Saturday 1 December 2012


As  the year’s fires burn to embers
Calendars draw to the months of ember.
Chaos stalks the days that fall,
In the ambush of all hallows and the year’s pall.

Tis the season for terror and mayhem,
Tis the time for murder by young men.
Lie in bed till morning.
For when gunshots not tales greet the moon,
Hark the forerunners of mourning.

The ones you seek do not come.
Who will dress them in myrrh,
And bring their widows gold?
Who will rain them with tears,
And see that their young grow old?

The ones you seek judge their lives too weighty for you,
So go home another way,
Young men seek to rob you.
Take another way.
The young men lie in wait for you.

Chibundu Onuzo (c) 2012

Monday 12 November 2012

Waterstones Reading

I have a reading at Waterstones Picadilly this Wednesday at 7pm with Alex Wheatle and Courtia Newland. It's free so if you're free do drop by. All info is here. Scroll down to see their list of events this month.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Aunty Unoma

My Aunt died almost a year ago. She lived in our house and when I was younger, I saw her almost every day. Yet I do not have a single picture with her. Aunty Unoma was not the type for taking pictures. She was pretty. Even though a worried, distracted look often marred her features, she was pretty. She had long, black hair that looked like weavon and she dressed in those brightly coloured sixties dresses that have come back into fashion.

She loved to clean. We were all afraid to use her bathroom. At one point, there were six of us sharing the 'girls bathroom' as we called it, yet we would rather queue and bang on the door of this one bathroom, than offload into Aunty Unoma's. It was too pristine for mere mortals. The walls were white, the floors where white, the tub was white and when you switched on the white fluorescent lights, everything seemed to pulse with whiteness.

Aunty Unoma was devoutly Christian, often cryptic in her devotion. In some ways, the after life had begun for her, years before she died. She would often speak of angels and heaven like she had a doorway in her room that led there, her own personal wardrobe to Narnia. It wasn't spooky. I was never afraid when her eyes got their dreamy look but I knew she was different.

For the most part, my sisters and my cousins avoided her. It was not that we changed direction when we saw her coming or hid behind doors. We were always cordial and greeted warmly but we never actively sought her out. Our avoidance was passive. We never knocked on her door in the evening to gist or followed her to the market when she went shopping. In some ways she passively avoided us too. She cooked downstairs but she ate in her room. We were lost in the preoccupations of our adolescences and childhoods and she was lost in her hymns and scriptures.  

Her death came as a shock. After I moved here, I did not think of her often. I was too busy trying to adjust to my English boarding school. Still, whenever I came home for the holidays, she was inordinately happy to see me and demonstrative in a way she had never been when we slept in adjacent rooms. She would hug me effusively and ask about school and my new life in England. I was always surprised by the warmth of her welcome. I never asked what she had done while I was away. Perhaps because I was so sure I would know the answer. Gone to church, gone to the market, stayed at home. Maybe I was wrong. She always dressed so carefully when she went out. Perhaps she had a group of friends we didn't know about. Perhaps she was a jazz pianist.

Usually when I went back, I would take small presents to her, little nothings of negligible monetary value that were in line with my student allowance. Always, her happiness would be disproportionate to the gift. Once, she did a small dance while I looked on, embarrassed but pleased. The last trip I saw her, I didn't bring her anything. I wasn't organised enough and I didn't have time to buy gifts for people. She didn't mention it. Instead, when she came to say good bye to me on my last night in Lagos, she came with a present, as she had done the year before. The first gift had been a bottle of perfume. That second was a canister of deodorant. I was very touched by both, twice to the point of tears.

"Keep fit," she said, prodding my stomach, protruding from my heavy dinner that night. She smiled mischievously, prodded my stomach again and left. Those were her last words to me, keep fit and as I type them, I think maybe I never really knew Aunty Unoma. Devout, cleanly and mischievous, an adjective I left out until our last meeting.

Rest in peace Aunty. Kachifo. 

