Ikhide

Father, Fighter, Lover

Month: January, 2014

Tobore Ovuorie’s story: Premium Times of Nigeria responds to Ikhide

Dear Ikhide:

I notice you have been doing quite some heavy lifting in the library, drilling holes in the recent PREMIUM TIMES coverage of the nefarious human trafficking trade, another blight on our problematic national image profile.

I have been on a drenching road fatigue for a while and just got some wiggle room to respond to you. First let me say that this is something important to do. If we insist that a decent democracy cannot exist without a decent press, it goes without saying that we who work on this side of the aisle must be ready to subject our practice to attentive scrutiny.

At any rate, because PREMIUM TIMES defines its practice strictly in the ambience of investigative reporting, it will be hypocritical to expect that its work will not attract strict inquiry from friends and foes.  We welcome this.

After your review, I notice also that a number of comments have followed in its tow, some insightful, and a whole lot flippant.  I shall try to offer insight and responses to some of your now famous seven questions in the hope that those who share vision with the issues you raised will find some retort here too.

Many of the concerns about our report, in so far as they deal exclusively with the form rather than the content of the article, announces for me the moral texture and internal coherence of a new generation of Nigerian citizenry, and the challenge this poses for us in building a society of justice, where the human rights and dignity of the Nigerian are paramount.

Quite frankly, one cannot but feel mystified, that such massive real estate of print space, and time, was lavishly devoted to when, how, where, and why a cell phone got used or was not used in a story that speaks essentially to the moral decay of a nation where the best of our youth have no future outside a new wave of slave trade.

This immediately recalls for me the dilemma of Robert Jordan in Hemingway’s masterpiece For Whom The Bell Tolls, when the idealistic republican, at that great moment in history where the larger human community faces its greatest existential threat, suddenly comes to awareness that in the campaign against the radical evil of fascism, there is an uneven level of preparedness among the anti-Falangist forces.

In amusement, I notice the ambivalence in your review as you tried to challenge the veracity of the story.  This is how you put it: “How sophisticated can this syndicate be if they allow the girls keep their cell phones and presumably let them continue to chat with the outside world? There are so many tracking devices on a cell phone, you wonder if and why the game plan of the reporter did not include these free tools.”

Let’s cut to the chase. The logic in your question is erected on the assumption of the implausibility of infiltrating a syndicate and still use a cell phone.  Thus, on account of your logic, if one gets to operate a cell phone in the environment of the syndicate, then the story automatically becomes false. Seriously? Sorry, this is either empty or dubious.

Perhaps you understand the operations of syndicates better, but we had no one to share the operating manual of syndicates with us while we were planning this investigation. So this construction of the watertight processes of the syndicate is your own construction, which cannot be imposed on the story. When Tobore was to report to boot camp, all they asked her to bring was “a lot of clothes” but when she got to camp she found to her surprise that some of them came with no more than a few days wardrobe.  What do you make of this?

One reasonable conclusion is that there are no standard rules. Would this explain the use of phones and other facilities? Would Tobore who is undercover, a fact unknown to all but her, act logically in every instance?

Since this is the basis of your logic of believability let me comment a little further on the question regarding the sophisticated level of the syndicate, and the ease of entry and growth within the gang.

Why is it difficult for you to understand that any syndicate in the world can be penetrated, and that ones growth path within the syndicate ultimately depends on ones ability to assimilate its orientation and, so to say, to domesticate that new environment?

Are the pleasures of exile hindering an appreciation of a simple puzzle? Certainly this can’t be too difficult for any serious reporter, and Tobore, a 33-year old doctoral candidate in psychology, who, by the way, you relentlessly, and paternalistically, characterize as a baby that cannot take responsibility for her choices, is the last person in the class who does not know how to domesticate her environment.

Let me refer you to something in your adopted country when talking of breaching sophisticated syndicates. Perhaps you have read how, eighteen months ago, [July 28, 2012], the walls of the United States Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF), where more than 10,000 nuclear bombs are stored, were breached, at Oak Ridge, in the State of Tennessee.

As it turned out, this breach of the world’s most secured facility was not the work of terrorists, but that of a group of three elderly peace activists, including an 82-year old nun, armed only with flashlights, binoculars, bolt cutters, bread, flowers, Bible, and who, by the way scaled three perimeter fences, including an eight-foot fence. There is a lesson here not to mystify reality.  Please search and read the details of this story in motherjones.com.

At Premium Times, the central core of our mission is seeking and reporting the truth, and in doing this we insist on acting independently. Which is why I will ask that you direct your other questions to the appropriate law enforcement or statutory agencies. We have done our work and others will interpret where their own mandate starts.

One thing is sure, no one can fault this story on the grounds of truth, accuracy, and the principle of fairness that form the normative frame of our work. There are those who, genuinely, seek completeness beyond what we have offered here. Our response is simple. Investigative reporting takes time, it’s expensive, it’s risky, and it’s continuous.

