June 14, 2024

Anote Ajeluorou pours libation on Africa’s leadership crisis, culture reinvention

  • June 2, 2024
  • 11 min read
Anote Ajeluorou pours libation on Africa’s leadership crisis, culture reinvention

As children of the continent’s empire- and Pyramid-builders, we should rise up to the historic geniuses of our forefathers’

PG Berkley Asiafa promises collaboration on Ozoro library rebuilding, revitalisation

By Godwin Okondo

ON Friday, May 24, 2024, Berkley’s Lounge on Ughelli-Asaba Expressway, Ozoro, Isoko, Delta State, came alive with the rhythmic cadence of poetry at an event that had as theme ‘Libations for Africa: A Poetic Return to the Soil.’ The gathering featured reading and conversation by journalist and writer, Mr. Anote Ajeluorou from his acclaimed poetry collection, Libations for Africa, and served as a reminder of the rich cultural and leadership heritage of the continent that are being eroded. Against the backdrop of Ajeluorou’s reflections on Africa’s past, present, and future, the event also highlighted the dire state of local libraries, igniting a passionate appeal for the revitalization and stocking of these essential cultural repositories.

Speaking about his past experiences at the defunct Bendel State, and later Delta State Library Board, Oleh and Ozoro Branches, Mr. Ajeluorou said, “I have always been a fast reader, and I would borrow two books each from Oleh and Ozoro libraries, both in Isoko South and North LGAs of Delta State, and I would read them all in two weeks and return them to borrow more. Years later, the libraries collapsed due to poor maintenance and negligence. The Oleh library has been built up by an NGO, but it still needs recent books. Oleh Book Club organized a book donation drive to get more books for the Oleh library. Here, I’m donating three of my books – Igho Goes to Farm, Libations for Africa and my latest one, Brides of Infidels, as a seed-sowing gesture and an appeal to Delta State Government and the new leadership of Ozoro Progress Union (OPU), represented by my host and OPU President-General, Chief Berkley Asiafa, that Ozoro needs a brand new library that is well stocked with books. There could also be a collaboration on how we can mobilize books for the library.”

Turning to the newly elected Ozoro Progress Union’s President-General, Chief Asiafa, Ajeluorou charged him to use his good office to expedite action on the rebuilding of Delta State Library Board, Ozoro Branch, so it could be available for use by young people. It’s ironic, he said, that a town hosting the Delta State University of Science and Technology does not have a library. Although he lamented the cynicism with which some Isoko young people scoff at education when they say ‘school is scam’, and their resort to ‘Yahaoo-yahoo’ scam as alternative, Ajeluorou said it was the clear absence of such vital learning facility as a library that encourages the cynicism among some Isoko youths. He further noted that the only way to counter ‘school-is-scam’ cynicism is to make libraries available even for those who are keen to learn. He said the promised library should have an e-library component, so it could meet modern tastes that young people desire.

On his part, Chief Asiafa promised to collaborate with all partners in the educational ecosystem in the state to rebuild and revitalise the Ozoro Branch of the state library. He said he was in touch with the state commissioner for education, who he said promised to reflect a ‘rebuilding’ plan in next year’s budget, as only ‘renovation’ is captured in this year’s financial outlay, which the library at Ozoro cannot benefit from since there is no library as yet to ‘renovate’.

Speaking about his poetry book, Libations for Africa, Ajeluorou said, “I published this volume of poetry to enable us look at our journey as Africans — where we are coming from, where we are now, and where we are headed. There are lots of things peculiar to us. But how do we preserve them? The book is a documentation of some of the things that are part of us as a people, despite embracing modernity. We don’t keep records in this part of the world, and we have lost a lot of information about our past, and our children will be the worst for it. So how do we preserve Africa’s rich cultural heritage that is also steeped in amazing religious rites for future generations?

“We have masquerades, masks and many works of art. Africans built the Pyramids of Egypt, The Sphinx, so what are we, the children, doing today? What lasting monuments are we building? You can find a lot of cultural issues in this book. Africa’s leaders of the past created great things, but what are we creating today? Let us be like our ancestors, great men and women, who did great things. Our ancestors were geniuses. Look at what they created that the world looks at with wonder. But look at us, their great-great grand children – what qualifies us to be called their children? What have we built or created that is worthy of the name?”

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Anote Ajeluorou (left) presenting copies of his books to Chief Berkley Asiafa after the event… in Ozoro PHOTO: JERRY EDO

Speaking on the first poem read titled ‘And the Night Fell Silent,’ he said, “In those days, you could count the number of houses in Ozoro that had television sets, because there weren’t many. Our source of entertainment was storytelling in the evening. We would form a circle around our grandparents and they would tell us different stories, but it’s different now and no one tells stories and folklores anymore. We lost out of one of Africa’s beautiful moment where we tell stories to children, an event some of us benefitted from.”

