Monday, April 30, 2007

Ms Moss or elections, Naij premiere, Caine Prize shortlist etc

A fairly uneventful weekend, the sun’s out again and even though it is still April, it’s beginning to feel as if summer is here. Attended my first garden lunch, I expect there’ll be barbecue invitations going out soon as Londoners with gardens rush to justify the extra premium they paid for houses with gardens by throwing the obligatory round of summer barbecues and garden parties.

Everywhere you turn there seems to be news about Kate Moss’s collection which she has designed for the high street chain, TopShop. With local council elections in many parts of England and the devolved nations of Scotland and Wales due in a few days, it’s amazing that the airwaves and media here are filled with news of Ms Moss’s forthcoming collection and predictions about how many people will spend the night outside TopShop tonight in order to bag bargains when the collection goes on sale tomorrow….

The aftermath of the Nigerian elections still swirls uncertainly in a middling place that is neither here nor there. Many are dissatisfied with the conduct of the elections and yet, for all the call for mass action, the sense is that most Nigerians are keen to just get on with their lives, wretched as they might be. I can see where they are coming from- who wants to risk their lives for Atiku or Buhari? This is actually where Yar’adua could display statesmanship by reaching out and building real consensus across the various parties and trying to bring everyone together, but will the crude triumphalism of the PDP let him? Obasanjo’s daughter Iyabo, recently featured in passing in an FT story on Yar’adua see quote below:

“Visitors, supplicants and dealmakers dropping by Mr Yar'Adua's headquarters included the daughter of Mr Obasanjo, said by oil executives to be an influential political conduit in the energy sector, and one of Mr Yar'Adua's top campaign financiers: a state governor who has long been under investigation by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.”

is on course for the Senate and I presume for the Senate Presidency which her father has prepared for her….

For the full FT story see here and for more tales of Naija politicians' dodginess see here

To the salubrious streets of South Kensington yesterday for the premiere of Naij the documentary. The team behind the project certainly managed to maintain an air of mystery about the whole project. Walking into the foyer I saw the largest collection of young upwardly mobile Nigerians in London that I have ever seen. There was an informal dress code- the boys in jeans and colourful Thomas Pink/TM Lewin/Charles Tyrwhit shirts, the girls in heels and flouncy flirty summery skirts and dresses- and a humongous buzz. We were handed little paper bags which each had a canned soft drink, a meatpie, a slice of cake and a cookie emblazoned with Naij the documentary on it. I spotted a few familiar faces and searched in vain for Bitchy and Chameleon fellow Nigerian bloggers who had also said they were attending, but there were too many people to make any sort of informed guess…

A few words from Jide Olanrewaju, the investment banker behind the project and then the sonorous voice of Veno Marioghae singing “Even if dem drink de oil o! Nigeria go survive” came wafting through the theatre. It’s an amazing project- a collection of clips with a voiceover by Jide tracing Nigeria’s political history and overlaid with highly relevant music tracks. The technical quality in terms of editing isn’t fantastic and there are some missing significant incidents but these only underline the poignancy of what the project is – one young man’s attempt to understand the history of his beloved country. Bitchy has a more comprehensive review of the event here

On the literary front, Nigeria has had more cheering news with three Nigerians making the shortlist of five for the Caine Prize for African Writing this year

The three are artist and writer Ada Udechukwu for her short story Night Bus, published in The Atlantic Monthly. The story is only available to subscribers but here’s an interview with the author and excerpts

Uwem Akpan, a Jesuit priest for his story My parent’s bedroom published in the New Yorker

And writer E C Osondu for his story Jimmy Carter’s Eyes published in Agni

The other shortlisted authors are Monica Arac de Nyeko of Uganda for her story ‘Jambula Tree’ from ‘African Love Stories’ See a review here

and Henrietta Rose-Innes (South Africa) ‘Bad Places’, New Contrast vol 31 no4 Spring 2003. Henrietta Rose-Innes just last week beat Petina Gappah who has visited us often on this blog to second place in the HSBC PEN South African literary awards. See pix here

Congratulations PG…and to the Caine Prize shortlisted trio, I say “Go Naija!”