I am however amused when you claimed that the article built “skepticism” in some Nigerians. As evidence, you even hyperlinked the drivel of the gentleman [obviously some school boy ineptly memorizing his lecture notes backward] who describes the article as “trash, full of fictions and poorly constructed…[and that] it lacks basic pragmatic and discourse qualities (i.e cohesion, coherent, intertextuality, acceptability, intentionality and informativeness).”

I think this is taking literary theory too trivial. What really was the gentleman saying in those lines? Are you sure you understood him?

Tobore’s report, for instance, was commissioned in May last year, taking her through five states in the country, a country in far Asia, and a neighbouring West African country. It was only completed in November.  What is included or excluded in the final report is a matter of pure editorial judgment.

We salute her staying power, incredible courage, and resolute will and those of our partners and staff who played different roles in bringing this important story to light. We pay tribute to the motivation that drove Tobore to the assignment, the expression of genuine humanity through which we get to appreciate the deficiency of compassion, and the depth of horror of what man can do to another man for the sake of money in our country today. Nigerian journalism is the richer for her sacrifices.

Our challenge to those who think that infiltrating and reporting about this sex slavery mafia, or any mafia for that matter, is a simple mouthing con game, the type you said your son tried to play with his Galaxy cell phone is, give it a shot. Nigerian journalism, after all, can only be the better for this.

Those who are familiar with our work know that we have never, and shall never take our readers for granted.  Recall that when you embarked on a campaign to rubbish one of our investigative reports last year, our editor counseled you to tread carefully and not side with peddlers of falsehoods and haters of good journalism. How do you feel now that the story remains substantially unchallenged till date?

Thus, those who think they have holes to drill in the human trafficking story and our other reports are warmly welcome provided they are ready to deal beyond the mere form of the stories and engage the substantive contents.

We have no appetite to deal with the range of cheap gossip that leads to no progress for our much-abused country, and the elevation of the highest ideals of the profession of journalism.

I hope you can accommodate this response in your justly famous blog.

Be well, my brother.

Dapo Olorunyomi

Editor-in-chief/Managing Director, Premium Times, Nigeria

Tobore Ovuorie’s story: Fact or fiction?

On January 23, 2014, Premium Times of Nigeria shocked the world with a horrific story under the screaming banner: INVESTIGATION: Inside Nigeria’s Ruthless Human Trafficking Mafia. It is a horrible story and I am saddened but not surprised that the Nigerian authorities are indifferent to any attempts to investigate the serious claims in the story. In a sane country, all sorts of investigations would commence, the nation would be in a turmoil. A young reporter, Tobore Ovuorie, outraged and inspired by a friend’s experience as a prostitute in Europe, having been shipped there by some wicked madam in Nigeria decides to go undercover to study and expose the crime syndicate(s) hawking this sordid tale.

Tobore Ovuorie (whose twitter handle is @DaughterOfMit) is enthusiastic, if anything else, as evinced by her vociferous testimonies on her timeline. If her narrative turns out to be true, Ovuorie and her sponsors (Premium Times and The Zam Chronicle deserve the Pulitzer. And her sponsors deserve to be censored for reckless endangerment of a reporter. As far as I can tell, Ovuorie is walking the streets of Nigeria unprotected after making serious claims against powerful interests. It is a mystery to me why she so brazenly attached her name to the story. If indeed there is a mafia, she is being quixotic and reckless to boot. She could be badly hurt or killed. As for the external sponsor of the adventure, The Zam Chronicle based in Amsterdam, it seems highly unusual for a Western outfit to sign on to such a risky venture without putting many things in place to minimize actuarial risk, the financial consequences may be too much to bear. What if she had been murdered? Her family could have sued the sponsors.

It is a shocking story on many levels. The scale of human trafficking of young girls to Europe for prostitution is big “multibillion dollar” business. There is an added horrific dimension; young people are being killed for their organs. There are beheadings, I mean, Ovuorie witnessed murders on at least two occasions. In one particularly horrific episode, early on in the journey, two girls are casually beheaded before her eyes. When this story broke, it went viral on social media, many of us rightfully traumatized and enraged by what this young reporter had gone through. The poet Emman Shehu put the story up on his wall. Please go read it and pay particular attention to the comments by his Facebook friends (here). Many are concerned, but there are a few skeptics and they back up their skepticism with reasonable questions that need to be responded to. One Hasan Gimba seems to sum up the cynics concerns reproduced verbatim thus:

