YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE THAT STIGMA IN YOU!

By Stanley Chijioke Osi

Guest Writer Session with Stanley Chijioke Osi

Issue #24


“Bad governance and corruption lie side by side each other like siblings in the process of incest.”

In this review article, the guest author interrogates what it signifies to be a Nigerian.


The twenty-sixth of February, 2019. A relatively calm and rainy day, I was at a friend’s place with his family. It seemed like a family meeting of some sort, only that the television was the convener and with the election results on screen, smiling with false intentions and smelly lies, I could have sworn that being born a Nigerian was either the greatest test from God to me, or a mistake made from heaven which I should try by all possible means to correct.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Nigeria; it is my home, it gave me my last name, and I cannot hate that. It is home to millions of black, young, smart people trying to do what is right. Alongside that, it is home to the sounds of the great Fela’s afrobeat records, the beautiful voice of Tuface Idibia and interesting Pete Edochie and Ramsey Noah’s flicks. Not forgetting that, perhaps, the most beautiful women on the surface of Africa come from Nigeria (I won’t deny this). But the idea of a continuation of an administration that led the previous four years to a place of little or no hope for its future, and its people, got under my skin so bad that I could barely eat without the fear of this environment being the cut throat that will possibly assassinate dreams of the life I envisaged for myself and my kind.

The present era would go down as one of the most defining one for the young average Nigerian. Of course, the older generation have tons of stories about this green and white nation, but it would be pathetic if we read memoirs in the future without a whole tome dedicated to the realities of this period, the harsh weather of Buharinomics with its VAT et al., the soft treatment of Boko Haram, the near murder of the naira, underground corruption, the influence and flow of tribalism and partisanship, and most remarkable being the growing cynicism of Nigerians.

Half the time in Nigeria, government policies and resolutions are great metaphors of social class distinction. It affects who it will, and the other, subaltern classes are OK with it; it changes nothing on their plate. Bad governance and corruption lie side by side each other like siblings in the process of incest. Of course, the average Nigerian isn’t left out of this feast; they also drink from the same wine cup as that of the government. The only difference is that the government drinks from the people while the people feed on themselves.

‘There is no bravery in stomaching oppression.’

Nigeria will probably go down the drain as a nation that failed to live up to its fullest possibility. It strikes me as a heavy joke seeing Nigerians growing in a web of celebrated ignorance disguised with the use of good English and Utopian follies clothed with philosophy. This, you usually find amongst the so-called enlightened Nigerian — clerics, motivational speakers, educators and celebrities, who stay in their comfortable abode with their fingers on various social media platforms, selling bundles of fake dreams and fool’s gold of an ideal Nigerian Dream with no correlation to the realities we see in the streets of Nigeria. Their brand of enlightenment lies in the ideologies and civil propaganda developed in Western climes, and it poses the question of whose interest really matters in the society: the average, proletariat Nigerian or its elitist clan.

People suffer a lot in Nigeria! Poverty is an operative weapon used by the elites to cloud the judgment of the class beneath them. As ugly as it may sound, the Nigerian system is not designed to kick you out of poverty. No! It is meant to keep you there and make you comfortable and happy with it, furnishing you with the impression that you are doing what is morally correct. The average Nigerian is plagued with mental poverty. This mental poverty is what births the denial which has become the cornerstone of their identity. This denial is why you seek comfort in beds of trivialities which provide temporary joy and comfort, but still not an escape from reality. This denial builds walls of negativity in your mind which you may never get to understand.

Of course we’ll love a move to places of greener pastures, secure, better lives and beat out the Nigerian system, but it will be ugly if we fail to understand that identity is like a stigma, and no matter where the legs run to, the stigma is still in you. One cannot be faulted if one is hopeless. The country has failed to live up to its prospect; however, hopelessness should never bring about outright condemnation. An exercise to beat the country generally would be throwing away the baby with the toxic bathwater. Truthfully, it is its leaders and not so much the country that must be flagellated. So, I will be sincere with myself in confessing my hatred of the state of Nigeria and what this current administration has reduced it to, but placing myself to hate the idea of Nigeria and what it represents is akin to hating what I am.

On the path to correction, there lies a need for the awakening of the Nigerian consciousness. This is a path to amendment and adjustment, a typical understanding of humanity and the obligation to understand that Nigeria has no choice but to live up to what it ought to be.

Frankly, I don’t believe democracy should be a major subject or agenda in Nigeria. In terms of information, yes, but on the path to conscious and critical thinking, herd mentality is a major enemy in this part of the world. What is the glory of democracy when the mind is not democratic to knowing what is, and what should be important? The average Nigerian as I said earlier suffers from mental poverty, and in connection with this, a stoic case of herd mentality. People want to follow and not think for themselves, and this poses an important question on the status of our democracy — how free can one get when they cannot think for themselves?

The world is a fast moving ball. The process of learning is unending. Growth and development are what comes with being alive, as a person and as a nation-state. It would only be tongue in cheek if I affirm that Nigeria is moving slowly or is stagnant. In all honesty, the country is moving backward, depriving itself of how great it should be. To the average struggling Nigerian, there exists a pinnacle of hope: a frontline of skills, talent and ambition. We have the blessings of our continental race in our blood. We are strong and totally resilient in the face of frustration, and we yield the will to be greater than where we come from. And through these visions lie a beautiful idea, and ideas change lives for the better, and the better our lives are, the better our nation; but till then, the truth remains…you will always have that stigma in you!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stanley Chijioke Osi: thinker, optimist, writer, critic and human. A graduate of the Department of English, University of Lagos, he is a lover of life and an ever-growing human who is keen on developing himself, alongside solving basic human and individual problems through generation of ideas that will serve as solutions to certain issues in the long run.

