in Ghana forty years since setting up her gallery The Loom.


From the creative ambience inside of her forty year old gallery called The Loom on Kwame Nkrumah Road, Adabraka, Accra, Frances Ademola has over seen the Ghanaian art industry and watched it evolve over time. Returning to Accra in 1969 after a 12 year sojourn in Nigeria where she had been married to the late Adenekan, son of Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, former chief justice of Nigeria, she found out that the Ghanaian art scene could do with some tinkering. Stimulated by the creative atmosphere of Ibadan where she had resided, she craved to re-enact something of that nature in Accra.

“I was stimulated by Nigerian art and creativity and was curious to find out more about the art of my country” says 81 year-old Aunty Frances as she is fondly called by many. Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onobrapkeya and Jimoh Buraimoh among many others were some of the major artists that she recalls coming into contact with during her sojourn in Nigeria. She had also worked as an assistant to author Chinua Achebe at the Talks Department of the Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation as well as edited an anthology of Nigerian poetry and prose titled Reflections that was published by the African Universities Press.

Hence, when she returned to Accra she set up The Loom, the premier privately-owned and run art gallery in the city. Forty years later, the fruits of her labour can be found around the gallery which now houses the works of about 120 artists, mostly Ghanaians. It was a different ball game when she commenced business in 1969 as there was a dearth of local artists. “When I started I could count the number of artists on the fingers of two hands” she says. The more notable artists were the ones who had come in through the academia like Ablade Glover, Ato Delaquis, Ben Offei-Nyarko and Larry Otoo. She feels the encouragement that she has given others outside of the academic environment has made more artists come out into the open with their unique creative eye different from those that attended art schools. Even then Ademola says most of the artists who were teachers have now opened their own art schools as an avenue to train artists who do no not have the requisite qualifications to enter academic institutions. “Art is no longer the preserve of the educated or elite” she says “everybody can (now) be an artist. I encouraged that revolution” she says with pride. “She has made immense contributions to the development and growth of art in Ghana since the 1960s and also helped create a forum for intellectual discourse of art” says John Owoo, a prominent Ghanaian culture writer and journalist.

Even though Ademola misses the vibrancy of the Nigerian art scene which she still keeps up with during visits to the country, she thinks Ghanaian artists are increasingly coming to their own. She feels that the reason for the vibrancy in the Nigerian art environment was because many Nigerians stayed true to their roots and kept their identity intact because of the diversity in the country. She feels Ghanaians were a little inclined to be Europeanized perhaps losing their identity until independence thereby keeping the creative scene on the back burner. But a cultural rejuvenation which is represented by the Akan word and symbol Sankofa has seen many Ghanaians reach back into the past to fetch the lost legacies. For a long time she used to receive works from artists who wanted to cater to the tourists’ market by painting works which they referred to as “African”, she has seen a shift into more serious work over time with greater experimentation among artists.

Designed by Kenneth Scott, an Australian architect, the Loom is located inside the Samlotte House named after her parents Sir Samuel and Lady Charlotte Quarshie-Idun, once the chief justice of Western Nigeria and later the first president of the Court of Appeal for Eastern Africa. It houses works of artists with varying backgrounds and the oldest artist with works on display in the gallery is about 95 years-old while the youngest is barely fifteen. “The future’s taken care of” she says. “Art is on-going and new artists are coming all the time”. Gearing up to take over the affairs of the gallery when she retires is her son Adekoye whom she says will bring in “21st century ideas” to run the place. But before then, she makes it a point to reject works which are copies of other people’s artworks. “I’m the eye of the buyer. It’s a good thing that I’m not an artist” she concludes saying “this saves me from being prejudiced”.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

July 10, 1999 OAU Slayings: Still Ife cries for justice

The Senate building of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. Photo by Ololade Adewuyi