“I concur with Bedu and those who see this story as the fiction it ought to be. In the first place, a cub reporter knows better than to embark on such “investigative voyage” with an identity, in this case, phone with informations. 2. Without it (phone, which, in the fashion of Nick Carter, conveniently refused to “charge”) she was at a loss as to how to contact Reece (implying she could not access her phonebook) but was able to give her number to a driver who eventually took her to the one she had “practiced” with but “recognised” her from her facebook picture. If she had her number offhead, she wouldn’t have regaled us with the fear of how to contact who. 3. A “soldier” running after you, yet the “crowd” failed to help him? 4. And for God’s sake, despite unleashed corruption in our country, view our security forces with some fairness. Nigerian soldiers guarding a human abbatoir in the middle of the forest? Nigerian soldiers and police escorting pick-pocket trainees to the training field? And this kind of chumminess and banter with the customs, is too hilarius to be true. Human trafficking sure takes place but not in this fabulous nollywood style! Haba! This is a script for Mercy Johnson, whose body contours immensely qualify her to be a “special force”.”

I must say at the onset I was one of those openly upset by Ovuorie’s story. I had to do a closer reading of the story thanks to the goading of a Facebook friend of mine, Lesley Gene Agams who seemed skeptical and asked my thoughts openly after I had posted the report along with a long wail about how bad Nigeria is. Here is the exchange:

Lesley Gene Agams: Ikhide you are a literary critic, what do you make of this type of ‘investigative journalism’? I would really like to know.

Ikhide R. Ikheloa: I am not a literary critic, I am a noisy reader, thank you. I have to say, to be frank, I stayed up all night, all the sentences in my head, trying to figure out the question: How can this be real, even in Nigeria? Why have the authorities not stormed the places she seemed to know geographically? We will never know for many reasons, we don’t bother investigating stuff. I have done some investigations myself (Abani, Emeagwali) but on my own time. You know what, journalists are lazy, most of the “investigations” were cut and paste jobs of my work. So we will never know.

I will say that human trafficking is real and brutal, I come from Edo State and it is a major source of revenue. What is happening to girls from my ancestral land (Italy, etc.) is beyond the speaking of it. Even if only half of it is true, it should horrify us and galvanize us to action. Chika Unigwe has done excellent literary work on the subject of human trafficking and prostitution in Europe.

Even if it is fiction, it is rooted in harsh, harsh, brutal reality. You have no idea how bad things are in Nigeria. I know someone who could tell you about extra judicial executions by the Nigerian police. Human life is nothing to us.

Please do not come for my head. I am not about to declare the story a fabrication, only Ovuorie knows. I just don’t know who and what to believe anymore. I have so many questions that I would love Premium Times and the government of Nigeria to clear up in everyone’s interest. Please take a closer look at the story. These are some of my questions:

1. Why is the Nigerian Police silent on this story? Ovuorie seems to know many geographic details of the places where she was taken to and where she witnessed horrific crimes. She knows names of important personalities, there is even a name of a policeman provided. Has Premium Times contacted the Nigerian authorities? What is the status, if any, of the investigation? She mentions specific geographic locations, for example: “The party is held at a gorgeous residence along the Agunyi Ironsi Way in Maitama, Abuja.” And the Police is silent? Where is the outrage? “The policeman doesn’t even bother to cover his name badge: Babatunde Ajala, it reads.”

2. When she witnessed the beheading of two abducted girls, she had her phone (or seemed to). Who did she text? Who did she call? Forensic experts can learn a lot from these transcripts.

3. At what point did she and her sponsors realize that this was possibly an unwise venture and she needed to be rescued? Where there any discussions about this?

4. I am having trouble believing that she did not text any of the pictures that were in her cellphone to someone else. That just seems unlikely. Does anyone have pictures or anything?

5. How sophisticated can this syndicate be if they allow the girls keep their cellphones and presumably let them continue to chat with the outside world? There are so many tracking devices on a cellphone, you wonder if and why the game plan of the reporter did not include these free tools. I was recently in Abeokuta, where GPS works; I imagine depending on the phone there were  GPS mapping tools available to Ovuorie.

6. Ovuorie seemed close to the two girls who were beheaded, does she have their phone numbers? Can they be traced back to their families? Why are people silent about all this?

7. The report talks of a “multibillion dollar syndicate” but the “syndicate” doesn’t appear very sophisticated, a reporter walks the streets asking for the leader and is promptly hooked up with one, gains the trust of the syndicate and along with the other “abducted girls” has access to her cellphone and even a charger. Interesting, but then we are talking about Nigeria. Nothing seems to stretch credulity:

“As we are about to leave, I lose my phone to the army officer. Searching all of us, he has taken Isoken’s phone already and she has pointed at me to divert attention from herself, saying I had a phone too. He takes mine at gunpoint. I can only thank the heavens that it is dead. I had been upset because it didn’t charge the previous night, but the fact that it won’t switch on is my second lucky break: it has a lot of pictures and conversations I have recorded in the camp. The disadvantage of losing my phone is that I can’t contact our colleague Reece, who is to help me once I get to Cotonou.”