WHEN A MAN FINDS A SHELL

Young man walks lazily, kicking the soft sand underneath his bare foot. The morning fog lies thick overhead. He looks up with dreary eyes. The fog is beautiful, but he feels it is hindering his sight. He kicks the sand and is quickly attracted to a green stick on the sand. He peers below at the sight. It is beautiful wood, he reasons. The wood moves. It is a green snake. He wonders how, why a snake would, could curl up itself and pretend it is wood. Or was it the fog? It has to be the fog. He walks faster towards the denser part of the road. The street is dusty and empty, devoid of human life. He doesn’t remember coming out of his room to this place. He only remembers being on this road. He remembers the fog. What fog? The wood, which turned into a snake. What snake was it again? A cobra? No, this wood snake was smaller, less lethal, at least from the angle it lay from his eyes. An asp? No, this snake was too big. Maybe a serpent. Should he have picked it to check its snakiness? Had he really, truly seen a snake now? He looks up again. It is still foggy and dense. Yes, he had seen a fog. This curtain over the face of the earth. He looks down again. Or he has his eyes brought down by a force he cannot control. He sees another wood. He quickens his pace, kicking more dust.
“How many men did you kill?” a voice comes from his head. His head?
“Two,” he replies. He is made to reply by that preternatural force. He lets this force take over. He would deny everything. Everything!
“How?”
“How?”
“Yes. How did you kill them?”
“I killed no one.”
“You just said you did.”
“When?”
“A moment ago. You said you had killed two men.”
“Well, I wasn’t in control of my speech then. I, my mouth, this mouth,” he drew a lean finger vertically across thin lips, “seem to have been controlled by a force I can’t handle.”
“Well, if you want to leave here in one piece, you might need to come out straighter with me.”
“Me?’
“Yes.”
“I killed no one. I only threw two harmless punches and used a knife.” He feels his hands rise and shadow punch, then make a cutting move back and forth with an imaginary blade. He forces them down. They don’t budge.
“You’re a pugilist, aren’t you?”
“What is that?”
“You know, a boxer, a puncher.”
“Well…” young man drifts off. He feels tired now.
“Help us to help you.”
“I can’t be helped. But I want a favour. Whoever you are. Can you help?”
“I am here to help you. Go on.”
“Teach me how to cry when I die.”
“I’m here to prevent that.”
“Then you can’t be of help. You’re just like everyone else. Leave.”
Leave? He was on a lonely road. To where was this man to go? The other side of the road? Perhaps, towards the fog?
“You’re hypnotic. It prepares you for the journey ahead, Kinte.” The voice returns.
“Wh—I thought I asked you to leave?”
“You’re in your head, Kinte.”
In your head. Kinte. The name sounds familiar. Kinte.
“You need to leave now!”
“You’re dying today, Kinte. You need to speak to me. I’m your lawyer, Kinte.”

The air is hazy, but not with fog now. Dust. Two men grab each other by the shoulder, their muscles rippling with the violent beats of the war drums. The name resounds in the air, across the Kama Jendo. Kinte. The name rebounds across the dusty earth and into his arms, empowering his sinewy muscles. The other man has no name. Kinte smiles to himself. The man has no name.

“Kinte! Throw him!”
“Destroy him, Kinte.”
The hundredth eye in the ancestral face of the masked spirits. The legs that carry the nocturnal spirits to their safe abode before the morning comes and they disappear to come again another night. The god eye. The…

The voices fade down.
“Who am I?” he asks the man he cannot see.
“A man with no name, at least from tonight.”
“What time is it?”
“I am not allowed to tell you that. I’m sorry, Kinte.”
“You call me Kinte, yet you say I have no name.”
“You have no name, Kinte.”
“Leave!”
The young man feels the under of his feet sting. Has he been running? He couldn’t have been. He traces his way back where he came, taking care to avoiding the wood snake. I be, and yet I don’t. I live and yet I die?
He sees a person on the other side of the road carrying a pot. The fog. He can’t tell who it is. Is it a man or a woman? It is certainly a man. A woman wouldn’t walk around this time with nothing over her chest. His legs take him towards this strange person. He turns them around in one swing. She screams. It’s a woman. He closes his eyes, but they don’t shut. He looks defiantly at her breasts, firm and solid.
“Who are you?” she asks.
“I need an answer to that myself. I don’t know who I am or why I am here outside. Or why I am with you. I need to know my name.”
“You have no name.”
“What?”
“You have no name, Kinte. You lost your name after you unmasked the governor.”
“What governor?”
“You haven’t heard?”
“Heard what?”
“You haven’t heard the news of how you took off the mask from the face of the governor?”
“No. I haven’t.”
She starts to walk.
“Tell me my name, Mulami.”
“Oh now you remember my name. You only now remember my name after you stripped the cloth off my breast.”
“They say I die today.”
“Yes.”
“It means nothing to you?”
“Not anymore, Kinte,” she says and hurries her feet into the fog.

Kinte feels the blood surge up his manhood as he falls the unknown man. He covers his erection with a hand and strikes a pose over his vanquished, one leg balanced on the other man’s chest. He awaits the Jendo’s arrival to the palace courtyard to give him his reward: the head of Ojuwa’s first kill, a lion, and the princess, Mulami. He glows with satisfaction. His erection relaxes and he lifts both hands up. The ground vibrates with the sound of a thousand spectators cheering his victory. No, it is for the Jendo, not he. The Jendo arrives with the large skull. The deity Ojuwa, chief guard of Jendo Nowu, first Jendo of Beree, had killed the lion with his bare hands. But he returned a different man. He returned a dead man, the bloody head of the lion tied to a string on his trousers, the fatal wound from the dying lion lodged in his chest. Kinte salutes the Jendo as he retrieves the head. But the Jendo does not have his bride, the beautiful Mulami. He reads the unspoken news in the Jendo’s eyes. The district commissioner, the leprous Hades Wilson, has taken his bride.

“Their queen wants the head of Kinte,” the voice returns.
“What queen? Ajebi, queen mother? Wife of Jendo? Mother of Mulami?”
“You remember them now, don’t you?”
“Who?”
“You just mentioned names now. It seems your trance is clearing.”
Kinte looks up. The fog still lies heavy and cloudy up the road. No, the fog hasn’t cleared yet.
“It hasn’t cleared yet.”
“Pardon?”
“The fog. It is not yet gone. Look.” He makes to move forward, tilting the unseen head of the man in his thoughts towards the foggy road. “The fog, still there.”
“I wasn’t referring to the fog. I was referring to your trance, Kinte. This phase you’re in, this moment. I understand how it is to be on the verge of death at the height of your life. I have witnessed many like yours, but yours, yours is quite peculiar. There was a young teenager some years ago who asked to eat a most distasteful thing before he was hanged.”
“Remember the favour I asked of you?”
“Yes, Kinte, and I declined. Now, about that young boy. He asked to eat shit. And listen to this, for it would go a long way in letting you know who you are dealing with here. These Brits are mean suckers. They declined to give him shit to eat. Not because they couldn’t let him have it all spiced and flavoured with Arabian lavender. Oh no, they refused him his strange request because he could die from the meal. They needed him to die their own way, in their hands.”
“The fog, Murphy. The fog…”
“You just called my name. You know me, then?”
“Of course. You represent the legal interests of the Jendo. He asked you to save me through this?’
“Yes, he did. Your king wants your release, but he can’t press the governor so much. Politics, you know.”
“The fog, it’s clearing.”
“There’s no fog, Kinte. You’re imagining things.”
“Leave!”
“I will, when the fog clears.”
“You now see the fog!?”
“Oh yes. I do. It’s beautiful, Kinte.”
“I’m glad that you see it now. You can stay. Tell me about the Jendo.”
Kinte kicks up sand. He fetches a buried white shell, specks of smooth sand lining its shallow ridges. He blows off the sand. Everything makes no sense. He should not be out here seeing wood snakes, shells, hearing voices and seeing Mulami with her royal breasts bare. But the fog. He walks faster. Perhaps, the fog is less dense in the farther distance. He increases his pace, kicking up more sand. No shells are exhumed. He is disappointed. He looks back. He has walked a long distance. He looks forward again. The fog stays as dense as it was a while ago. What changed? He stomps his foot on the ground in rage. He bites the shell. It cracks and he spits out white hardness. Kinte keeps walking into the fog. Maybe it would clear if he gets to the end of the road, and so he keeps walking.
“The Jendo?” the voice returns.
“Yes,” Kinte replies.
“I don’t know who the Jendo is.”
“The king, my king, your royal employer, Murphy.”
“What happened to your breath?”
“I just woke up.”
“It stinks.”
“It happens to everyone else. Maybe except you white people. We in Beree don’t wake up with cleansing sticks in our mouths. You delayed my mouth cleansing with your coming.”
“What happened to your front tooth?”
“What’s with the questions, Murphy?”
“It’s broken.”
“I bit a shell in anger.”
“A shell? What’s that?”
“I really don’t know. We pick it up from the banks of rivers. They flow away from the waters to us. They are believed to be blessings from the water gods of Beree, and whoever finds them finds a purpose.”
“You found one?”
“A shell or a purpose?”
“Well, a shell.”
“Yes, I just said I bit one.”
“You found purpose?”
“I believe it should give me one…in time.”

