On Yinka Shonibare’s Art

sho-at-brighton-festival-2014_21Yinka Shonibare, MBE, The British Library, taken from Turner Contemporary

Yinka Shonibare’s work blurs easy distinctions people make and the categories created between class, race, identity, belonging, and reality. His biggest concern seems to be the complicated historical relationship between the West and the South, and his wide range of work re-present those interactions and influences in ways that conventional analyses miss.

There is a tendency to read Shonibare’s work as essentially postmodern. An interpretation of this nature would go along with Victoria Rovine’s very important note that “forms identified with (African) tradition and those associated with (Western) fashion may interact, blend, and elucidate each other as part of the negotiations by which contemporary identities are declared. Just as Western designers have long drawn inspiration from African forms, so too have African designers been influenced by Western styles, techniques, and materials.”* While this conclusion may not be wrong, the artist himself has no interest in easy conclusions. There is an underlining sarcasm and mockery in his work and personal interviews which, rather than de-confirming notions of originality and authenticity, question the process that created products like the so-called African textile without failing to locate its original identity.

*Rovine, Victoria. “Fashionable Traditions.”

Situating Africa: 2

Through this documentary, “Road to Timbuktu” episode 5, 1999,timbuktu-1

Henry Louis Gates shows the image of an ancient city, Mali, deep in the heart of Eastern Africa that had civilization and organized ways of life long before the advent of Islam through the Arabs, and the Europeans; an image starkly different from Western portrayal of black Africa as a place of darkness inhabited by people of no intellectual ability.

Gates compares the mosque of Jenna which dates back to the 13th century to the cathedral at Notre Dame, and comments that “these discoveries prove that the medieval kingdom of Mali and the great towns of Jenna and Timbuktu grew out of a civilization as old as the Roman Empire.”

In Mopti, Gates discovered slavery and in Dogan, male and female circumcision: “Like the slavery I found in Mopti, female circumcision is a custom whose barbarity no appeal to tradition can ever justify.” Could it be taken that slavery was indeed practiced in pre-colonial Africa and the transatlantic slave trade was a logical next step aided by the might of colonial power? What implications would this inquiry have on our understanding of pre-colonial Africa and colonial strategies of control?

Situating Africa: 1

In “Talking about ‘Tribe’: Moving from Stereotypes to Analysis,” the writer (Chris Lowe) establishes the argument that the persistent use of “tribe” in the Western world – and also other places – to refer to Africa and African people is inaccurate, carries misleading assumptions, and contributes no specific understanding of African events and realities; and to prevent inappropriate policies, the term “tribe” as a construct for characterizing ethnic groups and cultures in Africa should be avoided.

In the real sense, the popular categorization of conflicts and violent events in African societies as “tribal” signify not only intellectual laziness, but also serves the presentation and portrayal of Africa as a land of savagery, of “people fighting senseless wars” as used by Chimamanda Adichie in her 2009 TED speech “The Dangers of a Single Story,” all at once. This generalized illusion makes sweeping claims and pushes catch-all concepts and theories, and the critique of “neopatrimonialism” as a “deux ex machina”, a catch-all concept, by some scholars in the literature of African Studies could be taken as evidence. The point is succinctly made in Page 1 of the Pamphlet: “Offering no useful distinctions, tribe obscures many.” Rather than treat events and peoples distinctly, “the Zulu people were lumped into a single sum, “thus the Zulu “tribe” was composed of several hundred tribes” (Page 6), masking the reality of wide diversity and differences in African societies.