I desperately want to believe this story but there are so many problems with the story, Lesley is right, if this was a work of fiction I would savage it with my unsolicited personal opinions. For one thing, the end is too neat, too tidy, it screams “contrived.” But again, we are talking about Nigeria. I tire sha. Somebody do something, say something, what happened here? There are many reasons to confront this story, its veracity being the least, but still a crucial reason to deal with it. The credibility of a nation is pretty much gone, but once our journalists lose their credibility, it is all over.

We need answers, lots of answers. What just happened here? I have said my own.

La Vonda R. Staples: A tribute by Professor Toyin Falola

Professor Toyin Falola is the Frances Higginbotham Nalle Centennial Professor in History at the University of Texas at Austin. Falola is also the founder and moderator of the list-serve USA Africa Dialogue, an academic watering hole for scholars and professionals interested in issues pertaining to Africa.

Falola has written a profound and moving tribute to La Vonda R. Staples, writer and scholar,  a robust presence on Twitter and Facebook, who was a beloved member of the USA Africa Dialogue forum, having gained stature, admiration and respect for her no-nonsense but warm and incisive views on pretty much everything that had to do with this life. On January 24, 2014, La Vonda  succumbed to the ravages of cancer, but in her inimitable style, she sent out on her Facebook page, a farewell note:

lavonda 3

Dear Family & Friends,

If you are reading this, I have successfully made my transition to be with my Heavenly Father. I have Lived, Laughed, and Loved. I have shared most of my life experiences & lessons with everyone I know with the intention to help those without a voice. I am overjoyed that I was able to touch as many lives as I have.Believe me when I tell you that I suffer no more, and I am in a much better place. My ancestors and I have a LOT of catching up to do…

Always remember, life is what you make it. Make it your best…you only live once.

I love you all forever,

La Vonda R. Staples

The forum was expecting the end. La Vonda had tried painstakingly to prepare members for the end; she would send regular updates on her condition and she had everything planned, down to the details of her funeral. Yet, when the end came, no one was prepared for the searing, cold, heat of the stab wounds. The village square of mostly scholars used to the vicissitudes of life was desolate, filled only with despair at the loss of a friend gone too soon.

Many will remember La Vonda’s fiery and robust presence on social media, especially on Facebook, but few know of her scholarly side (read her brainy riff on the origins of Rap music here). She was relentlessly inquisitive and generous in sharing her views and feelings to all of  those privileged to be in her company. Falola’s tribute speaks for all grieving on USA-Africa Dialogue,  that playground of gentle but fiery eggheads, .

Here is Professor Falola’s tribute. There is nothing to add, says the sage, nothing:

La Vonda R. Staples: A tribute

“As if we hadn’t completed an embrace,

that is how we are left. 

As if with a pregnant silence…

do you hear it?”

The mid-afternoon was dark, with an unusual snow and cold tormenting the semi-desert land of heat.  The afternoon was faking a departure, for the night was still far away. The news, through warm words communicated by Ikhide’s coldness, became the broken branch in the still night of the Nigerian April.  Ikhide is a master of interference, yesterday and today, and he brewed yet another interference, the hot coffee that burnt our tongues.

The words silenced us for a moment. A moment was dead. At that very moment, the dead moment, a pregnancy was terminated: La Vonda is gone. But the voice told us that La Vonda lives. The miscarriage was fake?Or is this not how they told us, the joy of living and the melancholia of unliving? That is how they told you and I that Sister La Vonda is gone, with an incantation on the endurance of memory. So she is still with us?  It might be so, as the dead assures the living. The dead can speak?

Many never met her. They knew her by words, encouraging, discouraging, elevating, sweet, hurtful, sincere, “hit and run”. We first knew her, and then later we met her. Her words are melted into a big mirror, now hanging on a wall as a text written on an Islamic tablet, fading but legible, script of time, only decodable with patience.  We must unmask, we must reveal ourselves for that wall wants to show itself, with the text before us touching our hearts.

La Vonda’s words turned into images, visible symbols, sometimes still, looking at us, gazing, shaking her head as in the always moving neck of Bolaji Aluko that comes with each declaration, minor and major. The images acquire multiple eyes, fixed. We stand still, unable to move forward, and our bodies become the lodging rooms of pain and agony. Our hearts bleed. La Vonda then begins to laugh at us, mockingly. Why?

Her history remains. You and I have a problem: we do not know where we are headed. La Vonda has a home, we have hearts. In that home lies joy and happiness, and in your hearts lodge pain. La Vonda’s home tells stories, about you and I. We are welcome to listen, in our rainbow coalition.

But the roof of her home has collapsed. Or may be not, but this is what my heart reveals to me. If so, we can no longer go through the door, front or back. There are no longer chairs in the room and the table, too, is gone. Death has killed the moonlight stories and the talebearer. Or may be the roof can be restored, so that La Vonda lives. And then there is a corner which she occupies, sympathizing with our own sorrows and tumult that we add up and subtract from, to make up life.

