Archive for October, 2009
Frank SchaefferNew York Times best-selling author
Posted: October 8, 2008 02:45 PM
Obama Will Be One of The Greatest (and Most Loved) American Presidents
Obama is one of the most intelligent presidential aspirants to ever step forward in American history. The likes of his intellectual capabilities have not been surpassed in public life since the Founding Fathers put pen to paper. His personal character is also solid gold. Take heart, America: we have the leader for our times.
I say this as a white, former life-long Republican. I say this as the proud father of a Marine. I say this as just another American watching his pension evaporate along with the stock market! I speak as someone who knows it’s time to forget party loyalty, ideology and pride and put the country first. I say this as someone happy to be called a fool for going out on a limb and declaring that, 1) Obama will win, and 2) he is going to be amongst the greatest of American presidents.
Obama is our last best chance. He’s worth laying it all on the line for.
This is a man who in the age of greed took the high road of community service. This is the good father and husband. This is the humble servant. This is the patient teacher. This is the scholar statesman. This is the man of deep Christian faith.
Good stories about Obama abound; from his personal relationship with his Secret Service agents (he invites them into his home to watch sports, and shoots hoops with them) to the story about how, more than twenty years ago, while standing in the check-in line at an airport, Obama paid a $100 baggage surcharge for a stranger who was broke and stuck. (Obama was virtually penniless himself in those days.) Years later after he became a senator, that stranger recognized Obama’s picture and wrote to him to thank him. She received a kindly note back from the senator. (The story only surfaced because the person, who lives in Norway, told a local newspaper after Obama ran for the presidency. The paper published a photograph of this lady proudly displaying Senator Obama’s letter.)
Where many leaders are two-faced; publicly kindly but privately feared and/or hated by people closest to them, Obama is consistent in the way he treats people, consistently kind and personally humble. He lives by the code that those who lead must serve. He believes that. He lives it. He lived it long before he was in the public eye.
Obama puts service ahead of ideology. He also knows that to win politically you need to be tough. He can be. He has been. This is a man who does what works, rather than scoring ideological points. In other words he is the quintessential non-ideological pragmatic American. He will (thank God!) disappoint ideologues and purists of the left and the right.
Obama has a reservoir of personal physical courage that is unmatched in presidential history. Why unmatched? Because as the first black contender for the presidency who will win, Obama, and all the rest of us, know that he is in great physical danger from the seemingly unlimited reserve of unhinged racial hatred, and just plain unhinged ignorant hatred, that swirls in the bowels of our wounded and sinful country. By stepping forward to lead, Obama has literally put his life on the line for all of us in a way no white candidate ever has had to do. (And we all know how dangerous the presidency has been even for white presidents.)
Nice stories or even unparalleled courage isn’t the only point. The greater point about Obama is that the midst of our worldwide financial meltdown, an expanding (and losing) war in Afghanistan, trying to extricate our country from a wrong and stupidly mistaken ruinously expensive war in Iraq, our mounting and crushing national debt, awaiting the next (and inevitable) al Qaeda attack on our homeland, watching our schools decline to Third World levels of incompetence, facing a general loss of confidence in the government that has been exacerbated by the Republicans doing all they can to undermine our government’s capabilities and programs… President Obama will take on the leadership of our country at a make or break time of historic proportions. He faces not one but dozens of crisis, each big enough to define any presidency in better times.
As luck, fate or divine grace would have it (depending on one’s personal theology) Obama is blessedly, dare I say uniquely, well-suited to our dire circumstances. Obama is a person with hands-on community service experience, deep connections to top economic advisers from the renowned University of Chicago where he taught law, and a middle-class background that gives him an abiding knowledgeable empathy with the rest of us. As the son of a single mother, who has worked his way up with merit and brains, recipient of top-notch academic scholarships, the peer-selected editor of the Harvard Law Review and, in three giant political steps to state office, national office and now the presidency, Obama clearly has the wit and drive to lead.
Obama is the sober voice of reason at a time of unreason. He is the fellow keeping his head while all around him are panicking. He is the healing presence at a time of national division and strife. He is also new enough to the political process so that he doesn’t suffer from the terminally jaded cynicism, the seen-it-all-before syndrome afflicting most politicians in Washington. In that regard we Americans lucked out. It’s as if having despaired of our political process we picked a name from the phone book to lead us and that person turned out to be a very man we needed.
Obama brings a healing and uplifting spiritual quality to our politics at the very time when our worst enemy is fear. For eight years we’ve been ruled by a stunted fear-filled mediocrity of a little liar who has expanded his power on the basis of creating fear in others. Fearless Obama is the cure. He speaks a litany of hope rather than a litany of terror.
As we have watched Obama respond in a quiet reasoned manner to crisis after crisis, in both the way he has responded after being attacked and lied about in the 2008 campaign season, to his reasoned response to our multiplying national crises, what we see is the spirit of a trusted family doctor with a great bedside manner. Obama is perfectly suited to hold our hand and lead us through some very tough times. The word panic is not in the Obama dictionary.