Monday, April 23, 2007

"President" Yar'adua as predicted, watching Icarus Girl and Suya Express

So after all the wahala, here's welcoming President Yar'adua and Vice President Goodluck. As "predicted" by the PDP Secretary a good two weeks ago, they won by a landslide of 70 per cent. Never mind the minor problems of missing ballot papers, ballot boxes, violence and the many places where elections did not hold at all, not to talk of the little fact that even the president had his vote cancelled in the governorship elections. Interesting to see that the Niger Delta as usual is where a lot of the creative formulation of election results has again taken place. It was ever thus. I remember meeting a former NPN stalwart from the Shagari days who was from Rivers State and his boast that from the sixties to the present day- this was in 1999- elections had never taken place in his creek home village. Instead he and a few other "village leaders of thought" had always allocated the votes to the various parties and because of the treacherous nature of the terrain, it was often difficult for any observers to penetrate the area. Perhaps he was exaggerating but again perhaps not....Meanwhile the US excoriates a deeply flawed electoral process but fails to call for a rerun, leaving that decision to Nigerians and the Nigerian legal system. Did someone just say Florida? At least our Supreme Court has in the last few weeks performed better than another Supreme Court did in 2000.... I suppose at this point we can only wait and see what a Yaradua presidency will hold. If he's sworn in, with his late lamented brother Shehu (former no 2 to Obasanjo in his first coming), he'll make history as the first siblings to hold the No 1 and No2 offices in Nigeria. Did I hear someone say the words dynasty? Plus he'll make history as the first university educated Nigerian head of government

To the Arcola Theatre this weekend to watch the stage adaptation of Helen Oyeyemi's The Icarus Girl, as publicized by London Chameleon. It was an interesting play although the star of the show for me was Natalie Best the actress who played Tilly-Tilly, the mystical friend that befriends Jessamy Harrison on her visit to Nigeria. I felt a shiver of dread run through me as she flounced on stage the first time and she was utterly believable as half spirit, half human of indeterminate age, even if her accent veered strangely from South African to Ghanaian by way of Nigeria. The rest of the cast did well, but her performance stood out....

After the play, I took the opportunity of being in the neighbourhood to visit Obalende Suya now rebranded as Suya Express . The dining section seemed rather empty but the takeaway section seemed to be doing brisk business. Having been served a Star beer I waited and waited and waited for my order of jollof rice and lamb suya and had to bite my tongue when the waitress returned to ask, "You wanted something else in addition to the Star, didn't you?" In a corner of the restaurant a tree bedecked in what looked like Christmas decorations sat forlornly in a corner. Elsewhere, two London Big Boys argued about whether Babangida had betrayed his friend Abiola in 1993 or not. The decor was clean and bright, as was the bathroom but for a Friday night it seemed strangely empty. The jollof rice was very dry but the succulent lamb suya more than made up for it, as did the circles of golden dodo....

I rang my aunt on Saturday morning- "Ah ah" I said, " You're still at home? You didn't go to vote?" She drily retorted- "The one wey we vote last week, how far ?" Last week, she had queued in the sun, her seven decades notwithstanding to vote only to hear that virtually all the votes cast at her polling station had been cast for a particularly unpopular candidate...

We'll wait and see what happens next- I hope the Supreme Court judges are gearing up to hear lots of appeals (including some from the PDP)- apparently they are particularly aggrieved at losing Lagos and Kano States....

Ah Naija!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Chimamanda on Orange Prize shortlist, Nigerian elections, the tragedy of Virginia Tech & hilarious Mr Fineboy

The Financial Times yesterday carries two Nigeria- related stories, one an interview with Obasanjo in which he claims that ballot box stuffing and stealing of ballot boxes is a new problem in Nigeria. Obviously he hasn’t read Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People written back in the sixties. More annoyingly, the FT reporters fail to challenge him on this and other contentious issues in the interview. That’s in keeping however with many Western governments and media and business people who prefer an uncritical and fairly simplistic approach to their “favoured” African leaders. To read the interview click here

That said the FT has got some interesting stories and pictures on Nigeria and the elections here

The second Nigeria story is on Chimamanda Adichie being short listed for the Orange Prize for the second time

Her book has been doing well in the sales charts in the UK, no doubt riding on the back of her Richard and Judy Book Club appearance. This new short listing should boost them even further. There’s also an Orange Readers Award where voters can vote for their favourite books and win all the shortlisted books. To vote click here At least INEC isn’t overseeing these elections and so the chances of ballot box stuffing and stealing of ballot boxes will hopefully not arise….

