Saturday, 2 June 2018

Amos Tutuola: A Bridge across the streams

Amos Tutuola: A Bridge across the streams

(Being a presentation by Richard Mammah at the Lagos book fiesta ‘Profiles at the Lagoon,’ Art Gallery, Kongi’s Harvest, Freedom Park, Lagos, May 30, 2018)

A few things are remarkable about our subject under reference today, the very prodiguous Amos Tutuola.
First, when his first novel, the Palm Wine Drinkard, rolled off the presses in 1952, there had not been much in the way of advance notice that he would be a successful writer.
As one who had barely struggled to get a basic education, not many gave him a chance to venture into, and then make a mark in this area. But thanks to his determination, doggedness and industry, he worked at it and not in addition to getting that first book, The Palmwine Drinkard out, he also went on to write and bring out other very remarkable titles:
    My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1954)
    Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle (1955)
    The Brave African Huntress (1958)
    Feather Woman of the Jungle (1962)
    Ajayi and his Inherited Poverty (1967)
    The Witch-Herbalist of the Remote Town (1981)
    The Wild Hunter in the Bush of the Ghosts (1982)
    Yoruba Folktales (1986)
    Pauper, Brawler and Slanderer (1987)
    The Village Witch Doctor and Other Stories (1990)
As is most apparent from this profile, it will be seen that our author did indeed demonstrate a very prodigious commitment to his chosen vocation, which ensured that other than the decade of the 1970s, he not only brought out book after book, beginning with his 1952 debut offering, indeed, he also sustained a pattern of sorts in that he succeeded in getting into the market, fresh new titles within two, three and five year intervals!
Second, Tutuola stands as a bridge across the many trajectories of the Nigerian creative writing firmament. From when The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African entered the scene in 1789 through the outing of the maiden edition of the first Nigerian newspaper,“Iwe Irohin Fun Awon Ara Egba Ati Yoruba on November 23, 1859, and on to the coming into the scene of other pioneering texts such as Pita Nwana’s Omenuko in 1933 and  Daniel Olorunfẹmi Fagunwa’s 1938 text, Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀, it was evident that it was just going to be a matter of time before an even more robust creative writing tradition would be experienced.
With the end of the Second World War in 1945, the coming of the decade of the 1950s - with its very strong pan-Africanist fervour, along with an accelerated march to nationhood - Nigerians across all walks of life began to express themselves in even more assertive tones. One of these who moved on to demonstrate the capacity of the emergent Nigerian in the arena of creative writing was Amos Tutuola. It was indeed a mark of his sterling achievement in this regard that he was to round off work on his first book, The Palm Wine Drinkard, in 1946. And the road to this achievement was indeed not an easy one as he had been forced to drop out of school upon the death of his father in1939, and then go on to train as a blacksmith, work with the Royal Air Force in Nigeria, become a bread seller and then a messenger with the colonial Nigerian Department of Labor! How did the other wise man put it: ‘tough times don’t last; it is tough people that do. Tutuola was quintessentially one cut out of the thick cloth of hardwork, determination, drive and endurance; he was of ‘the strong breed.’
In a sense, a contemporary of Tutuola at this time would be the other most prodigious writer, Cyprian Ekwensi, who after jointly winning a British Council Writing Competition with Mabel Segun and Ogundipe Leslie, had gone on to feature as a star player in the famous Onitsha Market Literature series with his twin offerings in that ‘pamphlet explosion,’ that were published by Tabansi Books in 1947; namely, When Love Whispers and Ikolo the Wrestler and Other Igbo Tales. From there he published many other books that included An African Night’s Entertainment, the passport of Mallam Ilia and The Drummer Boy. And if you think Tutuola’s six-year wait to have his first book come out in print was a heck of time, then what would you say about Ekwensi not having his first full length novel text enter the market until four decades after he had finished writing it! Some of today’s young writers may simply need to find some patience.
Third, it is also to be noted that the coming onto the limelight of the Tutuolas and Ekwensis at this time was in the same progressing line of vision in the development of the practice of creative writing in Nigeria that was to find its next expression in the publication in 1958 of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the inception of the African Writers Series and the work of practitioners such as Wole Soyinka, Elechi Amadi and J.P Clark. 
And fourth, even in death, Tutuola continues to shine on with his works gracing the archival shelves of the Harry Ransom Center, an archive, library and museum at the University of Texas at Austin, USA, which specializes in the collection of literary and cultural artifacts for the purpose of advancing the study of the arts and humanities. Its collection spans 36 million literary manuscripts, one million rare books, five million photographs, and more than 100,000 works of art.
Underscoring this achievement, it is to his credit that Tutuola today shares that space with the likes of D. H. Lawrence, John Steinbeck, Woodward and Bernstein (of the Watergate Papers fame), Gutenberg, William Shakespeare, Ezra Pound, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the Coleridge family.
Others are Doris Lessing, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Norman Mailer, Graham Greene, J. M. Coetzee, Kazuo Ishiguro, Edgar Allan Poe, Jack Kerouac, Chaucer, Alfred A. Knopf, Samuel Beckett, T. S. Eliot, Harry Houdini, Arthur Miller, John Osborne, Peter O'Toole, George Bernard Shaw, Pablo Picasso, George Aiken, George Frideric Handel, Robert De Niro, Napoleon Bonaparte and Emperor Maximilian I.
Finally, let me salute Delta Publications (Nigeria) and its CEO, Dillibe Onyeama for convening this most epochal event. In a land and clime that continues to pay scant regard to the great creative achievements of its people, it is important that some who do know should continue to hold the torch high in the hope that over time the rest of our people would come to be converted. I therefore anticipate even more of such grand offerings from the Delta Book Club and Delta Publications (Nigeria) in the years ahead.
-         Richard Mammah

