* Religion, ethnicity give an obstructive view of capable hands for elective positions
* Sad throwback to Soyinka’s 1983 musical foray, ‘Unlimited Liability Company
* ‘Nigerian politics operates as an Old Boys Club, excludes the young, women’
By Anote Ajeluorou
SECRETARY of Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), organisers of Lagos Book and Art Festival LABAF 2021), Mr. Toyin Akinosho, spoke to the festival colloquium theme when he introduced journalist and writer, Mr. Kunle Ajibade, as the appropriate resource person to speak on ‘The Choices at the ‘Oritameta’ (a place where three roads meet) in his KEYNOTE address, having been ‘Jailed for Life’ (title of his prison memoir after being jailed by the late Gen. Sani Abacha). He gave a historical brief about Britain and the U.S. that also arrived at their own ‘oritameta’ when the British exited the European Union (EU) and Donald Trump happened to America and Nigeria where #EndSARS happened and unleashed youth voices in their millions in ‘soro soke’ (speak louder) that were equally brutally put down by a repressive civilian government that felt its regime was threatened by such unprecedented mass youth uprising.
”We had hoped that Nigeria will correct itself; it didn’t,” Akinosho lamented. ”Last year when Covid-19 happened, we had ‘A State of Flux’ (as LABAF’s theme) to explain the uncertainty that the world faced. Now, ‘we’re standing at the t-junction at our national life and wondering: what’s going to happen again? Ajibade was one of those people who spoke to power in the past at a time when Nigeria was at a t-junction with the military in power, and he was ‘Jailed for Life’ (title of his prison memoir after being jailed by Gen. sani Abacha for life in the 1990s). Banning Twitter now seems mild compared to what happened back then.
‘So, what is it that needs to be done? How did we get out of military (mis)rule and then have what we have now? Ajibade was jailed for life but Abacha died and now he will address ‘A Fork in the Road’.”
Three books were up for review that spoke tangentially to the ‘oritameta’, cross-roads theme: Ayisha Osori’s ‘Love Does Not Win Elections’, reviewed by Aysha Abdulahi, Sefi Atta’s ‘The Bead Collector’, reviewed by Onome Onwah and Eric Ngalle’s ‘I, Eric Ngalle’, reviewed by Pelu Awofeso, with Princess Irede Abumere moderating the session. Osori’s ‘Love Does Not Win Elections’ is about how hard it is for the idealistic Nigerian youth to break into any of the major political parties which Abdulahi described as operating like ‘Old Boy’s Club’, as they exclude anyone they perceive has an agenda to upset the status quo, as Osori experienced in her quest for a House of representative seat and related in her book; Atta’s ‘The Bead Collector’ explores friendship between two women, a Nigerian and an American, which also affords Atta opportunity to explore her Lagos of the past, which Onwah said isn’t different from the Lagos of today, with its broken roads and riotious lifestyle, and Ngalle’s migration memoir, ‘I, Eric Ngalle’, which details how young Africans are being pushed to migrate by all means necessary and then falling into the hands of scammers and rogues of all shades fleecing these unsuspecting young African men and women who are desperate to run away to find opportunities Africa fails to provide them.
For Abdulahi, what stands out in Osori’s ‘Love Does Not Win Elections’ is ”how they (politicians) view Nigerian politics as an Old Boys Club. So, if you’re a woman and young, they exclude and push you out. They are not inclusive; they exclude you. The more Osori tried in her native Kogi State to work with the system, the more she was disenfranchised. So, it’s about how exlusive the political parties are and how they are organized like a mafia gang to keep you out.”
Abdulahi continued, ”Ethnic is so important to us (in politics); it forms the basis of your acceptance in politics and religion, too. Those chosen by the parties for elective positions, not because they are capable but because of other considerations. Religion and ethnicity are why some capable hands are not considered for political positions in the country. Religion and ethnicity give an obstructive view about how we look at people but not what they can do.”
According to Onwah, Atta’s ‘The Bead Collector’ is more like ”a conversation that reflects Nigeria’s political system in the 1970s, of two women, a Nigerian and an American bead collector. The Nigeria of the 1970s and today’s Nigeria, what has changed? We still haven’t changed much; that’s the sense you get from a reading of Atta’s book. There’re still power cut, bad roads, vainglorious show-offs; That’s what Sefi Atta reflects upon in her book.”
While Ngalle’s ‘I, Eric Ngalle’ is ”a story of migration, a non-fiction about an 18-year Camerounian, how his desire to get out of the country (got him into trouble),” according to Awofeso. ‘It’s a tale of agony and frustration and near-death struggle. The book is so powerfully written, so evocative. Africans need to read this book and have their eyes open to the lure of travel, (illegal) migration to Europe. If you read Eric’s narrative, many will think twice before attempting to travel; it’s a terrible, sorrowful narrative.”
Awofeso said Ngalle’s heartwrenching narrative took place between 1997-98, adding, ”in fact, since the 1980s’ ‘Andrew no check out’, nothing has changed in Africa. Every young Nigerian just wants to leave the country; so nothing has changed. Ngalle’s book is an opportunity for us to think about what to do (to stem the tide of irregular migration to save our young people the trauma associated with it). The book is an African book; there’s a kind of anger the book provokes in you about the African situation. Ngalle is as much a Camerounian as a Nigerian as the story weaves in and out of the two countries and Russia where the author finds himself after paying for a scam scholarship to Belgium. We need to make Africa better for her youths, so they don’t want to run away to needless suffering while trying to leave their countries.”
In his intervention on the criteria for being eligible to contest election, Ajibade said, ”once you live in a place for 10 years, you ought to be able to contest election. We must insist on that criterion. All that deformity in the constitution must be expunged.”
The sad recollections in Atta and Ngalle’s books and the political anomie that pervades Osori’s book all narrating the tragic stagnation and even backward slide that continues to plague much of Africa brought fond musical memory to two elders in the house – Ajibade who started the song and Editorial Board Chairman of The Nation, Mr. Sam Omatseye – who both sang lustily and sometimes discordantly Prof. Wole Soyinka’s 1983 musical caricature of the political times, entitled, ‘Unlimited Liability Company’. The two-side LP has ‘Chairman’ on one side and ‘Etike Revo Wetin’, with the tongue-in-check chorus ‘I love my country I no go lie’ on the other. It was a fond throwback moment for those old enough to have witnessed the times back in the 1980s and for young ones who got a slice of Africa’s first black Nobel laureate’s multi-faceted talents. Ajibade also sang Sonny Okosuns’ ‘Which way Nigeria’ that also mourned the uncertain times Nigeria found itself way back that now looks like paradise in retrospect compared to what obtains in Nigeria today.
Omatseye then summed up how the three books under review dovetail into each other in portraying Africa’s pathetic condition and how it impacts negatively on her youthful citizen, when he said, ”It’s the political alienation of Ayisha (Osori from the political process) that leads to Ngalle running away (to Europe to escape) from (Africa’s) squalor of Atta’s narrative. It’s a crisis of belonging: where do we belong: family, country, region? A certain writer has queried why a democracy should work where languages are different, like Nigeria. This is a world of confusion and we have to live with that confusion.”