America is fighting its “Armageddon” in one fearful heart at a time. A brilliant leader with the mild manner of an old-time matter-of-fact country doctor soothing a frightened child is just what we need. The fact that our “doctor” is a black man leading a hitherto white-ruled nation out of the mess of its own making is all the sweeter and raises the Obama story to that of moral allegory.
Obama brings a moral clarity to his leadership reserved for those who have had to work for everything they’ve gotten and had to do twice as well as the person standing next to them because of the color of their skin. His experience of succeeding in spite of his color, social background and prejudice could have been embittering or one that fostered a spiritual rebirth of forgiveness and enlightenment. Obama radiates the calm inner peace of the spirit of forgiveness.
Speaking as a believing Christian I see the hand of a merciful God in Obama’s candidacy. The biblical metaphors abound. The stone the builder rejected is become the cornerstone… the last shall be first… he that would gain his life must first lose it… the meek shall inherit the earth…
For my secular friends I’ll allow that we may have just been extraordinarily lucky! Either way America wins.
Only a brilliant man, with the spirit of a preacher and the humble heart of a kindly family doctor can lead us now. We are afraid, out of ideas, and worst of all out of hope. Obama is the cure. And we Americans have it in us to rise to the occasion. We will. We’re about to enter one of the most frightening periods of American history. Our country has rarely faced more uncertainty. This is the time for greatness. We have a great leader. We must be a great people backing him, fighting for him, sacrificing for a cause greater than ourselves.
A hundred years from now Obama’s portrait will be placed next to that of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Long before that we’ll be telling our children and grandchildren that we stepped out in faith and voted for a young black man who stood up and led our country back from the brink of an abyss. We’ll tell them about the power of love, faith and hope. We’ll tell them about the power of creativity combined with humility and intellectual brilliance. We’ll tell them that President Obama gave us the gift of regaining our faith in our country. We’ll tell them that we all stood up and pitched in and won the day. We’ll tell them that President Obama restored our standing in the world. We’ll tell them that by the time he left office our schools were on the mend, our economy booming, that we’d become a nation filled with green energy alternatives and were leading the world away from dependence on carbon-based destruction. We’ll tell them that because of President Obama’s example and leadership the integrity of the family was restored, divorce rates went down, more fathers took responsibility for their children, and abortion rates fell dramatically as women, families and children were cared for through compassionate social programs that worked. We’ll tell them about how the gap closed between the middle class and the super rich, how we won health care for all, how crime rates fell, how bad wars were brought to an honorable conclusion. We’ll tell them that when we were attacked again by al Qaeda, how reason prevailed and the response was smart, tough, measured and effective, and our civil rights were protected even in times of crisis…
We’ll tell them that we were part of the inexplicably blessed miracle that happened to our country those many years ago in 2008 when a young black man was sent by God, fate or luck to save our country. We’ll tell them that it’s good to live in America where anything is possible. Yes we will.
Frank Schaeffer is the author of CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back. Now in paperback.
Follow Frank Schaeffer on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/frank_schaeffer
The Quiet Revolution
October 22, 2009
A few weeks ago, “Saturday Night Live” teased President Obama for delivering great speeches but not actually bringing change. There’s at least one area where that jibe is unfair: education.
When Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan came to office, they created a $4.3 billion Race to the Top fund. The idea was to use money to leverage change. The administration would put a pile of federal money on the table and award it to a few states that most aggressively embraced reform.
Their ideas were good, and their speeches were beautiful. But that was never the problem. The real challenge was going to be standing up to the teachers’ unions and the other groups that have undermined nearly every other reform effort.
The real questions were these: Would the administration water down their reform criteria in the face of political pressure? Would the Race to the Top money end up getting doled out like any other federal spending program, and thus end up subsidizing the status quo? Would the administration hold the line and demand real reform in exchange for the money?
There were many reasons to be skeptical. At the behest of the teachers’ unions, the Democrats had just shut down a successful District of Columbia voucher program. Moreover, state legislatures around the country were moving backward. They were passing laws prohibiting schools from using student performance as a criterion in setting teacher pay.
But, so far, those fears are unjustified. The news is good. In fact, it’s very good. Over the past few days I’ve spoken to people ranging from Bill Gates to Jeb Bush and various education reformers. They are all impressed by how gritty and effective the Obama administration has been in holding the line and inciting real education reform.
Over the summer, the Department of Education indicated that most states would not qualify for Race to the Top money. Now states across the country are changing their laws: California, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin and Tennessee, among others.
It’s not only the promise of money that is motivating change. There seems to be some sort of status contest as states compete to prove they, too, can meet the criteria. Governors who have been bragging about how great their schools are don’t want to be left off the list.