The Communications Professional as an Intellectual

Public-Speaking

The Nigerian PR/Communications space may not look like the place for grand theories and ground-breaking, paradigm-shifting, society-reforming inventions. “This is a serious business and we take pride in our work”, Chude Jideonwo of Red Media Africa declared resoundingly during a training for new hires. Once, I have introduced myself to someone and told them I work in a PR firm. “You mean a PR agency?” was the response I got. I nodded, howbeit lost in an affirmation-disapproval conflict as I wrapped my mind around what a very popular view of PR as agency says about the nature of campaigns – work, really – that Communications professionals engage.
Merriam-Webster defines agency as “an establishment engaged in doing business for another”. Indeed, public relations is about connecting anyone and any organization with a message to their target publics. This basic understanding, however, only serves the interests of those who do not see beyond the image of PR as a middleman, merely servicing the aims and objectives of clients without any original and visionary direction.
In what I consider a strong article titled “How Intellectuals Create a Public”, Corey Robin takes on the thicket of confusion surrounding the notion of the public intellectual, setting out two competing expectations: on the one hand, he’s supposed to be called by some combination of the two vocations Max Weber set out in his lectures in Munich: that of the scholar and that of the statesman, while on the other, he’s supposed to possess a distinct and self-conscious sense of style, calling attention to itself and to the stylist. “Unlike the ordinary journalist or enterprising scholar, she is writing for a reader she hopes to bring into being. She never speaks to the reader as he is; she speaks to the reader as he might be. Her common reader is an uncommon reader”.
While Corey’s public intellectual creates the public for which they write, convinced about the nonexistence of the public, my communications intellectual speaks to the reader as he is, calling existing publics into how they might be. Whatever the medium, the communications professional is always speaking to an audience that is there, as they are – calling them into a new, imagined form. It is in the creative process of connecting the present to the future – commanding public action and reception, creatively inspiring publics to take action – that a communications professional is formed into an intellectual.
Whatever the message that the communications person seeks to pass across, she must understand the value inherent, and be happy to change perceptions and attitudes. The goal may be to promote the waterways as a trustworthy alternative to roads, or get low-income earners in rural communities to pay more attention to diabetes and seek care in support centres, or project what makes a first generation bank special and better. She adequately commands tools and information necessary to implement her brief, envisioning the change she’s creating as she deploys her innovation. Every new project is not just another opportunity to meet end-of-month responsibilities; every new assignment is a chance to renovate the human estate.
The problem is not that Nigerians cannot trust, the problem is that trusty individuals, products, and organizations are scarce. Here – in trust and delivery – lies the charge of the new order of communication professionals.

AUTHOR: Ifeoluwa Adedeji is a Communications Associate at Red Media Africa. He holds a degree in political science from the University of Ibadan.

For Nigeria

I’m thinking about children
who die at birth;
Children who never grow
to become parents.

I’m thinking about children
whose names I will never learn
to pronounce;
children who learn to sing
a dirge at dawn.

I’m thinking about abandoned children;
children whose words are chaste, holy
like a temple, like an altar;
children who do not know why
they see blood on the streets.

I’m thinking about the images
of children that clump my head:
their postures, their laughter,
their bodies buried like wastes
in those wooden coffins.

I’m thinking about children who
die in the bomb blasts; children
who will never pray for this country.

(This beautiful poem was written by my good friend Rasaq Malik Gbolahan- a fine poet and writer. I first came across it here: http://heartjournalonline.com/rasaq/2014/12/30/two-poems-by-rasaq-gbolahan)

Dear Corper

Congratulations. You have taken a giant step, which you’d always be remembered for. I do not mean that the government will remember you- they really never do- but your spirit will bear deep witness; that you rose up for your country at a very dangerous time in her history; that you made people’s votes count; that you were an important part of democratic development and consolidation. You had very many reasons not to participate, but you somehow made a decision, took a risk. Whether that risk is worth it or not is not a paramount consideration in this piece, since any answer given will largely be subjective; indeed, the most objective of any such replies is fatally opinionated. I am very sure that you will know the worth for yourself at the end of the exercise- if you are not killed, of course. And this is the simple truth. I am not trying to be a pessimist or a kill-joy, I am merely telling what previous elections have done to your predecessors. Some of them have died while serving their country. For them, it  was more of ‘on the earth or in the ground’ than ‘under the sun or in the rain’. The greatest harm you can do to yourself is to be deluded so much you do not know this, for knowing is good for prevention. I am well aware that most of you are taking this risk for different reasons. For some, it’s a money affair; for another, it’s the ‘runs’ and deals that they will make on election day; for yet another, what will they rather be doing when their mates are making cash on the field? Only a tiny number will do it because they want to be part of the making of a better Nigeria. The merit of your motive is left for you to evaluate, just like the worth of the risk you’re taking. Whatever motive you (might) have, I say thank you very much for willing to be at the polls. Democracy will be achieved through you, and if it is subverted through you, bravo! You also will have a place in remembrance : your children and family and loved ones will live to experience the consequences of your mess. And you’d be a big fool for sacrificing their future for instant gratification. Within days, that huge money you make will be gone and your customers will never even remember how your face looks like, even if they came to inspect a damaged road in your area that took many lives, and acidentally saw you. Your mistake will hunt you when they do not repair that road and you are in daily fear for the lives of your myopic self, your adorable children, your ‘Darego’ wife and or your special family of orientation.