The poet also read ‘Libations’, and said, “Libations are prayers that Africans offer to higher beings, to Oghene for protection, for good health, etc. Just like many other cultures, I try to reflect on the past. Africans made wonderful things, kingdoms and empires. They could not have made all these wonderful things without the sense of leadership. Foreigners came in and enslaved many and then colonisation took over, and everything we do now is a reflection of what is alien to us as a people. But we can take solace in reflecting back. Story books are timeless, and there are smartphones now, but the starting point is always the books. I pay fond tribute to an Isoko son who is now an ancestor, SMO Aka, who is a pioneer writer of Ozoro extraction. He paved the way for some of us.”

A guest and friend of the poet Bar. Anthony Esime commended Ajeluorou for bringing the event to his hometown, Ozoro, but also wanted the writer to point at one particularly lasting impression the audience could take away from the event that would stay with them forever.

In response, Ajeluorou said, “Writers challenge their societies to the problems in that society and the need to find solutions. As a writer, my duty is not to prescribe but to point you in directions where solutions to communal problems could be found. It’s not my duty to give answers; that’s not my calling. I give headaches instead that would prompt you to find answers. Everyone in this room has solutions to Nigeria’s problems. How then do we apply them to solve to the problems?

“We should be like our ancestors, who were geniuses; they built empires – Oyo, Benin, Mali, Songhai, Zulu, etc; these were empires our ancestors built long before we heard of European civilizations. Our ancestors made great masks or artefacts that the world still admires today on account of their artistic genius, with many stolen by foreigners, which we want brought back.

“As the children of noble ancestors, what have we built? What stands us out in today’s human race? It took great leadership for our ancestors to have accomplished those things. Where is leadership today in all of Africa? Zero. And that is my challenge to everyone. If our forefathers made those great things through effective leadership, why are we lagging behind? Why can’t we be like them? How did our ancestors’ geniuses desert us that we have become toys in the hands of others? As children of the continent’s empire- and Pyramid-builders, we should rise up to the historic geniuses of our forefathers. Unless we do this, Africa will continue to lag behind others.”

Ajeluorou also took on Isoko’s Eseemo and eri, as potent tradition that needs modification, and called on the traditional leadership of Isoko – ivie, ediologbo and president generals – saying there is need to refocus Eseemo and eri tradition to reflect modern tempers.

“As an artist, there are no taboo subjects that can’t be talked about,” Ajeluorou said, “and that is why we needed to talk about Eseemo as infidelity policing instrument, as practised by my Isoko people. A lot of Isoko young men have fallen victim of wicked wives’ infidelity and this needs to stop. Should we continue to lose our men because of their wive’s waywardness?”

Ajeluorou said the ancient practice of omote ibobo (virgin bride) that presuppossed that her husband was the first and last man a wife would know sexually is no longer the practice since society has become so permissive, with teenage girls being sexually more active than their mates in ancient times. He noted that it was this presupposition of sexual innocence before marriage that led to the institution of Eseemo as policing agent of wives’ infidelity where men were held to account for failing to report their wives’ infidelity to family members for appropriate appeasement rites. But society, he said, has since changed inexorably to warrant a realignment of tradition and modernity.

“A wayward wife who had appeased Eseemo once would likely do it again and again, thereby endangering the life of the husband,” Ajeluorou said. “With society becoming ever so permissive, and the concept of omote ibobo (virgin bride) now a distant memory, it is no longer practicable to sustain the Eseemo policing tradition that holds the man to account for the sex sin of the wife outside marriage. Tradition is made for man, not the other way round. It can also be redesigned to meet new realities.

“The onus of sexual proof by the wife outside of marriage should no longer be on the husband, who must inform his family, since Eseemo see all; they should act once a wife misbehaves. And why is Eseemo’s fury always swift once the husband, like the Irri man, knows but fails to promptly inform the family? Why are Eseemo slow when a wife’s infidelity is hidden from the husband? So, these are the talking points to note in this matter. Let Eseemo swiftly act once a wife sexually errs without the man having to do anything. A police man should act and make arrest once a crime has been committed without having to wait for someone to bring the case forward! As much as this tradition is good, it needs urgent modification.

Libations for Africa is heavily influenced by Isoko religious traditions and rites. The Eseemo justice system of policing wives’ fidelity needs to be modified so as to spare Isoko young men from dying in the hands of wayward wives. Early this year a tragic incident happened in Irri town where Eseemo killed a young man for failing to report the infidelity of his wife to family members, so the wife could be summoned to appease Eseemo appropriately. Instead, the man ran to inform his pastor, but was struck dead by Eseemo in a matter of days.

“In anger, the man’s family made an obituary poster with the wife’s picture where she was shamed for killing their bother by sleeping around. This is happening all the time. Should we allow it to go on? I think we need to modify the Eseemo fidelity policing tradition. Let erring wives bear the brunt of their infidelity rather than their husbands. The Irri incident would have been averted if the wayward wife was the sole victim of her infidelity instead of the innocent husband. Isoko traditional rulers and priests need to intervene and reorder the Eseemo infidelity policing method. Only erring wives should pay for their sin, so the men and children from the union are spared.”

Although it rained heavily just before the start of the programme, Mr. Ajeluorou expressed gratitude to all who attended physically and virtually, and promised to take the reading and conversation to schools in future, so students could be part of it in their numbers. He donated copies of his books to Alaka Grammar School and Notre Dame College (NDC) before the event came to a close.

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