Wednesday 21 December 2011

Driving to the Village

Mbaise Imo State
Around this time of the year, Igbo people from all over the world, begin to troop towards their villages. It is a Christmas exodus like no other, befitting of a people who claim to be descendants of the Jews. From America, from Europe, from Hong Kong and of course from Lagos, Amakas, Ifeanyis and ChiChis start to wend their way home. After all, Agaracha must come back and the more style Agaracha returns with, the better.

My father hails from Ubulu in Imo state, a village which he often remarks is not shown on any map of Nigeria he has ever seen. It was thence we returned in December for almost all the Decembers I spent in Nigeria. There is a reason why Ubulu is not on any map of Nigeria. We are not like Nnewi, our bourgeois cousin down the road, whose entrance is marked by an arch decorated with dollar and pound signs. Neither are we notorious like Okija where bodies pile up at a mysterious shrine. Neither are we cannibals nor python worshippers nor any other quirky thing which would draw attention to us. 

The journey to Ubulu is pretty straight forward. You leave Lagos, get on the express and go straight until you reach Ihiala junction. Turn left and ask for the village with all the yellow girls. Those were the directions my sister used to give when people asked where Ubulu was. We always planned to leave the house early, sometimes as early as 6am but usually, time would trickle away as we ran around trying to pack the one last convenience that would make the next few days less onerous. Looking back now, they must have sold Nasco cornflakes and powdered milk and Cabin biscuit somewhere close to Ubulu, but we always brought these things from Lagos. My aunt from America, was on another level. She took sweets, chewing gum, cereal, hot chocolate, microwaveable meals, if not for baggage restrictions, she would probably have brought metal canisters labelled Air.  

Sometimes, as late as noon we would finally set off. Our mode of travel varied every year. Sometimes it was a bus from my parent's hospital, other times it was a standard four seater car, other times it was a convoy of cars, it depended on how many of us were going. The checkpoints were perhaps the scariest part of the whole drive. They were illegal. Police men with large guns would place wooden planks or barrels across the road and force every car that passed to slow down. Some were waived forward, some were told to park so their papers could be examined. It was entirely random who was stopped. Of course, once stopped, it was expected that you produce a bribe to be let go. I found out that these checkpoints were illegal entirely by accident. One day, we were told to stop when we heard the sounds of a siren convoy behind us. Immediately, the police pushed the barriers away, kicking a plank to the side of the road as if shocked to find it there.
"Who said you should stop?" One shouted at the driver. "Begin dey go." 

Once, we were stopped on the byroad that allowed you bypass the traffic through Benin City. It was a quiet  slip of a road and not many cars used it. These men came out of nowhere. They were not police men but they wore bright yellow tunics over their clothes, as if to lend themselves a degree of fluorescent officiousness. They threw a plank and a barrel in our way and shouted, "Park here!" 

They didn't ask for papers. Instead, there was a sticker we had to have. A sticker worth 7,500 Naira. Without this sticker, we could not pass. They brought a concrete block and placed it in front of one of our tyres. We had been going to the village for several years. We had never needed that sticker before but we were a car full of women. The only man was the driver and he was quite a thin man at that. The road was deserted. My mother took an executive decision and paid the money amidst cries of, no, no from the back seat. Even me, I added mouth. "Mummy don't pay these people."  But the money was paid and we were sent on our way. 

On that same trip, we were stopped at Onitsha. Again, by a group of touts wearing fluorescent overalls, asking for this same mysterious sticker. Hastily, my mother produced the one we had purchased a few hours ago. Unfortunately, she made the mistake of telling the man that she had already paid seven thousand five hundred Naira for it. Once the man heard what she had paid for that worthless piece of paper and glue, he was determined to get his own share. 
"Let me see that sticker,"  he said. My mother handed it to him and he pocketed it. "It's not the current one. You need to pay again." 

I think that's when the people on that Onitsha road knew that Agaracha was not stupid. My mother is a Yoruba woman. She does not understand Igbo. But she came down from the car that day and began to demand that her sticker be returned. My aunty who is also Yoruba and was the most vocal critic when my mother paid for the sticker the first time, jumped down from the bus and went to look for a police man. My cousins and I remained in the car, wondering what to do. As we wondered, one of the bystanders who had gathered, slid open the bus door which we had forgotten to lock after my aunt came down. 

He looked at our stunned faces and remarked, "Nah only woman for this bus." Then he saw the portable DVD player we had strapped to the front seat. "Dem even get TV for inside here." 

For some reason, it was this comment that roused my cousins, who speak Igbo fluently and also grew up in the East.
"Get away from there." 
"Who said you should open that door?" 
"Bush man."  

The man retreated and we slammed the door and locked it and continued to wait. A few minutes later, we saw my aunt returning with a police man behind her and a crowd following them. 
"We must have our sticker." 
" Give us back our sticker." 
"Today today." 

Eventually the tout had to acquiesce. The sticker was returned and we continued on our way. Agarachas triumphant.  

The kinsmen the Agarachas must impress
Once we had driven over the Niger Bridge that was bombed during the Civil War and rebuilt not long after, we began to feel that the journey was almost over. In truth, distance wise, Ubulu and Onitsha are not very far from each other. But the Onitsha traffic, can make them hours apart. After Onitsha, the roads deteriorated rapidly. Sometimes they were not even tarred. They had been cleared for construction, but someone had forgotten to lay the bitumen on top so the cars drove on the red, clayey earth. The tyres would raise so much dust that the bush that lined the roads would be stained ochre for most of the dry season. 