A decade after an early morning attack by the Black Axe cult on the Ife varsity campus led to the death of five students, none of the assailants has been brought to book which brings the question of crime and punishment in Nigeria to fore again
A quiet veil covered the George Akinyemi Iwilade House, residence of David Iwilade’s family along Odo-Ori, Ejigbo Road, Iwo, when this reporter arrived there on a Sunday afternoon recently. The house named after the slain former Secretary General of the Students’ Union Government, SUG, of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State is a constant reminder for the Iwilade family that they once had a son who might have been destined for greatness. Described by many as a brilliant young leader, George was the smallest among the students’ executives but certainly the most articulate. He always wore an Afro haircut and tailored Ankara buba and sokoto on his small figure. But their hopes and George’s aspirations all came to naught when he was brutally killed in his sleep in the early hours of July 10, 1999 on his hostel bed by a group of over 15 hit men of the Black Axe Confraternity. It was an incident which turned the serene silence on the campus of Nigeria’s most celebrated university into chaos.
Cultism had never held much prestige on the campus because of the fervent struggle by management and students to keep it at bay. The problem of cultism in Nigeria took a new dimension as innocent students were shot and hacked to their death. For previous cases of killings on campuses had either involved a battle for supremacy among cult groups or more commonly the fight over female love interests. This was an attack at the soul of the SUG for daring to stand up to it. It was reminiscent of the recently concluded struggle of civil society groups against military rule, good versus evil. Less than two months into democratic rule, the country was alerted to the new threat posed by the clandestine activities of secret cults against constituted legal entities, one of the bad legacies of the country’s many years under dictatorship. In that gruesome attack, five promising students of the OAU met an untimely death. Iwilade, 21, a Law student, who was a prime target of the cultists for his stand against cultism, alongside innocent victims Eviano Ekelemu, 24, a Medical student, Yemi Ajiteru, 30, extra-year student of Religious Studies, Efe Ekpede, 26, Psychology, and Babatunde Oke, 24, Philosophy were killed. Blood as well as tears flowed on the well-kept green lawns of the varsity campus as dawn broke on that July morning.
Ten years after Iwilade and others were robbed of existence by this evil group, not one person has been brought to justice for the act. It is a disturbing fact that has made the family withdraw from the public eye for a long time and also try to resist any act that might bring back sad memories to it. Patriarch of the household David Iwilade refused to speak with this reporter in Iwo recently leaving the task to Akin, the late George’s younger brother. Since the intervening years, the family had followed the criminal justice procedure that was setup to find the killers of their son. First it was the Justice Okoi Itam-led Judicial Commission of Inquiry that sat in the varsity campus to resolve the situation. The panel shed great light on the causes of the crisis and reprimanded the administration of Wale Omole for its high handed treatment of students. It also exonerated him of any intent as claimed by a faction of the SUG that he had sponsored the killings. Then it was up to the Osun State judiciary to try three suspected cult members arrested over the course of a week by students of the institution led by its president Lanre Adeleke also known as Legacy. The criminal process dragged on for five years with the court throwing out the case against the suspects for lack of evidence. The families have since filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal in Ibadan. But the suspects have posted bail since and have lived as freemen for half a decade.
Even though the Iwilade’s think it is impossible to rewrite history, the magazine set about to unravel the mysteries which the killings threw up for the society. Immediately after the incident, the SUG led by Adeleke claimed that the killings had been perpetrated at the behest of embattled outgoing vice chancellor Professor Wale Omole who had taken up a strong ground against reinstating some of the expelled former leaders of the union. Omole, a former student leader during his time as a student of the institution was an easy target. From facts available to the magazine, he had been abroad on official duties during the slaying but was quickly alleged by the students to have masterminded the killings, whether in good judgment or otherwise. It was the easiest thing to do anyway because the bulk of the student body had become disenchanted with his highhanded running of the institution. But it was because of his strong principles that made him clash regularly with the SUG over the reinstatement of former students’ leader Anthony Fasayo and his group who had in 1995 disrupted the convocation ceremony of the institution. Omole in lieu with the university Council had requested that the expelled students apologise for their errant behaviour which the students refused. It was a stand that created great tension on the campus in the days leading up to the cult killings.
Earlier on March 7, late Iwilade had led a group of students to arrest nine alleged cultists who had arms and ammunition with them at the staff quarters of the school. The nine boys, Evimori Kester, Dele Aromoloye, Larry Obichie, Uche Obichie, Ikechukwu Mordi, Mayowa Adegoke, Olakanmi Ogundele, Bruno Arinze and Lanre Ajayi who belonged to the Black Axe Confraternity had been paraded around school by Iwilade and Kayode Usamot, also known as Pintos, the financial secretary of the union. The boys were later handed over to the police at Moore Police Station for further prosecution. The school management sent out a release announcing a suspension of the nine boys and commended the union for its fight “in wiping out cultism” on the campus. That singular act by the students’ body was to set in motion the killings that occurred five months later. Angered that its top members had been shabbily treated which created a seeming impenetrability of the OAU by cultists and cultism, the Black Axe family got together to exert a revenge on the university, most importantly, the student leaders. Hence, the attacks that led to the deaths of Iwilade and his comrades.
But from TELL investigations, the attacks might have been just a smokescreen to achieve some other ends in the university. Chief among these aims was the removal of Omole as vice chancellor, to discredit him and the process which he had put in place to select a new VC seeing that his tenure was about to come to an end. Prior to the killings, a panel had chosen three names out of a list of 22 eminent personalities that had shown intention to become the new VC when Omole left the institution that he had served for 31 years. Top on this list were men that had worked with the outgoing VC and who were seen by the student leaders as his cronies. They perceived that if any of these three became VC, the policies of Omole would live on through them, chief being the refusal to reinstate Fasayo and the expelled students. A form of chaos was needed to undo the process as the names were about to be sent to former President Obasanjo for ratification. Another twist in the race was the issue of the agitation of lecturers from Ekiti state to produce the next VC of the institution. Being the largest group of teachers in the school, the body of eminently qualified Ekiti professors had always agitated for one of their sons to become the next VC but the process of selection had ensured for the umpteenth time that they were not going to have that satisfaction because the top three people came from Ondo and Ogun states. It was a tense period in the academia.
Another of the major reasons for the chaos according to sources is that of the crack within the leadership of the students union itself. Prior to the killings, there had been a falling out between Adeleke and Idris Faro, the public relations officer of the union. Faro had led a breakaway which included Usamot, Tolu Ogunnimo, the welfare officer, Tunji Lawal, assistant secretary general and Bimbo Faloye, the director of socials. They were at loggerheads with Adeleke’s faction that included Iwilade for its dogged attitude towards the reinstatement of the expelled students. In a release titled Fraudsters masquerading as activists, Faro had called for an end to the struggle for reinstatement because the students involved had not shown penitence as required by the school. Furthermore, he alleged that Adeleke had jettisoned the struggle against the reinstatement by refusing to participate in a rally that was aimed at disrupting the Nigeria ’99 football championships to hit home their point after allegedly receiving some money from the Federal Government. The counter claims and charges on all sides went on till the attacks on the institution were perpetrated.
