Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen : A review by Ndi Charles

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In chronicling the journey of the Agwu family into the unknown, The Fishermen comes across as an impressive narrative even for 29 year old Benjamin. The narrative which aims to balance explanations against suspense and mystery as though balancing a book on a needle suddenly runs out of air. In search of air, its mouth widens gulping in the prophecy of Abulu, the mad man and subsequently spirals out of control.

However, I wondered if it was possible for Mr Agwu to work in CBN and have a car but not a generator.Was his marriage arranged? Father hardly called home, because mother waited endlessly for his calls, even marking the days he phoned on a calendar. I was aghast that Mrs Agwu padlocked her kitchen on nights she wanted to starve – scold her children. It seemed amazing that this Aje Butter children did not attend lesson, easily took to commoners, trekked turtous miles to Omi Ala, fetched water to bath from a well or went into town to watch televised football matches. Their being aje butter was reinforced by them asking Mother for the video game console father hid. Most especially because this happened immediately after getting into a fight during one of their earlier escapee football matches.

Mr Agwu seems to be a strict man, but the moment he is transferred to Yola, his house literally catches fire. Ikenna, who he left in charge readily falls to the pleasures of fishing, introducing Boja, Obembe and Benjamin. They all end up singing and fishing in the Omi Ala river whenever they are not smashing house windows with their football. Father as usual is an eagle, our National animal. With nests high up to watch over offspring, The Fishermen emphasizes the absence of love and mentorship as should be experienced between Father and son. In its place is a strict adherence to rules and code of conduct: composure, obedience,study and compulsory siesta. Adaku’s soliloquoy and waking up of children in the dead of the night is a Nigerian mothers way of extracting truth similar to the lie detector test.

The author is well read, there is an introduction to locusts, leeches, falcons, egrets and other species of the animal kingdom. Readers might skip a few pages of detailed description of Abulu, the mad man. The details have caused me apprehension whenever I encounter a mad man.

My favourite quote is the Igbo proverb at the beginning of the book: The footsteps of one man cannot create a stampede.

The author seems drawn into the myth he has created and is sometimes guilty of abandoning the story:

Pg 9 – At my suggestion we begged Mother to convince father to release the console game to play mortal kombat, which he seized and hid somewhere the previous year after Boja – who was known for his usual first position in his class – came home with 24th scribbled in red ink on his report card and the warning Likely to repeat. Ikenna did not fare any better; his was sixteenth out of forty and it came with a personal letter to father from his teacher, mrs Bukkky. father read out the letter in such a fit of anger that the only words I heard were Gracious me! Gracious me! which he repeated like a refrain. He would confiscate the games anf forever cut off the moments that often sent us swirling with excitement, screaming and howling when the invisible commentator in the game ordered, Finish him and the conquering sprite would inflict serious blows on the vanquished sprite by either kicking it up to the sky or by slicing it into a grotesque explosion of bones and blood.The screen would then go abuzz with fatality inscribed in strobe letters of flame. Once, Obembe in the midst of relieving himself ran out of the toilet just to be there so he could join in and cry That is Fatal in an american accent that mimicked the console’s voice over. Mother would punish him later when she discovered he’d unknowingly dropped excreta on the rug.

Frustrated, we tried yet again to find a physical activity to fill up our after school hours now that we were free from father’s strict regulations.

Did Mother try to find the console? There are cartoons even on terrestial Tv for Ben at 9.What occupied Obembe and Ben before Ikenna started taking them fishing?

There is an obvious bending over backwards to please the immediate audience. I wonder how beans transformed into black eyed peas marinated in palm oil sauce. Can you guess that a motorcyle taxi is the same thing as an okada? The disconnect for the Nigerian reader is further accentuated:

pg 9 – The rest of the kids cheered and lifted the boy up, their voices molding into a chorus of victory complete with boos and uuhh uuhhh.

What happened to ohonyi or obenwe? uuh uuhs in Akure?

pg 292 – whenever we and the children of akure saw them flying in the sky, we rushed out and flapped our fingers after the low flying white flock travelling overhead, repeating the one- line saying:egrets, egrets, perch on me.

My robust imagination interpreted this as leke, leke give me water finger. Did you?

Ben’s dream is typical of every Nigerian: I will be a rich man, pilot, president of Nigeria, own helicopters.

There is a constant interplay of phrases using big big grammar. By the first page, Adaku had acquired the gait of wet mouse; the two ventricles held silence.I reached for the dictionary a few times, my vocabulary has improved.I learnt a new word: copse.