After we turned left at Ihiala, we began to drive through villages proper. It was then you had the opportunity to see, if daylight permitted, the monstrosities some Agarachas had built to impress their kinsmen. Even then, I wondered at the stupidity of it. Why would people build such enormous houses and spend no more than 4 weeks of a year in them. There was one property I remember. The owner had built a respectable Georgian style house of about two stories. It was grand enough but perhaps, this particular Agaracha had struck it even richer and wished everyone in his village to know. Beside this Georgian villa, he began to build a gargantuan thing, that was six stories high and twelve stories wide and made the first house look like a boys quarters. Such waste.

Finally, we would reach Ubulu. No matter how often we went, we could never find our village if my father was not with us. It was as if it shifted its position every year. Without fail, we would ask for Ubulu and sometimes, when it was dark, we would have to ask for the Onuzo compound. Eventually we would reach the house that my father and his brothers and their children shared. Then we would tumble out, our legs cramped. Then we would run to the toilet to release our much distressed bladders. 

The Agarachas had returned.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Spain and Turkey

Are not playing a football match. But a publisher in each country has offered to buy the rights of my novel. I'm really looking forward to seeing my book in another language. One of my cousins said, on hearing the news, "So you'll get to read your book in Spanish." As I know neither Spanish nor Turkish, I will just look at the letters and smile. We really thank God. It makes me so grateful to think that my book will go to places I have never been.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Know Your Rights

When Paul was arrested and flogged for preaching the gospel in Philippi, on his release the next day, he refused to leave the jail cell. He said to the officer sent to free him and Silas, 'They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.' (Acts 16:37) The magistrates who had ordered that they be flogged, had no choice but to agree to Paul's demand. You couldn't flog a Roman citizen without trial and get away with it. They were lucky Paul didn't ask for more.

Again, the bond servant Paul stood up for his rights in Jerusalem. Again he was flogged for preaching the gospel. The Bible says, 'As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, "is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?" I love that he phrased this as a question, I love the calm brazenness of it, even as they were about to flog him, Paul was cool and questioning the centurion on a point of law. The commander who was superior to the centurion 'was alarmed when he realised that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen in chains." (Acts 23:25b,29b)

These two passages got me thinking. The only reason why Paul could claim his rights as a Roman citizen was because he knew them. As a Christian, I claim my spiritual rights when I pray. God has not given me a spirit of fear but a spirit of sound mind, God will not forsake the righteous and I am righteous by the blood of Jesus, God will bless me exceedingly, abundantly and above all that I can ask. But I could not tell you a single right that I have as a Nigerian citizen. I cannot tell you the rights I have as a Nigerian citizen living in the U.K. I have special rights that others do not have because I am a citizen of a Commonwealth country yet I do not know what these are. I cannot even tell you the rights that I have as a University of London student. The other day, I just discovered that I can order restricted documents from LSE because I go to Kings.

We Nigerians, we complain a lot but how many of us have ever sat down to read the constitution. I know I certainly haven't. So from today, I'm going to start trying to find out what I am entitled to and what my government owes me. If you want to join me, click here for the link to the Nigerian constitution. The website is not particularly attractive but the information is necessary. We can demand more effectively when we know our rights.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Me Papa

When I was younger, I used to wish my father was a richer man. I went to a very middle class primary school and repeated the process for my secondary education. As early as primary four, I had begun fabricating stories for why we did not have a nicer car. I was too ashamed to tell these stories out loud but every once in a while, I would recount to myself the story of the S-class that got stolen to be replaced by the old, square Merc. In primary school, it wasn't so bad. My longer throat was only fuelled by seeing others climbing into the backseats of air conditioned cars while I sweated all the way home.

However, in secondary school, the car you went home with was a matter that was openly discussed and commented on. I got a lot of grief for that Merc. Things got so bad, that I much preferred to be dropped a few minutes from the school gates and walk to school. Our house was close enough that the illusion of my having walked all the way, was cooler than my being seen in that blue Merc. I remember once my mother came to pick me up from school in that car. Imagine my horror when I saw her driving into the school compound. Who had let her in?

"Chibundu," she said, beeping at me. "Can't you see me? Enter the car."

I could not disown my own mother. Head down, I crawled into the front seat. I could hear my class mates laughing in the class room. My mother is not the most skillful of drivers and the Merc is not the most skillful of cars. As she reversed, the car stalled, the laughter doubled. It looked like I was going to have to push start the car. It looked like I would have to change schools. Thank God, the car started and I was saved the inconvenience of resuming at another school half way through the term.

That day perhaps, I wished most fervently that my father was a richer man. After all he was Igbo. He could have become a trader and been a tycoon in no time. He could have sold electronics. Alaba was just down the road. Anything but this respectable medicine which left us with a very unrespectable car.

I have grown older and have come to realise that there are more important traits for a father to exhibit than stupendous wealth. My father is an honest man and he is a man of integrity. The opportunities for being crooked in medicine abound, as I have learnt over years of eavesdropping at doors. Time and time again, my father has lost business rather than pay bribes to get patients referred to his hospital. Perhaps it a foolishly scrupulous piece of integrity in an industry awash with corruption. But he has taken his stand. Patients with kidney problems should be referred to the hospital that will provide them with the best care. Not to the highest bidder.

My father is a generous man. I never had a room of my own when I was growing up and it was not often that I slept on a bed by myself. My cousins from the East when looking for a place to stay in Lagos, flocked to our house and my father turned not a single one away.

Lastly and most important to my development as a human being, my father taught me about God. Every morning, for the first fourteen years of my life we had morning prayers in my parent's room. Sometimes, I resented these intrusions into my sleep time. There were mornings I just didn't feel like singing, "Morning has broken," but I look back on those years with so much love. The whole house would gather in his room, domestic staff, cousins, siblings sometimes up to ten of us would be in that room. We would start by singing hymns from Mission Praise. Each person was allowed to pick one, a fundamental human right my mother defended against my father's attempts to sneak in a second choice. After singing, we would read a passage from the Bible, each person reading a few verses. Then my father would  teach. Not in an authoritarian way, we were always allowed to ask questions and give opinions, perhaps this is why to this day, I am at ease discussing with people a lot older than myself. Then we would pray. My father would always start his prayer with,

"We give You praise, 
Ancient of Days 
The Author, the Ruler and Possessor of our faith."

