Thursday, April 20, 2017

I Am A Writer

All 25 Amplify Fellows
Photo: aKoma
So after six months as an Amplify fellow, I can finally call myself a writer with conviction. I can claim the profession not because I wrote fiction prior to the fellowship or that I published regularly on my blog and wrote opinion pieces for other online media outlets, but because in the past six months I was in the midst of other writers who, unbeknownst to them, validated my aspirations. In this community of twenty-five creatives hailing from Nigeria, Rwanda and Kenya, I felt safe and in communion with other exploratory souls forging their path in the amorphous world of writing, photography and videography.

I speak of validation and aspirations because three years ago, after the company I worked for went under—thanks to the steep plunge in global oil prices—I made a conscious decision to take a year off from corporate life to indulge a latent desire. With fervour, I sank my teeth into the Journalism and Newswriting course I had enrolled in three months prior, began drafting a business plan for an online media platform, became a contributor for a local radio station, started writing my debut novel and continued blogging. Read more here.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

All Hail King Mediocre

Photo: Shayera Dark
Mediocrity is worshipped in Nigeria, where it is rife and readily accepted. So pervasive its stench and so strong its wave that no corner of society—from government offices to corporate teams to classrooms—has been spared. The bar of excellence has been set so low that it doesn’t take much to be considered a genius.

Nigeria, with a population of 170 million minds, could become a great nation if it terminated its destructive affair with the soft bigotry of low expectations, the mental stance driving its citizens to eschew hard work and/or accept dismal performances. 

There’s no reason, for instance, why Nollywood is still producing sub-par movies despite its twenty-plus years of existence. Nigerian movies ought to be competing with Hollywood, if not in special effects and epic sets then at least in compelling storylines. But because the audience expects little from Nigerian producers, directors and actors—and hence, makes no demands, trashy Nollywood movies continue to thrive, obviating the quest for excellence. What’s the point of striving for perfection when someone’s willing to reward a shitty job well done? Read more here.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Liberals Behaving Badly: Views on Gender

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Photo: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
/Facebook
Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stirred the hornet’s nest in a recent interview by opining that transwomen are transwomen because their experiences are dissimilar from women’s and having been male have benefitted from privileges that individuals born female aren’t accorded. As expected, in an age where exaggerated moral outrage is encouraged, groupthink (more like zombiethink) is worshipped and dissent severely rebuked, Adichie received a lot of flak for daring to express an individual thought, one that isn’t sanctioned by the liberal left.

For her trouble, she was called transphobic, instructed to check her privilege and told not to speak for transwomen even though she’d been asked a question about womanhood.

So intense were the criticisms that she had to clarify her remarks on her Facebook page. In it, she wrote that while transwomen may have experienced difficulties as boys, it couldn’t be said that those difficulties are similar to the kind girls underwent, which normally entailed learning to shrink themselves, accommodate men’s fragile egos and view their bodies as a sinful vessel. Read more here.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Lesson in Socratic Questioning

No one wants to be roped by social mores, certainly not girls.
Photo: Creative Commons
Quality education and inspiring teachers are two important ingredients Nigeria sorely lacks, so when one stumble upon either, it's as refreshing as a drink of water after a long afternoon trek.

Recently, I interviewed a teacher, Itodo Samuel Anthony, whose Facebook posts on gender equality garnered over 100 shares and likes. In it, he questions his male students' assumptions, one they'd absorbed from society no doubt, that paying the bride price gives men the right to control their wives. He also involves his female students in the debate, asking if they'd like to be controlled by boys. Of course they reply, with the exception of one girl, in the negative.

Interestingly, the exercise proves most people don't want to be subjugated and girls and women can hold patriarchal views.

If more teachers, like Anthony, critiqued faulty opinions that have been hardened by customs and religion and passed off as facts of life, there's little reason why our society wouldn't fare a lot better.

You can read my interview with Anthony here.

      

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Telling History Through Art: Where Are the Female Nationalists?

The National Theatre
Photo: Shayera Dark
The National Theatre in Lagos is one of the most recognisable edifices in the city’s skyline. Built in 1976 for the Festival of Arts and Culture, the bowl-shaped structure was a symbol of national pride and Nigeria’s creative prowess.

Today, the National Theatre is a throwback to past glories and unfulfilled dreams, an emblem of the things Nigeria once strove for before losing interest in the game of innovation and excellence. Like the fate of most government buildings—pretty until neglected, the theatre is no different. Its faded, rain-stained walls and patchy, tired lawns are in need of some tender, loving care. Even the road leading to the theatre’s main gate is marred by potholes, a harbinger perhaps of what one was to expect on arrival. Read more here.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Touring Rwanda in 24 Hours

King's traditional palace, Butare
Photo: Shayera Dark
The East African country of Rwanda truly lives up to its ‘Land of a thousand hills’ nickname. Enveloping Kigali, the nation’s capital, and beyond, are verdant, terraced hills standing, in juxtaposition with clear, blue skies, as proof of nature’s ethereal beauty. The general rule that nature invariably yields to human settlement and urban development doesn’t seem to hold true in Rwanda. On the hills and between them, concrete and nature co-exist like commensals with no apparent sign of a struggle.

One striking characteristic of Kigali is its spotless streets and roads. Public bins are present on street corners, and thanks to the 2008 ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags, gutters flow unobstructed. What’s more, the mandatory sanitation exercise, Umuganda, on the last Saturday of every month, has no doubt helped Kigali claim its spot as Africa’s cleanest city.   

Another distinguishing feature of the city is the absence of mammoth traffic jams common in large cities across Africa, making touring the city in a taxi or on one of the ubiquitous motorbikes a breeze.

As a relatively small country, Rwanda’s areas of interest are in close proximity to each other. So if you have less than 24 hours on your hands, why not take advantage and visit these places. Read more here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Teju Cole's Every Day is for the Thief Resonates 10 Years On

Photo: Shayera Dark
“The window was one of many, the town was one. It was the only one, the one I left behind,” reads the epigraph in Teju Cole’s debut novel Every Day is for the Thief. Written like a travel diary, the story pieces together the unnamed narrator’s perception of Lagos after a long absence. A major character in the book, the city’s idiosyncratic traits are critiqued—and by extension those of Nigeria, too.

The novel opens in the Nigerian Consulate in New York, where the Nigerian-American narrator is applying for a passport. There, he quickly discovers that without the ‘expedition fee’ of fifty-five dollars passport processing takes four weeks instead of one as stated on the website. With his trip to Nigeria three weeks away, the narrator grudgingly pays the extra fee, a bribe, on the advice of another applicant.

Like Lagos, the consulate is a microcosm of Nigeria, a country notorious for corruption. And by registering the venality of consulate staff and the reluctant, if not, casual acceptance of graft by applicants, Cole captures the normalisation of corruption by the Nigerian psyche, even on foreign soil where it is uncommon and subtle. As the narrator observes on his arrival to Lagos: “For many Nigerians, the giving and receiving of bribes, tips, extortion money or alms—the categories are fluid—is not thought of in moral terms. It is seen either as a mild irritant or as an opportunity. It is a way of getting things done, neither more or less than what money is there for.” Read more here.