Kinte’s eyes shine in the darkness. He looks down at his hands. The prize is in his hands now. At last, he has fulfilled his longing. It is warm and slippery. The night is particularly dark tonight, as black as death. He transfers the object to the other hand. It feels good. A white heart. He looks at it but sees nothing. He decides waiting would be dangerous, risky because he knows what he has done, and he knows it would cost him his life. But what is life when your honour has been taken…by a leprous-white stranger? Kinte walks into the blackness. His next line of action is clear. He remembers. The fog.

“Why are you here?” Murphy asks.
“Awaiting my execution,” replies Kinte.
“That’s a fire! It burns bright.”
“I see no fire. It only exists, burns in your thoughts.”
“Then I see no fire, then.”
“Maybe you should bite a shell, too, Murphy.”
“Maybe.”
“You can’t bite mine. I bit it. My mouth stinks. You said so.”
“I did? I said so? That your mouth stinks? That’s a most impolite thing to say to a man!”
“Well, you were right. I am yet to chew the cleansing stick this morning.”
“How do you know it is morning?”
“The fog, Murphy. It clears! I have to go.”
“Go where?”
“Well, anywhere.”
“A favour, please?”
“Anything for you, Murphy.”
“Teach me how to cry when I die.”
“How do you mean? You are not dying, Murphy. I am the one dying.”
“Well…”
“You’d find purpose with the clearing of the fog, Murphy. Chase it.”
The young man walks further into the morning fog. In the distance the fog gives way to the sign of a rising sun.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

By Ololade Anthonio

Guest Writer Session with Ololade Anthonio

Issue #23


As a seeming rejoinder to Simisola Sowole’s “In Prayerful Death,” today’s guest writer testifies to the subtle faults of absolute faith; employing wit in teaching that religion, in its totality, fails to deliver us from evil…


My blurry eyes opened to a colossal space. My head was fuzzy and my body remained still as I tried to stretch. I realised I was gagged and bound by the ankles and wrists with two other girls. There were vertically-lined long pews on each side of the hall before us, big frames of Jesus Christ on each walls. There also was the inscription CHRIST THE SAVIOUR MIRACLES MINISTRIES plastered like a rainbow at the uppermost end of the altar far away from the orange and yellow draping; blue, red and white candles and flowery decorations around the pulpit. On the left, there stood a high cubicle with long benches facing the audience and farther away from the bench was a drum set and several musical instruments. The space was well lit with big beautiful chandeliers hanging on each angles. Big air-conditioners stood majestically at every corner blasting cool air. Around the flower vases and on the lush orange rug we sat huddled together on the high altar.

*
I woke up slowly to a lanky man beside me in an unrecognisable room. The bed was dishevelled from the amorous activity the previous night. I pressed my temple as a headache thrummed heavily. I had left the house in anger after I ended a heated argument with my mother for the umpteenth time about the marijuana she found under my pillow. I remembered storming out and dialling my dealer friend for a hangout. I also remembered nodding to the cool music of the club we went afterwards. I was too high I couldn’t remember following this man to this place. Call it experience, but I knew this was a hotel room and not his house. The unknown man stretched and jerked me from my thoughts. I tiptoed to the bathroom, cleaned myself up, dressed up and left the hotel.
I got home to an unusually quiet house. Mother sat on the chair reading the Bible, her legs crossed and shaking gently. Considering that I left the house about twenty-four hours ago, my typical African mother would be screaming her lungs out narrating how she did not kill her own mother like I planned to kill her. But, no, my mother welcomed me like I stepped out right from the bathroom.
“Your food is on the table. Freshen up quickly before it gets too cold.” It was hard to decipher her grimaced face. She looked like she had given up on me, like she knew her reproaches and physical attacks had no effect on me anymore. It had harnessed my heart for her future objurgation instead.
I closed my eyes tightly and shook my head in disbelief. I pinched myself hard to ascertain if I was dreaming or not. I looked at the dining table and saw my food neatly placed on the table and covered with a fine lacy napkin. Beside it was a jug of fruit juice and a bottled water.
“I’m sorry, mum,” I said as I sauntered into my room, took my bath and got out to devour the food.
The meal was my favourite: Jollof rice, turkey and plantain. My eyes strayed to where she sat. I looked at her as she glanced leisurely at the Bible from under the rim of her glasses. She looked quite older. The skin along her jaw was wrinkly, the scarf on head was too small for her full hair, and she had more grey hair than I imagined. She deserved more love from me. It had always been just the two of us after daddy died, and the love we shared overflowed with a pint of blemish we both tried hard to ignore had kept growing with time. The food seemed to be a truce, and so I dug in, accepting my part of the deal.
My head spun as I ate the food, probably from the alcohol I had the previous night. My eyesight became blurry as I shovelled the food in my mouth defiantly. Few minutes after, I closed my eyes, dropped my spoon and rested my head on the table as I quietly allowed nature take charge.

*
One thing was common among us: we were adolescents. On my right was a frail girl so fair her continual tears made her face red. She wore an alter neck blouse and a micro-mini skirt, the blouse torn by the arm hole down to her waist revealing her pink bra against a pale swell. The shredded towel she was gagged with was soaked and her wrists pulled tightly and looked really sore. She continued to cry silently, saying incoherent words to herself. The second girl on the other hand was silent, her eyes transfixed as if lost in thought. She dressed a bit different from the first girl: quite decent, black Adidas tracksuit and a pair of black shoe. Her hair was pulled back with a wide band and packed tightly in a ponytail, like a sports person. She looked like she was nabbed while jogging. She looked slightly at the girl crying beside her, bent her head and closed her eyes in some sort of meditation. My back hurt from sitting in the same position for a long time. I stretched my back a bit and tried to lie on the floor. It took a little struggle and few groans for me to lie comfortably. The girls saw this and tried to imitate me.