So I will close with this.

We give You praise, 
Ancient of Days,
That Okey Onuzo is a year older today.

Friday 25 November 2011

A Cover

I had absolutely no input in this. I cannot take any credit at all, at all. My idea was very obvious and cliché. I imagined a photograph of a girl sitting in a back seat looking out of a window and in the distance a hawker would be running after her. I know. Terrible. I'm very thankful that they didn't take me up.

The Faber design team did such an excellent job. I spent a very long time screaming when I saw the final version. Look at the blurry Lagos in the background and the leaves at the top of the page. It's so pretty. It makes me wish I could draw. Having a cover makes the book much more real. We thank God.

The top of my blog template also has leaves like the cover. Complete coincidence.

Saturday 19 November 2011

NYSC Chronicles

This is where the graduates in Iseyin Oyo State NYSC camp go when they wish to 'ease themselves.' It is difficult to imagine anyone being at ease in such a place. First class holders, second class uppers, third degree takers, they all come here. Aje botas, aje pakos, aje in between, they all squat here. Toilet is a leveler. The logistics of doing your business here are complicated. Do you take tissue? If so, the whole roll or just what you need? Where do you wash your hands? Hand sanitiser or avoid touching anything until you find soap and water? Toilet is a real leveler.

This is where the graduates sleep. So close together and so cramped so dingy so old. Your neighbour's softest snores will still be audible. From here, the graduates wake up in the early hours of the morning to fetch water from their baths. Water is fetched not received from a bathroom tap. The graduates, engineers, lawyers, political scientists, they hang their clothes inside because they fear that other graduates, engineers, lawyers political scientists will steal their clothes.

It is not all a waste. There is an Igbo in this photo, a Muslim, a Christian, a returnee from England, a graduate from a Nigerian university. Perhaps none would have met if not for Iseyin. Perhaps, even if they had met, they may not have related as equal if not for that toilet that levels all.

The Nigerian Youth Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, is on twitter. Once a month, he convenes what he describes as a 'town meeting.' People are invited to ask questions about youth issues for an hour and in that time, he will try to answer as many as possible. On Sept 8th I asked, "@BolajiAbdulahi NYSC camps are in a terrible state. Graduates don't have access to toilets in most. Are there plans to rebuild them?" The Minister replied, "@ChibunduOnuzo We are engaging governors in our plans to reform the NYSC and address specific issues including infrastructure, yes."

This got me thinking and a little annoyed. Like unity schools such as Queen's College which educated students from all over Nigeria,The National Youth Service Corps was designed to promote national unity. In conception, it is a nationwide scheme so why should it's execution be passed on to state governments? It is a scheme that has been backed by the current regime despite widespread calls for it to be scrapped after atrocities were committed against corpers during the last elections. Yet it seems this regime is only willing to back the NYSC with words and not with cash. University educated folk are not a priority you see.

If you ever wonder why all the graduates are streaming out of Nigeria, looking for opportunities from an abroad as close as Ghana to the far overseas of America, then scroll up and look at the first picture again.

I will close with this photo. It was sent to me by a friend on her first night in the NYSC Lagos camp. She did not describe what this photo shows. I do not know if some graduates spent their first night outside. All she said to my question, "Did u go to camp,' was:

'Yes oh I'm at camp.
Chibundu it's terrible
As in....... Hot damn! '

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Phone Swap

This trailer is so funny. I want to see this movie.

That extra though, smh.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Fernando Ortiz and Nigeria

Fernando Ortiz was a Cuban intellectual who began writing about black urban culture in 1906. However, it was in 1940 that his seminal work, Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar was published. In this work, Ortiz coins the term transculturation, a process that occurs when cultures collide. None remain the same. Instead, they all rub off on each other and produce a hybrid that incorporates aspects of all participants. However, before this hybrid can be produced, all the cultures involved must undergo what Ortiz calls a deculturation. In this process, which can happen under extremely harsh conditions, distinct identities will be lost as the cultures are ground into each other.

Ortiz speaks of the transculturation of the African slaves transported to Cuba in the nineteenth century.

'The Negroes brought with their bodies their souls, but not their institutions nor their implements. They were of different regions, races, languages, cultures, classes, ages, sexes thrown promiscuously into the slave ships and socially equalized by the same system of slavery.'

Under the slave whip, they would lose their Wolof, Hausa and Mandinga distinctness and become African. Their descendants would not see themselves as belonging to one tribe but to all. Years after slavery was abolished in Cuba, the poet Nicolas Guillen would write in his Son Number 6,

I'm Yoruba,
and when I'm not Yoruba,
I'm Congo, Mandingo, Carabali.

The first time we read this poem in my seminar group, I said to the class, "This man is very confused. He does not know where he is from." My teacher replied something along the lines of, "It's not that he doesn't know where he's from. It's that he's from all of them."

Nigeria has been a country since 1914 when Lord Lugard united the Northern and Southern Protectorate to simply administrative work. Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Efik, Ibibio, we have been thrown together, cheek by jowl for almost a century and still, we continue to cling to our separate identities. We refuse to let the inevitable process of transculturation take its course. I say inevitable because we can not live together without rubbing off on each other. We cannot rub off on each other without changing. We can choose to accept the change or we can fight it and call the transcultured hybrid a degenerate creature, hearkenening back to the days of 'racial purity. We can either and accept our multitribal reality or we can fight the integration of our cultures every step of the way. The Rwandans fought transculturation. Thousands of lives later, they have abandoned all forms of ethnic identification and abolished the terms Hutu and Tutsi from public discourse. Surely we don't have to wait until such drastic measures become necessary.Why not be wise like Guillen and decide,

I'm Igbo,
and when I'm not Igbo,
I'm Yoruba, Hausa, Kanuri
Efik, Ibibio, Calabari, Ijaw,
I am Nigerian.