After the attacks in the early morning of that fateful Saturday, many people grieved all over the country. It was not the first time cultists were killing fellow students but it was the first that involved casualty that was non-cultists. The melee that followed saw the students leaders and activist types hit town in search of the perpetrators. One of those apprehended was Efosa Idahosa who under torture alleged that Omole had been the brains behind the attacks. He later recanted. Two others, Aisekhaghe Ikhile and Olufemi Samuel were tortured to death in the custody of the students and their leaders. In the scamper to leave the boiling atmosphere of the school, many students made unscheduled trips home. Seyi Ojewale, a final year student of Economics died on his way to Lagos to become part of the collateral damage. Several others had been hurt during the attacks on the students and ended up being treated at various hospitals in the town. Idahosa would later appear in court on trial for murder alongside two other suspected cultists Kazeem Bello and Emmanuel Oguaju. They were later discharged and acquitted after a three year criminal process by the late Justice Yusuf of the Osogbo High Court after the defendants put up a plea of “no case submission”. Niyi Adewumi, lawyer to the students union who assisted the Osun director of public prosecution, believes that the case was caught up in the internal politics of the state judiciary at the time seeing that Justice Yusuf lost interest in the proceedings because of his being overlooked for the position of chief judge by the Bisi Akande administration. He says in spite of a positive evidence of identification by a witness who claimed to see Idahosa with arms on the morning of the murder, the court held that he had no case to answer.
Instantly, the federal government suspended Omole and appointed Roger Makanjuola, a professor of Psychiatry and former chief medical director of the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, OAUTH, as acting VC. Makanjuola, who had lost out in the race for VC, was seen by many as a unifying figure to help move the university forward from the imbroglio. He set to his task helping to heal the wounds of the recent past with a new style of administration that could at best be described as hands on. He moved among the students freely and tried as much as possible to ease their pains. A while after his appointment he made a move to reinstate Fasayo and his expelled colleagues which doused the tension on the campus. In a recent interview with the magazine, he stated categorically that he never found any evidence to link Omole with the killings, instead blaming it on the humiliation suffered by the Black Axe.
But a decade after, Adeleke still holds the same old grudges against Omole. Speaking from his fish farm in Ota, Ogun State, Adeleke’s countenance still remains strong. He spoke like he was on the dais addressing a political meeting. Sometimes he got carried away and raised a finger in the air with a penetrating stare that tells at heart he is a politician. He alleges that Omole bought away the other half of the executive. On his part, Faro, now a barrister at law with a thriving practice of his own on Lagos Island, claims Adeleke lied about the incident. He said Adeleke was quick to point accusing fingers at Omole because he knew about the attacks. He claims the attacks were aimed at eliminating his group and that Iwilade happened to have been the only major victim within the executive. Usamot, now an accountant in Port Harcourt also corroborates Faro’s views. Usamot says he “got tired of life and wept” and claims it was obvious that the cultists explored the crisis within the executive to perpetrate the attacks. “If the wall is not cracked, lizards will not enter,” he says. United in their anger, they all regret that ten years after, no one has been sent to jail for the killings. “It is a statement to the fact that persons can commit crime and go scotfree in a country that lays claim to the rule of law,” says Faro angrily. For his part, Adeleke feels that it is “unfortunate that the porous nature of our judicial system would allow the hand of justice to be turned away”.
But more important a lesson that should have been learnt from the Ife crisis is the fact that cultism has grown unfettered in Nigeria, first from the schools and now into a lingering problem which has eaten deep into the  nation's politics. The Federal government had an opportunity to fight cultism through the Ife experience but did not, only releasing a meager N10 million for each university to raise up billboards on campuses denouncing cultism instead of rooting out the malaise. It is an approach that failed which has resulted into a bigger problem in society. “The cult boys of yesterday are now the political leaders of today,” says Omole. “Our politics has been hijacked by former campus thugs. Now cults fight for political relevance on the political sphere rather than on campuses because there’s more money there.” It is a view supported by Dayo Fadugba, a former PRO of the Ife SUG. He says that society’s decadence led to the increase in cultism and that it is glaring to all with the situation in the Niger Delta where politicians have been sponsoring cultists to fight against their opponents thereby heating up the system. Makanjuola posits that there are three ways to end cultism. These he says are prevention, rehabilitation and punishment. But the most important thing he says is the need to have a cohesive students union that can band together to bring an end to the malaise because it is the students who know their colleagues that are into the vice. “If any organized students union decides to get rid of cultism on campus, they will do it,” Makanjuola emphasizes. Adewumi believes that cultism will continue to thrive until the governmental agencies in charge of prosecuting illegal activities wake up to their duty. “The attitude of the police and government have made cultism thrive in Nigeria because they have not pursued tenaciously the trial of people accused of murder,” he says.
Far from the problem only being with the cults, students unions also share a part of the blame. For the most part, most student unions on Nigerian campuses are run like fascist organisations where those with the biggest thugs are in charge of affairs. Instead of being an avenue for training into leadership, unions have become a way to embezzle funds and ensure the rule of force and brigandage. “Many student leaders seem to believe that violence and oppression are the tools that they should use to get their aim,” laments Makanjuola who suffered physical attacks from students’ leaders during his tenure as the institution’s VC. Looking back, Faro sees that there is too much exuberance among student leaders. Like Golding’s marooned boys in the Lord of the Flies, while on campus, students’ leaders forget that they have a responsibility to society and their families but they go ahead and cause havoc. “It is not wrong to try and change a bad system but they become part of the rot on the long run because they end up not being able to account for students’ funds and they try to hide their weaknesses by appealing to the gullible sensibilities of the generality of the students to ensure they’re never expelled or made to account for their stewardship,” Faro says.
Still for the families of the victims of July 10, 1999, the long wait for justice continues. “We don’t care if the criminals were A or B, it doesn’t matter who they are, all we are concerned about is that justice is served for us the victims,” says Akin Iwilade. Time will tell if the victims of Ife’s carnage ever get justice as the years roll over themselves even as the dead turn in their graves with anger at a society that allows the blood of its young to be spilt needlessly by criminal gangs. The Abelian blood of Ife’s dead still cries out against the sons of Cain that perpetrated the evil act.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Abati's A Nation's Identity Crisis