“The simple truth is that I do not know whether or not she died, but I do know that her history, her time, is here, with us, with those of us who enter her home because she opened the door to us, and she did it because yes, because she wanted to.  Because there are hearts that are so large they only beat when they are with others.”

 La Vonda, Rest in Perfect Peace. Disguise and enter the womb of a pregnant woman, so that in nine month’s time, we have an Iyabo.

O dabo na.        By for now

O di arin na ko      We may meet by accident on the road side

O do ju ala         We may meet in dreams.

 

 

La Vonda 1

Okey Ndibe’s Foreign Gods, Inc.: Of moral absolutism and fallen gods

foreign godsIf I had words, I would tell you stories that would make the wind weep.

         – Foreign Gods, Inc. Okey Ndibe

There is a particularly farcical, definitely quixotic misadventure that Professor Wole Soyinka narrates in his memoir, You Must Set Forth at Dawn. In  the late seventies, convinced that the Ori Olokun, a bronze artifact needed to be rescued from Brazil and returned home to Nigeria, Soyinka set about the “rescue” with hilarious results. He goes to Brazil and manages to bring home what turns out to be a fake, clay replica of the real deal. The real Ori Olokun was cooling its heels, under lock and key, in an air-conditioned museum in London. The farce is entertainingly re-narrated by Matt Steinglass in this brutal but entertaining review of Soyinka’s memoir.

Foreign Gods, Inc., Okey Ndibe’s new thriller of a fiction relives the farce in reverse. This time, Ike Uzondu, the protagonist, a highly educated Nigerian immigrant living a life he detests as a near-bankrupt, somewhat alcoholic cab driver in New York decides to go to his ancestral home in Nigeria, steal the totem of the god Ngene, “that ancient god of war named after a moody mud-colored river” and return to America in triumph where presumably Mark Gruels an art dealer would willingly pay a huge sum of money for it.  Things do not end well, but you will have to read the book, you will enjoy this well-paced thriller. It is good writing and anyone that has followed Ndibe will not be disappointed. In Foreign Gods, Inc. Ndibe proves to be a master story-teller. Good for him. On the Internet, and everywhere the written word resides, Ndibe rules the waves of Nigerian social commentary. A superb writer with a keen social conscience, his scathing essays drive Nigeria’s thieving ruling class up the walls of their stolen mansions. Whenever he visits Nigeria, it is unusual that he is not accosted by the goons of  the ruling class du jour. Few know however that Ndibe is also a fiction writer who has one novel, Arrows of Rain under his belt. You should read Foreign Gods, Inc.; it is an important, engaging, and fun addition to literature.

There are many reasons to like Foreign Gods, Inc. From the first page, Ndibe employs many literary tricks to hold the reader’s fickle attention to the end. A great first chapter sprints confidently into the second and so on to create a well-paced book that managed to keep my attention away from the neediness of social media. Ndibe has a fine mind, and a social conscience; from Babylon to Africa, Ndibe’s voice rises to a roar of rage at his ancestors’ condition. Ndibe is Achebe’s Obierika, endlessly thinking about these things, he interrogates both the material and the spiritual, what some might call superstition. And he does it with the grace of someone imbued with enough self-confidence to defend his ancestors’ dignity and eroding way of life. Foreign Gods, Inc. functions as social commentary, and examines, in a counter-intuitive way, the role of the African intellectual in the mess that is today’s Africa. Think about it, Soyinka wanted to return the Ori Olokun from its air-conditioned vault to a life of certain destitution where museums can be filthy, empty rooms attended to by termites; Ike wanted to return home to steal an artifact and sell to the white man. To hell with moral absolutism. Man must wack. The farce lives.

For Ndibe’s Foreign Gods, Inc., the subtext is greed, we are selling our gods, no, we have sold our gods. His rage is coolly turned on Nigeria. We see a Nigeria ravaged by rank consumerism and organized religion, especially the new Christianity of “prosperity” churches. Her people, poor and rich, are thus united by a crushing poverty – of spirit and ideas (see “healing mystery lake video”). Ndibe weeps over a dying world and seems helpless as alien gods and thieving pastors rifle through the remains of a yard sale from hell. The new religion teaches us to think only in black and white, light and darkness. Ndibe chronicles the devastation. The pastor is not a man of God but a man of fraud. 419 pastors have infected Nigeria. His analysis of the devastation wreaked on Nigeria by the new Christianity is worth the price of the book. He also riffs on the Babylon that is the protagonist’s America. Culture shocks peek out of the civil, unctuous airs of Manhattan. The high rises bow to greed. This is also a story about identity and belonging, a novel about our America, their America. “And then there was Derek Jeter pitching some credit card. Ike had dozed off. He startled awake as a sports reporter screeched about the Yankees’ tie-breaking home run in the second game of a split doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.” (Kindle Locations 263-264). Ndibe knows his America.

