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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