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Igoni Barrett and Doreen Baingana at the Garden City Literary Festival

The Garden City Literary Festival in Port Harcourt was soooo much fun. My filming is terrible I know but thought I should share. So proud I figured out how to upload. More on the festival to come.

In other news, I've also been shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize.

Monday 1 October 2012

I Pledge (In Honour of Independence)

So it's independence day and finally, at a stroke to midnight, I've managed to upload a recording of me singing the pledge. Enjoy.

Monday 3 September 2012

Soapbox Diaries

Piece in the Guardian Comment is Free section.

On my last trip to Lagos, I drove past a new supermarket in an upper-middle-class part of the city. It was a huge concrete thing with sliding electronic gates, CCTV cameras and the sleek live wires that have replaced barbed wire in all fashionable districts. I remarked to my cousin, who was driving, that the building hadn't been there a year ago.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

The Nigeria House Stratford Event (Monday)

Since the end of July, the Theatre Royal in Stratford has become Nigeria House Stratford and people like King Sunny Ade, Seun Kuti, and Wole Soyinka have danced, stormed off and read poetry on that lovely stage. I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part in two panels about Nigeria Literature. The event was organised by CORA and the British Council and I had a really excellent time. It was great to meet an author like Helon Habila whose work I've read and admired for so long and then to also meet writers who are new to me like Diran Adebayo, the poet and playwright Zainabu Jallo and the poet Nnorom Azuonye of Sentinel Nigeria. All the photos I've put up here were taken by him.

Me and Nnorom
Ike Anya (big grin, third from right) was the compere for Monday afternoon. The physical audience was a little scanty but we had some listeners online and questions coming in via facebook. My favourite part of the day was our dinner afterwards. There was an excellent Nigerian 'buffet' going for twelve pounds fifty. Sadly the caterers were mistaken as to the nature of a buffet. We could pile all we wanted to eat on our plates ONCE and only once. In vain did I point out that the term buffet had been inappropriately used and we should be allowed at least two trips. In vain did I bring out my kindle and open The American Standard Dictionary. The food was good though, especially the jollof rice and the conversation was better. Its amazing what fish pepper soup, pounded yam and Star will do. We deconstructed, analysed and solved all the problems with Nigeria. You might say its empty talk but Lenin wandered round Europe for years, talking empty talk. Seretse Khama walked through London for years, talking empty talk. Talk is too easily despised. Nothing begins without words. And anyway, it was fun. I lost my voice trying to keep up with the very loud male opposition and sounded a little croaky in my event the next day.  Rotimi Babatunde (whose fantastic short story Bombay's Republic won the Caine Prize) was the most skilled at the art of conversation, waiting his turn to speak, never raising his voice and always saying what he had to say succinctly. I can only aspire.
caine winners and us
Ayodele Arigbagbu, Lookman Sanusi, Helon Habila, Ike Anya, Rotimi Babatunde, Nnorom Azuonye

There were some organisational issues. African time. AFRICAN TIME. AFRICAN TIME!!! Yes, we know time doesn't control us. Yes, we know we can not be bound by the ticking of the second-hand but at least, let the minute-hand of a clock bear some weight with us. I arrived about forty-five minutes early on the first day, in keeping with the standard practice at most festivals I've been to. That is all I will say on the matter.

Diran Adebayo and Zainabu Jallo

To see the rest of Nnorom's photos, click here

Tuesday 31 July 2012

SKD Longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize

Dylan Thomas relaxing outside
Yaaay. We thank God. It's a 30,000 pound prize for novelists under 30. There's a nice mathematical symmetry to that. The longlist is made up of ten people and my friend Andrea Eames is on the list as well. Whoop.

I studied one of Dylan Thomas' poems for my English Literature A-Levels and it was very stirring and powerful. I'm going to paste it here.

For more about the prize click here.