Photo credit: http://brittlepaper.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/fishermen-obioma-e1424833792611.jpg

©Ndi Charles 2015

#BABAGOSLOW : WAKE UP

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Happy Eid al-Adha, Mr President. As a concerned Nigerian citizen, I wonder how many of these black jallabiya you have. Are you in mourning? Travelling upandan will present photo photo opportunities, will you always be wearing black cloth? An excerpt or maybe the full speech during the UNGA copy pasted off Linda Ikeji’s website is represented below:

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I welcome you to this important event. Let me express Nigeria’s sincere appreciation to UN-AIDS for the support and collaboration in organizing this event.
2. We are on the threshold of history as world leaders adopt the successor development agenda to the Millennium Development Goals. For over 30 years, HIV as a public health challenge has been causing havoc and untold hardship in virtually every part of the world. To date, several million children have been orphaned and some communities have been devastated, while economic activities have been disrupted.
3. Unfortunately, Sub -Saharan Africa bears a disproportionate burden of this epidemic. The good news is that the effort of the global community has resulted in greater control, less spread and better management.
4. Furthermore, we have made significant progress towards the interception of mother to child transmission of HIV. In 2014 alone, over 3million pregnant women were tested for HIV and 63,000 of these tested women, accessed anti – retroviral therapy.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
5. What is required in our continued fight against HIV/AIDS is improved health delivery system, education, and cheaper production of anti – retroviral drugs through technology exchange. Our countries should also look at the whole field of medicare and strengthen our partnership with all stakeholders including the civil society, inter- faith and cultural bodies for education and dissemination of information at all levels. Nigeria will also like to call upon all pharmaceutical companies for more cooperation and understanding in reducing the cost of anti – retroviral drugs through production of generic items.
Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates.
6. Nigeria will continue to work with development partners and key stakeholders to strengthen the means of implementation of the SDGs as elaborated in the Post- 2015 Development Agenda. At the continental level, Nigeria remains fully committed to the outcome of the Abuja process as evident in the 2002 Declaration, the Action Framework on Roll – Back Malaria. In addition, the 2013 Abuja + 12 Declaration is a strong commitment towards eliminating HIV and AIDs in Africa by 2030. Globally, the United Nations Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS of 2011 is a major reference point for intensifying efforts to eliminate the epidemic.
7. Nigeria appreciates the support of our development partners for their support and commitment to the total eradication of HIV/AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria as well as other deadly communicable diseases, for example Ebola, when an epidemic arises.
8. I therefore encourage you to continue in your efforts to sustain the fight against infant and maternal deaths, HIV and AIDs, Tuberculosis, Malaria and other communicable diseases, high on the global development agenda.
9. Let us work together to make HIV and AIDs history by 2030.
10. I thank you.

Amongst the 17 new SDGs being canvassed for 2030, your speech writers decided to deliberate on hiv/aids, the number 7 MDG (which is just a part of number 3 SDG).  And we were imploring the west to work with us? On HIV&AIDS? Your speech claims 3 million pregnant women were tested last year. Oya El Presidente where are the 63,000 that accessed anti retroviral drugs? What is the drug called? Empty boasts of declarations and no actual facts/success stories. No report on our success in polio eradication, and subsequent removal of Nigeria from polio inflicted countries in this same general assembly you attended. Would it not have made common sense if we presented a paper on poverty, prevalent in your north which has led to youth embracing boko haram.  Alternatively we could have talked about hunger which is even ravaging the IDP’s all over Nigeria. But we decided to talk on HIV/AIDS, and we are still appealing to the west as our development partner? As for the other SDGs, can this government deliver on quality education or gender equality? What will be the proposed indicators or targets for these goals.This is 2015 oooo El Presidente. Corruption is not our major problem. The major problems are Unity and Faith, emblazoned on our coat of arms. They can be defeated by this goals if you have the heart to tackle them. Please consider how all dis oyibo men really percieve you. You have been fortunate to have had 12 years to plan for this presidency. For the past four months, Nigeria has been in limbo as #Change seems a mirage The people spoke when they elected you. Some say your body language has brought nepa light, yet street lights are not working. If your body language can do that, what will your speech do?

Photo credit 1: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-WOnGqgUPBz0/VgglSZVSMQI/AAAAAAAGtXw/OCdpCWZRwJg/s1600/1.jpg

Photo credit 2: http://pulse.ng/politics/muhammadu-buhari-president-meets-german-chancellor-other-world-leaders-at-g7-summit-photos-id3841424.html

Photo credit 3: http://lindaikeji.blogspot.com/2015/09/photos-of-buhari-addressing-un-general.html

©Ndi Charles 2015

Who is OJ?