Monday, 8 January 2018

George Weah's burden

It is the economy and the economy and the economy!

Liberia's newly elected president, George Oppong Weah is still in honeymoon season. The crowds love him, the media celebrates him, but reality is a few inches away - commencing January 22.

As he takes the oath of office that day to become the newest ECOWAS leader, thanks to the outcome of a bruising two-round electoral battle, the ex-football maestro would from that moment inherit the very grave burden that outgoing President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has been trying to paper over for months now; Liberia is broke!

At the moment close to 85 percent of the nation's youth is unemployed. Many of these voted for him and have been part of his very awesome electoral machine over the years that culminated in his 61.5 percent victory in the second round of the presidential elections process on Boxing Day, 2017. How long would they wait? How quickly would Weah deliver?
Underscoring the depth of the crisis is the drama that followed the unveiling of the current 2017/2018 National Budget of Liberia. Shortly after its formal signing, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had convened a special meeting with the Legislature. The reason: they needed to revisit about all of the core parameters contained therein because government is unable to raise the revenue needed to fund the US$563.6 million budget.

In the explanation of the President, the crisis was on account of the decline in global prices of commodities. What she stopped short of saying was that the crisis was in actual fact not a new one as it had been on for a few years and counting! So, she had only prepared a political feel-good budget!

True, there had been a decline in prices of major exports like rubber and iron ore on the world market. And then there had also been the the impact of the Ebola outbreak, but there had also been serious issues of fiscal indiscipline, with Mama Sirleaf 's government being largely unable to reduce recurrent expenditure and boost local agriculture and agro-allied economic activities.

Almost all through the Sirleaf years, there had been a continuous depreciation of the value of the Liberian dollar relative to its American counterpart; falling from LD 62 to US $1 dollar in 2006, to LD 108 to US$1 in 2018, and now LD$126 for US$1.

Compounding this is an accompanying public sector liquidity crisis in which commercial banks are reportedly unwilling to cash government checks or provide credit lines to government contractors. Put at over US$400 million in real terms, this liquidity shortfall is well over two-thirds of the total allocation for the now being revised National budget!

More recently also, President Johnson-Sirleaf has frozen all payments of bonuses, severance allowance, and incentives to members of the Board of Directors, Managing Directors, Deputy Managing Directors, and all other Officials of similar standing, in State-Owned Enterprises (SoEs), Commissions, and Autonomous Agencies of the Government of Liberia.
Equally, she ordered that all expenditures be other than those for salaries and allowances be halted and that invoices for for the daily operations of Government Ministries in the amount US$10,000 and above must be approved by her office.

Indeed, things are really so bad now that government employees are now receiving truncated salaries with government checks bouncing on vendors.

Weah would need therefore to hit the ground running and give life to his so-called "pro-poor government." He has talked of improving the economy through the cultivation and export of cash crops rather than being solely dependent on the export of mineral extractives and rubber but this then has to be practically done in addition to demonstrating greater transparency than was the case in the outgoing ra in the management of the revenues derivable from the extractives and power sectors.

Analysts say that one model that the new president should consider could be neighbouring Ghana that has been able to define the allocation of its petroleum revenues through its Petroleum Revenue Management Act.

Then there are several other challenges. Liberia ranked 179 out of 189 countries in terms of protecting minority investors in the 2017 Ease of Doing Business Index. Access to electricity remains a problem as it takes an average of 465 days and costs 4066.6 percent of income per capita to secure electricity connections today. And capping the restraints is the fact that the country presently boasts zero percent credit bureau coverage and a corresponding non-distribution of credit information on both firms and individuals. Meaning: the much needed capital that is required to drive growth even at the level of SMEs and private business is invariably still too difficult to find at this time when government needs all the help it can get.

Mr Weah, your work is surely cut out for you.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Africa Day Colloquium: The power of unity

Come Thursday, May 25, 2017, The Difference Newspaper will at its annual #AfricaDay Colloquium be hosting a multi-disciplinary panel discussion on the theme: 'One People, One Continent: Making the All-Africa Passport Work.'