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Monday 23 July 2012

Sefi Atta, Helon Habila, Rotimi Babatunde and Me :)

As part of the Olympics, there's a huge Nigerian fest going down a the Theatre Royal in Stratford. On the 26th, 30th and 31st of July there'll be Nigerian authors speaking and reading from their work, including Sefi Atta, Helon Habila and this year's Caine prize winner, Rotimi Babatunde. Yours truly will also be poking her head in at two of the events, which are free. FREE I tell you. For details of registering  for the three events click, here and here and here.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

An Afternoon With Chief Servant, Governor Aliyu of Niger State

The talk was organised by Chatham House and was titled, 'Nigeria’s Unity and Regional Socio-Political Groups: Influence and Impact of the Northern States Governors Forum' and the speaker was Dr. Mu'azu Babaginda Aliyu, Governor of Niger State and head of the Northern States Governors Forum (N.S.G.F). I saw someone going for the same event on the tube. He was wearing a pin striped black suit, a black shirt and he was carrying a slightly battered, black leather brief case. I don't know how I knew we were going to the same place. I just did. My Naija radar went on alert.

I arrived at the venue just as the governor was making his way to the podium.The room was almost full and there were only a few empty seats. A woman manning a camera on a tripod stood in the middle of one aisle.  She was wearing a flowing gold kaftan with rich embroidery on the edges and a shawl was wound round her head. The NTA logo, unmistakable brown and orange, was printed on the side of her camera.

By the time I had settled down in my seat, the governor had started speaking. He was heavy set with bags under his eyes but he seemed like a jolly person. He had a curious habit of flicking his tongue out when he was about to crack a joke, which happened often during his talk. He began by recognising the members of his entourage.

Chairman of the Traditional Council.
Emir of Minna.
Speaker of Niger State House of Assembly.
An Honourable from Niger State.

These are not all the people he mentioned but these were the posts I got down. He then moved on to give a brief biography of the N.S.G.F and the role it has played in Nigeria's recent history. It was made up of the 19 states in the North West, North Central and North Eastern part of Nigeria. According to Governor Aliyu, the N.S.G.F had played a pivotal role during the Yaradua crises as it was the first group to call for Goodluck Jonathan to be recognised as acting president. Lastly, a point which he reiterated throughout his talk, the N.S.G.F did not believe in the break up of Nigeria.

He gave a lot of interesting statistics. 10% of Nigeria's land mass is in Niger State. 80% of the land in the state is used for agricultural production and although this farming is carried out on a subsistence level, it is still enough to provide the country with 1/3 of its rice quota.

I must say that there was little in the main body of Governor Aliyu's talk that I disagreed with. He spoke of the unconstitutional nature of a Sovereign National Conference saying, 'You can't have two sovereigns in one state.' There was already a body of elected individuals drawn from all over the country whose job was to handle matters such as the redrafting of the constitution. It was called the National Assembly and in any attempts to change the constitution, they must be at the fore.

He also  spoke about the spurious division between the so-called 'settlers' and so-called 'indigenes' in Niger State, drawing parallels between his state and the situation in Jos at the start of their crisis. A good number of Niger's 'indigenes' were actually Hausa speakers from neighbouring Chad and Niger and they were appropriating benefits meant for Nigerians at the expense of  'settler' Yorubas and Igbos who had lived in the state for decades. For example,  'indigenes' paid lower school fees than 'settlers' and so he abolished the payment of school fees in the state.

He spoke of religious radicalisation in Niger, giving as an example the group Dar es Islam, a name which roughly translates to The House of Islam. It was a group that began in the 1970s with 7 people and by 2007, had grown to  9,000. They believed that anyone outside their group was not a Muslim. When members of the security forces were sent to spy on the group, they ended up being absorbed into it. Eventually, more concerted government action was taken and it was discovered that 3/4 of Dar es Islam was not Nigerian.

He then moved on to talk about what he termed the 'Boko Haram franchise,' starting this segment of his talk with a joke saying, 'The Boko Haram thing. I'm sure many people will be interested in that thing.' The franchise nature of the group was of course that anyone wreaking havoc, including armed robbers could do so under the masque of Boko Haram.

