Posted in EVENTS, LITERARY MISSIONARY

OPEN MIC – LITERARY FUN (AT THE ABUJA LITERARY SOCIETY)

Silverbird Lifestyle Store, 2013 10th May

It was the Open Mic session of the Abuja Literary Society and yup, I had to be there. First people I noticed coming in were ElNathan John and Dike Chukwumerije. Okay, this was going to be fun. Usual hi’s to friends and acquaintances and I got to my seat. Smiling. This was going to be fun. The last time I had been at any ALS event was with Chuma Nwokolo Jnr when he had had his reading. That had proved a most entertaining evening.

After some time we got started with general introductions. I noticed immediately that there were lots of fine voices – trust me to catch that. Also noticed that there was this fine lady beside me who said something about being here in the country for one thing or the other. The MC (the Bookman) started the discussion session. We settled to discuss the topic ‘Excessive Force of the Military in Fighting Boko Haram‘. The talk went far beyond that o… Of course, I wouldn’t be boring you with that, so cool! I can only say that if you want a deep flow on the topic, you can still make out time (if you are in Abuja) to come for the ALS open mic session on 14th June 2013, same venue. We were promised that military experts would come to give their thoughts too so that we don’t keep moving about with our professionally unprofessional analysis… Hee hee hee. Oh well.

The performances started with two performance poets, Alfa and Bolaji who read ‘Black Gold Biva’ and ‘My Pain’ respectively. They were well received with little admonition on how to make their art better. Bolaji was notably more impressive in his ending than start. He seemed to be a poet who gathered air with time. He introduced his poem by saying ‘He was a virgin’… Okay… Now, he stopped there. Had some of us wondering the virginity angle he was coming from: metaphoric? Unlearned in the art of eating the bearded meat? As a performer? 😉 Oh well. Except for some ugly cliches here and there, his delivery was good:

‘Once I befriended fantasy
It was beautiful but I met reality
she defied me and became my pain

pain is gain/no pain no gain
so I rise from this cold floor stronger
to pick my gain’

Next, Azeezat read a short story ‘Apprehension’, set in a town near similar to Jos. Well, Jos came to mind. It was about someone running in a time of crisis, hiding, noticing evils and falling… First draft. Most of us agreed that it could have been better. Adeyemi read ‘Cheeter‘s buzz’, a poem which some people had some time fitting into the right genre. He wasn’t conversant with the poem and it could have been written better, and performed more beautifully. I have a feeling there’s more to that particular piece… Removing some forced rhymes, overt biblical allusions that were plain and the like. Elnathan John commented of the poem that the poet took the name of the Lord in vain! Hee hee hee. Oh well. Enough said.

I read a poem next, ‘Life’. Taken from Bring our casket home, a 9 lined poem that ends (minus one line) thus:

I stayed an eternity with you
But just as my heart counted a second
The night rolled its mat

Before the audience or I knew it, I was sitting again. Wow! Felt good reading that. Some people mentioned that I should join the slammers (performance Kings). I smiled. Well, compliments that would leave anyone fulfilled. The reading continued. A hip-hop poetic performer, Ogo, read ‘Pure’. The banker rhymed on like Jay Z and not a few ladies made catcalls… Na wa o! I need to learn some romantic rhymes too!

The Musicians took over. Afolabi and Isaac came on stage. Isaac was on the guitar, while Afolabi breathed lyrics into the air that had me change my camera from still shots to video mode. The song was ‘Trueness’ and the rendition truly from the soul. It came out lovely. Some people noted that Afolabi held back and could have done better. Left a few people behind me and myself too wondering what they meant… This guy was sooooo it. Wow! You should have heard him. It was fluid and to think it was without effects or anything? C’mon!!

A lady, Kelechi read ‘Sweet Seeder’ (a story/article/narrative/instruction). Suggested that she work on making it one. Material there but too undefined. There was a poem read by Banji and Egbuche Pope read a long undefined piece too, titled ‘Its 4pm’. He was told to rework it. There was a short story read by … Another musical presentation was done by Afolabi and three other friends. Hmm. Need I say more? I respect the guy jare!

The final presentation was a lovely poem ‘Battlefields of the Mind’ written by Busola Sosannya. For some reason she didn’t perform it (shyness abi? 🙂 )… It was performed by ace performer, Dike Chukwumerije. As it moved to closing, I remembered our Makurdi ‘Purple Silver’ group hosted by Anselm Ngutsav. Miss those readings…

It was real late, some long minutes past 21:00hrs or was it closer to 22:00? Several of the people had left. There were talks, catching up and making of new acquaintances. I did some on the spot editing of Busola’s poem and asked a few questions of why the poet had not performed her piece. Lots of more talk and in the end, there was a walk…

Ask me not where to… 😉

Meanwhile, there was a journey of some two hours to get to. Home called and more activities. Oh well.