We should be objective in criticising Mr Abati's article. He has raised some valid arguments. When I listen to the Reggae music that I grew up on in the late 80's and early 90s, I realise that what the teenagers of today are growing up on is all junk. Most of the music that is made by our singers, yes they're all mostly singers, are ephemeral and empty noise. There are those among them that will stand the test of time but the bulk is all a clangy clangy recourse to crass commercialism aimed at an audience that is too light brained to ask for better music.

I recently did an article on Gbenga Adeboye's comedy and I realised that the research that went into his works is far greater than what obtains from today's "star" comics. We have thrown great research to the dogs all because we want to make money.

But I like to disagree with Abati's claim that the word Naija is a neologism of this generation. I first heard the expression "omo Naija" in 1990 growing up in Akure, Ondo state. Maybe the growth of the expression is what troubles him, I can't tell. But he sure raises some valid arguments.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Toni Kan’s dark stories of Lagos

In a new collection, Toni Kan explores the contradictions of living in a big city like Lagos with its myriad problems.


Toni Kan sat down in the hot seat silently listening to opinions about his new book. It was like a case of having to answer in the open for what one did in secret, for many writers are nocturnal beings who thrive in the quiet away from prying eyes. The audience was unsparing as they took him to task about his several subject matters during the public presentation and reading of his short story collection Nights of the creaking bed and poems Songs of absence and despair published by Cassava Republic at the Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.

His bespectacled brow took in every moment even as distractions came in from several angles. “My stories represent urban contemporary Nigeria” he says. “They begin with joy and end with sadness”. They are typical stories about Lagos life which according to a character in the story Ahmed is “the big city that was built on water where men who were not careful took mermaids for wives”.

Kan explores his stories from a child’s view point having first come to Lagos himself at the age 11 years. No wonder he gives a wide-eyed telling of some of the stories. Kan has described himself as a happy person who tells sad stories. Most of the stories are tinged with sadness and what he describes as the “e ya!” phenomenon.

In Kan’s Lagos, life and death are as common as going to bed and waking up. They are ever present factors in the daily life of Lagosians. He says his first time of seeing a corpse was during his premier visit to the city when he woke up to see a dead man in front of his aunt’s residence. He has never been able to remove his mind from the shock which he got back then.

Hence, Kan is comfortable with death as a topic. He does not blink an eye before putting any of his characters to the mortality test. A couple of them die easy, painful deaths. Ahmed gets electrocuted on his maiden trip to Lagos; Uncle John dies in the act of sex with a “condom that covered his erection like a shroud” and Broda Sonnie is hacked to death until all that was left of him “was a bloody mass”.

Many others explore topics on sexuality, infidelity, incest and adultery. There’s the woman in “My perfect life” who finds an old lover again. “I am the wife of a kind, loving and gentle man” she says, but cannot drag herself away from her new found fiery passion. She decides to take the path which will make the “sounds of my own laughter sound better to my own ears”.

For many Africans, a woman’s adultery is a taboo topic to write about. But Kan makes his stories come to life, effortlessly. Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, his publisher, rises to his defence. She says that African women have enough extra marital affairs just as the men do. “Men commit adultery and nobody complains” she says. “But have you ever wondered who the men commit adultery with? They have affairs with married women!”

Fourteen short stories that read, sometimes, like poetry. Critic Toyin Akinosho says the best part of the book is in its good English. “Many Nigerian books are poorly written but this is a breath of fresh air” he says. It can be read at a sitting and if one wants to conserve enjoyment, it can be taken one piece at a time.

Kan has described his inspiration as the “Page Three” stories of everyday people in newspapers. Stories, he says, that make you look at the human condition in a new light. He surely scores a pass mark with the way his characters embody the human frailties, beauties and contradictions, something that abounds in Lagos.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ekiti's shame

I'm from Ekiti, well, my father is. Haven't been there in almost a decade but I feel ashamed for my people and the way the recent re-run elections were held. I reported the Ghanaian elections for my magazine and I saw how peaceful things went. Here the politicians are too desperate to hold on to power that they'd do anything to win.

I cry for my people. I cry for the state of Nigeria. I weep for a bleak future.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Modupe Temi by Saheed Balogun

I only saw Saheed Balogun's Modupe Temi as directed by Daniel Ademinokan last night. I'm not one to sit and watch movies but the film arrested me with its picture quality, lighting, set decor and camera angles. But the most impressive thing about the work is the narrative technique. Saheed Balogun surely scores a big 8/10 from me for the story and you can't fault the acting from both him and Doris Simeon the only cast.

Imagine sustaining the attention of your viewers for more than an hour with just two people(I remember Waiting for Godot)! It takes the sheer brilliance of someone who must have worked on stage before. I don't know if Balogun has ever written for stage but I was stuck to the conversation between the warring couple and laughed, and laughed and laughed (Gabriel Okara).

The story in essence tells about how couples should not settle their problems, do not add more fuel to the raging fire when there's an argument. Interesting till the end but I have a few knocks for the way the conflict was resolved and the ending. Nigerian movies are always trying too hard to end on fine notes that they have to always put in the often annoying resolution of hitting great wealth. It is a sad thing but in all I enjoyed the movie and I'd encourage anyone out there to see it.