Sometimes he would segue into random asides that were neither here nor there. When he briefly mentioned the crisis in Jos, he also spoke of the Fulani channel than ran throughout West Africa. According to him, whenever a  group of Fulanis was threatened in one part of the continent, they would send kolanuts to their brethren elsewhere and these would then come to their rescue and avenge any wrongs perpetrated against them. Such urban legends are the stuff ethnic distrust is made of.     

He closed his talk with the now familiar mantra of all state Governors in Nigeria, from the East, South, North and West. He called for decentralisation and more devolution of power to the states.   

Niger State on Map of Nigeria
As usual, the QandA proved to be a lively part of the event. Needless to say, very few people asked one question and even fewer asked brief questions. On being addressed as 'Your Excellency', Governor Aliyu replied that this title was reserved for the President of the country and the Ambassadors that represented him.  For him, Chief Servant (a bit of a mouthful) or Mr. Governor (my preference) would do.

During the QandA, a question was asked that allowed  the Governor to tell us about the administrative structure of his state. There are 29 local government areas and 274 wards. He discovered that very few policies made at the state level were trickling down to the ward level and so he made a novel amendment. Every month, 1 million Naira would be given to each ward to carry out whatever project they wanted. The only condition for receiving another million the next month, was proof that a project was being carried out. Explaining the rational behind this policy he said, 'the villagers know their problems and have solutions to their problems.'

Yours truly worked up the courage to ask a question. I was so scared, I forgot to introduce myself and was reminded of this by the vocal crowd. It's a question I want to ask to every Nigerian official who expresses support for the removal of the fuel subsidy as Governor Aliyu did in his talk. Here it is;

'You mentioned that you supported subsidy removal which was in effect an austerity measure. What personal austerity measures have you taken since January. For example today, I see you've come with quite a large entourage.'

Yes, I said it. He took it quite well actually. He smiled when I asked the question and  when he answered, he addressed me directly. He explained that when he travelled, he liked to bring members of his state for short educational courses and he also wanted to expose them to what 'Chibundu was thinking about them abroad' and how the rest of the world saw them. I found myself warming to the Governor of Niger State. He seemed a good sport.

Not so his supporters who accosted me on the steps when I was leaving.
"Are you the one who asked the Governor that question about his entourage?"
"Yes," I said to man in the black suit, not the same one I had seen on the tube.
"Well you should get your facts straight then. Not all the people that came live in Nigeria."
"So you're telling me the Speaker of the Niger State Assembly does not live in Nigeria?"
"Not him but-- just get your facts straight," he barked.

There were about five of them who I then entered into a discussion with about the rights and wrongs of travelling with a large entourage while pushing austerity measures. Only one was conciliatory and polite. He, I think, was the only actual member of the governor's entourage. The rest seemed to me to be Nigerians in London looking for contracts.
"So where are you from?" one of the ruder members of our discussion asked.
"I'm from Lagos."
"Come on. With a name like that you can't be from Lagos."
"So you're now making distinctions between settlers and indigenes."
That drew a laugh from the group. Better quit while you're ahead, I thought to myself.
"It was nice to meet all of you," I said quickly and walked up the stairs before somebody will just dash me hot slap.

My name is Chibundu Onuzo. God bless and good night.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Guardian Comment is Free

Here's a piece I wrote for the Guardian comment is free about Boko Haram and Nigeria. Read it here.

Monday 18 June 2012

Rare Rising Stars

With Idris Bello (a fellow Nigerian who was on the list for his social enterprise) 
I was fortunate enough to be on Rare Recruitment's list of the top ten black students in the UK. In fact, I was number one :) We thank God. The awards were held at parliament and I had a really lovely time. Visit the Rare Rising Stars website for more about the event, the other stars and pictures.