3d human try to take a photo

OJ locates the bank headquarters via Google maps. Looking through the rear view mirror, OJ makes his practice speech after parking. OJ likes people friendly banks. From the white towering columns to the security man, doorman and cashiers, OJ knows he casts a striking figure walking across the banking hall. OJ’s deals like this one involve risk or opportunity, sometimes both.  OJ walks over to customer services.

Good morning Sir, how can I help you? The lady asks, as another customer approaches.

Please tell me the options in getting cash cards. OJ is a charming man because of his lust for life. Genial, he easily puts people at ease. OJ is of intimidating bulk with a few excesses. OJ drinks heavily and is considered a ladies man. Service is prompt, and OJ leaves the bank with his cover as a Benin Republic based businessman intact. OJ heads for Lekki phase one and turns into a connecting street adjacent Sailors lounge. OJ parks beside a kiosk operator, noting he is northern from his dashiki. Growing up in Warri, whenever OJ heard Hausa, the images that came to mind were of abokis, gatemen, beggars, shoe shiners or child voters. He wondered why they claimed rulership. The aboki rises from his supine position and OJ purchases a Schweppes bitter lemon. OJ is observing the group under a tree. They are sighing as Mani in the middle makes utterances. OJ began his career as a mugu for one of Warri’s top hk. Bright can tell a potential maga from his email address. Mani is excellent for good reason. He was trained by Bright same as OJ. If Bright could be regarded as the holy church of all hustlers, Don Fred his benefactor was the pope. They are gathered around Mani, mugus looking for pointers yet hopeful for lucky streaks.

With four quick strides shrieking police, police, OJ lands in their midst. Mani’s nimble hands have clamped the laptop shut as the mugus scurry upandan. OJ’s 6 feet 4 frame with bearded face and broad shoulders are taken in by Mani’s eyes which widen in surprise as OJ takes off his native cap. Ojukwu?

Manito wetin you de do with dis mugus?

Omo e de red ooo, mugu must shine eye. Dis your police catch thief risky oo, Mani scolds mildly.

If your format make sense, maga must fall. You de game for big bucks?

Last time you talk like dis, e involve travel. Which deal de dis time?

I go tell you after we do d intro. We need bar for d springboard.

Springboard still de exist?

Na for school I de do intro. Last time you see me for club, na my security company de provide bouncers. I de provide body guards for musicians and visiting celebrities. My boys de well trained, some more than our army sef. Dem neva sue me for sexual harassment yet. Some sha de sell secrets go tabloids, but that one na normal mata.

Oya me I de interested? Wat next?

We go enter Abuja next week.

Photo credit: https://technostories.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/camera-man.jpg
©Ndi Charles 2015

NYSC MATAS

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At 5am almost everyone is out and about. A long queue is evident of otondos returning allocated mattresses. Tunde and Oke pass this queue heading for the taps where a heated argument is in full swing. A male apparently jumps the line, the Alhaja at the head politely tells him to wait till she is done. He claims the water is for military personnel and is grudgingly allowed. Tunde and Oke immediately head for the frontlines and claim to be on an errand for the Red Cross chairperson. Oke stashes his bags in the Platoon officer’s residence before heading to the field for the closing ceremony. Suddenly there are buses driving into the expansive compound. Activities including a tug of war between heavily built males and females, native wrestling among males, a parade/salute to the camp commandant commence. Camp is declared closed and everyone heads to the hall to collect posting letters.  Oke goes to get his bag thinking his number is far off. Getting to the hall, his number has been called. Posting letters have been divided into units, Oke’s group began at 800. Oke alerts the official to his presence. After rifling through, he says it has been collected. WHAT? A guy approaches saying he got their numbers mixed up, and hands Oke’s letter over. Feelings of anger double, staring at Oke in black and white is ST CATHERINE INTERNATIONAL PRIMARY & SECONDARY SCHOOL, AMAPU NTIGHA, ISIALA NGWA NORTH. 

WHAT? Oh boy you must accept this letter. Oke turns and observes he has vanished into thin air. The dreaded Local government everyone has been talking about? Oh no, this can’t be possible, not after we offered kolanut to the Platoon officer.