Foreign Gods, Inc. is about a duel between Africa (Ike Uzondu) and the West (Mark Gruels). The Vampire strike the Empire. Or not. Numerous confrontations in the book heightened a luscious, ever present tension. All through the myriad drama, the book manages not to be drowned by the prattle of too many characters. Also, Ndibe captures, perhaps unwittingly the trademark superciliousness of the self-absorbed African writer bereft of a moral filter. He addresses many conventional issues that preoccupy African writers; the indignity of destitution, corruption, misogyny, women and children as chattel, the ravages of drug trafficking, patriarchy, capitalism, consumerism, the banality of our dreams, etc. Still, for the most part, funny, well-crafted lines jostle with important history. He chronicles with a war-weary eye the corruption in the land. My favorite lines advertise the gentrification going on in Nigeria’s rural areas: “The house behind seemed to stand on heels and peer into his mother’s backyard. Zinc-roofed concrete houses stood where mud houses used to be. Several buildings sported satellite dishes or television antennas.” (Kindle Locations 1238-1239). Nice.

Yes, Ndibe pens beautiful prose; he writes memorable lines like this: “The last scene he remembered was the clarity of the dawn sky in Amsterdam, a wide blue dome with no cloud puffs in sight. As the plane ascended, he looked out the window at the immensity of the sky. Then, casting his eyes down, he saw the vast mat of the landscape, the streets of Amsterdam marked off by geometric patterns amid marshes and expanses of green. Seen from the heights, the rugged beauty of the unfurled scene seemed unbearable, and he shut his eyes.” (Kindle Locations 1005-1008) Nice.

The book is a touching tale told with uncommon dignity, coolly narrated with a matter-of-fact but engaging cadence. Ndibe writes about an era in America when folks still walked into a travel agency and bought an air ticket, a time of emails and whatnot. Ndibe knows America with all its grittiness. The dialogue is great, you want to eavesdrop on a deadly serious account of a journey that is gripping in parts. Even though, the trademark superciliousness of the African writer towards West colors the book, however this time it is turned inwards also. We are making progress.

okeygoodIt would be interesting to study Ndibe’s Foreign Gods Inc. side by side with Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah and reconcile their perspectives on race, America and relationships. The books do complement each other in the interesting conversations on African-American and African relationships. The marriage of convenience (for the coveted green card) between Ike and Bernita, the African American was the War of the Roses with lots of sex and drinking in the numerous intermissions. Like Americanah, Foreign Gods, Inc. is about class; touching is the class difference between Ike and Bernita, the marriage a perverse symbiotic relationship, each in the marriage for different reasons. Like Americanah, Foreign Gods, Inc. also examines the tensions between Nigerians in the Diaspora and Nigerians at home. To Ndibe’s credit, he does spare the reader another conversation on the politics of hair.

Ike’s world is grim and filled with the grit of despair, of “creditors… disconcerting mail: late-payment reminders, disconnection warnings, cancellation threats, repossession notices, eviction slips… an ever-present frowsy smell… a commingling of spilled liquor, urine, cigarette smoke, perfumes, and the rich, leafy scent of marijuana.” (Kindle Locations 577-585).  You can smell America.  You can also smell the eaves of Ndibe’s earth, “…memories of the nights during childhood when he could not sleep unless cuddled up against her body, which reeked of smoky wood, warm like sun-baked clay.” (Kindle Locations 662-663). Anxieties, identities, issues clashing in powerful paragraphs. Ike is living a life of seedy desperation, on the edge of a capitalist nightmare, sourcing for funds as hustlers would say in Nigeria, feeding twin monsters, American style capitalism, and that Nigerian scourge called the extended family system. Like Obi in No Longer at Ease, the end will be inglorious.

adichieAmericanah

Foreign Gods, Inc. is not a perfect book, of course, says the cliché. The editing is not the best. Ndibe is a master of words, however, in a few places, the editing clamps restraints on him, it is as if he is communicating in a different voice, you can barely recognize him. Thanks to the editing, with Nigerian words much is lost in translation. We need indigenous Nigerian editors in these Western publishing houses, they don’t quite get us. It can be irritating; Nigerian terms are italicized and eroticized, it is a wonder there is no glossary explaining Kalu Mazi.