Abuja Literary Society

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Posted in BOOK THOUGHTS, LIFE, LITERARY MISSIONARY, REVIEWS

CITATION IN HONOUR OF CHUMA NWOKOLO JNR by Su’eddie Vershima Agema

The Tiv Chuma. Courtesy: Su’eddie Vershima Agema

Chuma Nwokolo Jnr is not a stranger to these parts nor our literary community having done a workshop here at the State University alongside Geoff Ryman as well as having readings at the university’s Writers’ League and this great body too – all with Geoff. He is known to most of us personally but permit me to tell us a bit more of what we all know.

Chuma Nwokolo Jnr was born in Jos in the year 1963. He is a graduate of Law at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. A founding managing partner of the Law Firm, C and G, he was called to the Bar in 1984. His first novel was published by Macmillan in 1983. Very little is heard of that novel these days – we even wonder the name. Nwokolo is more known for his publishing of African-Writing (online and in print), a literary magazine that has featured several literary lords and ladies from across the African continent. Thus, it is needless to mention that he has a very active web presence blogging at http://blogs.african-writing.com as well as having several essays, short stories and poems on diverse websites. Need anyone say that Chuma (as he is fondly called by several, older and younger, friends and fans) is also on Facebook and Twitter?

He has a collection of poetry, a few novels, African Tales at Jailpoint (1999), One More Tale for the Road (2003), Diaries of a Dead African (2003), and his recent toast The Ghost of Sani Abacha, a collection of short stories, that he would be reading from this evening. Chuma is generally known for his trademark humour that stands out in his fictional narratives. His poetry however is more serious and deep, demanding some serious thoughts and analysis. Little wonder he has to explain several parts when he’s reading, and he sure does a lot of reading. With his latest book, he has done lots of tours from Europe to the Western part of Nigeria and now, our own Makurdi. He moves to Abuja, Kaduna and other places too. Chuma has a commanding presence at over six feet and a unique look especially with that special hair of his that you wouldn’t find on anyone else. His deep booming voice and commanding presence are both captivating as they are inspiring. Several people have changed reading styles for better after exposure to a presentation by this iroko of an author.

Chuma, like the traditional African writer is a social crusader who in addition to using the essence of the wig to fight has written fiction and non-fiction fighting perceived ills in society. His poem, ‘This Land is Mine,’ which he also reads this evening, is testimony of that.

Chuma has a zest for literature and would easily be caught in a literary underwear than any other garment. As mentioned earlier, he was in Makurdi for a literary workshop and took the time to do lots of mentorship and literary promotion. It gained him several fans and lots of well wishers, testimony seen in the number of people present here. It is for this and many more that the Sam Ogabidu led Benue ANA and the then National President of ANA, Dr. Jerry Agada on November 3rd, 2011 deemed it fit to honour him among others with a certificate of distinction for his literary zest and continued literary evangelisation.

This citation could go on forever but Chuma threatened to dose off if it does. So, we would break it a little not forgetting a proper toast: To a man who has done so much, we can only pray that far more greatness comes his way and that neither the ink of his thoughts ever dry, nor his literary muscle ever slack. Join me, ladies and gentlemen, friends and everyone present in welcoming the elder brotherly silently salient smiling and charming Chuma Nwokolo Jnr as he brings back the ghosts of Sani Abacha and enthrals us to a most delightful evening. Thank you.

(This citation was offered by Su’eddie Vershima Agema at at the Benue Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Guest Reading Session at the NUJ House, Makurdi on 23rd February, 2012)

Posted in BOOK THOUGHTS, BOOKS, REVIEWS

THOUGHTS ON CHUMA NWOKOLO (JNR)’S DIARIES OF A DEAD AFRICAN

THOUGHTS ON CHUMA NWOKOLO (JNR)’S DIARIES OF A DEAD AFRICAN[1] by Su’eddie Vershima Agema

Chuma Nwokolo’s Diaries of a Dead African is a good post-colonial text that weaves a story across two generations, that of two brothers and their father. It depicts a story of poverty, affluence, anger, bitterness, the Nigerian society of today and over all, the struggle to live or die. It is centred on Meme Jumai and his two sons, Calamatus and Abel. It is told in a unique diary style that sees the hands of the writing move from father to son, to brother and in the end, you – the reader. It is so to say, a three-piece diary. The entries are deep and totally different due to the various circumstances that the characters find themselves in. Well, that is not the mention the obvious differences that would come from point of view of the type of character, persona, age and the like. But to get to the point…