The historian Nancy Morejón wrote in an article,

"The history of the African continent has been plagued by thousands of tribal conflicts. Only in America [both North and South America] could Africa become a unity, due to the diaspora its descendants interwove in search of their liberation."

Why must we Efiks, Ijaws and Hausa's wait until we are in the diaspora before we know we are Nigerian? Why must we wait until we have fled a country ruined by tribal politics before we realise that being Nigerian is the most valuable of all identities.

There is no doubt that as transculturaion occurs, we will all lose a little of our 'Igboness' and 'Hausaness' and 'Efikness' and 'Kanuriness' but in doing so, we will gain our Nigerianess. Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 10:39: If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. There is a corollary for nation building in Africa. If you cling to your tribe, you will lose your nation but if you give up your tribe, you will gain a nation of many tribes.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Commonwealth Short Story Prize and A Cool Video

It's that time of the year people. To all writers out there, young and old, brush up your best short story and submit it. You have nothing to lose. It's free to enter. Click here for details.

And just because I saw this video and liked it. The great Jimi Solanke, reminding us why Nigeria is wonderful. In your spare time, check out

Monday 24 October 2011


I know. I know. This gist is so stale that mould is growing on it but better late than never. Abi, no be so? So my university was kind enough to organise a reading for me. It was in the nicest hall in Kings in my opinion. We usually have exams and lectures in the Great Hall, so it was pleasant to see this more sociable mien of this room. Here are photos kindly provided by Kal Kohli who works in the Governance and Legal Affairs Support Office at Kings. A few are mine as well. I'll put the pictures up, then give you a few thoughts.

The audience before the reading began. The back rows got a few late comers as the reading progressed.

Darren Robinson, who was the host for the night. He really gave the reading structure.

If you look closely, you can see me clutching the podium.

Afterwards. Big smiles. These were the main organisers of the event.

My grandma and I. Three generations of my family showed up to support me. Much appreciated.

So basically, giving a reading was a really weird experience. I now know that I am capable of speaking clearly in a Nigerian accent. I do not have to resort to phonetics to be understood by people who are not from my part of the world. However, I must confess it took quite a bit of practice, especially in the areas where I had to speak pidgin. My favourite part of the evening was the Q and A session. I found the actual reading disconcerting. I'm more used to singing in front of people and getting some sort of audible reaction from the crowd. To look up and see upwards of 50 pairs of eyes just watching you silently is very odd. Hence the podium clutching.

I really liked answering people's questions. There were some I'd vaguely been expecting, so I had rough answers for them, e.g how long did it take you to write the book? How do you balance writing with school work? Others though, I hadn't even thought about. One lady asked me to list three books that had influenced me. It's one many writers can reel off but I was momentarily stumped. A Ghanaian woman made a comment about how much she liked Nigerian pidgin and how Ghanaian pidgin was less expressive. One asked about what advice I would give to other young writers like myself.

Afterwards, I mingled with a very kind audience. Many people came to say well done. To be honest I was a little surprised by the diversity of people there. There was a lady from the Czech republic who told me that my reflections of growing up in Nigeria and moving over here, really touched her. Which touched me. In the absence of a book, I even signed a sheet of paper for one lady. It was a great first reading. I was speaking to my editor who attended and we both agreed that it was unusual to have such a nice first outing. We thank God. Obviously, I can't show you guys what I read from my book, copyright etc, but I can put up the introduction I read. Enjoy.

I grew up with a slight sense of distaste for my country. I was fortunate enough to spend some of my holidays in England and America. As a result, I became like one of those badly behaved children who loves to go to other people’s houses but hates to go home. England, in particular, was the cool friend. I remember when the summer was over and it was time to return to Lagos, the back to school adverts would start popping up. And how I wished I was going back to school with the British children. O to buy WHSmith stationery all year round. I got my wish. I came to school in England when I was fourteen. The reality was worse and better than I imagined.

My first few years in England, I felt very homesick for the country I never wanted to return to whenever I holidayed abroad. For the first time, my country, Nigeria, Lagos, was attractive enough and interesting enough for me to want to write about it. Prior to my coming here, I set all my fiction in England and America. Yet I soon found that I did not want to write about England when I finally lived here. The longer I stayed away from Nigeria, the more interesting, and exotic, and readable my country became.

So 4,ooo miles away, sitting in my cold room in school, I began to type away at the nucleus of what would eventually become my novel. For the first time, it would be set in Nigeria, with Nigerian characters, with Nigerian accents. For the first time the hero would be Nigerian, the villain Nigerian, the clown Nigerian, the battered, bruised, humoured, abused, loved, hated, laughed at, all would be Nigerian. It took me four thousand miles to believe that my country was interesting and complex enough to be read about at home and read about on a world stage. It was a while but I am glad I made it in the end.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

An Evening at Parliament

First of all, let me confess my ignorance in the midst of dear friends who won't hurl abuse at me. I got to Westminster station about twenty minutes before the event was due to start. Exit 3 said House of Parliament. My invite said House of Commons. Dear blog readers, I had a serious moment of panic. With not long to go before the meeting began, I became worried that the House of Commons and the House of Parliament were different places. Such are the gaps in my general knowledge. Thankfully they are the same place.