I am going to tell you some truths and give you some orientation about best behaviour and safety measures. Here’s why: I am a youth corps member like you. I participated in Permanent Voters Card distribution as Distribution Officer 1 for Kofar Yahuza polling unit (Ashige Ward, Lafia LGA) and Assistant Registration Officer  for Ashige Ward, Lafia LGA, both in Nasarawa State. Take note that Ashige ward has twenty five polling units, and yes, I was in charge of computer registration for the twenty five units. It was a damn hectic job but I pulled it off. I wasn’t beaten or anything like that, instead, I was in full charge of my territory. If you consider how petite I look and appear, you’d doubt that I did that. Most of the people I dealt with were illiterates who school was as funny to them as the exact way I pronounced ‘Makaranta’ (Makaranta is Hausa word for school). But they learnt to listen to me and respect my authority. I teach introductory government in the Department of Local Government Studies at Nasarawa State Polytechnic and I teach ND2 students (the rough equivalent of sophomore level in the university). I guess I had good experience already in maintaining decorum and being in charge of my jurisdiction. More than that, I was determined not to be beaten or slapped; it was a test of my education. I had friends who were beaten. I had friends who ‘did runs’. They were all over the place. I participated because I studied Political Science and I felt it was a great opportunity to be on the field, away from the the theory-dominated education I received in the University of Ibadan (Aren’t schools in Nigeria like that? UI was even a bit better). Also, it was a good step in the right direction, since I desire a career in public service. So, everyone has a motive that keeps them going even in the face of hard slaps. I wasn’t prepared to receive no such slap just because I wanted an experience. Maybe I’d have taken it for money (peanuts that were paid?) or ‘runs’. Ludicrous, right?

The first thing you should take with you to the polls is respect. Dig it up and let your mama be proud of you. If you weren’t so privileged, the internet is now everyone’s mama in times of need. Treat your voters as polite as you can. If you’re in a village or not-so-developed area, you can avoid a face-off by sticking to this truth. Treat others as you’d like to be treated.

Next, recognize key people in the queue who are like thought leaders. This is very essential. Try to win them to your side reasonably and they can stick up for you in trouble times. Don’t just look to educated people, some lousy uneducated ones are more powerful thought leaders. I used this strategy to my advantage and it worked very

well. In fact, they enjoyed working with me so much they  came to help the next day. I couldn’t have performed their role: they were the middlemen between my little self who couldn’t speak Hausa  and the people who didn’t understand English.

Next, establish your authority. They will likely want to take advantage of you, since you’re just a ‘common Corper’. Except maybe you’re a macho man. Especially the touts and street guys. What you need to do is to demonstrate without coming off as rude that you’re in charge. Speak out; tell them to be on an orderly queue; let them know they’re the losers if they don’t behave and make things move fast; if they still don’t listen, find a way to silently invite the soldiers. It works every repeated time. Soldiers are their ‘husbands’. Just sighting an approaching soldier is enough to restore sanity to their minds. I said soldier, not police or civil defense or man o’ war.

Next, treat everyone equally, on the basis of where they stand in the queue. From my own experience, there is nothing that makes the common man very mad as the feeling that they’re being cheated because of education or class/status, right in their community. Do it in the government house, not in their ‘lungu’. Do not answer anybody feeling too big they cannot queue up. Direct them to follow the procedure. Let them know, and let the people hear it if possible, that those who have come to queue early are also humans like them. The people sure like it when they see you’re sticking up for them. I was once in that difficult situation when my NYSC Local Government Inspector brought someone from nowhere to my desk for registration. Of course, I delayed him and let him face the people.

