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?


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