We heard footsteps of people entering the church and in haste we went back to our sitting positions. A man walked slightly ahead of the others. The pride in his stance and the steps he took identified him as the pastor. I thought I was dreaming when I saw my mother among them. Two other women were in the group, presumably the girls’ mothers.
“Hehe…here they are. The Lord will deliver them through me today,” the pastor said laughing. He had a particular hoarseness in his voice. He was slightly obese and had a large leonine head which he nodded so many times while talking.
“Bring them out here!” he ordered two men in the group. “The spirit of fornication, the spirit of smoking, the spirit of waywardness, the spirit of disobedience must be casted out!” I looked at my mother kneeling and praying silently, and anger swelled within me. I looked angrily at the pastor and started struggling to free myself and shouting incoherently to be freed. “Hehe…the evil spirit has eaten deep in this one.” he pointed at me. Hearing this, my mother started praying hard.
“We’re going to bind and cast the evil spirit Satan has injected in them and glorify the living Jesus at the end!”
“Yes!” everyone chorused.
“Bring me my holy water and holy whip. You see, evil spirits can be stubborn. They are destructive forces that take over their victims, manipulating them into what Satan wants, but we will not give them a chance. Enough is enough!” His body shook like jelly as he spoke, his hands moving simultaneously on our heads. He kept moving from one girl to the other, shaking our heads violently and almost snapping it from our necks like the evil he was talking about were our heads. The holy water was in a keg and in our presence it was poured in a bowl, but the water was the least of my worries. I was shocked when they brought the whip forward. It was a military horse whip, those five tailed whips made from animal skin that were used on slaves. The two girls also shook in horror as they saw it. We began to wail.
We watched with intense fear as the pastor dipped the whip in the bowl of water, danced a few times while speaking in tongues.
“Now we will pray hard for these girls as I deliver them from these evils because the Bible says the eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms: and He shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them! I destroy every evil spirit in your life. Every spirit of fornication, every spirit of smoking, every spirit of waywardness shall die by fire!”
He hit hard on the first girl and I watched as she fell to ground writhing in pain.

“I can see the evil running hard inside her trying to get out. Every destructive spirit that wants to take over this girl, in the mighty name of Jesus, I command you to come out. Come out, come out.” He kept hitting the girl with the whip as he repeated “come out” until the girl, unable to move anymore, lay in silence shuddering with intense pain all over her body. Her mother rushed to her as two men carried her out. The pastor repeated the same with the second girl, and when my turn came, I looked at my mother pleadingly. She looked away, closed her eyes immediately and resumed praying. I squeezed my eyes hard in readiness, and when the first lash landed on my left thigh, I screamed and heard my mother cry softly. I closed my eyes and imagined myself dragging hard on a smoke in an attempt to numb the hot pain my whole body was in. I opened my eyes again as I lay helplessly on the floor and fixed my eyes on the huge chandelier above me. The pastor’s prayers began to fade and all I could hear was a bunch of susurration till I slipped away into quiet.
My whole body was on fire when I woke up the next morning in the hospital. My mother sat next to me praying silently. I winced in pain as I struggled to sit upright.
“The doctor said you should be better by afternoon. You fainted during the deliverance.” I ignored her, lay back on the bed and faced the opposite side.

“I should have known that pastor wanted to kill you for me. Ah…my only child. My God will judge him. All those fake pastors that see useless visions and dupe people. How could I have fallen for that?” She continued lamenting till I slept again.

I was discharged in the evening and proceeded to go home with my mother. The journey home was a quiet, long one. As the taxi we ordered moved slowly in the Lagos traffic jam, Mother moved close to me as she filled the space in the back seat between us.

“When we get home, I’ll make you your best food. Jollof rice and turkey ehn, just Jollof rice and turkey this time,” my mother said, hugging me. I moved away from her and faced the window in anger. There were the unsaid words. I would never ask, but I believed she knew we were both privy to her secret knowledge now.
Mother held me tightly. It was a long time since I allowed her hug me this close, and I knew deep down that things would change from then. I inhaled the old familiar smell. I missed it.

Mother smelled of coco butter.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ololade Anthonio is a Nigerian poet, fictionist, and copywriter. She is a recent graduate of the University of Lagos. Studying sociology opened her eyes to social ills, and this is evident in all her works in exploring diverse topics in the society. Asides writing, Ololade is a serial reader. Reading gives her inspiration and makes her escape from the real world.
She can be reached on IG at: ololade_anthonio.

HOW TO BREAK THROUGH REJECTION MAILS AND BECOME THE SUCCESSFUL WRITER YOU WANT TO BE

By Nlebedim Nzube Harry

The wait after sending in that short story manuscript for publication has never been a pleasant one for any writer. You check up your mail inbox as though it’d bring in some life changing news (and it most often does). You pray and sometimes fast while you wait for the editor to accept you. ‘We are pleased to inform you…’ sure brings some good relief. So you wait. And then it finally comes. The mail you’ve been waiting for. You open it, unsure what to expect. ‘Unfortunately….’ The news shatters every hope left in you. It breaks down your defences, and you cry. This scene is one familiar to many a 21st century beginning writer seeking a break into the small world of published writers.

As a beginning writer seeking an audience and platform to share your stories and thoughts, you are definitely going to get kicked in the behind a number of times by those rejection mails. Many writers have thrown in the quill because of this, but should you?
Below are three ways to break through the dreariness of rejection mails and be the published writer you’ve always wanted to become.

1. Start by doing free jobs: Have this in mind: the most successful writers never broke in by making a million dollars from putting out their first content. In most cases, they got ripped off! It might be like an outstanding feat to pull off, but with the right amount of consistency, it pays off in the end. As a starting writer, fight to write at whatever cost. It’s most likely you’d not get paid then. That’s alright. Write pro bono, and that’s Latin for ‘free’! This has proven to be very effective for start ups. Write that review for that established friend and do those great articles at no cost. It always pays off. Send unsolicited mails to that book firm, newspaper house, journal and write for them. Internships do this best. Oftentimes, you might get lucky to be paid a stipend. Kiss the coin, pocket it and write more.

2. Take on less ghostwriting jobs: Whenever I walk into any Lagos bookstore to get books, I’d choose a work by a Soyinka or Adichie to one by an unknown author no matter how good their book is. Dear rookie, your name is gold, harness it! While it is usually necessary to hide behind the veil of your published work and keep your name in the shadows, it could get dangerous if you get ‘addicted’ to it. Ghostwriting can be good in some cases, but it is especially unhealthy for the beginning writer. As a start-up writer, your name is gold, your most valued gift; the tool to clear the road to your break through. To break in, you need to have what can be bought, and that thing is your name. Writers such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Toni Morrison amongst others understood the high relevance of their names and its reality in the world of publishing, and at one time early in their careers, they changed their names.

It is important to stamp your name on any content you put out to the public. The time comes when the quality of content would be ignored when it’s by an influential heavy and industry heavyweight. When you ghostwrite, you cheat yourself of the publicity to your name.

3. Hire an agent: The agent is a manager responsible for managing your art and controls what you create and put out. He also monitors readership and recommends you to good, reputable publishers, editors and promoters. Agents may come with pocket-splitting price tags, but in the end, they are worth it. Really, the importance of agents can’t be overbeaten. Two good hammers break more rocks than a single one. The agent makes breaking in as seamless as possible. For the start-up writer who has only little idea of how to promote their work and get it to the right people, agents are absolutely indispensable. Many big publishing companies around the world would rather accept manuscripts from agents as intermediary for the author than from the authors themselves because they believe the work has more credibility when sent through a reputable (or not) agent.