If you are unfortunate to be provided with problematic equipments by INEC, do not be cocky about it. The people will get mad and fling insults around. Identify with their frustrations and concerns and let them know you’re also not happy at all; that you’d react just like them if you were in their shoes; that what is happening is not right and therefore not acceptable. You’d do yourself harm by trying to defend INEC or the government. What’s there to even defend? In such a case, like when the finger scanners I was given were problematic, try to confirm that you feel their pains by being nice. Buy them a bag of pure water if you can. I bought different things: pure water, sugar cane, coke, etc.

Last but not the least, be watchful and careful. Even if you know they’re insulting you, do not attack them or dignify their manners or a lack of it with a bad response. Maintain your calm and cool. Know what you’re to do very well and do it excellently. They are thrilled by a show of rich knowledge of your tasks and greatly irked by a meaningless dance around your job. Although you’d find this piece more beneficial if you’re working in a village or rural area with little education, it’s not totally useless for literate settings. Do your job well, come out alive and let Nigeria be proud of you. We’re counting on you. Remember, ‘Nigeria’s ours and Nigeria we serve’.

One Night Stand: A Short Story.

It was 8pm.
The tricycle came to a rather hasty halt. The driver -a young man in his middle thirties- ordered the passengers to come down.

“This is my last bus stop”, he declared with a Thrasonical toast of lordship.
“Last bus stop? It’s still way down”, an old woman at the back seat fired back.
” This is my own last bus st-“.

Before he finished the last word, he was out of the tricycle and vanished into a gathering bush nearby.The old woman motioned in the direction of the driver, whose pose and pee line could be made out faintly with the help of the dying street lamps that laced the whole way up to the entrance of the city. Her face and voice looked late sixty, her physique, however, told tales of a girl tired of youth. She continued toward the peeing driver, pausing intermittently as if sharp moments of fits flashed flashed through her head, riding on the cool night breeze that occasionally distorted the driver’s pee line. She finally reached his back and stopped.

“Dreba, do quick and take me to the last bus stop”, she uttered, touching his back line with her nail less middle finger.
By now, he was done peeing and turned to her with a gentle grin.
“I told you this is my Rehoboth. I’m turning back here”.
“Na wa for you people in this country. Why did I board your vehicle if I’d have to walk, eventually?”

The driver whistled and walked past her- towards his three legged business.

“At least, give me ten naira as change since you’re not taking me to my destination”.
“Mama, your money don complete. You don’t have any change. The distance no far again. For all this back and forth, you would have reached the last bus stop if you had reasoned with your legs”. He turned on the ignition and zoomed off.

She stood for a while – making it into another tricycle that headed for the last bus stop. Almost immediately, another tricycle stopped at the point where the old woman’s did. This time, two people came out.

“Sorry, I didn’t catch your name”, the young man mentioned in a low tone as he tried to catch up with his mistress.
“I didn’t catch yours either, young man”.
“Oh! Bopongo. Thought I mentioned earlier”. He looked at her like his face bore a handshake.

She stopped at a wooden kiosk that overlooked the lonely road. There was a group of dark, tribal marked men enjoying a local dish made of corn and bitter leaf in front of the kiosk- they recognized her instantly and exchanged greetings in their local dialect. She returned their greetings. Bopongo brightened up half of his face with a fake smile and nodded a greeting.

“Do you take cigar?” She asked him.
“Yes, I mean sometimes”.
“Very well. I won’t feel out of place in your company then. You have no idea how some guys make you see how terrible you are”.
“Is that true?”, Bopongo thought to himself as he examined the full project in front of him and the implications of a task of such magnitude. He let out a sigh.  He was certainly in for a long night at the hands of his fair, short stranger whose black hijab hanged loosely around her neck. One would think her a Moslem. Other things certainly fight that thought; like her tight top that struggled, albeit unsuccessfully, to maintain a cover on her cleavages, her extra short and extra tight skirt that gave recognition to her unconventional butt size, and her cigar love too, of course.

“Two packs”, she said to the stout man who stood up among the group of men. Bopongo removed his wallet and paid.
She held his hand and turned into the next street.