Learnt that it's become part of the in flight entertainment of Virgin Nigeria. It's that interesting.

Big ups to Saheed and Doris, great direction from Ademinokan.

I think one of the other lessons one should take away from the movie is when Donald (Balogun) tells his daughter to speak Yoruba and not English, a big shot at many of us who out of ignorance speak English to our children at the expense of our mother tongue. And worse still, most of the English we speak is so poor that we should be ashamed. What a people!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Endangered culture

Lagos is a city always on the move. Even on holidays, Lagosians are in a hurry to keep up with appointments and parties. Amidst the shuffling feet of commuters and the honking horns of motor vehicles and cycles, one of the most endearing images on the ever bustling Lagos Island is that of the roadside bookseller. It is an interesting fact to know that in all the hustle and bustle of city life, Lagosians do take time to buy books and read. It is their knack for reading that has ensured the survival of the book market at the CMS Bus Stop on the strategic intersection between Marina and Broad Street, two major commercial areas on the Lagos Island.

New books, used books, antique, self help, motivationals and rare books are stocked by the roadside sellers who have been there for many years. Just like instant coffee, roadside book stores create easy access to books for a population always in a hurry. Among the more popular titles on sale are Chinua Achebe’s 1958 classic Things Fall Apart and the more recent Dreams from My Father and Audacity of Hope both by American President Barack Obama.

“Some of the books are not in shops” says a Lagos residence simply called Prince who picked up two volumes at the roadside. “They are also easy for me to buy them on the way to work” he says.

The efforts of the Lagos government at cleaning up the city and restoring it to its master plan could signal death to the pastime of browsing and purchasing literature on the streets. Many of the sellers have been made to vacate their positions and retreat into a less visible area where the public does not easily get access to them. This is a disregard to the fact that society needs books as well as newspapers, which ironically have been allowed to remain on the streets to sell.
Christian, a father of three, has been a seller on the road for more than 12 years. In all that time he has sold many a book to several thousand people. One of his most famous customers is star comedian Ali Baba who he says comes to buy volumes on English grammar. But perhaps his greatest joy apart from fulfilling his many expectations on the home front (building a home in his village, moving from an Ajegunle hell hole into a more spacious residence in Isolo and keeping his children in school) with proceeds of the trade is the testimony by people of having bought books from him that have changed their lives.

“When a man walks up to me dressed in a good suit and tells me he got his new job after reading a book that he bought from me, I feel so happy” Christian says.
But sales returns have been low since they were made to vacate the roadside and enter into a fenced commune not so far away. Many of their customers have stopped coming, making true of the aphorism in a city like Lagos: out of sight, out of mind.
Only time will tell where the greater danger lies, for a mind that does not read is like a stream which does not flow, it slowly builds up with fungi and bacteria.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

All new TELL Website

TELL Magazine has launched an all new website and it's got the kicks. Now readers can enjoy reading their favourite columnist Dele Omotunde's Opilogue online.
The site is still being test run though but it promises to give the best in investigative journalism from the most respected title in Nigeria.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ibo Made

Could not but share this article because it occured to me recently when I heard an Ibo friend of mine refer to something as Ibo made. In all sincerity, I try not to make statements that may sound racist, ethnic or tribal in the ears of others. But this friend of mine jolted me in Accra when she said she suspected that something in the market was probably Ibo made, meaning inferior. But reading Pius Adesanmi's article in Next sheds more light on the issue for me. Pls find it here

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: Every dog has his day

By Ololade Adewuyi

Coming in the tradition of small films hitting it big on Oscar night, Slumdog Millionaire cemented for itself a place in Hollywood history by taking eight awards (including the most coveted Best Picture and Best Director) on Oscar night, Sunday February 23. Like many unheralded small budget films that went on to become big (think of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Driving Miss Daisy, etc), Slumdog is the story of love, hope and redemption in a crazy world such as the one we live in.

It is the story of the lucky underdog going to become the centre of attraction akin to the rejected stone turning to be the cornerstone of a building. It’s a typical rags to riches story from the many slums that dot the world’s major cities, Rio to Cairo and Lagos to Jo’burg. A boy rises from out of the dust and finds love even though it takes a lifetime for him to be able to hold his loved one in his arms; his hope for a better tomorrow is always dogged by misfortune and loss until he hits it big by playing the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. And just when he thinks he’s got a lucky break, he gets arrested out of suspicion of being a fraud.

Jamal Malik and his elder brother Salim, two Mumbai rats that refer to themselves as the musketeers have had to fend for themselves from a tender age. They lose their mother in a carnage which erupts from the ever present sectarian crises, an ugly underbelly of the Indian nation. Their slum is attacked by a group of Hindu rioters who strike their mother dead in a public wash pool. In the ensuing melee and escape to a new life under the harsh weather elements, they meet Latika, an orphaned girl just like them who becomes their “third musketeer”. They are abducted by a group of men posing as saintly orphanage managers who then turn them into street beggars.

Life couldn’t be worse when the boys realize that the singing lessons they have been getting is meant to prepare them for life as blind minstrels because as they say in Mumbai, “(singing) blind beggars earn more than normal beggars”. They escape again and head on a cross country trip which takes them to the Taj Mahal where they become tour guides while robbing unsuspecting western tourists.

Through a series of flashbacks, the story of Slumdog unfolds. It is a gripping tale of horror, hope, love, redemption, humour, pain and suffering in the midst of plenty because Mumbai is one of the richest cities in the world; of adversary and belief in the human capacity to reach for the stars out of the deepest shithole in which one might have jumped into. It’s the tale of waiting for love when everything around us questions the sanity thereof. It’s a story of how life can be the best teacher when one has never been through much of academic learning.