Thursday 31 May 2012

Interview on Bellanaija

Please tell us a bit about yourself – what you do; your education and where you grew up.
My full name is Imachibundu Oluwadara Onuzo – Oluwadara because my mother is Yoruba; Imachibundu because my father is Igbo. I grew up in a very quiet estate in Lagos. I know almost all my neighbours by name and in turn most of them know me as ‘one of Dr. Onuzo’s daughters.’ Both my parents are doctors and are still practising. My primary school was called Corona Gbagada. Our school anthem described us as ‘the centre of excellence’ a motto borrowed from my much beloved Lagos State. I then proceeded to Atlantic Hall where once a week we sang lustily, ‘We love thee o, Great Atlantic Hall.’ It was perhaps an attempt by the anthem writer to brainwash us unruly adolescents. After three years at ‘A-Hall’ as her alumni call her, I went to St. Swithuns, a school in Winchester, where I perfected my phonetics and shortened my name to ‘Chibs.’ I then went to University in London, King’s College, where I dropped my phonetics and lengthened my name once more to Chibundu. Now, on the cusp of graduation, as I prepare for the next phase in my life; perhaps, I will assume the name of Dara.

Read the rest here.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Boko Haram and Nigeria

A police chief once said that he hoped Boko Haram would soon run out of fools to blow up. He said so in that characteristic way in which we Nigerians vent our frustration by telling slightly tasteless jokes. Black humour always come to our rescue. Under Abacha we joked.  During Occupy Nigeria, even as bullets strayed into the crowd, we joked. And this police chief, confronted with the ineptitude of his force and the foreignness of the mode of attack (but Nigerians love life too much to be suicide bombers), he too he joked. The bombing of schools, churches, mosques, UN buildings, police headquarters, it is not a laughing matter, yet still we joke and I think in the end, it is this that will save us.

Boko Haram is not strong enough to overwhelm Nigeria with force. They have neither the arms nor the funds to stage a military invasion of Nigeria. So what we have instead is a war of attrition. They strike here, strike there and hope that they will wear us down. I have not yet seen the power or calamity or disaster that is capable of wearing the Nigerian down. We can be angered, we can be pained, we can suffer but tomorrow we rise at 4am, rinse our faces and we start again. Not in an automated, mechanic way but in a matter of fact, practical way. And when the pressure builds we fight. And when, that is not enough, we burn each others houses. And if still, all is not released, we will  kill each other. But then we start again and all the while, while we fight and burn and kill and die because the hospital had no drip and the road was not tarred and the light was not working, all the while, we joke. And then we start again not in an automated, mechanic way but in matter of fact, practical way.

This is what suffering has done to us. Perhaps it has made us easily trampled on. Sparks that would ignite a population elsewhere, soon flicker out. Forest fires that would explode another country, flare briefly and die away. Yet, this suffering has also made us very difficult to wear out. In a war of attrition, I will bet on Nigeria every time.

My hope for my country is that we learn to get angry in a constructive way; we learn the angers that builds roads and schools and credible elections and power plants and an honest police force. But I also hope that when finally, the people are aroused, we will not forget how to deal with suffering. It is not to be crumbled in front of, nor cowed by but to be joked at. And when it has done its worst, we start again, not in an automated, mechanic way but in a matter of fact, practical way.

May the souls of all those murdered by Boko Haram today rest in peace.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

SKD Longlisted for the 2012 Desmond Elliott Prize

The Spider King's Daughter has been longlisted for the 2012 Desmond Elliott Prize. It's for debut authors published in the UK and I'm well pleased. We thank God. For the rest of the longlist, click here. I'm in very good company. :)

Saturday 21 April 2012

Once Upon a Time

I stumbled across this beautiful poem on the internet by the Nigerian poet called Gabriel Okara. His book, 'The Voice,' has gone straight onto my to be read list. Anyways, here's the poem.

Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time, son,
they used to laugh with their hearts
and laugh with their eyes:
but now they only laugh with their teeth,
while their ice-block-cold eyes
search behind my shadow.
There was a time indeed
they used to shake hands with their hearts:
but that’s gone, son.
Now they shake hands without hearts
while their left hands search
my empty pockets.
‘Feel at home!’ ‘Come again’:
they say, and when I come
again and feel
at home, once, twice,
there will be no thrice-
for then I find doors shut on me.
So I have learned many things, son.
I have learned to wear many faces
like dresses – homeface,
officeface, streetface, hostface,
cocktailface, with all their conforming smiles
like a fixed portrait smile.
And I have learned too
to laugh with only my teeth
and shake hands without my heart.
I have also learned to say,’Goodbye’,
when I mean ‘Good-riddance’:
to say ‘Glad to meet you’,
without being glad; and to say ‘It’s been
nice talking to you’, after being bored.
But believe me, son.
I want to be what I used to be
when I was like you. I want
to unlearn all these muting things.
Most of all, I want to relearn
how to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror
shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs!
So show me, son,
how to laugh; show me how
I used to laugh and smile
once upon a time when I was like you.
Gabriel Okara

Monday 9 April 2012

Book Launch!

It was on Monday March 19th and I had a wonderful, wonderful time. It was hosted by my university, King's College London. They've been ever so supportive. First they put me on the cover of the alumni magazine, then they organised my first reading and now the launch. Big up to Kings! My sister took a thousand and one pictures but I'll only put a few up here.

My cousin Opeyemi who was an excellent MC. She came straight from work as well, instantly slipping from corporate high flyer to relaxed MC.

Ellah Allfrey, Deputy Editor of Granta, who asked me some questions about the book that  challenged me I must say.  Also, I look like a giant in this picture.

My friend Jibs, with her pile of books.

Girls are smiling.

I promise I don't know them :)
The support from family and friends was amazing. People came from Ibadan, Lagos and London and they bought books ehn. It was the most books ever sold by Faber at a book launch. We thank God :) I didn't want to leave when the evening was over. I felt like Cinderella going back home after the ball.

I've put more photos on my fanpage album.

Sunday 1 April 2012

E ma Binu

File:Angry face.png

The title of this post, when roughly translated from the Yoruba to the English means, 'don't be angry.'

There are few things more unpleasant than a writer who only blogs to promote their books and has nothing to say but buy my book, read my reviews, like my fanpage. So e ma binu.

I've been very busy though. One 10,000 word essay just handed in on Friday, a 5,000 due in 22 days and another 10,000 to be done before the month runs out. If you think this is scanty excuse, e ma binu.

And of course the novel just came out. Southbank, Radio 3, Oxford Literary Festival, World Service, Black Book Swap, I've gone to all these places talking about my book and hoping to find new readers. They've all been wonderful and I've enjoyed them so much but sadly they've  not left much time for blogging. So please, e ma binu.

And then we have the finals. May 18, the last exam I'll ever write as an undergraduate student and now less than two months away. 

So in the meantime, please buy my book, read my reviews and like my fanpage and as you do, ejo o, e ma binu.

Monday 26 March 2012

Join me at SOAS this Thursday


I'll be in SOAS on the 29th of March from 6-8pm discussing my book with Ore Disu and Tricia Wombell.

The full venue address is Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, Brunei Gallery, Thornhaugh St, Russell Square, London, WC1 H0XG.

The nearest tube station is Russell Square on the Picadilly Line.

Full details are here.

Also, a review in the FT. Read here.

And I've uploaded some pictures and reviews I can't post here to my facebook fan page here.

Friday 23 March 2012

Tabia Princewill Speaks

Musings of a frustrated Corper
To face up to the glaring deficiencies of the dinosaur we call NYSC, government needs to implement more than surface reforms. For many today, NYSC is an ordeal; a necessary evil; a rite of passage whereby one learns to adapt to the flawed codes of conduct in our society. Indeed, NYSC is a foray into the real world which ideally should teach best practices and attitudes conducive to our development and progress as a country. Ironically, the scheme in its current configuration does quite the opposite.