Cover photograph credit: http://www.adamlangley.com.au

HEIST GONE WRONG

By Bamikole Joy

Guest Writer Session with Bamikole Joy

Vol. 22


In this Crime Thriller, TSTR’s very first guest, Bamikole Joy, returns to present a young robber recounting his narrative on a heist gone wrong…


My palms are seriously itching. My breathing has increased. I need a drink. This cursed brown shirt is all covered in sweat; I wonder why I did not burn it off last year. The only thing I can think of is getting out of this bar before they discover me. If they do, I will be dead before the end of the day. I wait as quietly as I could. The room is becoming hot. And then I hear it. Footsteps. They stop above me.

Everything had seemed right at first. We had done everything we were supposed to do. Dede only called me when Big Man called him. It was a unanimous decision to call him Big Man even though no one had ever seen him to verify if he was physically big or had so much money as he was famed. The other members of the gang and I usually met at a bar on the other side of town, where nobody recognized us and no one would suspect anything. Big Man only called twice in three years. The first was to be sure we were available to make things happen and the second was to give Dede the details of what we had to do. He did not call after that. All he did was make arrangements of how we would be paid. He usually paid in full once he heard the news. In a space of two months, we made money that could last four years. Big Man did not care if we lost our lives in the operations. We did not care, too. He paid us well enough.
Elections were swiftly approaching. Dede already received the details of the people we had to kill. I had witnessed several killings. It was not new anymore and I no longer shrieked at the sound of a gunshot or afraid of the sight of blood.

I had not become a killer by choice. Father died of a stroke when I was eighteen because we had no money to treat him, and mother died because she could not bear the pain of losing father. I had listened to numerous motivational speakers in secondary school and believed that in ten years, I would be organizing a memorial for my parents, arrive there in a Bentley and make sure everyone who attended was adequately served. I spent money on self-development books and helped myself grow believing that one day my story would be all over the tabloids telling people how I lost my parents and became a millionaire at twenty-eight.

I finished NYSC at twenty-two. I had struggled to see myself through the university because education was the key. I carried bags, swept houses, fetched water; periodically, I had the luxury of being invited to ushering jobs by a few friends where I secured decent amounts of money. I had assumed finishing with a first-class degree in Physics from the prestigious University of Lagos made you a hot cake in the labour market, and people would look for you to hand over jobs and appointments to you. I had gone around for months seeking a job with my federal university, first-class certificate, but all the posts were either filled or required someone with at least three years experience. One time I was close to getting a job. I was told the manager’s daughter needed an IT placement and they would have offered me the position if only she had gotten Chevron. Chevron did not work out, and they could not afford to let two new people into the company, and so I had go.
I went to church regularly and participated in our church’s annual prayer and fasting because prayer was just another key. Sometimes, when I got little money from the menial jobs, I sowed a seed to the church, and when there were special events, the pastor asked for seeds of varying amounts and prayed for the people who came out in batches according to how much they can afford. I would march to the altar with other people who wanted to sow the same amount as me and kneel in front of the big-bellied pastor to pray for us and swamp us with anointing oil. After which I would drop my seed and pray silently that it germinated into a tree.
After a while, I realized that if I continued seeking a job with my certificate, I might eventually gain nothing. And so I decided to learn a trade. After all people who went to school also learnt how to do things with their hands.
There was a tall, white-bearded old tailor in our neighborhood. Mother and father used to patronize him when they were alive. They went to him not because he was extremely competent or fantastic but he was the only one they could afford. I went to him explaining my intentions disregarding the fact that he was old school. As long as he taught me the basics, I would survive well on my own. I also explained to him how I had no family who would stand in for me. He sighed and told me that he would accept me if I was interested
He then went into his shop and brought out an old sheet of paper. It was a list containing all the things I needed to buy before he would accept me as an apprentice in his shop. I thanked him and returned home. Home was the incomplete two bedroom flat mother and father managed to build. Only one room was roofed. Father had to make sure we had a place to put our heads after the landlord indiscriminately increased the rent and told tenants who could not keep up to move out. The roof leaked, and I had to fix it before the rainy season, or else everything in the house would always be wet. How could I buy all the things in the old tailor’s list and repair the roof with the little savings I had?

I had already given up on life when I met Dede. I had bumped into him on a Sunday morning after church service. I apologized and made to leave when he gripped me. He must have noticed that I was absent-minded and wanted to ask if I was okay like the other people who continuously ask how I fared without my parents not because they care but because they just wanted to tilt their heads to one side, look at me with a sad face and exclaim, “eyaahhhh, sorry ehn” which I was already extremely tired of.
“Bros no vex, I dey always see you around, na this area you dey stay?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I replied wearily.
“E get one kind job matter wey I wan discuss with you. I no know if you go wan do.”
Dede introduced me to two other guys: Chidi and Kola. They had been working as thugs indirectly for some politicians for a few years and had made a lot of money. They used to be four, but the last guy was killed during one of their assignments and they needed someone else to occupy his position. My job was to take them to the location, park the car in a secure place and blend in so nobody would suspect anything. When they were done, we would drive off and our tracks would be properly cleared.
Initially, I was skeptical about accepting the offer, but I had no choice. I would go hungry for the next one week if I did not have a job, and as it looked, that was the only job I was being offered. And that was how it all began with Dede and the rest of the gang.

That day, I put on my brown shirt as Dede’s phone rang. It was the same shirt I wore when my parents died. I don’t know why I liked the shirt. It seemed to have brought nothing but bad luck, but I still wore it. Kola and Chidi sat smoking on my couch. The phone was on the table. Kola reached out and put the call on loudspeaker. We managed to not laugh at Dede’s funny ring tone. Big Man knew that the people he sent us to kill were very deadly, but he gave Dede their information without warnings. It was supposed to look like a robbery, but everything would go very wrong.

*
From my vantage, I could see that Kola shot the first man. His shots were replied almost instantly by the police. It was a trap! Seeing that they might be killed, Dede, Kola and Chidi rushed towards the car gesturing that I moved, but Chidi’s leg had been shot before he could enter. The police continued shooting at the car, but I managed to maneuver my way around the swampy area and get us to safety. We dropped the injured Chidi off in front of a hospital and left. We knew he’d lie to the doctors that he was a victim of the shoot out. He would be safe.