Before I found the meeting room, I walked and walked and walked. Every time I reach another desk with a police man I would ask, where is X room? They would reply, "Just straight down miss." Just straight down, straight down, up a few flights of stairs, straight down before I finally got to where I was going. I passed some busts of former Prime Ministers: Lord Palmerston, Gladstone, faces from my history books. As I walked to the room, my boots clicking on the stone floors, I kind of understood why people want to be powerful. There is something that feels good about striding down a long corridor, hearing your shoes click on the floor and feeling you are going somewhere important, you're rushing to a major decision that lives will hang on.

Now to the reason I was in the House of Commons in the first place. It was a meeting of The All Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria and it was organised by Chatham House. No, I had never heard of this group of MPs from all parties who "aim to create a better understanding of issues relating to Nigeria; to promote links between Britain and Nigeria and to support development and democracy in Nigeria." Members of the group include Dianne Abott and Chuka Umunna.

There were three speakers. A Researcher on Nigeria from the Humans Rights Watch. The Detective Chief Inspector Economic and Specialist Crime Command, Metropolitan Police and Oba Nsugbe QC, SAN, Head of Chambers, Pump Court Chambers.

The researcher just didn't do it for me. Perhaps because he had limited time, he could only give an overview but unfortunately, a lot of what he mentioned could have been read on the Nigerian online newspaper, 234Next. The nadir for me though, was when he stated that in the past few weeks, the EFCC had arrested 3 governors. Immediately my ears pricked up. Three governors? No. They were EX-governors because the Nigerian constitution does not allow a sitting governor to be prosecuted. If the EFCC could prosecute current governors, then they could catch the criminals early instead of waiting for 8 years and billions of stolen Naira later. That a whole researcher on Nigeria could make this seemingly trivial error, didn't inspire confidence. Maybe the Human Rights Watch should hire some Nigerians to research about Nigeria. They might be able to get more inside gist.

The next speaker was from the Metropolitan Police. Immediately, I felt on this man's side. When he spoke of the trials of catching Nigerian crooked politicians, I really felt for him. He spoke of the case of Alamesiegha. They caught him at Heathrow with a suitcase full of hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash. They arrested him. He asked for bail. He wanted to return to Nigeria to sort out a few things. He said he would be back. They were not stupid. They knew he wanted to disappear. He said he would come back. At his hearing, the whole Attorney General of Nigeria left his duties to come and plead that Alamesiegha be allowed bail. Eventually, bail was posted at 500,000 pounds. It was paid without a blink. Alamesiegha has not been heard of since. The Met is doing better than EFCC. They have secured 15 convictions in 5 years whereas the EFCC has only secured 4 convictions of major political figures since its inception. Which is kinda pitiful. I was on the Met's side.

Then Mr. Nsugbe spoke. First of all, most of the money recouped from the Ibori cases and others of that ilk, isn't returned to Nigeria. I almost had a fit. I could not believe what I was hearing. Most of the money wasn't returned?! Where did it go? It first went to the Home Office, then to the Treasury, then the Met was reimbursed for the time they spent tracking down the criminal, then finally, at the discretion of Treasury, some, SOME of it, MAY go back to Nigeria. Of the 400 million dollars of looted Nigerian money that has been recovered abroad, most of it has not returned. Ladies and gentlemen, there is no charity in this world.

The man from the Met made his rejoinder. After all, sometimes they returned to money to Nigeria and nobody even bothered to cash the cheques. He told one story of how expired cheques were found in the Attorney General's top drawer. And of course, there was the worry that the returned money would just go back into corruption. No point chasing down laundered money, to chase down the same laundered money a few years later. But still, these arguments don't really hold water. If I leave my laptop lying around and it gets stolen, no-one has a right to tell me they won't give it back because they are worried I might be careless and it might get stolen again.

After this revelation, the audience was less than kind. One woman asked why the Metropolitan department that handled corruption was not expanded? After all, it was a profit making organisation (oooh low blow.) In the end, I agree with Mr. Nsugbe. There has to be a balance. The money should be returned but it should be monitored by a credible organisation. When 600 million dollars of Abacha's loot was returned to Nigeria, it's expenditure was monitored by the World Bank and thus, a lot of it was actually put to good use. But sha sha, these people should give us back our money, that's my own.

All in all, I enjoyed my 1 hour in parliament. All I had to do was register online. I didn't know anybody. I didn't need any connections. I wondered when I was leaving, if I could get into a meeting in the House of Senate with such ease in my own country. I doubt it.

Monday 17 October 2011

My First Review

Tricia at Black Book news was kind enough to do a review of my reading on her blog. More about the reading later. But for now, read someone else's very glowing and kind opinion of it. Click here.

Sunday 9 October 2011


I remember the hundreds that were trampled in the canal almost ten years ago. They were running from the bombs. Bombs that were exploding in the Ikeja cantonment. Nigeria was not at war, unless you count the criminal negligence of our politicians as a special, more subtle kind of war. A war of attrition where each side tries to wear the other down slowly and steadily. We will win. We outnumber them. Yet, how many more will die before they give in?

The bombs exploded because they overheated. They overheated because they were not cooled properly.They were not cooled properly because there had been no running water in the military barracks for years. There had been no running water because someone had pocketed the money for the piping system. One day a petrol tanker caught fire close to where the bombs were stored. The heat spread. The bombs began to explode.


All over Lagos, people heard the noise and began to run. Those that were close to the bombs, those that were far from the bombs, they panicked and ran. They ran with their children. They ran with their merchandise. Some ran into the canal. A dirty brown waterway. Perhaps, those leading the charge stepped into the muddy waters and wanted to turn back. Once their feet touched the sludge, perhaps they came to their senses. What are we doing? Where are we running to? Why do we think that safety lies on the other side of this water?