Enter chronicler one, Meme Jumai, a forty-nine year old farmer, father and husband in Ikerre-oti who loses his wife to a ‘vulcaniser.’ She leaves with all the yams that he has, leaving him with simply three tubers which he trains himself to treasure, beginning to cook it by inch. Hunger spills forth through his notes as he struggles on waiting for harvest which is a few days away. Meanwhile, Meme also tends to his pregnant goat in the hope that it would soon give birth to kids that would take his pains away. Unfortunately, the goat dies from a serpent bite. The man who didn’t cry at his wife’s departure, cries at his goat’s passage. He tries to hide a part of the goat so that he can eat it. To test to see if the meat is not poisoned, we later get to discover that a part of the goat is given to a neighbour’s dog which dies. Meme throws the meat away in fear and cries more than before! He comes to discover later that the dog was actually hit by a car! He swallows hard at this bit of sad information but is man enough this time to eat his sorrow silently. The rest of his days are spent trying to dodge the pangs of hunger while trying to be as dignified and sometimes, not so dignified. Meme begs different people for just a little to survive, all to no avail. The village laughs at him making him the new idiot while his children get to suffer from the aftermath of his goat episode: His son, Abel is sent away from a place where he goes to ask for the hand of his pregnant girlfriend, Patie, in marriage. The courageous Meme continues his struggle through life with little, hoping to get to harvest when he would get his rich yield and become fulfilled. When it seems all is lost and he would die, harvest comes! With the strength of determination, our chronicler goes to the farm despite the faces of the fellow villagers to note that the village yields have been attacked by pests that bore holes into the very fabrics of every yam. The yam farmer has spent all his sorrow and tears which leaves him with little indifference. He goes back to home, takes the gun that he inherited from his father, and goes for the men who could have changed it with a little… He is not going down alone…

Chronicler two is Calamatus ‘Calamity’ Jumai, conman and second son of Jumai. He comes back with a vengeance, and some money. He uses his money on the villagers making monkeys of everyone from the Igwe to the least in the land. In a society that worships money more than anything else, there is little that he needs to do to make them all do his bidding except throw a few wads which he does. Meanwhile, he cons a particular American, Billy Barber and rips him of a lot of money. Calamatus builds a storey building in the stead of his father’s ramshackle building. He is a proud man whose major vex in life is that he does not have the gift of a penis due to a mistake that a nurse made when he was being circumcised: a simple cough and the razor turned a circumcision into a castration. His ambition is to finish the person who did the big error, if only he could find out who. Calamatus restores his family pride by taking revenge on the entire village for all they did to his father. He gives them all have diarrhoea when he throws a big occasion for them. They accost him as he calls the person who he gave the food contract to. She swears by everything she knows with repercussions of death on her and her daughter that she did not poison the rice that they all ate. She decides to twist the same swear into a curse on the people of the village if indeed she did not poison the rice but the people quickly tell her it is okay and go off, satisfied at least with her explanation – their ailment remaining. It turns out that the poison was in the goat – did she lie? Calamatus also organises a traditional wedding for his brother, Abel and has the in-laws pay back for disgracing his brother earlier on by refusing him on grounds that his family were eaters of dead animals. A bat head is found in the soup offered by the in-laws! Patie, Abel’s girlfriend does not find this funny and does not forgive him. Calamatus gives Abel a carton of money and also shows him an old letter of their mother that vexes Abel, who travels back to his town only to have an accident. Abel’s companion, Tendu loses his leg. Calamatus continues expanding and making monumental strides in his business becoming a greater man clashing with traditional authorities while finding his way out with money and making monkeys out of the same people who did same to his father. Then, in a burst of anger one of his ‘monkeys,’ reveals the secret of why he would never marry. It is a revelation that also entails that the man’s wife, a nurse, must have been responsible for his ‘calamity.’ There remains little to be done other than to fulfil the promise of his life to end the cause of his greatest problem. He carries his father’s gun, but can’t get bullets as none of his boys help him. He decides the way of inferno, for better for worse…