The discussion is a follow-through on the Common African Passport Project which was inaugurated at the 27th African Union Summit of Heads of States that was held in Kigali in July, 2016. At that event, the diplomatic version of the passport was issued to African leaders present -including President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Idris Deby of Chad and the then AU Chairperson, Ms. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma - even as the AU secretariat and member states were asked to commence the process of popularising, adopting and domesticating the resolution ahead of the 2020 implementation deadline.

Ahead of the 2020 date, two important timelines are expected to be met by the AU Secretariat and member states in January and July, 2018.

Building on this, the May 25 event, which will be held at the Bankers House, Chartered Institute of Bankers, 19, Adeola Hopewell St, Victoria Island, Lagos, also promises a lot of robust inquisition and exegesis of how best to achieve the goal of a Common African Passport as well as the long-standing subject of growing the African economy further in such a way that it contributes better than the 2 percent it currently brings to the global trade table.

Moderated by the Director of the United Nations Information Centre, UNIC, Lagos, Nigeria, the very versatile and erudite Mr Ronald Kayanja, speakers at the Colloquium include the Head of the Ikoyi Passport Office, Deputy Comptroller of Immigration, Segun Adegoke, the General Manager, Public Policy, Uber West Africa, Jacquelyn Omotalade, the Head, Department of History and International Studies, Babcock University, Dr Abiodun Adesegun and the filmmaker and director, Osezuah Elimihe.

You really cannot afford to miss this very expository session which kicks off at 11.00am.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Understanding Grace

Grace is more than a feeling. It is reality. Hence the psalmist sang:

'Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me....'

Tuesday, 23 February 2016


Stay glued to this page for some fresh developments shortly


Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Buhari in You

Since President Muhammadu Buhari made remarks at his first media chat days ago indicating that he was personally inclined towards a situation where those accused of graft and misdemeanour continue to remain in custody without bail irrespective of what the law says, there has been justifiable umbrage all across the land and beyond with the President being roundly criticised for demonstrating an anti-democratic temper.

For Buhari, the road to democratic correctness has really been a long one. From his first-time out as a military head of state to his Chatham House declaration of now being a reformed democrat, it has clearly not been a piece of cake. But from his remarks during the chat, and particularly as they have to do with this contentious issue of the best methods of fighting the pervasive indiscipline and graft that has contributed its own fair share in the current hobbling of the giant of Afrrica, it is clear that there is still some more way to go.

Without as much as explaining away the president’s gaffe, it however has to be stated that the president in his blunt expressions on this subject was in a sense only being typical of large swathes of Nigerians, military, retired military and civilian alike who very sadly continue to support extra-judicial and a-constitutional paths to resolving disputes and challenges in the society.

Last week for example, your correspondent was returning home at about 7pm and had to pass by a military checkpoint set up as part of measures to contain pipeline vandalism and oil theft in his neighbourhood

On approaching the checkpoint, he met two truckloads of soldiers blocking the roads and two other security operatives on mufti a few metres away. He briefly paused for the road to be cleared but seeing that the soldiers were not in a hurry to go anywhere, he voted to veer of the main road and walk past the space between the standing operatives and the trucks.

‘You, yes you, where are you coming from; don’t you see that there are soldiers here? Don’t you know that somebody can blast your head off now and nothing will happen….’ With or without their superiors knowing it, the soldiers who had been drafted to fight a menace have themselves now become a threat to innocent residents and passers-by. It was indeed some very chilling encounter.

The fault indeed is not in our stars. It is in the way we have ordered our society up until this moment. And it is an aberrant ordering that has to be corrected. As the late Burkinabe resident, Thomas Sankara put it, without political education, a soldier is not better than a criminal. The truth of our situation today is that quite a large number of our military personnel, serving and retired, see nothing wrong with using their tax-payer-funded ‘tactical advantage’ to ride roughshod over ‘idle civilians,’ and many times with the uncritical acquiescence of many civilians themselves!

For years, many Nigerians could be heard to say: ‘what this country needs is a Rawlings; a bloody revolution that will wipe away all looters.’

When you have a traffic dispute with a fellow citizen and pick up your phone to call that military acquaintance of yours to 'come and deal with the bloody fool’ you are indirectly acquiescing to the errant mindset that the President displayed on national television in his inaugural media chat.

So to help Buhari continue to make much needed progress on his democratic conversion experience, we, even we, must continue to make the case without any equivocation at all, that our society must at its base be ordered in a civic, democratic format, where the rule of law must be followed to the latter at all times.

Mercifully, the Presidency has now come out to reportedly distance the President from those limitations.
And while we are at this, it will be good for the President/Presidency to urgently realize that he/they need (s) to openly commit to a programme of reorienting his own military base. And the way to do this is not to rush into providing soft-landing for them when they are accused of extra-judicial conduct. Let the law take its course, always. And let this President always remain a leader ‘for everybody and for nobody.’

Monday, 21 December 2015


Season's greetings to all followers of this blog. We wish you the best also in 2016.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.