But it was too late. Those behind were convinced that the bombs were right behind them. If they did not flee, they would die. And so they pushed them on, and others behind them pushed them on until people were stepping on bodies to cross the canal. A bridge of bodies. If you lost your footing, if you slipped on someones synthetic weavon, if you dared trip, you were clawed down and trampled. Those behind could not wait for you to find your feet again. Death was chasing them.

Over three hundred Nigerians died on that January 27th 2011. I saw the bombs flash red over the Ikeja night sky. I was there. iRemember.

Rest in peace Steve Jobs. You inspired us all.

Any comments on the new look for the blog?

Monday 3 October 2011

7 Questions for Ayodele Olofintuade

Ms Olofintuade has just been shortlisted for the Nigerian Prize for Literature for her children's book, ENO'S STORY. Before I go on, I must state that the prize money runs into the hefty sum of $100,000. Children's fiction is often overlooked by the bigger prizes so I'm glad the the NLNG decided to pick a shortlist of only books from this field.

The last time I read a work of children's literature was over five years ago. I thought I had outgrown the genre. I thought wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed Eno's Story. The main character Eno, is a plucky kid who reacts to being accused of child witchcraft with courage and a sense of humour. The first thing Eno says in the novel is, "So I'm a witch! That means I can fly and turn into a cat or even a fierce lion." When her Uncle takes her for 'deliverance' she says to herself, "I am a princess not a witch. Uncle Etim and the pastor are ignoramuses."

The subject of the book is timely. I heard about the child witches scandal in Nigeria but I couldn't bring myself to watch the documentary. It's rare to see children's literature tackle such a tough issue but the most memorable pieces of child fiction often deal with difficult themes. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne comes to mind. Also, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

The illustrations in this book are beautiful. I don't think I've ever seen black people depicted in children's literature, except you count Enid Blyton's golliwogs as black, which I don't. Eno looks like a Nigerian girl. Her hair is threaded. Her evil Uncle looks like a middle aged Nigerian man. He appears in a white singlet and sports a pot belly. The houses in the village look like houses in my village.

Ayodele was kind enough to answer some questions that I posed to her. Here is the full interview. If you live in Nigeria, head over to book stores and get a copy of this book. If you live abroad, get someone to send it to you. I wish Ayodele all the best in her writing. She certainly fully deserves a place on the shortlist and I'm looking forward to reading what she produces next.

1. Before I read the book, I knew that it dealt with the theme of so called child witches and I felt that this was a topic too gruesome to be explored in children's fiction. I was glad that you found a balance between the darker and lighter elements of the story. How did you manage to achieve this?

In order to write successfully for children you need the ability to see through their eyes and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way because I was shocked when someone who purportedly writes for children told an audience that she had to ‘go down to the children’s level’ implying that children are inferior and thus one has to ‘lower’ oneself in order to talk to them, that was a cringe-worthy moment.

All I did was channel the story through a child and completely lose myself in the character, I allowed her to tell the story in her own way, luckily for me it worked!

2. How long does it take you to craft a piece of fiction such as Eno's Story and what are the difficulties you find along the way?

Crafting a story sometimes takes months and sometimes the story will come to you whole. So really one can’t predict how long it will take. For Eno’s Story I had the first draft out in three months, it’s as if the story were hiding behind my back and it just revealed itself to me gradually. I can’t say I encountered a lot of difficulties, at least nothing that couldn’t be solved with a bit of research.

3. The illustrations in Eno's Story were excellent. They really brought the characters and narrative to life. How involved were you in this aspect of the process?

Frankly I had little or no input as the illustrations that were sent to me for approval had undergone thorough scrutiny.

4. What are you currently working on?

The Terrible Twins series, the adventurous stories of a pair of twins, Tounye and Kela, who got into scrapes as a matter of course and their friends: a boy called Khalid and a magical creature called Iwin. The draft for the first four books are ready. Hopefully it will be out by mid 2012.

5. What advice would you give to writers who wish to write for children?

Get to know your audience ... children. Play with them, fight with them, listen to them and don’t ever condescend to them. Once you get that part right you will find it easy to write for them.

6.What was your reaction when you found out that you had been shortlisted for the Nigerian Literature Prize?

Frankly I was happy and sad at the same time. It is very anxiety inducing and I’m already an excitable person so I knew I was going on an emotional roller coaster ride. But thus far I’ve handled it even better that I thought I would. I have really surprised myself.

7. I know this last is a little cheeky and I'll understand if you choose not to answer but if you did win, what would you do with the prize money?


Sunday 25 September 2011

First Reading

So yours truly is going to sit down or stand and read some passages from my novel to an audience that will consist of at least my editor, her friend, my mum and my dad. I didn't put it up earlier because I couldn't find an internet link. There was only had a PDF document that I had to send via email. But now I have the link, so anyone interested may register and drop in. It's free. There will be light refreshment before I proceed. All details are here. Shout out to Kings College for being so kind. I'm glad I go to a uni where they support students in all their extra curricular endeavours.

Saturday 24 September 2011

I See Lagos

I saw my first dead body in Lagos. I think I was 6. It was a man. If he had been alive, people would probably have called him a mad man. He had dreadlocks, matted and reddish brown from the sun. He was dressed in a long, grey, shirt rag. His body was beginning to swell on the side of the road. His mouth was open; a white paste spilled out of his lips.

We were on the way to school. My car zoomed past the sight, barely slowing down. I asked the driver what happened? He said the man had probably been run over while trying to cross the express at night. It was the military that had done it. He was certain. I could believe it.I always saw the soldiers zooming at fatal speeds in their black vans. If you got in their way, they could come down and flog you with their whips. Or if it was night and they were drunk, they would just run you over. I could imagine that they had not bothered to stop when they saw the man they had hit was just a mad man.