Corpers are regarded as cheap labour by the organisations who employ them and one very often spends the service year running errands, some highly degrading others simply pointless and non relevant to the job at hand. There is no obligation for the corporate world or even the public sector for that matter, to train the corpers they take on. Rather, youth service becomes a sort of demeaning servitude. Let us speak plainly about the real issues at stake and go beyond surface reforms: female corps members are harassed not because they have no martial arts training (contrary to what proposed reforms would have us believe) but because there is little to protect them from sometimes predatory and unwanted attention. Their inability to mimic Karate masters is irrelevant. It is the very philosophy of NYSC, the unequal relationships between corpers and their would be co-workers that is the problem.

Different sets of rules apply for individuals depending on their class, social status or occupation. Corpers, hard working graduates called to serve their country, are perceived as being at the very bottom of the social pyramid rather than the nation’s pride. So they are ridiculed and taken advantage of. Despite the present reforms there is still nothing to protect corps members as concurrently there is no social security net to protect the poor, the elderly and the weak in our society. NYSC currently is an exercise in adaptation to the functioning of a dysfunctional society: a way of learning in practical terms about inequality and injustice.

So what is the point of NYSC? Beyond the objective of national integration, what is a corper meant to gain at the end of his or her service year beyond an often thoroughly degrading and sometimes even traumatizing experience where girls face the lewd advances of men in a position of power and young men are frustrated and angered by the fact that after being used in all sorts of ways, most companies will not retain them? Our government asks Nigerians to love their country, serve it with all their heart and mind, respect their leaders and the laws of the land but gives nothing or little in return. No modern society is based on such unequal dealings. The National Youth Service Corps must provide young people with a career path, a set of skills from which they can earn a living. This should be the core requirement of the scheme, a key term of the contract between the Federal Government and all organisations in both the private and public domain.

NYSC can not be a success, will not add value to both corpers and organisations if there is no training process or clearly defined tasks for corpers to undertake during their service year. As for being retained, so few companies do. This should not be so. Abroad, many organisations hire interns for the year and review their performance at the end of said year. It is impossible to offer a job to everyone, but it is unheard of to offer a job to virtually no one besides the children of those who have family or friends in the organization. As for corpers in the public sector, for them too there should be the possibility of a career path beyond NYSC.

 The current reformist idea is to post corpers mostly to rural areas in dire need of the manpower to develop these communities. The problem here is that corpers are regarded as ‘manpower’ and not as individuals with dreams and aspirations and who deserve, just like anyone else, to have a fighting chance at achieving their potential. Should corpers pay for the inefficiencies of governments who were not able to develop rural areas? Serious reform is not to decide that corpers should solely be posted to rural areas where they can serve their country as teachers and doctors when they might have no desire, interest or more importantly ability to do so, thus creating another generation of dissatisfied Nigerians who take out their frustrations on the future youths they encounter!

The path to real reform is to ensure that corpers in different sectors are properly trained for a job and acquire skills and prospects. A nation which fails the youth by its inability to provide them with a decent future is surely failing in its developmental objectives. I would also like to remind government that “without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive” (John F. Kennedy) so rather than believe criticism to be the work of enemies, real, spiritual and imagined I would like to urge government to act. As the grunt of Nigerians continues to suffer government’s inaction in silence, as some members of society respond to their frustrations through violence, one can only hope that we are all able to rise to the responsibility and challenge of creating a better Nigeria.
                                                                                                Tabia Princewill

Tabia Princewill is currently a corper in Lagos. 

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Blog for the Thought Fox

"I started writing The Spider King’s Daughter when I was 17, got an agent at 18, signed with Faber at 19, finished editing while 20 and got published at 21. Condensed into this sentence, the whole thing looks incredibly neat and simple. That’s what summarising things does and this is why in my first cover letter to my agent, I refused to write a synopsis of my book. With only thirty-three pages written, I technically couldn't have produced a summary. However, as I was also ideologically opposed to the synopsis, I informed my future agent: “I usually miss the point of summaries so I have enclosed the first three chapters for you to read and find out what the novel is about.” I am quoting from memory but the obnoxious sentiment is accurately transcribed."

Read the rest here


Also, I'll be at the Southbank tomorrow with Noo Saro Wiwa tomorrow.. Join us if you can. More details here.