These changes mean that states are raising their caps on the number of charter schools. When charters got going, there was a “let a thousand flowers bloom” mentality that sometimes led to bad schools. Now reformers know more about how to build charters and the research is showing solid results. Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University recently concluded a rigorous study of New York’s charter schools and found that they substantially narrowed the achievement gap between suburban and inner-city students.
The changes also will mean student performance will increasingly be a factor in how much teachers get paid and whether they keep their jobs. There is no consensus on exactly how to do this, but there is clear evidence that good teachers produce consistently better student test scores, and that teachers who do not need to be identified and counseled. Cracking the barrier that has been erected between student outcomes and teacher pay would be a huge gain.
Duncan even seems to have made some progress in persuading the unions that they can’t just stonewall, they have to get involved in the reform process. The American Federation of Teachers recently announced innovation grants for performance pay ideas. The New Haven school district has just completed a new teacher contract, with union support, that includes many of the best reform ideas.
There are still many places, like Washington, where the unions are dogmatically trying to keep bad teachers in the classrooms. But if implemented well, the New Haven contract could be a sign of perestroika even within the education establishment.
“I’ve been deeply disturbed by a lot that’s going on in Washington,” Jeb Bush said on Thursday, “but this is not one of them. President Obama has been supporting a reform secretary, and this is deserving of Republican support.” Bush’s sentiment is echoed across the spectrum, from Newt Gingrich to Al Sharpton.
Over the next months, there will be more efforts to water down reform. Some groups are offering to get behind health care reform in exchange for gutting education reform. Politicians from both parties are going to lobby fiercely to ensure that their state gets money, regardless of the merits. So will governors who figure they’re going to lose out in the award process.
But President Obama understood from the start that this would only work if the awards remain fiercely competitive. He has not wavered. We’re not close to reaching the educational Promised Land, but we may be at the start of what Rahm Emanuel calls The Quiet Revolution.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Yoruba Academy… preserving cultural heritage of the Yoruba
By Anote Ajeluorou
IT will be an under-estimation to say that most cultures in Africa are dying. In nowhere else is this truer than in Nigeria. Most young people do not know the traditions that define their existence. Even the language, the first purveyor of a people’s culture, is fast becoming alien to such young people.
How can such negative trend be reversed to keep the soul of most ethnic groups alive? What does each ethnic group contribute to the commonwealth, and how can this be highlighted? How can the traditions of the tribe be passed on to the young ones in the face of assimilating Western pop cultures? Indeed, how can the cultural excellence of an ethnic group like Yoruba be celebrated in a wholesome way?
These are some of the questions a new intellectual think-tank known as the Yoruba Academy is attempting to answer. Set up two years ago, the academy is making its first major public outing with an art exhibition focusing on core Yoruba motifs and celebrating the traditions invested therein. With the title ‘Yoruba’, the exhibition is expository in nature as it explores pertinent issues that form the core values in Yoruba worldview.
It is the view of the organisers that African countries are adrift because they have lost touch with their past, and the values that constituted that past. And, having learnt nothing or having failed to take anything from that past that is generally agreed to be good, it is no surprise the continent is beset with crisis of confidence and identity and in the area of value orientation.
To rediscover themselves in these core areas within the Yoruba way of seeing the world, Yoruba Academy is envisaged to play a prominent role. According to Mr. Kunle Famoriyo, a member of the committee of the academy, an intellectual outpost was needed to properly articulate the rich cultural past of the Yoruba. Like every group willing to move beyond the current degradable level in every facet of society, they aim to integrate the past with the present for the continuing survival of the group and its rich heritage for coming generations.
He explained that one of the works that most exemplify what the academy stands for is Yomi Leon Ashaye’s expository piece of work ‘Ayandiran’ on display at the academy’s 25 Dejo Oyelese Street at Bodija GRA office, Ibadan. ‘Ayandiran’ depicts an old man, who represents the passing tradition, teaching a boy how to play the gungun (talking drum). The old man is cast in gray colours while bright colours suffuse the boy, whose bouyant mood is typified by his laughter with a bright future laid out before him.
“Nobody wants his tradition to die,” Famoriyo insisted. “In every ethnic group, there is a reason for its existence. God is the God of variety. Why must we allow our cultures to die? We should be able to keep them. In ‘Ayandiran’ the father or old man is passing the culture or tradition, of drumming, down the line. Is it in our time that the tradition will stop or die? Yoruba Academy is an intellectual outpost for teaching the science, culture, technology and the Yoruba ways of life to the young ones.”
He counseled that the academy shouldn’t be seen in tribal slants as it was not out to propagate ethic bigotry but that it was out to celebrate the beauty and excellence of Yoruba culture. He urged every ethnic group in the country to strive to save their respective cultures from dying as modern civilization was threatening to do. For Famoriyo, Nigeria’s lack of unity does not derive from the diversity of her cultures or ethnic groups as some ignorantly claim or believe. Rather, he said, it stemmed from the wrong political values that seek to entrench needless ethnic divisions.