That was the Lagos I saw when I was growing up. Now Babatunde Raji Fashola (Senior Advocate of Nigeria) and Governor of the state I call home, is asking us to see a new Lagos. Like a pastor in church, he is asking us to speak what we want to see. O ye of little faith, speak what you want to see. The voice in the first clip says, "I see a Lagos where I can wake up by 7am after a good night's rest. Get to my train station by 7.30am, travel in comfort enjoying the beautiful scenery."

Like Sarah, I laughed when I heard what the man in this clip was seeing. The thought of someone in Lagos who lives on the mainland waking up at 7am and being on time for work seemed so preposterous that all I could do was laugh. O me of little faith. I had sat too long in third mainland bridge traffic to believe. Yet I am not so cynical that I cannot join my fellow Lagosians in this act of seeing a new Lagos. So here are the things I see in Lagos in the next few years. It may be a dream but the dreamers are often the most realistic of us all.

  • I see a Lagos where there are no children swilling dirty soapy water over my car windscreen because they are all in school and the facilities provided for them there are world class.

  • I see a Lagos where former agberos have acquired skills and gained employment . They are now pillars of their community, stressing the importance of education.

  • I see a Lagos where affordable housing is made available for the millions living in shanty town conditions.

  • I see a Lagos where graduates come out of university and face reasonable competition when looking for work.

That's the Lagos I see.

To find out more about the I see Lagos project, click here.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

An Evening With Ms Adichie, Mr. Ellams and Many More @ BookSlam

I got there on time. 6.30pm. I didn't have a ticket and I was worried that I might be gated. I didn't know the size of the venue. It would have been a shame to go all the way to Clapham only to return to North London. The queue was long when I got there. Too long for an event that started at 7.30. I saw some of my friends. We had randomly come to the same event. They all had tickets. I wanted to run to the front and tell the guys to save one for me o. I came from North London. You will pay my transport here.

In the end there were tickets for everyone. The venue was quite large. When we were all inside it was full but more people could have fitted inside. If it was an event in Nigeria, I would have shown the organisers how to arrange the chairs to increase capacity. As it was, the Okoro Lagosian in me tried to calculate how much Bookslam made.

First poem of the night went to the host, a poet whose name I do not recall, though some of his lyrics have stuck in my head. The poem was called Invisible Kisses. I won't try and reproduce his wraps here but they were good sha.

Next up was a poet called Inua Ellams. I've seen him perform before. He came to my Uni for a performance. I went because the poster said he'd done a show at the National and I'm into brand names like that. He was good at Kings but better yesterday. Lighting really makes a difference. When the crowd is dark, I think performers have more liver. He had an excellent poem about about domestic violence. There was a particularly graphic image. A drop of blood fell into the victim's cup of coffee. There's a tinge of bathos when I paraphrase it but it was very powerful in his words.

And then we had Ms. Adichie. She's loomed large in my mind since I was a child. I was 0 years of age when Ben Okri won the Booker with the Famished Road. Between that and Purple Hibiscus there were no Nigerian writers people all over the world were making noise about, except the usual suspects: Achebe, Soyinka, Achebe, Soyinka. So of course when Chimamanda stepped on the scene, how could you say you were a Nigerian and an aspiring writer and not know of her. And have an opinion on which novel was better, Purple Hibiscus or Half of a Yellow Sun. And have family members ask, ''So you want to be the next Chimamanda?" when you said you wanted to be a writer.

The short story she read was excellent. It was called Quality Street. I was able to follow every word she said. Don't underestimate the skill required to speak in a Nigerian accent and still convey your words with clarity to an audience that is not solely African. I have my first reading next month.

I went to speak to her afterwards. She was cool. It's an oft used adjective but its the most apt I can think of. She chatted to people normally, like a naija. You know how my people like to hear our people keeping it real. There was no authorial distance. She signed everyone's book, heard a hundred people say how much they loved her books and took each compliment graciously. She was cool. I'm glad I went.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

A Nigerian In France

So my friend moved to France to do a Masters. Only one day in, her blackberry status had changed at least five times. I asked her to send me an email. What I got was so funny I've decided to post it here. The next voice you hear will be hers.

France is funny!!! I'm loving far. Grenoble is really pretty- very different to what I expected, but a good kind of different ;-). I like my accommodation and public transport is really good. I haven't met many people yet but uni starts this week....

The people here are very funny. I will need to get used to the bluntness. I think I am too used to forced british politeness.
Even the beggars on the street don't take nonsense. One came up to me the other day while I was waiting for the tram and told me exactly how much she wanted from me.
She said, "Give me €2" , pointing at my bag.

I didn't have that much change and was a bit put off so I shook my head, she would would not leave, she encroached even more into my personal space and brought out a form with a list of signatures of other people who had given her €2 or more! So that she would leave me alone, I counted out €1 in coins and gave her, she was not too happy and after waiting for a few more seconds she eventually moved on. This was my first day here!

And today I went to the transport office to get a transport card. While I was on the very long queue, a woman behind me appointed herself queue jumping monitor and walked all the way from the back to fish out someone who she thought was jumping the queue. It turns out they had only gone to stand beside their friend in front. Then another one bellowed at one lady who was just crossing over to the other side. I thought this was a bit much and stood there staring in disgust until the lady in front of me turned back and supported her, basically saying that she was right to want to defend her position on the queue. Then they looked at me for a sign of agreement. I could only laugh. Then one lady suddenly decided to improve upon the system they had going in the office and started "helping" the cashiers by telling people when it was time to go up to the desks. Then the cashier basically said the equivalent of "Hey woman! Whats your stress!" In my mind I was thinking "Yeee! They are going to fight" but everybody just carried on as normal.