We gathered again at the bar in Ikeja where we sat to celebrate the successful missions. But today, the tension amongst us was palpable. Big Man called Dede and he was absolutely furious. He said that he did not care if we lost our lives because he had paid us well and we should have completed the job no matter what happened while we were at it. He ended the call telling a visibly shaken Dede that we had messed with him and we were going to face the consequences.
After a moment of silence, Dede said, “Gentle, Kola, I dey go Canada. All my paper don ready, I no trust baba nla, as the matter dey ground, he fit decide to quench us.”
“Why he go wan do that? We no dey disturb am, everybody dey their lane,” I replied.
“I sabi wetin I dey talk. You fit stay, but as dem don see us together, you sef no dey safe,” Dede replied as he took a swig of whiskey.
“How you know say he go kill us?” I asked
“As I tell am say Chidi die and we no fit kill the other people, the way him dey talk, him fit won wipe all of us, Gentle!” Dede said, scanning the room like he suspected someone.
I put my hands in my pocket to bring out my phone when I heard the shocking, almost deafening sounds. They were gun shots. I moved quickly under the table, my heart thumping heavily. I looked beside me and saw Dede’s body, bloody and lifeless, his face an expression of abject surprise. It shook my being how much I could be stirred and scared by the blank face I had seen breathing and talking just a while ago, even though I was fairly used to the killing trade.
I waited. Once it seemed like they were gone I jumped over the counter and ran stealthily to where I assumed was the back. It was locked. I waited in the darkness. The room had suddenly took on a stillness that was eerie. I could perceive the sharp smell of whiskey. I felt thirsty all of a sudden as I thought of ways to escape. It was the thirst of a man no longer certain of life. I couldn’t risk being captured. If they discovered me, I would be dead before the end of the day.

The room was becoming hot. And then I heard it. Footsteps. They stopped above me.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bamikole Joy is a young writer. A graduate of English from the University of Lagos, she is currently a serving youth corper in Ogun State. She takes reading as a hobby. She also loves listening to music.
Instagram: Timm_mmyy

Cover photograph credit: http://www.scientificamerican.com

THE EDITOR AND THE WRITER: TWO SIDES OF A COIN

By Nlebedim Nzube Harry

I’d go through this with a role-melding of the two most important agents involved in the production of written and oftentimes, oral literature: the writer and the editor. I’d be tapping from my personal experience in the business of writing, editing and publishing. Well, I believe it’s something akin to artistic treason to disregard the intertwining relationship between the writer and the editor in the schema of literature and writing.

In my almost one year of editing The Shallow Tales Review, an online literary magazine publishing African-themed content, I have come to understand the latent, inherent difficulty there is in publishing good, great art. Writing is one activity that I’m totally used to, but then it comes up differently every time like a spinning kaleidoscope of a multiverse of hues. A piece of writing is like a musical piece, totally different from the one before. No matter how a song may sound similar to another one, it can’t be the same as that one. Much like fingerprints, art is as distinct as distinct can possibly be. Writing is one beautiful thing. And writers are truly beautiful people. A writer is a creator. We create lasting images in the heads of the readers. It takes a writer so much to put words on paper and create lasting, memorable pictures. Like painters, the writer is an artist, and the world is his canvass. And, believe me, that’s one mean thing to do.

Writing is one mean business. I’ve been writing for a long time, and it has become fun for me, even. Once the muse comes, we’re good to go! I’d have to repeat again here that writing is a mean business. Writing, dear reader, is an art, a skill that must be discovered (and this stage is one critical one, indeed), learned, honed, harnessed. I must reverse to the point of discovering that you have the talent to write. Firstly, not everyone who writes is a writer, the editor knows this. So, in discovering this talent, you better be certain it’s a sure call, or you crash. Writing is a divine responsibility. The average editor knows this, too. The place of the writer is a hallowed spot which cannot but accommodate only a select, and I must add, privileged few.

The editor of a literary magazine must have this knowledge in mind before taking the job, and indeed in his selection of works and pieces to publish. He must keep this in mind when reading, even right to the moment his mail box pings up a new entry for publication. He must keep this in mind when sending rejection mails, too. The editor must understand first who the writer is, and then he just must acknowledge them when he finds them. And when he does find his man, he keeps him. That’s when the real job starts.

Editing, like writing, is one mean job. It’s a task that requires a great deal of physical and mental power. From the moment of acceptance of a piece, the editor is burdened with the responsibility of producing great content. So, in reality, the editor is the middle man between the writer and the reader. I’d definitely talk about the place of the reader some other time. The editor must understand that every piece sent in for publication is in its crude stage. Every manuscript is ore. The editor is responsible for converting that ore to iron! And that business, folk, is mean.
In the process of writing, then, the writer should keep many things in mind, but the picture of the editor should be prominent. For publication in any relevant journal, magazine, anthology, etc, the writer must have in mind that his work would pass through considerable fire, tables upon tables, red ink upon red ink, slashing out and cutting, and sometimes outright re-writing. Writers should then understand that their best work is only still ore, at best a classic final draft that would still be amended by that cruel moustached editor.

The knowledge that your work is an abyss that can’t be dug through completely would perhaps steel you through the editor’s biting comments (and they would always come!) It would then be easier to take negative comments well. Give the editor some slack. He is sometimes justifiably mean. Yeah, writing is a mean business. Editors know that, and they naturally, steel up for it.

Cover photograph credit: http://www.tinylaptop.net

WENI

By Emy Josephs

Guest Writer Session with Emy Josephs

Vol. #21


In Weni, this guest author steals the Beckettian quill and brings the Absurdist theatre home. In this masterful one-act play, we witness the sheer brevity of hope.


Nomu directly behind Oyebe. His brownish white cloth is smeared with oil from the palm fruit he is chewing helplessly. He is wearing a faded pair of brown jeans that is held to his waist only by the help of the green rope tied around the belt holes.

Oyebe has tied around him a washed out wrapper and a grey singlet with a neck that can fit an elephant.
They are walking barefoot. Brown mud hangs on their feet.

Oyebe: Stop moving behind me! You reek of oil!

Nomu: Oil doesn’t reek, you idiot!

Oyebe: I’m no idiot, idiot!

Nomu and Oyebe stop under the plantain tree at the back of their house and sit down to rest. It is the same tree that a thunderstorm split in half seasons ago. Although it still serves as a means of hiding from the hot day, it brings little satisfaction to those underneath its shade.

Nomu: It is about to rain, we should go inside.

Oyebe: Must we go inside each time it rains? I am hungry. Let it rain.

Nomu: Okay. Let us remain under the tree and let it rain.

They sit quiet again. The rain comes down. Heavy and planned. It falls on them, and the trees, and the birds. The chickens seek solace under the tree, too. Oyebe holds his singlet. He is drenched and cold.

Oyebe: Must we stay under the rain? I am cold and hungry.

Nomu: Hungry people go to the kitchen. You should go to the kitchen.

They rise up as if to leave.

Oyebe: Why is your cloth smeared with oil? Have you eaten behind my back?

Oyebe examines his clothes. He is surprised to see the oily stains.

Nomu: Ti ama! Oyebe, you’re right. I wonder how I got smeared with oil.

Oyebe: Maybe you had something to eat.

Nomu: I don’t remember eating anything. Perhaps, this is not my cloth after all.

Oyebe: I agree. Take it off at once! You should never wear another man’s cloth.

Nomu takes off his cloth and places it on the felled tree they sat on.

They stand quiet for a while. The rain gradually stops and the sun steals its way through the trees.

Nomu: I am hot. I am going to the stream to have a bath.

Oyebe: I will come with you to the stream. I am hungry.

Nomu: Hungry people do not go to the stream. They go to the kitchen or wherever there is food.

Oyebe: Maybe I should go wherever there is food while you go to the stream.

Nomu: Maybe you should.

Oyebe: Farewell, my friend.

Nomu: Farewell.