Meanwhile back home in Nigeria, the dictum of no honour among thieves continues to hold true. Apparently, Atiku and Buhari cannot agree on whether to boycott the presidential elections or not, partly because they do not trust each other, even if they are united in their distrust of INEC, PDP and Obasanjo…

Thankfully the courts have postponed hearing in a last desperate attempt by the Obasanjo government to stop Atiku following his victory at the Supreme Court. A certain Umar Faruk had gone to court to stop Atiku running on the basis of the report of the kangaroo panel of inquiry set up by Obasanjo. The vindictiveness of Obasanjo often demonstrated still has no bounds. When I heard of the court case I was reminded of the dubious judgment obtained by the shadowy Association for Better Nigeria which helped derail the country in 1993….

I don’t think a boycott of the elections is practical, feasible or desirable. My recommendation is for the opposition to go in on Saturday prepared to carefully document all the irregularities in preparation for a series of court battles which are inevitable anyway with last Saturday’s fiasco…

Nigeria throws up such paradoxes where you find yourself on the same side with people whom you would never have thought you could associate with. Who would have thought that Adams Oshiomhole, the principled trade unionist who fought military governments to a standstill would find himself on the same podium with such military apologists as Tom Ikimi….

An interesting quote from Oshiomhole in the Vanguard Newspaper below :

“ I believe that if we keep quiet Nigeria will not change. The mandate given to me by Edo people has now been awarded to Osunbor by President Obasanjo who sees Edo State as his bride price. This rumour has been going on that the President said that the late first lady would have wished to make Osunbor governor.”

And elsewhere the power of the PDP juggernaut is allegedly unleashed on a hapless electoral official

The sad news about the massacre of students at Virginia Tech has provoked the usual debate about US gun control and the right to bear arms. I'm not American and can't understand it but from my perspective, there are troubled youth everywhere, including in Nigeria, who given half a chance would probably unleash this sort of mayhem. The main difference is that they do not have easy access to arms. It's a tragedy for the murdered, their families and friends and I can't help but think of the family of the perpetrator as well. It's a tragic end to one immigrant family's dreams. I'm sure when they left Korea for a better life in the US, this was not supposed to be how it ended...

To end on a cheerier note, if you haven't discovered the funniest Naija blog yet, go and visit Mr Fineboy's blog

Monday, April 16, 2007

Update on Nigerian elections

Actually it looks like INEC has awarded the elections in Edo, Kano and Ondo to PDP. So much for my theory. Thanks Nkem of African Shirts for the link to the regularly updated Reuters website

By contrast, the INEC website is still saying "No results available. Please check back soon"

Searching for election news, Atiku wins at the Supreme Court, reading Yellow-Yellow & Ayaan Hirsi

Saturday dawned bright and sunny and started with me going online and desperately searching for news about the elections. I didn’t find very much although was a good source as they had “reporters” posting photographs and personal accounts as well as people reporting conversations that they had had with family and friends in Nigeria. The News magazine website also had some useful information and relatively frequent updates. I also tried to make a few telephone calls myself and by 3 pm some of the people I spoke to had not seen any INEC official let alone ballot papers. By 6 pm I thought surely there must be some news item on the elections in the international news so I went through all the channels including Al-Jazeera. Nothing on BBC, CNN or SKY. BEN TV (which is supposed to be the African TV channel here) was showing a Francophone African preacher and was advertising a cookery programme coming up after that. Al Jazeera had a banner running at the bottom of the page saying forty four people had been killed in election related violence in Nigeria but that was it. Switching back to the BBC, I found the distinguished looking newscaster still engrossed in a lengthy discussion with the BBC Royal correspondent over the intricate details of the break-up of Prince William and Kate Middleton. After a desperate half hour of switching channels I resigned myself to getting dressed for dinner. It’s not the first time though- whenever something happens in Nigeria and I surf the airwaves, I’m often disappointed. Surely there must be a market for an international television channel focusing on Africa- I know I’ve heard some discussion around this, hope it happens soon. Meanwhile the existing newspapers, magazines and television stations could use their websites more creatively for breaking news…..