And church yesterday was a similar story. Service was mostly in English and it was very nice but also funny. There was one lady who kept shouting out lines that she thought the pastor omitted in the middle of the sermon! I was so confused. There was also another guy who was told by someone in the audience to hurry up with his speech! Then we all had lunch and after, we were basically ordered, and I'm not joking, "clear your plates and cups!", "put them in the bin!", "drop a donation", "shake off the crumbs off your table cloth!", "sit down", "don't just stand around chatting and drinking, help with moving the chairs!" Then finally, they handed brooms out. Oya sweep!

This is a big change from my London church where they beg us to go and eat cake and drink coffee. I don't know which extreme I prefer.
I can't say I wasn't warned about French bluntness...but I need to get used to it. I'm still at that stage where I'm finding everything very amusing.

Chibundu speaking again. I have a request for you my readers. I've noticed that some of the people who read this blog come from places as diverse as Thailand. My friend's email has given me an idea for a series. If any of you are foreigners in your country of residence and would be kind enough to send me an email detailing your experiences that would be nice. My email is

Saturday 3 September 2011

Spider King's Daughter Available on Amazon to Pre-order!!

Screaaaaaaaaaaaaaam! Ok, I know there's no cover, but there's a blurb. Oh my gosh! You can now pre-order my book on Amazon. I've been screaming all day.

We thank God. :)

Oh, click here for the link.

Friday 2 September 2011

We Thank God

Of late people have been showing me a lot of love. I've gotten some very nice emails, people have said nice things about me, some people who I've never met have read articles about me and come up to me and said well done. It can get to ones head. Prov. 27:21 says, 'The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives.' My father is someone who gets many compliments. People say nice things about him to his face, people say nice things about him behind his back, people generally say nice things about him. He always responds, 'We thank God.'

"Doctor that sermon you preached was very good."
"We thank God."
"Doctor, congrats on your new car."
"We thank God."
"Daddy, thank you for paying our school fees."
"We really thank God."

It's an attitude that I want to characterize my life. There's nothing good I have that is not from God. There is nothing bad in my life that has not been turned into good because of God. I used to think it was a little naff to say we thank God every time someone paid me a compliment, especially when they weren't a Christian. But now as I'm a little older, I begin to realise, who else will I thank? People email me, asking how I got a publisher like Faber? As if I had anything to do with it. Others have put in more work than me, others are more qualified than I am, others write better than I do but God was the one that gave me favour. Promotion comes neither from the east, nor the west, it comes from Heaven so the thanks must go there.

Thursday 1 September 2011

Meet the Acorns

Meet Fatima. She is a pupil or an 'acorn' at The Little Acorns Educational Foundation. Her father is a gateman or maiguard as they are called in Nigeria. Fatima comes to school with Blessing (on the right.) They share the same okada.

Blessing used to be able to walk to The Little Acorns school because her mother lived in a shack on a property that was not her own. One day, the owner of the property decided he wanted to use it and so he drove all his tenants away. Blessing now comes to school on an okada which she also shares with, Peace. It looks a little like the lower image when they go home.


The acorns eat well when they are at school.
They often ask for seconds. The proprietress thinks that for many, this is the only square meal they will get.

The foundation is run by sponsorship. It costs 120,000 Naira to sponsor a child for a year. That comes to almost 500 pounds per annum. The sponsors take a real interest in their acorns. They are sent report cards and photographs every half term. Many sponsors ask for children with specific traits.

Meet Aliyah. Her sponsor, being a pretty woman, naturally wanted a pretty girl. I couldn't decide on what photo of Aliyah to put. She's very photogenic, like her sponsor.

Other sponsors have asked for sharp children. A sponsor who used to be a teacher asked for a bright child and was given Moyo.

I wonder what she was thinking when this picture was taken. She's only 3. Sarah, lower image, is another sharp one. Some people choose to sponsor an acorn because they want a different child. One sponsor specifically asked to have a Hausa girl. She was given Fatima. Fatima is not the only child whose father is a maiguard. Peter's father is also a gateman. In fact, Peter's father is my landlord's gateman.

I saw him going to school some mornings while I was in Nigeria. He did not look like his father was a gateman. He looked like his father was the owner of the house he stepped out of. That's the vision behind the Little Acorns School Foundation. To provide these children with a standard and quality of education to rival any private primary school in Lagos. On T.V, they tell you that just 5 pounds a month can educate a child in Africa. Well the proprietor of the acorns wants to give them better than 5 pounds a month because she thinks the future of Nigeria is worth more than that. Just to feed the 20 acorns (10 boys, 10 girls) costs 60,000 Naira a month. Their uniforms were all bought in England. One sponsor has remarked that the children don't look like they are from lower income families.

The acorns really like school. I'm not just saying that because my mother started the foundation. One acorn called Hafiz, used to cry whenever the school day ended and his guardian came to pick him up.

The child on the left is Hafiz. The one on the right is Mr. Boss's acorn.

A birthday at the L.A.E.F.

The boys.
To read the L.A.E.F mission statement, click here.
To contact the L.A.E.F you can email

Friday 26 August 2011

Someone Took the Money

Someone took the money,
That was supposed to buy the tools ,
To build the schools,
That would stop our youths from becoming fools.

Someone took the money,
That was supposed to pave the roads
To bring the jobs,
That would sate the mobs.

Someone took the money,
That was supposed to light our streets,
And ease the load,
Of investors wishing to turn cash to gold.

Someone took the money,
That was supposed to train the men,
To stop the bombs,
And terrorist guns.

Someone took the money,
Because they were too shortsighted,
To read the sign:

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Meet Jason Njoku of Nollywood Love

A returnee doing big things. How on earth a company can turn over 500,000 dollars from adverts on youtube in 6months baffles me. He saw a gaping chasm in the Nollywood distribution market and he is plugging it and making millions of Naira from it. This guy gets c. 2 million hits a day on youtube. As someone who has sampled his work via Blackberry Babes 1 and 2, [yeah sue me] I must say, more power to his elbows.

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