“The unity we are looking for in Nigeria must not cut us off from our respective cultures and languages,” he noted. “We are too concentrated on politics we have forgotten who we are. We can’t be talking about politics all the time without serious planning on the way forward. We need to develop our people not to see politics as a place to fight; our different religions never fought among themselves. We should inculcate this into our politics.”
Famoriyo further argued that what ordinarily united the diverse peoples of the country most was not politics but the cultural heritage, which he said were sadly neglected. He stated that the respective languages and cultures of the Nigerian people held the key to the nation’s unity as cultural affinity among the different tribes was to be found in these areas.
“We are not aware that our languages are dying,” he said lamentably, “but it is so; we must keep them alive. We should not allow our languages to die. What unites us most isn’t politics but the languages and cultures that have unifying ties.”
He gave the similarities that exist in the Yoruba and Igbo lexicons in certain words. He said words like ear, nose and forest and several others bear similarity in their phonological and semantic appropriation in the two languages. He then wondered why people failed to see such areas of oneness but rather liked to emphasise the so-called difference and exploited same for political advantage that had done nothing to advance the unity of the country. “We need to recognise these things and amplify them so we can see ourselves as one.” He stressed.
Members in the committee of Yoruba Academy include Ayo Afolabi, Kayode Samuel, Dr. Charles Akinola, Dipo Famakinwa, Dr. Tunde Adegbola and Prince Oye Oyewumi. Others are Mrs. Sade Taiwo, Jimi Agbaje, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Tola Mobolurin, Mrs. Funmi Olayinka, Mrs. Jumoke Ajasin and Prince Tokunbo Ajasin.
The promoters, Famoriyo noted, would employ Yoruba Academy as a rallying point for “intellectual awareness, artistic expression, cultural reorientation and anything that will bring about the development of Yoruba people and serve as a resource centre for Yoruba civilization. We are trying to preserve our identity as a people”.
Dr. Iyabo Bassir, programme advisor to the academy also said the academy was “about being proud of who we are, what we have, about unearthing the knowledge we have that can liberate us so we can shed superstition and not be easily manipulated. It’s about doing not about talking. We need to celebrate what we are. The art show is to celebrate the expressiveness of the Yoruba in the area of culture.
“We shall also be celebrating 50 years of broadcasting in Nigeria by producing a video on broadcasting, which started here in Ibadan”.
Some of the artists said the exhibition initiative by Yoruba Academy enabled them dig deep into their roots as Yoruba to come up with the pieces. Ashaye with his expository ‘Ayandiran’ stated that he liked documenting passing civilizations for posterity and also challenging the status quo in his paintings. Fela Bolaji’s ‘Tewe Tegbo’ explores the place of traditional medicine and herbs in Yoruba socio-cultural life. “I’m trying to bring back our traditional things and the natural resources of our different herbs, fruits, and barks both for the curative and economic gains they offer,” he explained.
Ade Oluwaji’s ‘Aso Ebi’ examines the social implication of the Aso Ebi practice of wearing a similar clothing item for social events in his resin engraving, which is largely experimental. He explained that the practice was both coercive and economical depending on how one perceives the practice. His second piece ‘Ejanbakan’ has its root in the social lore of identification: Is it a fish or a crab? It could also be used to ascertain the sex of a child at birth: Is it a boy or a girl? But the social aesthetics of the question has been extended to embrace other areas of societal concern. So, is it good or bad news, positive or negative?
If the affirmation is that it is good news or a boy that is given birth to, the celebratory drums are rolled out, people are gathered and animals are slaughtered for feasting to begin. All this Oluwaji carefully represents in his colourful work to exemplify an aspect of a typical Yoruba social setting. Exploring Yoruba environment and motifs, he said, gives him joy and the exhibition is one way to showcase his talent.
Continuing on that Yoruba traditional vein is Kola Akintola’s work that explores religious mythology that is only unique to the Yoruba but also believed to be lost to a majority of people, especially the young ones. Titled ‘Ela’, another name for Ifa, the intermediary between the divine, Olodumare, and man, Akintola explained that Ela plays the mediatory role of Christ in Yoruba religious setting. He executed the abstract work on a relief on metal foil to throw up the images for clarity.
Akintola stated that he regretted that such ancient Yoruba knowledge was fast passing away and that it was being lost to this generation. Yoruba Academy, he said, was on a mission to rescue such vital local, cultural knowledge and “to bridge the gap between the past and the present, and for this generation to know and be informed”.
Another critical area for examination is the where about of some of the nation’s rich cultural objects or artifacts. Emmanuel I.M. Silva, an artist and curator of the exhibition, who has a passion for the documentation of Nigeria’s cultural history, boldly takes on this enquiry in his work, “Arugbo Ojo’.