Slumdog is a story of doubt and trusting in one’s instincts. It is a story for all of us in that when the chips are down, we can only look up to follow the trail of the stars to find the next meal and succuor. In this time of massive recession the world over, it is no wonder that Slumdog has become a feel good movie for many who see great hope in its storyline. Just like Forrest Gump, it makes you want to cry, laugh and hug someone close by as the final credits role. It is a great escape from a world filled with saintly monsters and the really bad guys who are waiting to take advantage of the helpless.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Desailly’s charitable joy

Marcel Desailly tests the new water pump he just commissioned.

Former footballer Marcel Desailly helps out on charity work in a remote village in Ghana’s mountainous Eastern region.


Agajajeter is an almost forgotten town on the banks of the Volta Lake, in Upper Manya Krobo district of Ghana’s Eastern Region. Tucked away inside a place where the last access roads were said to have been built under the regime of Kwame Nkrumah in the early 1960s, its people have little or no contact with the world. A single beat up taxi cab operates between the village and its neighbours. Its children have to walk 45 minutes to the next village on its hill top side every morning to attend the only school in a 100 mile radius as the single taxi cab cannot serve everybody.

Likewise for its pregnant women whose mortality rate has increased due to the lack of a health centre in the village. The name Agajajeter in the Krobo tongue literally means the crab is the stone. The town was founded as a resettlement after its people were displaced by the creation of the Volta Dam under Nkrumah in the early 60s. It is said that there were crabs everywhere when the people first arrived there that if one needed to throw a stone all one needed was to pick a crab on the ground and use as stone.

Two years ago, a group of housewives in Accra led by Emma Moisan felt they needed to use their spare time to assist less privileged people in the society. Perceiving that there was too much concentration of efforts of non-governmental humanitarian organizations on the city area, they decided to look for a remote village where their impact will be better felt. Hence the discovery of the long forgotten Agajajeter village by the Ena Charity Foundation has brought a new lease of life to the village. The foundation raised funds among friends and family and found great help in Marcel Desailly, former France defender and World Cup winner who became patron of the foundation and helped raised money from among his influential football circles. Desailly who was born by Ghanaian parents but moved to France when he was four after his mother remarried went on to play for France winning its first Mundial in 1998 as well as the Euro in 2000. Having made Ghana home since his retirement in 2005, Desailly who is a UNICEF ambassador has increasingly found time for business and charity work.

“I am a businessman and luckily because of the fame of football I’ve met so many people who are in different social levels” Desailly says “and I’ve realized that I’m high up there because as a footballer everybody can get access to you and I’m all the time conscientious about the reality of life”. He cut the ceremonial ribbon for the commissioning of a borehole, a gari processing and packaging factory, sewing and training workshop as well as present gifts to pupils of the lone school in the village that Ena helped finance and train its teachers.

Interestingly, it was Desailly’s first time of seeing how gari is made at the processing factory. “I know gari but I’ve never seen it made before because I grew up in Europe” he said in his French-laced English as he moved around the women who were behind the hearth frying gari for packaging in plastic cans for sale in the nearby cities of Koforidua and Accra. The foundation hopes that all the facilities provided for the community will be used to create economic empowerment for the villagers. The creation of income generating activities and alternative livelihood is meant to help the community become self sustaining.

In Agajajeter, parents believe in sending their children to the farm rather than to school because the returns are more readily seen. “There should be a good balance between sending children to the farm and access to education” says Desailly. “We hope to be able to help the village bridge that gap and ensure that it can better sustain itself with the new tools of economic activity that has been handed to its people”.

Does he miss football one would wonder? “No, I don’t” he says matter of fact. “I played it for 20 years what’s there to miss”. But trust him to hand out footballs to the children of the town who soon get on the field to start kicking around their new found pleasures. “To feel the smile on the faces of the children that they’re happy and not worrying, it’s the motivation about the job” he says. Who knows, maybe there’s a future World Cup winning player on that dusty pitch up there in the mountains of Upper Manya Krobo.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Facebook profiles tell the story of Obama’s Inauguration


As many people worldwide watched with glee the inauguration of 44th US President Barack Obama, the world of online netizens or net citizens left their mark on the day with their profile comments. Users of the popular networking site Facebook were some of the most active. Their profiles spoke of admiration and joy to unbelief and awe.
Eric Tenin, a Paris-based photographer and founder of the online City Daily Photo website had in his profile the sentence “moved by the Obama inauguration”. He had followed the events on CNN earlier in the day. Aderemi Adegbite, a Lagos-based poet and convener of the monthly Poetry Potter was more emotional. His profile comment read “Gbabe OBAMA ni BABA. Filee! Don't touch it! Welcome OBAMA...we are proud of you!”

For Ameyaw Debrah, top celebrity journalist in Accra, Ghana, it was more down to earth as he could relate with Obama’s little glitch in his oath taking. “Obama is too much! Flops on his oath to redeem Mills and Says America must move forward...Is Obama really Not Ghanaian” Debrah asks funnily.

For others it was more of prayers. Eniola Otokiti, an Abuja based Facebook user said ''GOD SEE OBAMA THROUGH''. Kite Ade in Kent, United Kingdom wrote “GOD BLESS OBAMA AND GIVE HIM LOTS OF GODLY WISDOM ESPECIALLY AFTER TODAY”.