Oyebe rises and walks slowly away from the tree. He turns to find Nomu sitting.

Oyebe: What are you doing sitting down?

Nomu: (confused) What else should I be doing, Nomu?

Oyebe: Walk behind me. You always walk behind me.

Nomu: You are right. I always do.

Nomu rises and walks behind Oyebe. They walk silently for a while.

Oyebe: Stop moving behind me! Why do you always walk behind me? Where are you going to?

Nomu: (confused) I do not know. I always walk behind you. Where are we going to?

Oyebe: I do not know either.

They stand quiet for a long time.

Nomu: Maybe we should go back to where we are coming from.

Oyebe: Maybe we should.

The duo turn and walk back. Nomu scratches his body as he walks behind Oyebe closely.

Oyebe: Why are you scratching your body? Where is your shirt?

Nomu looks at himself, his bare chest confuses him.

Nomu: I don’t know, Oyebe.

Oyebe: Do you remember wearing a shirt when we fished today?

Nomu: No. I don’t think I was wearing any.

Oyebe: But you always do.

Nomu: Maybe we have been robbed by sea pirates.

Oyebe: They must have taken all our food, too, because I am hungry.

Nomu: What should we do then?

Oyebe: We must report this to Ebenanaowei.

Nomu: Maybe that’s where we were going to.

Oyebe: But this is not the way to Ebenanaowei’s hut. We have missed our way. Follow me, Nomu. I will take us there.

Nomu nods in acceptance and follows Oyebe.

Weni is Ijaw for ‘walk.’


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emy Josephs is a volunteer for people living with SCD and a bathroom dancer who writes goofy stories for a hungry Facebook audience and scripts for stage and screen. A graduate of English and Literature, she likes to think she’s a romantic but hates flowers. Currently, she teaches English privately to children who are struggling to read and write, encouraging their creative skill and helping them tell stories. She lives in Port Harcourt.
You can reach her on @emyjosephs@gmail.com or @emyjosephs on all social media platforms.

Cover photograph credit: http://www.pixarbay.com

TALK ABOUT HIS TEARS

By Doyin Deji

Guest Writer Session with Doyin Deji

Vol. 20


In this random musing, we encounter the elusiveness of love for a young Nigerian male.


In the verandah of his thoughts, he sat and admired the calm, chirping, and restless tiny birds, serving happy tune — oblivious to the melancholy tugging at his heart. Brown leaves strewn across the earth. How can like sides so attract? A single white chair stood afar and lost in the pasture, sitting only clothes and emptiness. This country useless die.

A light bang — a fruit doing her own 1960. And like how the imperialist scampered away, these little birds, flapping their weak wings, possessed the sky like witchcraft. How fear tickles us till we pee on our bodies.
Fading sound of the motorcycle, locals and natives — humans void of education and exposure; darkness captured their brain’s shutter; call it okada, mixes itself into the harsh, hot, and less than happy gaze of the hot atmosphere, heading into the next wayfarer for a fair cheque. The economy is competing with the sun; both are sapping our sweat.
______

It was in this situation that Nnamdi was situated. He sat and brooded over the number of females he had wooed and had booed him. His grief was quite quiet, quick and stainless like his mother’s ancient stainless steel 555 plates. In the words of the notorious, new Marley’s namesake, Naira Marley, màfò, which means “Don’t be afraid” in Yoruba, he sat with his friends, talking.
The day drove by waving at the illuminated environment, the busy attentionless humans and the petty disturbances of uncertainties. Nnamdi finally was alone, with only the moon to rest on. Like a broken pitcher filled with water, he flowed endlessly in sobs, sniffs, and snorts. Speechlessness gripped him like a vice; becoming the vice to pain and assistant to grief.
Where is love? How do I find it? How do I afford it? These were the rhetorics that hammered on the anvil of his fragile, fake hard guy, hard guy heart. Enough was filled, so it became enough — all his shots were aired, he became casted like the news at ten.
“What do I do, especially when nobody loves me?”
Suddenly the insects in his stomach became thirsty. They sure weren’t butterflies this time.

Being a boy who liked satisfying everything, he gunned for his milk and aimed at the sniper.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doyin Deji graduated from the University of Lagos where he studied Theatre Arts at the Department of Creative Arts, majoring in Sound and Lighting Design, the technical arm of theatre.
He is a writer, photographer, content creator and model; he has written poems, articles and songs, some of which have been published on online blogs. He currently blogs on Instagram (@doyin.deji), twitter (@doyin_deji) and WordPress (doyindejiblog.wordpress.com)

Cover photograph credit: http://www.en.wikipedia.org

AN ECOCRITICAL INTERPRETATION OF AFRICAN APPRECIATION OF LANDSCAPE AND LANDSCRAPE: A REVIEW OF LITERATURES.

By Nnadube Jonathan Ejiogu

Guest Writer Session with Nnadube Jonathan Ejiogu

Vol. 19

In this brilliant review, guest writer, Nnadube Jonathan Ejiogu, uses literature to present a picturesque, rugged exposé of man’s purposeful desecration of the lands of Africa.


There are no more short shrubs and tall trees
In the straight posture, standing position;
They are all sawed, sawed; they’ve all seen the sword.
Harried and hewed,
Frittered and fumed.

— Chidiebube onye Okohia, “Green.”


Long before the literary scholar, William Ruekert, coined the term ‘ecocriticism’ to represent the idea of eco-consciousness and rekindle the ideal of eco-culture, the need to desist from treating our landscape with a sense of wantonness holds sway in the Hybriac divine narrative or what can pass as ‘Edenic narrative.’ According to this narration, Adam and Eve, the first human creations, were created to live in a beautiful vegetative landscape known as the Garden of Eden. They were given the liberty to explore and enjoy this environment with the condition of not eating of a particular tree at the centre of the garden, or else they would die. What this invariably interprets is that Adam and Eve’s creator found it a point of necessity to pre-inform his creation of the danger in the manhandling of some part of a whole landscape. The first man disobeyed this order. Ever since, man became mortal as well as consistent in his landscraping occupation: he tills the ground, fell trees, engage in bush burning, releases carbon monoxide, uncharitable amongst several other climes. Many centuries after, critics and creative writers have continued to lament over this debilitating, unrepentant and cruel disposition of man by using eco-criticism tools.

The ruination done to our vegetative landscape is gaining ascendancy with the passing of each day. Even though there is truth in the justification that such culture is a consequence of development and evolution, what it points to is the imminent death of mankind. Man and his landscape seem to operate in a symbiotic fashion, so that, what affects one impinges, quite naturally, on the other. Several ‘ecoscholars’ have theorised that not only is man a product of his environment but that the ‘landscraping’ (my term for vegetative manhandling) of his landscape is capable of culminating into ‘manscraping’ (my term for the extinction of man). Literature, tasked with the duty of mirroring the society, is bound to the bane of bringing to bare such unwholesome practice through the trope of ecocriticism. Although this discursive inquest must have had its root in science and Western literature, it can be found unassailable within the literary topography of African literature; hence, an African interpretation to a Western theory: eco-criticism. The cardinal onus here then is to beam our spotlight on the growing problem of nonchalance and contempt towards a vegetative landscape through the lens of African literature while at a superficial level, the idea here is to project the truth that Africa cannot be dismissed as not embracing ecocriticism as some scholars believe; rather, they hold what ecocriticism stands for in high esteem. Indeed, there are arguments and counterarguments as to the acceptance of ecocriticism in Africa.