Foreign Gods Inc. is burdened by a structural flaw; there is a confused timeline of events. In one instance, in Ike’s village, a group is watching a 1991 game NBA championship game between the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. It seems unlikely that even in the remotest of Nigerian villages, this would be happening in 2006. One can only surmise that the manuscript was first conceived in the nineties, with the plots and characters and ambience evolving to meet a fast changing world (emails, cell phones etc.).  In another example, the pastor rides around in a Peugeot 504. In the late 2000’s it seems unlikely for a prosperity pastor to own that model, he would have had to search far and wide to locate one. Attempts to make the story more contemporary are thus subverted and ambushed by traces of (ancient) history. The world is moving too fast for our writers, it is not their fault. Books are struggling with the interactive and addictive nature of social media. And losing. A book is so 20th century: You cannot swipe, LOL, LIKE, CLICK, talk to a book. A book knows it all. A book lectures. Like a 20th century headmaster. In the 21st century, the book is a dying sage on the stage. Long live the Internet.

Finally, Ndibe will have to contend with many readers who will undoubtedly ask legitimate questions about the heavy presence of Chinua Achebe’s ghost between the sheets of Foreign Gods, Inc. Ndibe’s unpretentious prose highlights effectively, in my view, the utter banality of life for many immigrants in the West. But then there are transitions in the prose that offer strong whiffs of Achebe’s many works of fiction:

“Look at this,” his uncle had said, pulling up his undershirt to expose a gash in his belly. Osuakwu paused, running his fingers along the singed, darkened scar. “First, the white man forced me to go to Burma to fight in a war that had nothing to do with me. It was a quarrel between different white brothers. And then the white man gave me this as payment.” (Kindle Locations 1000-1003)

achebeChapter 10 has strong echoes of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God. Scholars may have a field day interpreting this. Again, the language reminds one eerily of Achebe. Characters like Unoka, Uchendu, Okonkwo, Obierika, etc. seem to make loud cameo appearances in the book’s characters. There is even an interpreter that is ridiculed by “a proud loquacious oaf.” Chapter 14 suffers immensely from Achebe’s spirit, it is as if one is reading passages knighted by a composite influence of Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God, and A Man of the People;  here, Ndibe is Achebe with a cell phone. Like Achebe’s books, here, there is a surplus of parables and tales. It is as if you are reading Achebe, so many parallels. Osuakwu is Ike’s uncle. Uchendu was Okonkwo’s uncle. The beauty of spirituality of the Igbo is captured, but one hears Arrow of God. In the conversation between Ike and Big Ed, the Jamaican immigrant, one is reminded of Uchendu’s admonition of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart

What do I think? Foreign Gods, Inc. is a great outing that will be remembered and defined by its relationship with virtually all of Chinua Achebe’s works of fiction, and not always in a good way. Devotees of Achebe will see his spirit everywhere. Ndibe made a strategic decision, it seems, some would say, a strategic mistake to be heavily influenced by Achebe’s works. Achebe is everywhere, delete the cellphones and the emails and you almost find yourself chanting, “Kotma of the ashy buttocks.” And so, Foreign Gods, Inc. will be important for at least one reason that Ndibe probably never envisioned, its relationship with Achebe’s works. Scholars will spend countless hours debating at what point an influence gets acknowledged. There is no science to this; it is a matter of personal judgment. It should have been a simple fix, Ndibe should have openly acknowledged Achebe’s influence in the book and given him some credit – upfront. Achebe does get a nod in the “acknowledgments” section but only in a vague, “he was my mentor, and I love him so, sense.” An upfront acknowledgment would have been sufficient for me. Still it did not rob me of the fun of reading about “buttocks” in Foreign Gods Inc. and chuckling about the court messengers in Things Fall Apart being ridiculed by the prisoners:

 “Kotma of the ash buttocks,

He is fit to be a slave.

The white man has no sense,

He is fit to be a slave.”

Achebe, Chinua (2010-10-06). Things Fall Apart: (Kindle Locations 1903-1904).

I have said my own.

Guest Blog Post by Adeshina Afolayan: Is ASUU a union of role models?

Dr. Adeshina Afolayan teaches philosophy at the University of Ibadan and a card-carrying member of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

‘Dele, it is time to go wash the plates,’ the mother said to her son.

‘My teacher said I must always do my assignment first thing when I get home,’ Dele replied, already opening his books.

‘But I need those plates to make your food now,’ the mother shouted, already exasperated. This isn’t the first time Dele would be contradicting her with what his teacher said.

‘Mummy, my teacher said if I want to be a great person, I must always do my school assignment before any other thing.’ His head was buried in his book, and his pencil was already furiously scribbling.

I’m certain only few parents will not recognise this scene. It plays out in many homes where the teachers used to wield an enormous influence over the students. Yes: used to. It would seem, quite tragically, that this incidence is now restricted to the kindergartens and nursery schools, if at all. Teachers have been demystified. The implication of this demystification is that we are no longer the custodians of higher education values that parents can conveniently relinquish the care of their children to. We have abdicated our role as the second agent of socialisation; we have become unscrupulous. We can no longer be trusted!