Oke calls Tunde. Tunde is mad about` getting an Anglican school in Aba North. Tunde isn’t feeling too sad when Oke catches up with him and Habiba. Tunde has been informed it is an hour from Port Harcourt.  Walking amidst buses bearing PPA (Primary Places of Assignment) tags, Oke calls Bola. She redeployed to Lagos but got Ondo. Bola gets in the bus with Oke. She wants to see what Isiala Ngwa looks like. She proceeds to postpone her arik flight via the ipad app. The next 1hr 40 minutes is spent listening to 22 songs on shared earphones while Oke and Bola skim through the Abiakopa booklet. The bus turns off the main expressway, and after a few minutes, the council signpost comes into view. The bus passengers strain necks driving through the gates. The driver heads straight in, past buildings, on towards grass tracks surrounded by bushes for approximately 4 minutes by which time most hearts are in mouths.  A few females blink back tears on sighting red cloth tied in front of a hut. The bus turns left into a compound with an uninviting central bungalow. Double paned doors greet the contents of the four buses, there are ragged shouts of corper wee. Skeptical of accommodation coming from 3 weeks of hell, Oke asks Bola to wait inside the bus. Provided accommodation is the dull red rug. OJ calls telling Oke to go back to Umuahia. Bola and Oke have dinner at Hoeffers on bank road after Government House, then take a stroll to Pat Toria Hotel. Bola notices all three floors are occupied by Corps members.

Do you love me?

Hmmm? What can I say?

Answer me.

I do not know if what I feel for you is love. I like you a lot and want to get to know you better.

Don’t beat around the bush, Do you Love me?

Yes, I Love you.

ARE YOU A CHICKEN?

grandpa

What you have which you consider useless may be the solution you need.
Enoch Adeboye.

Conversations 4 Change: the national anthem plays out. Once upon a time…. Time Time. In the land of animals, there was a great famine. One eke market day, the animals convened a meeting to find a solution. They all gathered at the market square. The red junglefowl (chickens grandpa) was however seen going in the opposite direction. Red Junglefowl was headed towards the road. His relation, the peacock called him back. Grandpa chicken said he had to scavenge food for his family. He went on to hastily pledge support for any conclusion reached. The meeting ended with an emissary to the oracles. The oracles as usual demanded a blood offering. The emissaries returned,informing the animals on the outcome. At this meeting, again the Red Junglefowl was absent. All the animals gave reasons. Some were superfluous, (fela: mama de for house. i just build new house). All self-serving on how their families couldn’t be sacrifices. Grandpa chicken couldnt argue, he wasn’t there. When they saw him, guess what happened? That’s why the chicken is the first offering among animals.

Moral of the story- Register. Vote. Participate in the civic life of your immediate environment. #votenotfight

EXCERPT- PERKS OF EAGLES

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Francess lies in a sea of pillows, the sheets in disarray as OJ pulls on a pair of shorts. It is the moment after. OJ wonders if she wishes she can walk away from him, or if she can love him without needing him. Need gave him power without his trying.
I need money to buy hair.
Okay. I want you to stake out one Alhaji, he’s vital to my operations.
Okay, my Oga! I will send Warebi. Don’t forget my % sha.
You know the drill. Have I ever let you down?
No. You’re my knight in shining armor.
Flattery will get you nowhere.

Outside bar of the hotel, I lay out plans to Mani.
Good good. How we wan do d springboard?
One step at a time.
I nor go screw you. I came all this way na?
You came on my Naira.
We be partners. I nor go tell anybody
Mani nor bother, you de lie.

An announcement comes on. The Freedom hall initiative is starting. Anyone interested in presenting a drama, song, or poem can take the microphone. OJ and Mani find three quarters of the terrace tables are taken. It is a mixture of office clothes, idle sprinkling of jeans and jerseys. A petite lady cautiously approaches the microphone avoiding cables strewn across the floor. She coughs, then introduces her and her art studio location. She claims responsibility for hand painting the art adorning the walls. More pieces are available in an observation room across. Next up, a dreadlocked heavyset male launches into a diatribe on the continuous rape of the oil industry. His take on a Christine Amanpour interview leaves revelers reeling. He is quiet for a few seconds.

O’ my God, it could have been me
O’ humanity, it could have been you
Sleeping on a bed cursed by death
Slaughtered like rams in an abattoir

Those children said their prayers
Some recited spiritual mantras
Before giving sleep it’s right
Oh! O’ sleep, why allow death kidnap them from you?
You’re a weakling to give them away as preys
To demonic vampires, whose consciences
Are seared by brutality…..fostered by cruelty

O’ nation, behold your future
O’ future, behold your nation
Has it any right to one?
Was your throat not slit while you soundly slept?

40 children, 43 children, 59 children
Ah! See the death figures above
Statistics are confused men
Blame them not
Those are lives in their prime
Cut off before their time.