Abel Meme-Jumai takes the last part of the ever continuing Jumai diary, flowing from where his brother stopped. He is an aspiring fiction writer but near accomplished pen for hire with a past filled with secrets, including being an ex-con. He is determined to live a very long and near boring life. Patie refuses to come back. He tries to compensate Sikira, Tendu’s girlfriend. The girl takes the money and flees to Lagos while giving her parents a better life. Tendu does not forgive Abel. Meanwhile, Calamatus’s boys try to con Abel out of his brother’s huge estate left in an account that he was now a signatory to as administrator. He calls their bluff as he gets a call from a publisher to get his work published. He stands up to his mother who curses him. He gets a contract from the publisher and a politician to write a book against another politician, who is a fellow ex-con. As he goes back to the publisher, he discovers that his genius is not really of matter to anyone. It is just a ploy of the publisher and fellow cohorts to swindle him (Abel) of Calamatus’s money in the bank. Like the boys, he calls their bluff. At home, Tendu comes to beg him early in the morning to kill him. He goes for a walk and decides to give Tendu a change with money. When he gets back, he discovers Tendu is dead and their co-tenants calling for blood, the murderer’s blood – Abel’s blood. A lynching awaits. While Abel wonders who would have done it, Tendu or someone seeking his blood, common sense tells him to run. He does so, picking all he can and the remnants of the money Calamatus gave him.

There’s so much more, including a meeting with Billy Barber. What happens next? Would he go the way of those before him? How does it all end? The outcome is sure suspense-filled and unexpected. It creates ground for more thoughts and several behind the scene looks. The book flows on leaving the story at a height that is both thought provoking and inspiring…

In all, the book is a complete post-colonial novel, connecting the various realities of present day Nigeria in a lovely weaved tale. It goes from the perspective of the illiterate old father in the village with the full traditional value replete with the wisdom and proverbs of yore to the semi-literate con son, Calamatus who doesn’t need an education for respect or comfort. Money does it all as he shows the side of the Nigerian hustler while showing the 419 view. Abel takes the rear, the true picture of the hustling intellectual who hopes to make things work against all odds with chances playing dirty tricks on. Between them, gaps are filled and the tapestry properly weaved showing the entire Nigerian tale. In this way, there is something for everybody, from the traditional lovers or Achebeic type to those of rather trendy narration. So to say, there are basically three distinct voices, unique and captivating in every light that anybody can identify with. In a way, the author seems to seam popular fiction with literary writing creating something unique and not without beauty at all.

The language used by the author is simple and near elementary. He employs ample use of humour to spice up his tale, making you to laugh at cases that would ordinarily seem dreary. In the book, Nwokolo creates a realistic tale which is totally believable and conceivable. He also finds a way to create empathy for his characters. Furthermore, through the use of the diary form, he makes the reader to feel as if they are the ones in the situation. The reader is made to look at things from the perspective of the major actors, feel their pains and in that light, make an informed judgment. The use of other writers to review what had been said by others passed also allows the reader to have varied thoughts while sharing the sentiments of whoever is in charge of narration at any point.

The treating of gender in the book makes for good postcolonial discussion. There are no particular women on the protagonist list. Most of them are given the traditional roles we know; as wives and the like. Some critics might look at the author’s handling of women as a big downer. Manism would be the right word to use for Chuma Nwokolo’s approach to Diaries of a Dead African and why not? For a very long time, it is always women taking the top burner when it comes to every literary works. Nwokolo shows that most of the problems that come to man in one way or the other can be linked to women. He shows men who love or try to accommodate their wives in the best way possible exemplified by Meme Jumai, Tendu and Abel but have their hearts broken, souls crushed and lives sapped. In a way, he is being philosophical and showing that women play vital roles in the lives of man and in a great way determine the direction of their destiny. In the end one notices that Nwokolo is not trying to castigate women but to show them that they are very important and can bring about a complete turn-around in the life of any man. Note: Women do not really take central roles in the work but seem their actions largely – more than anything else – determine the outcome of the men’s lives.In essence, rather than being manist or chauvinist, Nwokolo seems to be showing that the carefree nature of a woman or a simple mistake such as a sneeze during the circumcision of a child can have adverse effects that can be fatal. If only they would listen.

The absence of a dominant Christian religion as is evident in several Nigerian societies would also form an issue to some people. This seems to be replaced in the book with the great religion of money worship which anyone would readily identify with!

The book concentrates on the hypocrisy of people; the tradition of worship of money as the overall and basic denominator of all things; the important role of women in the scheme of lives of men and the direction of destiny that their actions or inactions can point one to; the world of corruption; politics; poverty; among several others. Above all, it is about survival and a struggle to live well and for a reason.

In concluding, one would advise that for the book to be enjoyed as the lovely piece that is, it is best read with an open mind (whatever that means!) Who knows you might just be inspired or get a new view to death, living, Africa, Africans, all of them, or simply just start your own generation of Diaries of …


[1] Published:     Lagos; Villager House, 2003. The author’s name, Chuma Nwokolo, Jnr is also the Editor and Publisher of African Writing. he blogs at African Writing.