Many others were just awed about the moment and the importance it held in time. Tosin Adebisi in Portsmouth, England described the urgency of the moment thus by saying he was “barack-ing his way home to watch history in the making”. This writer would not be outdone as he left his own mark on the day albeit in Yoruba thus: “oju mi ti ri ogo Oluwa ninu aye Obama, Oluwa na yio se temi ni asepe ninu odun yi” meaning my eyes have beheld the glory of the Lord in Obama’s life, the Lord will also bring completion to my life this year. Simply put, young and old, black or white, we all left our beautiful remarks as memoirs for the day America got its first African-American president.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rachel Watanabe-Baton makes Shell's video with Tinny

Rachel (m) gives last minute direction to Tinny and an actress

Women have generally been relegated in the world of hip hop music to the background, and when they take centre stage, it is either as hos for the pimps or as video girls who shake their behinds for the rap stars. Hip hop has traditionally been uncomplimentary of women; it denigrates the female sex and calls it all sorts of names. And when women get involved in calling the shots, they either do it as foxy vixens that mouth foul words and proclaim their ability to match the male folk in their sexual escapades.

Not often does a woman come in the mould of music video director in that male-centric industry. But when one finds a Harvard graduate who has spent almost twenty years in the industry as a producer, writer and director, then one knows you have gotten an unusual woman.

When Rachel Watanabe-Batton stepped into the conference hall at Alisa Hotel on Thursday in a short navy blue dress and was introduced by MTV Base as the international music video director for hip life star Tinny’s new song “Incomplete”, not many people hailed her as a star. The director who stands at about 5”5 in tall entered the hall with a smile on her face. And when it was time for her to give a little speech, she spoke about how she was happy to be in Ghana, and back home in Africa, land of her father’s family. She intimated everyone about her plans for the video and how tight their schedule was.

At the end of the press brief I walked up to her to get a little bit of information about her job and how she had mentioned having Nigerian roots during her speech. From the very first instant I saw her I could tell she had Japanese roots. And seeing her name written on the file folders that were distributed, I could confirm she was really oriental but when she mentioned her African roots, she became more interesting.

And then she exclaims; “I’m an Ibo girl o”, in an unmistaken American accent. “My father is a professor at Nsukka (University of Nigeria) and he hails from Awka but my mother is Japanese-American”, she quickly adds.

Her infectious nature takes over and we talk about her family and how she was in Africa as a kid but has not been back for a long time even as her father visits the US often when he comes to see her and her six sisters. I ask if she’s ever thought of coming to do more work in Africa and she says she would love to come more often and came this time because of her deep interest in giving something back to Africa when she could have been doing some other jobs.

I then ask if I could get the opportunity of seeing her work behind the scenes on her video shoot. She says it will be okay but directs me to get permission from the MTV Base management who were calling the shots for the project. I speak to Jandre Louw, events manager for the channel and he says it will be good and that they’ll give me a call next day when they are set.

On Friday, I get a call from Dinesha Moonsamy, publicist for the project and she tells me to head to the La Pleasure Beach where the crew was having an afternoon shoot. I arrive the set just in the thick of business and meet the star of the day, Tinny, who seems to be enjoying it all. I meet Rachel, now dressed in a white t-shirt and jeans that float on top of her ankle, and she says she’s been trying to get through to me all day but unfortunately misplaced my card in the hustle and bustle of her work. Here on her work turf she doesn’t look anywhere as elegant as she did the previous day. She looks the perfect part in her work fatigue.

She introduces me to the production manager, a lady who asks me to make myself at home but not to get in front of the behind the scenes camera. I nod in agreement and take out my camera to take shots.

“Action” and then “cut, lets do that again”, she calls out. The scene is set at a bar where Tinny is surrounded by a bevy of beauties. He seems to be enjoying all the attention until he makes up his mind to walk away from it all to go back to his true love without whom he is incomplete, the title of the song.

I watch in excitement as she directs every scene from her story board with a practiced eye carrying everybody along with an aura of respect. Her energy and commitment to her job was second to none for that period of time. She makes Tinny do the bar scene over and over before she finds a perfect flow.

After a while, she goes over to the make up artist to monitor her as she applies some foundation on the lead female character’s face.

“I would like to see the colour on her face”, she tells the lady with candor. She hangs around awhile watching every stroke of the brush as it leaves mascara on the young actress’s face.

Once or twice I catch her gaze, she looks away and continues with her work. I then seek out a member of Tinny’s management who tells me how “tremendous” her work has been. During break for lunch I catch up with her and she gives me a few minutes of talk time.

I ask about her experience and the difference for her working on that set and working on a New York set for Nas or Jay Z.

“The issues are the same,” she says. “Some things are not working, whether it’s the art department or some people are being late.

“The difference is really that we’re also working as a workshop and some of the people are students. So you want them to have a chance to learn so you have a difficulty of professionalism, of them knowing what their job is.

“My camera men and electricians have been really professional and more committed probably. My DP grabbed his lunch and took his whole crew to set up another shot whereas in the US, people will be griping about meal penalties. The crew is more committed here.”

Then I ask about her challenging role as a female director in hip hop where women are not given much respect.

“That has given me an advantage, actually,” she replies “because when I’m working with the female talents, I’m able to relate with what’s going to bother them. In terms of what goes on set, I try to ensure that they’re treated with respect.

Has she had any problems with guys on set?

“No, I work with an all male crew all the time. Somebody shuts you up on the street all the time in normal life, you just need to know how to handle yourself”, she said.

“And if you carry yourself well, people treat you well. Some men are very sexist but in general I try to look beyond it and just do my work.”