O’ People, rise up and confront the woes
That shred your tomorrow like papers
Hear me, You, who wear a fedora,
Proffer solutions to terrorism and stop misplacing priorities

O’ Fathers
Behold your children gruesomely murdered
O’ Mothers
Behold your children violently butchered
O’ Brothers
Behold your sisters badly burnt
O Sisters
Behold your brothers gunned down
O’ Mr President
Behold your citizens bereaved
O’ God
Behold your gods utterly destroyed

Invite fury if positivity is it’s motive
Tell commiseration to shut up
Order solution to speak up
Call out the lion in every sheep

This pen desires to write no more
It is not as indifferent as man
It weeps uncontrollably
But just before it faints
Heart it’s blatant truth:
“IT COULD HAVE BEEN YOU”

He abruptly dropped the microphone. It is picked by a female who proceeds to read a script. A trip in history shows Yugoslavia broke up into five countries in the 90’s. Many had called for a conference or a peaceful breakup along ethnic lines, but Col. Tito, silenced them. Every one of the five major ethnic groups except for Bosnians began to stock arms caches.

The Bosnians were accommodating and tolerant of Serbs, Croats, kosovars and Montenegrins. Onetime, Serbs claimed parts of Bosnia were Serb territory because Serbs moved there and contributed to its development. Tito died and the civil war broke out. The Bosnians were slaughtered and could not procure arms due to an embargo.

She flipped pages. I have a personal request to make to our leaders, if any of their relations are here. Majority laugh, a few smile.
Our Anthem reads thus: The labor of our heroes past shall not be in vain. The last visit of Zik, the founding father of nationalism to Zungeru his place of birth was on Nov 16, 1991. It was after a ceremony to mark his 89th birthday and raise funds to build Zik center which he promised during the 83’ second republic campaign as presidential candidate of NPP to promote education and tourism. Eight years later, the dream ALMOST came to fruition with a fundraiser at the Bako Kontagora memorial stadium under the chairmanship of Maradona. From the fundraising venue, guests drove to the site for the foundation laying ceremony.
There Zik said, my wish and joy is to witness the commissioning of the center.

Alas it was his corpse which was brought to the uncompleted building 5 years later on Nov 12, 96’ as part of funeral activities, 24 years after the center remains uncompleted.
Silence envelopes all, then a clap followed by a smattering of applause. By this time, OJ and Mani think they are in a political gathering of some sorts. The next minute brings relief with an expert rendition of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 on the piano as an usher drops invitations to a concert cum drama presentation: For Love of Country.

A lady reads out Christopher Okigbo’s Elegy for Alto as Mani wanders to the bar to get more drinks. The breeze is getting chillier as OJ puts his hands in hisjacket pockets. He fingers a piece of paper. OJ smiles, peering at the small note.

My prince: Pat Utomi’s 4 C’s- competence, commitment, character and compassion will take you everywhere. Frances must have stuck it in my pocket, she wore this Chelsea jacket the other night.

The next morning Oj and Mani cruise along Herbert Macaulay way in a taxi. Mani repeatedly eyes the mannequins displaying shoes.

How you take hear about dis guy?
Usual sources, na street to d core. The taxi pulls into a plaza, and OJ points to a store.
Na there inspector gadget de kpai people.
Mani and I enter the boutique and are greeted by a bespectacled male, dressed in expensive clothes.
Oga you’re here?
Yes oooo. I de supervise my boys.
The customers thin out as OJ and Mani inspect different shoes. Prices start from 70k. As the last one leaves, OJ turns the OPEN sign on the front door. Mani approaches the counter with a Zara Moccasin. He hands over his bank card to be used on the Pos machine. It slips out of the clerk’s hand, he stoops to retrieve it. When he straightens up, he finds OJ right next to him.
What happened? OJ asks, eyeing the tiny machine the clerk has run the card through.
Sir, you are not allowed behind the counter.
Where did you buy it?
It’s an antifraud machine, the clerk says firmly. It checks valid cards. With all these wayo boys, our Oga said we should be using it to confirm. I hope you understand. Their Oga approaches.
Oh yes I do. I reach out, take the machine, pull out the connecting wires and say to Mani and their Oga. This was used to clone your card details, either he sells the details or he charges your card in other locations.
Are you policemen?
No Ugo, we are people like you. We lead him to the opposite end of the store. Oj is recruiting Ugo for the intro operation. Oke and Tunde will also join for the springboard. Tunde will apply for a prospecting license. Funding from the springboard op should guarantee access to living their dreams.

(NB: It could have been you – Kolawole Freedom Olanrewaju)