With four representatives of the heads of Onis of Ife, Silva maintains that Nigeria might have lost more artifacts than originally claimed. That even the ones claimed to be in some museums in the country might actually be copies while the original ones had long been carted away. It is a telling piece and an indictment of the nation’s shoddy attitude to things sacred or antique. Silva advocates a change in attitude as Nigerians pay heavily to see such works outside the country not to mention the loss to the historical process.
“I’m examining many issues about the past with my work,” he explained. “Where are the artifacts? Are the correct tradition being followed by current Onis? There were sixteen minor deities that came from Olodumare. One was Oduduwa. Who are the others? We need to know. I’m passionate about documentation so we can study the history, culture and our value systems. If we don’t study them, research into them, we can’t get far in our quest for development as a nation.
Mr. A.A. Ayandepo’s sculptural set is a pantheon of the deities and their allies consisting of Ibeji, Osun, Yemoja, Oduduwa, Ogun, Sango Oya, Esu, Ipon – essential Yoruba religious motifs – and a central figure believed to be Olodumare in its mythic and grand standing. The entire piece is an installation ranged round the central figure as in a shrine.
As curator, Silva said the exhibition shows the ideals for which the Yoruba Academy stands for as a bridge between the past and the present. His words: “We need to connect the past with the present. If you don’t make the past meet the present, interact with contemporary things, it’s going to be difficult. We looked at certain defining areas of the life of a typical Yoruba community, which the artists explored in their works: music, clothing, value system, traditional medicine and reconciliation to cover the different themes that Yoruba Academy represents. It is designed to raise awareness, to help the contemporary get connected with the traditional”.
It is also the hope of the curator that the otherwise dormant cultural life of the ancient city of Ibadan ‘scattered amidst seven hills/like a broken china in the sun’ will receive a revival of sorts with Yoruba Academy art exhibition.
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Saturday, October 17, 2009
Nigeria’s Literature At Odds With Her Poor Politics, Says Lindsay Barrett
LINDSAY Barrett is one Diaspora Pan-Africanist, who boldly stuck out his head in the heady days of the 1960s to relocate from Jamaica to parts of West Africa before settling down finally in Nigeria. He was consumed in the vibrant Literature and cultural life of the land he chose to make his home and significantly made his contributions as journalist and writer. Although in his late 60s, Barrett is still active in his journalistic and creative engagements that have earned him fame. More than these, his relevance as a writer also came to the fore recently when he was shortlisted, along other eight nominees, for the NLNG Prize for Literature with his new work, A Memory of Rivers. However, at the Grand Awards Night ceremony last weekend in Abuja, the judges said no winner emerged, and thus, the prize money of $50, 000 was decreed to be given to the Nigerian Academy of Letters to develop Literature. In this encounter with ANOTE AJELUOROU, Barrett reminisces on the journey back to his African roots and the milestones so far. Excerpts:
IT would look like you have been there forever, even while still having your works relevant to issues of today. When you look back at this long stretch of involvement in Nigerian Literature, what really occurs to you?
I’m always saddened by the fact that Nigeria has produced the greatest body of Literature of relevance and strength of any African nation yet little matching national development. Its work is as important if not more so to the rest of Africa than any national Literature, like South African Literature of resistance, Ghanaian Literature of political awareness. Nigerian Literature has cut across all formulas and yet we have produced a national Literature that seems to be at odds with our seeming inability to get the administrative strength of our nation right.
I came to Nigeria directly because I was influenced by her Literature. I came to Africa because I wanted to renew the spirit of ancestral hope. I felt that there was hope in knowing where you came from and that we could renew our links, that we could strengthen our systems.
But for anybody coming from the Diaspora, you don’t have to choose any one country. Quite frankly, if you come from Jamaica, you may be inclined more to Ghana. There is a strong sense of the Akan story in the Afro-centric areas of Jamaica. If you are from Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba or Brazil, you get inclined to Yoruba. If you come from Haiti, you will look back to Angola or Central Africa. Once you begin to know about cultures, you see similarities, you see polarities that attract you. So, if one is academically inclined, you may have a sense of this root movement. I have not been so inclined. I tried to be a Pan-Africanist. For me I look at the contemporary, political issues and see all Africa’s relevance in trans-nationality terms.
But through Nigeria’s Literature I found that there seemed to be a chart. I saw Nigeria producing such rich Literature. There was no constant interaction between the creative and the service sector. When I came that was a disappointment, but Nigerians continue to be the most creative people, expressing creative elements in African life.
By failing to do something, you inspire criticism. You have Soyinka; you have Chinua Achebe and the rest. So Nigeria is a paradox by failing to meet the expectation of those who have the highest expectation. It throws up incredible responses. And, that keeps happening; that is what creative people do. That is what is happening in Literature today. But unfortunately, look at your media (the Radio, the Television), which should be the public media throwing this expression out so that people become infused with the spirit.