The first election results have trickled in and it appears that INEC and the PDP heeded Obasanjo’s exhortation to “leave some states for the opposition in the spirit of true democracy” But there are cheering signs in the victory of the AC in Lagos State and PPA in Abia State and the delay in releasing the results for Edo, Kano and Ondo states. It appears that in these states the “people” were prepared to defend their votes and so INEC was forced to release or at least delay the release of the results…..

Just as I was typing this, I got a text from Nigeria saying that the Supreme Court had delivered judgment in favour of Atiku, thus allowing him to run in the presidential elections next Saturday. This of course throws up lots of logistic problems and issues but I’m glad that in spite of Obasanjo’s public holiday and other manoeuvres, the Supreme Court has ruled. I’m no fan of Atiku’s but welcome any gesture that tells Obasanjo and his PDP crew that Nigeria is not completely in their pockets…..

Still on the elections aims to provide a forum for election monitors, bloggers and other interested parties to post their reports, opinions and analyses. I think it's a brilliant idea but we'll see how it works in practice...

Today on the way to work I saw someone had put out a withered Christmas tree with their rubbish. I tried to work out why the Christmas tree was only being put out in April and decided that perhaps the householder has been away since Christmas and just got back…

The sun’s been out all weekend and as expected, there is an abundance of flesh on display- shorts, skimpy sleeveless dresses and the ubiquitous flip-flops (otherwise known as bathroom slippers in Naija)- all indicate that summer’s here, even if a trifle early…

Even today, the newspapers are still awash with the Prince William/Kate Middleton break-up- even the “serious” papers…. Looking at all the fuss following a relationship breakdown I wonder what they would have done if they had broken off an engagement….

I finally got round to reading Yellow-Yellow by Kaine Agary and I must say I enjoyed it, I read it in four hours flat .The plot and storyline aren’t the strongest but the depiction of contemporary life in Port Harcourt and the rural areas of the Niger Delta rang true and reminded me of Cyprian Ekwensi’s chronicles of Nigerian city life in the fifties and sixties in Lokotown and Jagua Nana…’s also tightly edited and is virtually grammatical and spelling error free which is a great plus…Also stumbled on the publisher's website which looked interesting

I’ve just started Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s first book, The Caged Virgin. There’s a long waiting list at the library for her new book so I thought I better start with the older one. The arguments are clear and the language is refreshingly simple but the conclusions she jumps to at times are a bit far fetched for someone calling for logical rational debate…

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Easter in Vienna,Nigerian election results preannounced, Blair and black boys and echoes of Colonial Nigeria

Vienna was wide elegant avenues, tidy parks, reminiscent of Paris and yet at the same time overlaid with echoes of Germany, of Berlin. Heart of the Austro-Hungarian empire and seat of the Hapsburgs for nearly six centuries, it's awash with culture and palaces aplenty. The central area near Sebastianplatz around the Cathedral was filled with students in frock coats touting invitations to Mozart concerts. Easter morning saw us in the Hofburgkapelle listening to the world famousVienna Boys Choir. It was the first time I had to pay to go to church, at least explicitly- tickets were available from the hotel. It was worth it though, the angelic voices of the boys soaring up to the rafters of the chapel, the two Asian and African boys strategically placed to catch the eyes and the cameras. Me, a cynic? Enjoying the music and watching the young boys and the older men singing the deeper parts, a darker thought crossed my mind- aren't all- male choirs like this a haven for paedophiles?