I can already feel the hostilities bristling. And this time, I may have more than university lecturers to contend with. Of course, I know there are good teachers who are role models for their respective students. But I speak to an overwhelming preponderance in the question that my title raises. That ought to be the norm in an institution meant to cultivate the future. And how is ‘preponderance’ measured? In the reflection of what our students are able to do, how far they are able to go in life, what values they embrace, what they are able to do with their education. Now, when you look at the state studentship has fallen into in Nigeria, what do you come out with? We have a mirror reflection of what the teachers have also become. I suspect Fela just came into your mind. It’s impossible not to remember him and his prognosis of what lecturers have become. The Ivory Towers are no longer edifying; so many values have broken down. We now have only a fraction of our students to celebrate; the majority have been lost to valuelessness. Generalisations? Crucify me if you can.

I am not afraid the fingers point at me too. I am raising a self-reflexive issue that lumps me within the framework of educational rot I am pointing at. Epimenides, the Cretan philosopher, gave historical and philosophical credence to the paradox of self-reflexivity. Epimenides is reputed to have made the allegation that ‘All Cretans are liars.’ If what he says is true, then it must be a lie because he is also a Cretan! I will leave the reader to decide whether I am also guilty of the self-reflexive paradox. I am an ASUU member, and I am no saint. I am involved. My lecture attendance is less than a hundred percent, sometimes my scripts don’t get graded on time, I’ve never been subjected to the assessment of my students, some of the students claim that I am too stern and distant, one of them even accused me of sexual harassment before (and you don’t need to bother about my statement of innocence; I leave that too to your judgment).

Yet, in spite of my involvement in the higher educational issues that impugn ASUU’s credentials, I suspect that I am not Epimenides and these issues transcend me. I will phrase my concern in this piece as a question: Is ASUU a body of teachers or educators? Are we role models who practice what we teach or we are just rote facilitators? I see ASUU not only as a trade union but as a professional body with the same weight of professional responsibility as the Nigerian Medical Association, the Nigerian Institute of Safety Professionals, Pharmacist Council of Nigeria, Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria and the Nigerian Institute of Building. This analogy is deliberately. It seems to me that these professional bodies cannot afford to be restricted to the minima of check off dues and traditional unionism. Their responsibility demands more: They are life professionals. ASUU should not be less. We mould lives. We prepare future leaders. We stand in the breach of national reckoning. We speak to countless future and generations. That’s what makes teaching a spiritual endeavour; we are not less priestly than the Pope. We owe it to those whose future depends on us to monitor and circumscribe our professional products as best as we can. Don’t tell me we are trying; we haven’t tried enough. Check the evidence!

Unionism has happened to ASUU so much so that it seems to have torpedoed our professional vigilance. This is the paradox for me—ASUU is a professional body which seems to have somehow lost its professional credentials. It is a professional body which somehow has succumbed to series of unprofessional activities that in no way flatter ASUU’s lip-service to being the guardian of higher educational values in Nigeria. Consider two issues. First: teachers now poach on the students they are supposed to be educating. Second: As a professional body, ASUU has now become a body of teachers who hide under the protective might of their union to perpetrate and perpetuate gross misconduct. These two issues coalesce to ensure that character and learning—the deep motto of the University of Ibadan—has become a surface slogan in almost all universities in Nigeria. And ASUU is responsible. Forget about the Federal Government for now, abeg! Why? Apart from the student body, we are the next significant constituent of the university. When we stand in the class to teach, what do the students perceive? I am not raising a philosophical question; yet it is difficult not to distil a philosophical implication from how a student relates with his/her lecturers in four or five years. We seem to have inverted Thomas Szasz’s maxim: We now wield maximal power and minimal authority. Doesn’t this justify our students perceiving us as a pathetic bunch of intellectuals? Aren’t they justified to ask whether we can actually educate them or impart character? Shouldn’t they repeat Fela’s song to us?

ASUU is a powerful body, but in a negative sort of way. Yet we are intellectuals and that ought to count for a whole lot of creative responses to what our roles ought to be in the society. We stand at a juncture when we should confront our demystification. We ought to come under interrogation of ourselves by ourselves. I suspect it would be too much to task ASUU with the responsibility of refurbishing its members’ characters; but we can monitor them beyond the circumscription of unionism. This will constitute the first step in balancing the proportion between the good and the bad. ASUU has a serious task to build a preponderance of role models if we want the society to take us serious. Let me shock you—in conclusion: If we continue complacent, then we are looking at the end of the university as we have come to know it consequent on our failure as life-minders.

Asa asked a fundamentally question in ‘Fire on the Mountain’: Who’s responsible for what we teach our children? Is it the Internet or the stars on television? Does ASUU have a role to play? Can we initiate a paradigm shift in the future? Can parents trust us with the future of their children? I don’t think so, at least not when there is still a raging and unchecked fire on the mountain! I will return again.