Our modern media is behind in Literature. When I came into this country, I lived on writing at least two serious radio drama every month and I re-branded for four years. I lived on programme production, producing a programme called ‘The story-teller’. I wrote two stories every forth-night. I was paid 7 pounds, 7 shillings but because I had the facility to do that and the medium was there to do it, I could make a living but you can’t do that now. Our media has fallen behind even the musical aspect of the media is less than what it was.
When I came into the country, there was a newspaper called, Daily Express. I remembered that the literary days in the Sunday Express was as good as any newspaper. There were incredible critiques from people like J.P. Clark and others. And so we are living a life where the spirit is willing but the material reflex is weak.
There was a time you had small group talking literary stuffs like the Mbari Club. But such things do not seem to happen any more?
Basically, the tradition did not catch up and take hold of its own creative tone. And we had the period of materialism that came up in the oil boom years, and people became enamoured; these things became less important. What is also probably responsible is the fact that nobody really got around to finding a way to make a living out of the arts as pop music and others.
There’s no one place that Soyinka’s plays are regularly staged and viewed; nowhere, and yet we have so many brilliant playwrights among the old groups that came out of Soyinka – the late Wale Ogunyemi and Bode Sowande and so on. It’s sad because we all lionise Wole. But I always tell my son that the tragedy is, all of you that lionise Wole, how many of you have read his books? But how many of those that shout loudest about Wole actually know something about his works that appeal to them.
I wish that all the taxi drivers had seen the ‘road’ in his plays. I wish everybody that shouts about him really know what Jero is, really could see the role Jero played in his book Trials of Brother Jero. This man is an artist of a popular sensitivity, but he has been put in his compartment and seen as an obscurantist, which he is not to me. We throw up great artists but we do not actually live and believe in their work. We’re all part of the fault, really.
Amongst those personalities you have mentioned: Soyinka, Clark, Okigbo and the rest. Which of them did you have more bonding with at the time?
I don’t see differences; I see similarities. The person who got me this hotel accommodation is Wole’s son, who is like my son like other Wole’s children. They know how I interact with their father. Christopher Okigbo was the first person I really bonded with in this country when I got here and he died shortly after that.
He was the one who put me in Mbari as secretary. J.P. Clark was the person who insisted that I should come to Nigeria when we met in London in 1961 or so. I was producing a programme with some Nigerian writers, and J.P. was one of them. So he said, what the hell are you doing in Europe, a man like you? You belong in Africa; you belong among us. You come to Nigeria; any time you get to Nigeria, you’ll see that we are your people. You know how J.P. talks. I took it as a joke but five years later, I remembered it when I was living in Sierra Leone; and I told myself, why not go to Nigeria?
The truth is that in my life, I just make friends and they all had some meaning to me in their works. J.P. Clark’s The Raft was actually one of the things that drove me to writing plays, and I wrote several plays. I did not act in it but I did effect in a radio production of The Raft in London. And, it was an excellent, extraordinary work.
It reminded very much of my home in Jamaica, my actual home, which is near the sea. When I got to Paris, I wrote a series of plays that were produced. Well, I don’t know where most of my works are, unfortunately. It was during the Commonwealth Festival in 1965. It was a play largely influenced by The Raft. That was a play called John Pukumaka. Pukumaka is a Jamaican term for big stick. They have influenced me in various ways.
Wole strongly influenced me not so much by his works but his activism, social activism. We have not always seen eye to eye, politically; but I strongly respect his commitment to whatever he believes in. After all, when Wole was in detention I was serving the Nigerian government on the federal side seeking to prevent secession. At that time, my biggest fear was the balkanisation of Nigeria.
Some people asked me after nearly 50 years in Nigeria, if that thing happens again, would you be on the same side? Now, I’m not so sure what side I will be. I will just pack my bags and leave. At that time we had this block against Africa’s division, and I empathise and sympathise with Wole’s plight because Wole did not promote secession. Wole believed that we need a different mood in the federal side to encourage the Igbo not to go rather than to fight them physically to prevent them going. That was his theme.
The people I was working with were no less patriotic than him. But they felt that the other side was less altruistic than Wole thought. Of course, in a military era, things were not always as planned. When I was working on the federal side, it was made publicly known that I was praying for and advocating for the release of Wole Soyinka.
I have always gotten away with that in Nigeria. I suppose it’s because I’m a very poor man and nobody thinks I have any interest. So when I make these comments, Wole will say, don’t mind Barrett. But we remain friends even when we fall on different sides on any argument but I will support him to hold his side.
With the kind of disappointment that greeted you on Africa’s failures, why didn’t you pack your bags and head back home to Jamaica or Europe?
Where do I go again? I have made my life here; I’m 68 years. This year I will be 43 years in Africa. I have been back to Europe several times and I have lived elsewhere. I was in Liberia before the civil war came. But it’s not something you can just give up. Remember that the objective I have in coming to Africa will always be there no matter how disappointing I get.