To the museums and then Schonbrun Palace and sights aplenty- here a young Marie Antoinette played, there Napoleon once slept, here, a purported nail from the True Cross authenticated by a Pope from earlier times, there the file that stabbed the doomed Empress Elisabeth "Sissi", whose stories had echoes of Princess Diana- the early marriage, the struggles with royal life and court demands, an obsession with weight loss and finally a tragic death. Funny how over centuries, things remain the same...Plus ca change and all that...... Viennese food failed to win me over though- the stodginess of the boiled meat dishes and dumplings and sauerkraut were rather dull and the famed wienerschnitzel, the deepfried breadcrumbed flat pieces of veal left me underwhelmed.

In Nigeria, the political drama continues to unfold- what with the almighty PDP refusing to field governorship candidates in Rivers and Imo States rather than obey a Supreme Court judgement reinstating the rightful winners of the primaries. Nigeria can produce such bizarre results at times- from all that I hear about them, Araraume and Rotimi Amaechi, the candidates in question are hardly beacons of moral uprightness and yet one cannot help but support them in the injustice being meted out. Speaking to family and friends in Nigeria over the weekend, it seems as usual that Nigerians are resigning themselves to divine intervention- feeling completely helpless before the PDP behemoth. Frequent references were made as to how God intervened when Abacha thought he had his civilian succession sorted. The same mood of "what can we do?" pervaded the panel discussion at SOAS last week with Reuben Abati and Professor Akande- the general consensus was that the elections would be massively rigged but that Nigerians would accept the results. To put the icing on the cake, Patrick Wilmot, the writer and academic who was present at the SOAS event quoted the Secretary of the PDP as having predicted at a forum at Chatham House that PDP would win the elections by about 75 per cent. So ladies and gentlemen, there you have it, the results for the 2007 Nigerian elections, announced well in advance of any actual casting of votes. Remember, you read it here first....Meanwhile today the Obasanjo government announced a sudden two day public holiday to" enable" voters to prepare for the elections. Of course it has nothing to do with delaying potentially damaging Supreme Court judgments, or throwing a spanner in the logistics of opposition parties. Why the Court cannot sit in emergencies on public holidays I do not know. Here in the UK, I have been involved in a case where we were able to obtain an injunction on a Sunday before the duty judge....

Meanwhile in the UK, debates continue about whether the sailors who were released by Iran last week should have been allowed to sell their stories to the media. I'm pretty indifferent to the whole brouhaha and was more interested in the killing of yet another black youth of Nigerian heritage, Paul Erharhon in London at the weekend. The tragic death led Prime Minister Tony Bliar to say yesterday that the violence was restricted to a small group of black boys in spite of the massive support the government was giving them or words to that effect. He claimed to be quoting a London black pastor, Reverend Nims Obunge, who just this morning claimed he had been quoted out of context. I think that part of the problem is that attention is only paid to certain communities when things get to an extreme head. If the government and by extension society is genuinely interested in making a difference then initiatives to help troubled youth should not always ride on the back of high profile murders...

I'm finishing Restless by William Boyd at the moment. I've liked most of his books but I struggled with this one, perhaps because it deals with World War II espionage and trying to keep up with the single and double agents and the various characters and which side they were really on was a bit of a burden. I'm nearing the end though and the suspense is picking up. I hadn't realized he had Nigerian connections as well. Apparently his father was an engineer in the colonial Public Works Department in Lagos- a titbit I heard from an old "Nigeria hand" whom I met at a dinner last week. Meeting "old Nigerian hands" is always a challenge for me- on one hand I'm fascinated by their stories and insights and people they have known and on the other I struggle with the patronizing attitudes and casual prejudice of a bygone age that often suffuses their conversation....almost invariably the conversation ends with "Oh, Nigeria has changed so much" with a wistful look on a wizened face dreaming I think, incharitably of gin and tonics on the verandah brought by "boys" in starched white uniforms....