It wasn’t the best of days that day. The day started on a rather hot note. The fierce sun that had come to turn a legend worthy of a biopic started so early- something around six o’ clock. It was this legend of sorts that woke Bopongo up. By the time he was on his feet, his back had beautiful, artistic designs; the designer being the mat that provided respite during nights when the heat was ferocious- like the previous night. As he bent to roll up the mat, his phone rang. He dashed inside his room and hissed almost immediately he picked the phone to check who the caller was. He held the device for a while, until it stopped to ring. He reached out for his toothbrush on the trolley, beside the remnant of the fanciful wardrobe he had wasted his money on. So he thought when he came back from a trip, only to meet the giant wardrobe lying on the floor.

Again, his phone rang. This time, he picked up immediately; he said nothing; just kept the phone pressed to his right ear. Finally, he said something.

“Bros, hello.”
Throughout the conversation, his eyes wandered the entire dimension of the small room he so happily cherished, so much he yelled at Ogogo, his privileged, spoilt friend, when he jokingly described the room as a hole. From a frame of his mother hanging loosely on the wall to empty containers labelled ‘salt’ and ‘sugar’ in the middle compartment of a dusty trolley,  his eyes were on repeat. When he finally ended the call, he picked up the empty sugar container, stared at it like a sober child whining about a stick of candy he had just finished, and dropped it back into the trolley. Without a thought, he dashed into the bathroom.

By the time he reached Broad Television, his producer was furious. Sighting him at one corner of the production studio, he doubled his steps.
“I’m sorry, sir. I was–“.
“Save your excuse”, the stout man cut him. He was used to his frequent acts and was not prepared to give him the satisfaction of attention.
” Are you ready to record?”, he asked.
“Yes sir. I woke up late because I prepared late into the night”.
” Persisting bastard!”, the producer thought to himself as he looked at him blankly. He wanted to tell him, one more time, how no media organisation will staff him if he continued like this- but he didn’t want to puncture the morning so early. He walked towards the cameramen, and after some seconds, motioned Bopongo in the direction of the centre stage. Wednesdays were busy days for an intern.

“Sir, I’m back. This is the food; there was no coke but I got a 7up; this is your change too”, he dropped a nylon on Mr Nwokem’s desk. He smiled at him as if he owed him his life and handed the change back to him.
” This is yours”.
Bopongo thanked him. Apart from being the one that helped him secure an internship at the media station, he was the only one whose errands promised reward, good one.
“I’ll give you a call later in the day, sir”.
” No problem”.

It was no surprise that Bopongo and Friends decided to relax in the evening. It was no coincidence, also, that he ended up with Somto.

‘So, tell me, how many girls that you met in a tricycle have you followed home like this?’, Somto’s voice crept out of the bathroom weakly. She was the madam of a leisure crib. Bopongo wasn’t very comfortable, and it was obvious in the way he observed the whole room with keen attention.

‘None. You’re the first and probably last’, he responded.
‘Hmm… Why are you here? What do you want?’, she fired again.

How does one even start to answer a question like this? Bopongo couldn’t imagine. For one, Somoto was the seducer. He was on his own, after downing three bottles of Beer, inside a tricycle he joined in front of the bank where he went to withdraw money to pay off bills at the bar he and his friends patronized. The seducer came in along the way, offered him fruits and asked him a few questions. As if that was not enough, she removed her cover and the sight of her cleavage screamed for attention. When a lady does these things, the menfolk think it a clue, a green light, a passageway. He merely followed the clue and it got him where he was. But how do you tell your prey you had no prior intention to kill it, but it somehow showed up at a very unfortunate time when you were hungry and angry?

‘I guess I liked you immediately I saw you and something told me there’s more’. The smart boy answer.

‘Join me in the shower’, she said. Shower? Lucky boy. He pulled everything off and stepped inside the bathroom.

‘So, who am I to you? I saw the number of guys who called you on our way back’, Bopongo asked calmly.
‘You’re my tonight guy and I’m going to rock you all night long’.

When he got out, his head was filled with thoughts. Tonight guy? There’s a guy for every night? Is she a witch? Will she eat me up or sacrifice me at 1am in the midnight? What if she has HIV? Shouldn’t I run?

It would have been a perfect ending after a long day and chilled booze. But this is a mystery girl. The country is already bad enough. At a point in a man’s life, he has to make a choice, embrace risk. So, he thought. ‘I’d go a round, lure her to follow me to a bar to buy a drink for the all-night task, and find a way to run away’.
He had made a choice; he was going to eat his cake and still keep it.