I have several children here and in Liberia, and I live for their sake, whether they know it or not. If I lived in Jamaica or Europe, I could live off writing. But the fulfillment of struggling to put in place the renewal will not be there. I have said I may be disappointed by things that have happened in Nigeria but I’m not totally disappointed by Nigerians because the struggle continues.
Like the event that happened recently (the CORA Party for nine shortlisted poets for the Nigeria Prize for Literature); it means there is progress at certain levels. The other thing is that one doesn’t just give up because your life is not your own. So, I don’t have the right to give up.
I was telling somebody that Nigeria is celebrating her 50th birthday next year. Nearly everyone I told said, what are we celebrating? They said we are celebrating nothing. I said, no; celebrate the fact that you have survived so far because of the civil war of such brutality when you were not 10 years old. And you call yourselves Nigerians 40 years after that civil war.
We who are inside Nigeria tend not to know the extent to which we are actually better off than many others. The challenge that we have to overcome is to assume our full potential, but not to say we have achieved nothing. We have achieved a lot. History has it that Nigeria picked the bills of anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. Abacha, who we all abuse, is the same who brought peace to Sierra Leone.
Somehow, the President is looking to 2020 to set a target that can be owned. Why don’t we own our mistakes and our triumphs in the last 50 years? We don’t. Nigeria’s failures have been so spectacular that why not just celebrate the fact that we could fail so spectacularly and still be alive?
We seem to over-look not only our potentials but sometimes, willingly fail to recognise the opportunities offered us. We should work harder to own our opportunities more in the next 50 years; that should be our concern.
How familiar are you with writings coming out of Nigeria at the moment? And, are you satisfied?
There are lots of incredible writings going on. One of those I can say without fear of being challenged for nepotism is when I say my son, Igonibare (Igoni Barrett), is one of the finest writers I have seen over the years.
I’m particularly happy to say I have nothing to do with developing his talent. What I did was when I saw his talent I told him I admire it and asked him to keep it up. I have distanced myself from promoting him until he could see any of his achievement, which resulted to his book of poems that is recognised globally as a brilliant work. This made me happy.
But he is not the only one. There’s an interesting thing going on among the women. You have Chimamanda; she is a brilliant writer although I still have my reservations about her style. But, no problem. The real original is Sefi Attah. I haven’t really read much of her works except excerpts on the web but she writes beautifully. There are two others, who have not gotten equal recognitions. One of them is Kaine Agary, who won the LNG prize with Yellow Yellow last year; brilliant book.
Then there is a girl, Bimbola Adelakun with her Under the Brown Rusted Roofs. The book is not well put together. If I had the money I really would have loved to publish that book. It’s an extraordinary book. I find her potentially much more satisfying than Chimamanda, who is, herself, quite a talent. Then there is a book called Burma Boy (by Bandele Thomas, a Nigeria resident in Great Britain); extremely brilliant. Nigeria is producing a national Literature totally at odds with her inability to get her politics and management of her affairs correct.
There is so much other stuffs coming out that is not properly produced, not properly edited and so on. It means there is a lot bubbling in the pot, and how to get it out. What we need today is the coming together of the media to make this industry big.
As it was before, Nigeria Literature is beginning to have world audience again. It had it before, and it’s coming like a second time around. I think government should take note of this and encourage essay competitions, literary clubs in schools. It’s clear that the world wants to hear Nigeria; and, they want to hear something better.
In most parts of the word, Literature has a way of permeating into politics and governance. But here those who govern don’t even read the available books on major issues. Why is this so?
Actually, I can’t agree with you more. Literature elsewhere is an integral part of the spirit of governance because it has influence on those who govern.
I think that in Nigeria, an important cause of this dichotomy goes back to education. The average Nigerian is not educated enough to treat Literature as a vital element of service. And, what is regarded as higher is making money to sustain the family. But the truth is that Literature is the basis on which everything else is based.
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Using Art To Preserve Native Language
AS visual art is largely an elitist medium, TAJUDEEN SOWOLE writes that brand-man, Hakeem Adenekan is on an unfamiliar terrain in his brand of art.
THE energy and enthusiasm with which Hakeem Adenekan releases his words speak volume of his passion for art promotion, particularly, using same to rescue the decline in the strength of native languages.
The managing director of a marketing communication agency, Commstrat Associates is also unhappy that visual artists are grossly under enumerated. This, he says is due to the fact that artists are poorly packaged. As a brand man, he is familiar with artists enough to know their potentials: about four artists – painters and graphic artists – are in the Commstrat team.