Sunday 11 March 2012

BBC Radio Scotland

On BBC Scotland's 'The Book Café' tomorrow at 1.15. Tune in if you're free. You can tune in online here. You can also catch my short story Easter Sunday on iplayer until Thursday this week. Click here to listen. My story starts at about 32 minutes but the entire show is great so I'd listen to all of it. :) Have a lovely week.

Friday 9 March 2012

Short Story on Radio 3!

My reading of my short story Easter Sunday will be on Radio 3's Verb tonight at 10 pm. To listen live online click here or do it the old fashioned way and tune in on your radio.

Wednesday 7 March 2012


Growing up, many evenings and nights were spent in darkness. I did not mind too much when the power was cut off in the afternoon. Though the house became dim, there was still enough light to read and play Ludo and hopscotch. It was around 6pm when N.E.P.A had still not brought light that the absence of electricity became annoying. There were candles but reading by candle light had been embargoed by my mother for fear we would be partially blind before we reached our teenage years. So between 7pm when we ate and 9- 10pm when we slept, there was a lot of time to kill.

Sometimes we played with fire. This could take up a good half hour. We started by running our fingers through the candle flame. There was no winner in this game but the slower you passed your finger through the flame, the more of a pro you were. If you ran your finger through very quickly, you didn't feel anything and chicken that I was, I always took this option. Also, there was the two finger candle game where you tried to put out the flame by pinching it between your thumb and your index finger. I never attempted this round but some of the maids would show off  by putting out the flame in this fashion. Then of course there was the candle wax game, which entailed spilling the molten wax on your hands and then scraping it off when it cooled.

However, my personal favourite was the matches game. You took a match, held it to the flame and let it catch fire. You then held it for as long as you possibly could. The further down the match the flame burned, the more proficient you were at this game. One of my proudest moments was when I managed to burn the whole match stick, right from its sulfuric head to its wooden stump. Usually, I could only burn the match for a few seconds before the heat got too close to my fingers and I dropped it. Then one day, I realised that if I held the charred end, I could burn the whole match with ease. After I'd beaten the system, I grew tired of the match game.

I tell this story because over the weekend I went to a seafood restaurant which was mostly lit by candle light. And it wasn't any of those fancy scented candles but the thick, white wax ones that I grew up with it. Of course, we began playing with the flame. I would break off pieces of wax and liquidize them in the blue part of the flame. I would spill the melted wax down the side of the candle. My friend opposite me even ran her finger through, a feat I found I no longer had the liver for. I don't know how but at some point, I tipped the candle too far and the molten wax that builds up under the flame spilled onto the back of my hand. I flinched but to my surprise I was able to chest the pain and even enjoyed scraping the wax off when it hardened.

After we got tired of playing with the flames, we made shadow puppets. I wasn't very good at this, my fingers are quite clumsy, but my cousins could do some wonderful shapes. I never progressed past the perfunctory butterfly but others could act out complete dramas on the walls. When we tired off puppets, we moved to singing. I played the piano, my sister would drum on our much bruised dining table and we would all sing, soprano, alto and tenor. I can still play with my eyes closed because of this training in the half light of the candles.

Sometimes we would go to bed without them having brought light. Other times the light would come suddenly, mid-song. The electricity would startle us, our eyes would squint at the artificial brightness of it and the flame would suddenly lose its magic.  "Up NEPA!" we would shout but we didn't mean it entirely. We had been enjoying  the camaraderie of the candle. With electricity there was no excuse for sitting together and singing. To switch off all the lights and continue making shadow puppets would be foolish when work clothes had to be ironed. And why play with wax when you could watch TV. So we would disperse until the next time NEPA had not brought light by evening and there was not enough diesel to power the generator.

A few months ago I was in America during a storm and the power was cut off. In the evening, candles were lit all over the house that only a day before had consumed an entire village's supply of electricity. It was my favourite night of the trip. This is how things should be sometimes, I thought as I played my uncle's piano with my eyes closed. This is how it should be.
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