She brought out the cigarettes and match box and switched on her stereo. Hozier’s words filled the smoky atmosphere: ‘I’ll fall in love a little oh little bit everyday with someone new….’

Jona and the Northern Nightmare

For some Nigerians, especially those from the (yet?) ‘untouched’ Western and Eastern parts, the kidnap of more than two hundred school girls from Chibok, a small community in Borno State, is the wake-up call to a spiritedly driven group that shows no sign of disappearing anytime soon, and a leadership that desires no committed part in the ‘mass-destruction struggle’- a wasteful interest to be minded by government, they probably think, in the face of supreme agendas beyond 2014. Many thanks to the increasingly active segment of civil society greatly aided by the Twitter platform.
The Chibok happening is no less confronting and touching as the several other impunities that ‘Nigeria’ has stopped talking about, waiting only to be blown out by a curious search of the internet data on Nigeria. The ‘enemy of the people’- so the people think, and truly, partly so- that needs no elegant introduction is the Boko Haram sect: the nightmare of the North (I would have reckoned ‘Nigeria’ instead, except that using ‘North’ as a matter-of-factness brings out the folly of those in other parts of the country who are yet to see the national factor in the situation). Only recently did Nigeria become the giant of African economy (on paper). While Minister Okonjo Iweala spoke, and other government officials smiled in all directions, ‘time’ laughed hysterically and ran off to hide somewhere around the Northern populace. The bombing of Nyanya Park in Abuja was a terrible aftermath. Lives were lost, properties were destroyed. One question comes to mind here: How many people actually died? Was it only a single ethnic group that suffered? Was it only Christianity or only Islam? Very clearly, it couldn’t have been designed as a sentimentally targeted attack. That same day, while the country grieved, President Goodluck Jonathan danced. It wasn’t a sufficiently credible reason to halt any activity of government.
“After all, these lives get lost, and our people do not seem very disturbed. What havoc can it, another one of what they are used to, wreck?”
We tweeted like we used to. We said all sorts like we used to. Gradually, we moved into other businesses as the days rolled by. The present business of the day started about one month ago. Boko Haram had abducted girls from Chibok in Borno! Where are our girls? Even if we find out where they are, how many girls are we looking for? The Military responded: “Hundred girls”. Now, the search begins. Again, they cried out: “We have recovered them”. Everyone cannot be fooled; we got to know the truth: the number the military stated was not even up to half of the real number abducted and they recovered no one. The only girls that escaped did it themselves- even in the face of instant death, were they caught. Shall we then share their praise with an opportunistic military? Were their lies and deception intended to relieve the concerned parents of initial shock? One month gone and no sign of our girls. The concerned parents organized themselves and attempted to search for their girls, the same thing we do in all parts of the country whenever we realize that the government will either not do it or will waste time. We tar our neighbourhood roads, we fix our community security challenges, we build our own schools and hospitals where we can be sure to have the best facilities for our people. Aren’t we, the people, government in our own right? They revealed that their girls and others are held in Boko Haram’s Sambisa Forest Camp. What next?
For one thing, the paramount role of the ‘international’ cannot be overlooked in this situation. The increasing intervention of several foreign media agencies and celebrities, running commentaries and write-ups and posing with the #BringBackOurGirls poster; pledges of military assistance; the link that binds the local insurgent groups with other groups outside the confines of the country. There is no gain without pain. For the assistance rendered, we should not forget that a price will be paid. But we should not care too much about external interference in our matters- have we ever been free from it since independence?
Perhaps, the greatest danger that we need to bother about is the allegiance of the presidency. It is now common to hear that the president is incompetent, visionless and weak. One reason for this could be the 2015 elections- in which case he should think he is deploying political wisdom. There are two options for Mr. President. The first is for him to put aside his second term ambitions and focus on the job of securing Nigeria from every threat. The second- and obvious- is for him to do the reverse of the first. It will be time-wasting for Nigerians to think that not having Jonathan as president in 2015 will solve the Boko Haram problem. Our concern should be to fight Boko Haram- 2015 or no 2015. And who knows, Jonathan may laugh last if he follows the first option above with all sincerity.