And if he actually needed to update himself on the art gallery scene to feel the pulse of full time studio artists, a visit to one of the leading art galleries in Victoria Island, he discloses, confirmed his position that artists were not getting their shares of the robust art scene. He insists that the works in the gallery can compete with any best work in the world. But to his dismay, “I learnt that the galleries in this country get as much as 30 to 40 percent, some 50 per cent of the transaction between them and the artists.” This, he argues, is wrong and wonders: “what is then left for the artist who does the job?” This enthusiastic ad-man may not be saying anything new about what has been said, severally, on artists not being good managers of their skills. But Adenekan seemed to have another idea how to go about representing the artists in better ways. There is a better future for the artists, he assures, “we have plans to introduce the marketing communication approach to sell artists’ works to corporate and individual clients. What matters here is the presentation.”
Meanwhile, Adenekan and a team of culture experts, are currently embarking on a mission to use visual art as a medium to promote mother tongues. The project known as Evagrin Koncepts, he explains, “is an attempt to rescue Nigeria’s native languages from being lost.”
So much have been muted about preserving the nation’s cultural value, particularly the vanishing mother tongue; quite a number of individuals and groups are working to achieve the ultimate goal of promoting African culture. So, what is really knew about Evagrin Koncepts?
Arts, he declares, are the most reliable outlets to use in this mission: “we are starting with visual art now, and hope to bring in music, movies and others later.”
Mounted on the walls inside the Surulere, Lagos office of Commstrat, were paintings that communicate in different ways from the regular work one comes across at the galleries. Although the artists of these works were unknown – no signatures or any other information provided – the contents, indeed confirmed that Adenekan who is the Group Project Coordinator of Evagrin and his team really meant business. Each work of folkloric content from a particular region of the country comes with an inscription in the native language of a chosen tribe.
Such texts as the headlines “Orin orileede Naijiria”, a Yoruba version of the national anthem printed on a talking drum image; Karatu madaci, karshenta da dadi, Hausa text on the image of a boy writing; Oji Onye wetere oji wetere ndu, Igbo texts on a plate containing kola nuts; these paintings reproduced in giclee prints bring a tutorial approach to promotion of mother tongue. Some of the “over 300 of similar works,” Adenekan assures, are expected to be on exhibition for the maiden outing of Evagrin this October.
Painting for exhibition packaged this way is apparently strange to the art gallery scene, raising the question of the targeted audience for the planned shows. “It is for everybody,” he says, and argues that the images of the works would not convey the message without the text. And who knows, the brand-man might just hit a double with his unfamiliar art: sell text-illustrated art on canvas and indigenous language.
Armed with such background as grew up in Mushin, the heart of Lagos where core Yoruba language meets the corrupted Lagos version; a passion for music that makes him the lead vocal of a loss genre; worked in about four advertising agencies, Adenekan believes he has an idea to share with like minds “hence the birth of Evagrin, which actually started 10 years ago.”
Today, he has a team to work with. Selected across the three major tribes of Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa, the group, which comprises of experts in Nigerian languages, he explains, is working on mostly oral literary materials that are either not widely published in the past or not even documented at all.
Some members of the team are: ace producer/director, Tunde Kelani, Advisory; Micheal Williams, Project Director, Arts; Jamiu Osoba, Project Director, Operations; Ifeoluwa Oduniyi, Manager, Business. Disappearing mother tongue is a worrisome development of which Adenekan challenges the elite. He notes that this so-called enlightened class of the society finds it more comfortable making English the “official” medium of communication with their families at homes.
He is bold to say that, his is not a ‘prophet’ who says ‘do as I say, not as I do’: “At home, I ensure that the language of communication is Yoruba. I think this is alright by me; let’s leave the school to take care of teaching the children how to speak good English, while parents and guardian should communicate with their wards in native language.”
Reminded that it is a policy that a child must take, at least, one native language in school. He cuts in “it is not enough to have the policy, is it working?” Most schools, he argues don’t care about implementing it, and yet the government is doing little to enforce it. Home support for mother tongue, he stresses, is the option.
And there is a strange angle to Adenekan’s commitment to this whole passion of mother tongue: despite his corporate image, he is a member of a lost music genre, Sakara; a Yoruba country music made popular in the 1950s through 1970s by late legend, Yusuf Olatunji and his rival, S. Aka whose studio works still enjoy wide air play on radio and at most homes. Apart from Oseni Ejire’s band and some obscure bands still playing that genre of music, hardly is there any group of younger men interested in the music. But Adenekan, a man in his 40s, discloses that he has a four-piece sakara music band comprising a 62 years old drummer, two OND holders and himself as the lead vocalist. Sakara band, didn’t we lose that with the dinosaur? He notices the surprise looks of his guests. “Yes, a Sakara band,” he repeats.
An alumnus of Cranfield University, UK; IESE Business School, University of Navarra, Spain, Adenekan had earlier got his HND, Mass Communication at the Ogun State Polytechnic, Abeokuta, Ogun State.
He had worked at CentreSpreadFCB; Campaign Palace Advertising; LTC J. Walter Thompson Ltd and was the Associate producer of the Yoruba movie, Arugba.
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