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Paying the price in sleep, Naija food, politics and catching Ms Adichie's eye

I'm back again, feeling sleepy and permanently tired, the way I imagine that many working mothers feel- I've just finished The Invisible Woman a fictional account of the life of a mother of three young children written by Lucy Cavendish, a journalist, and one of the pervasive themes is how permanently tired she feels .

It's been quite a weekend, had friends visiting from the US and spent some real quality time with them. It's great to have friends who know you from way back when, who you can just chill with.

First night having gone to a drinks party earlier, we were gagging for Nigerian food and so we headed for Angie's on Harrow Road. I tried ringing up beforehand but the phone just kept ringing and ringing and ringing, so we decided to take a chance but it was closed (only temporarily I hope.) Grrr......looking for Plan B we headed for Bukka on Kilburn High Road. I'd never driven there before- it used to be one of my favourite hangouts when I first arrived here. Friday and Saturday night often found me there with a bunch of other "economic exiles" drowning in the nostalgia of Star beer, pounded yam and egusi with orisirisi and Naija music mixes spun by Jimmy the Baldheaded guy, blotting out any other realities. Sometimes Mike Appoh the highlife king would be singing all the old favourites from Yellow Sisi to Love Adaure to Taxi Driver and we would dance till 2 am and then catch the night bus home. After a while I stopped going, I'm not sure how or why, just drifted away. Perhaps I'd settled into the reality of my London life and needed the injections of nostalgia less and less. Probably the same way I stopped making the pilgrimage to Brixton to buy Nigerian newspapers and magazines.

Anyway I always used to get the tube to Kilburn and then walk down to Bukka. Driving from Harrow Road we emerge into the middle of Kilburn High Street and I have no idea if we should turn left or right. I hazard a guess and say left. We drive for a while and I'm confused. We see a middle aged man walking on the pavement and he looks Nigerian so we stop to ask directions. I'm still asking him what direction the station is in when my friend cuts in and asks "we're looking for Bukka" He smiles and points us in the right direction but we still end up missing it. Finally we pull up and realize why we missed it. It's been done up with picture windows and is all white and minimalist and is now called Faze 2. We park and head in where we see the second pleasant surprise- there are photographs of black nationalists from Marcus Garvey to Kwame Nkrumah lining the walls. Who would have thunk my party loving Naija brodas had any social awareness?

We order and have a nice meal although the stew is firehot. I go to take a piss and there the fine-face falls apart. They're obviously still working on it but surely even if construction work is still going on, some basic cleaning could still be done? I dissuade the ladies in the party from using the loo there and we head home where we sit sipping wine and chatting into the early hours and then everyone fades...

The next day I don't get up till midday and by the time I meet up with my friends and catch some late lunch, the day's gone already. The weather's gone all cold and showery again and I end up losing yet another umbrella....

Gordon Brown seems to be in political hot water over his scrapping of tax discounts for pension funds ten years ago. Apparently he had ignored advice from civil servants to do so. I'm no Brown fan but I find the timing rather suspicious. It'll probably be a good thing for Labour if he has to fight for his seat rather than be anointed but I'm pretty certain that barring major upheavals David Cameron may just be riding to power in the next elections. Labour is completely suffused with what I call the arrogance of power- which comes with being in government too long and so will probably benefit from some time out....

Over in Naija, the drama continues as the elections draw nearer with court cases and counter suits and sudden deaths and the rearing of violence - Simon Kolawole of Thisday had some useful pointers on how to prevent rigging (or at least stop PDP from rigging too much)

I just finished Another Hour on a Sunday Morning by Julia Scheeres, a searing account of growing up in a Southern Christian family with two adopted black brothers. The violence and emotional abuse that they go through both at the hands of their parents and at the Escuela Caribe, a "Christian" camp for delinquent kids in The Dominican Republic made for disturbing reading. It was well written with beautiful language and vivid imagery but I felt there was something missing. I couldn't place my finger on it, but it didn't grip me...

Some Nigeria events coming up- an art exhibition by the daughter of the late lamented poet Christopher Okigbo at the Brunel Gallery, a panel at SOAS on the elections this evening

And we receive honourable mention from Ms Adichie even if she no longer reads us :-)