Just as I’m about to ask my next question on equipment and other stuff, someone comes to drag her away. I hang around awhile and see she’s not coming back, work had begun in earnest. And they would continue shooting the video till past 1 O’clock a.m. Everybody is exhausted when they arrive at Aphrodisiac for the after party where DJ Prince Charles from the UK rules the turn table.

But in true showbiz fashion, we all party into the wee hours of the morning, drowning out the stress in booze and heavy music awaiting the outcome of Tinny’s eventful video shoot.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Getting the African experience

Two sisters who embarked on an eye opening journey by road across West Africa tell their wonderful story.

Chioma (left) and Oluchi on a ferry ride in Senegal during their West African tour.

The lure of the open road consumes the weary traveler a philosopher once wrote. But these two are different. They didn’t look like weary travelers when we met for a drink and an interview at high brow Rhapsody’s, a joint in the Accra Mall, Accra, recently. But the truth of the matter was that the two young ladies had been doing what many people fear to do in this part of the world; they had been traveling across West Africa by road in the first phase of a proposed trip across the entire African continent. And what a marked difference that long journey has made upon the lives of these two young Nigerians. Chioma Ogwuegbu, 29, resigned her job as a programme officer at Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, KIND, Lagos, in June and set out on a 12-country trip across the sub-region.

“I’ve always wanted to travel” she says “and I told myself I want to see the world before I turn 40. So this is the first leg of my trip”. Chioma set off for Accra, Ghana in July after a send forth party from her family and friends. If you think they were not apprehensive about letting her go on a journey into the unknown, you should think again. “Everybody said I was crazy or something” she says laughing and this writer once made a joke about her having probably suffered a recent relationship failure to have caused her to want to leave behind a good job for an uncertain future. She would hear none of that.

On that trip to Accra in July with Chioma was her sister Oluchi, who only wanted to see her off to the beginning of the journey. Even though they had planned it together, Oluchi developed cold feet midway and bade Chioma bye at Cape Coast. From there it was a long journey for the petite, twist-braids wearing Chioma who traveled to Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal alone writing several stories and blog entries on her website with photographs of the enchanting places she was seeing and the beautiful people she met.

“Africa is a very beautiful continent”, she says. Unfortunately, many Africans are too prejudiced about one another to think of traveling their own continent. When they are not prejudiced, the fear of the unknown conspires to discourage them from traveling. “We were told that we would be robbed in Mali but nothing like that ever happened” says Oluchi who later joined up with her sister by flight in Dakar, Senegal when she couldn’t hold down the excitement any longer. She resigned her job at a shipping company in Apapa and set out on the remainder of the journey with her sister. “The misconception about Africa is so much among Africans that we were told not to go to Timbuktu because of armed rebels in the desert but we later met a European woman who had driven herself through Timbuktu and told us it was safe. It was sad that we couldn’t see one of Africa’s most prestigious cities” she laments. “Africans don’t trust themselves but its all lies. We need to experience each other better”.

As the ladies traveled and wrote their stories on their website, so did goodwill messages come their way. “Many people who had said it was crazy now started praising us” Chioma says. The fun they had and the knowledge they have gained was not without perils. They had to sleep on the roadside in the middle of the Sahel in Guinea Bissau when the bus they were traveling in decided it was too long a journey and that the vehicle needed rest. Was there fear in them then? “There wasn’t any fear as everybody else did the same” they reply. Their journey has gotten them some measure of fame and new friends. Wherever they go they do get some recognition. Nii Obodai, a photo artist in Accra recently introduced them to the audience at the Base Lounge’s Bless The Mic, an artist’s underground rendezvous. This got the attention of a few media personalities who quickly sent in offers of interviews.

And they never shy away from telling their story. It was one of the reasons they decided to embark on the trip in the first place. They could have gone to backpack in Europe but Chioma says they decided to begin from Africa. “We don’t have to always go out to Europe for vacation. Africa is beautiful and open to exploration because its people are its biggest assets”, she says. “Strangers just come up to assist you from nowhere”, she recalls about the wonderful people she met across the land. In Tambacunda, Senegal, Chioma met a pleasant family called the Diallos who took her in as their own. She was well treated that at night the family’s matriarch turned over her bed to Chioma and slept on the floor instead, a sign of respect for guests. She remembers vividly the Diallo family’s communal dinner where the huge 15 person household was always divided along sex lines; the women ate alone as did the men, all in a big bowl after washing their hands. “It showed me the essence of family as everyone had to be accounted for at dinner” says Chioma. And there was no shortage of culture shocks. From the youngest child to the oldest adult, everybody was addressed by their first names, she says, and young children could request for handshakes from adults without any rudeness been attached to it.

“Mali is the most beautiful place for me in West Africa” Chioma says “because it is picturesque”. Oluchi chooses Senegal. “Dakar is surrounded by beaches and the women are very elegant” she confesses. But by far the biggest challenge has been the crossing at the different border posts. Much of the hassle is due to corruption among border officials who demand for bribes even though the ECOWAS Protocol states that there should be free entry and exit for all ECOWAS citizens. Much of this is due to lack of control. But that will not dissuade the sisters as they have decided to continue their trip to conquer Africa by land. After traveling 12 countries in West Africa namely Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Senegal, Liberia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Togo and Benin, their next focus is on 30 countries in central, eastern and southern Africa. This they know will be much tougher because of visa requirements but they have made up their minds. The second phase of their journey begins in February 2009 when they must have made a restock. They also hope to get more people to join them and have already advertised openings on their website. For them, money is not the major issue but they hope to secure sponsors for the next trip in 2009. Nothing can stop them now, as they say, the lure of the open road consumes the regular traveler. But most importantly, their journey is to draw the attention of young Africans to the beauty that Africa holds.