This review has been able to show the landscape and environmental thematic concern of African literary texts aimed at salvaging the landscape from the endemic problem of landscraping. In this vein, Chinua Achebe suffices as a first generation writer with his magnum opus, Things Fall Apart, as a quantitative material. Niyi Osundare becomes the representative character for the second generation writers with his collection of poems titled The Eye of The Earth. For the contemporary writers, Helon Habila and Kaine Agary and their texts, Oil on Water and Yellow Yellow respectively, become necessary tools.

In his paper titled, “Swazi Oral Literature, Eco-culture and Environmental Apocalypse,” Enongene Sone renders that, “this global interest in the study of literature and the environment has been motivated by the environmental crisis facing the world today.” From Sone’s argument, one can begin to see that literary texts which would have been discredited for not pursuing mainstream ecocritical issues are actually Africa’s way of expressing ecocentrism. If Sone’s rendition is anything to go by in terms of the “global” portraiture he procures for the problem, even with the knowledge that ecocriticism itself started as an Anglo-American literary discourse, the question then is how does such finds relevance in Africa? Or what is the African interpretation to this “global” issue as earmarked in literature?

Indeed, African writers have consciously depicted the bizarre onslaught and landscraping occupation of our landscape. They have often used their texts as veritable tools in questioning the moral correctness of such selfish act. From the early writers to their contemporary counterparts, there has been an obvious and consistent frowning down at such contempt for our landscape. This is clearly shown in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart; Christopher Anyokwu’s criticism of Niyi Osundare’s Eye of the Earth (representing the second generation writers); Helon Habila’s Oil on Water and Kaine Agary’s Yellow Yellow (both writers representing the contemporary era). Given this schema, one can argue that following the tapestry of history, the essentials of ecocriticism have also been one of the cardinal foci of African literature.

Achebe’s novel explains that the landscape is so reverend to the extent that there are strict rules that governs the conduct of planting and harvesting. It is assumed that anyone who comes in conflict with such regulation does not do so against constituted authority only but against a higher spiritual being — the landscape. This is evident in the way Okonkwo, despite his social weight, is reprimanded for desecrating the ‘Peace Law’ which is to precede the planting season. This Peace Law does not only entail that during that week everyone is supposed to be at peace with their neighbours, but that man should also be at peace with the landscape. By that, they are not required to work on their farms. Even during the planting event proper, required regard is paid to Ani, the earth goddess and the source of all fertility. Ani is considered to be not just a goddess but an ancestor known as Mother earth, and to serve a self-serving purpose, this review can pass ‘her’ off as “Mother Landscape.” In other words, the landscape is given the image of a higher being, and of course, treated as one.

In the same breath, Christopher Anyokwu seems to paint this theme in beautiful colours using Niyi Osundare’s poem, “For the One who Departed.” In Anyokwu’s paper titled “The Essentials of Niyi Osundare’s Poetry” in Transnational Literature, Anyokwu deftly states that, “the poet threnodises the death of his father, using the flora and the sylvan denizens of tropical Africa as tropes of transition, transience, mortality and memory.”
Perhaps, it is this divine essence of the landscape that functions as the mobilising impetus for Osundare as he constructs his poem. This is evident in the poem titled “The Rock Rose to Meet Me.” Anyokwu asserts that, “Osundare’s environmentalism turns largely on the overarching centrality of [landscape] to the mechanics and logistics of his verse-making” (Transnational Literature 7). In the poem, Osundare idolises the rock Olosunta.

Doki Jeff in his paper, “The Eye of the Earth: Niyi Osundare as a Poet of Nature,” delineates that, “Osundare celebrates the rocks of Olosunta because they are both an aspect of physical nature and they have a mystic dimension in Ikere Cosmology.” The scholar emphasises that, “by celebrating the rocks of his native home, Osundare is emphasising the permanent and solid forms of nature which are lasting monuments of time and place” (70). Osundare himself, in the preface of The Eye of The Earth regarded the rock with the appellation of a reverend entity. He admits that: “The Rock Rose to Meet Me” is a homecoming of a kind, a journey back (and forth) into a receding past which still has a right to live. The rocks celebrated in this section… Occupy a central place in the cosmic consciousness of Ikere people; they are worshipped and frequently appeased with rare gifts, thunderous drumming and dancing (The Eye of The Earth ‘Preface’ xiii).
This only explains how the African landscape seems to have much influence on the African people both at a physical and metaphysical level.

Osundare also criticises Africans for straying away from the initial agrarian practice that characterises their reverence for their landscape. In “Ours to Plough, not to Plunder,” Osundare rebukes Africans for their fast growing inhumanity to their landscape. The poem metaphorises the earth and admonishes that one should not take advantage of it neither should it only be regarded in terms of its ‘use value’ only. He stresses that moderation is required in our exploration of landscape’s resources, and that earth should be treated with the highest form of propriety. Osundare ends this particular poem the way he starts it. The refrain he employs is a style that suggests the reinforcement of his thesis. He daresays,

earth is / ours to work not to waste / ours to man not to maim / the earth is ours to plough not to plunder.

However, with the growing problem of undue over-exploration and exploitation, contemporary African writers such as Helon Habila and Kaine Agary have fashioned their texts, Oil on Water and Yellow Yellow respectively, to accommodate this menace meted on the African landscape. In both texts, the contemporary writers make effort to show man’s contribution in the destruction of the earth; constantly buoyed by his selfish capitalist mien.

Without doubt, the textual experience of the fictions demonstrate man’s disregard for what combines to form the landscape, and as a result, raise certain questions about man’s significant role in environmental ruination and the dire need for survival on the earth. The immediate encounter of Yellow Yellow provides a basis to allay any doubt on the devaluation and ruination of the textual landscape. Through the eponymous character, Laye, Agary narrates:

The day my mother’s farmland was overrun by crude oil was the day her dream from me started to wither, but she carried on watering it with hope. The black oil spilled that day swallowed my mother’s crops and unravelled the threads that held together her fantasies for me. She was able to find new farmland in another village, but it was not the same… a single day, my mother lost her main source of sustenance. However, I think she had lost that land a long time ago, because each season yielded less than the season before. Not unlike the way she and others in the village had gradually lost, year after year, the creatures of the river to oil spills, acid rain, gas flares, and who knows what else, according to the voice on the radio (Agary 10 & 4).

Helon Habila’s in his Oil on Water seems to corroborate the narrative of Agary when he notes that:

The next village was almost a replica of the last: the same empty squat dwellings, the same ripe and flagrant stench, the barrenness, the oil slick and the same indefinable sadness in the air… The patch of grass growing by the water was suffocated by the film of oil, each blade covered with blotches like liver spots on a smoker’s hand (Habila 10).

In the texts by both Agary and Habila, one would agree that the coordinating theme seems to be the ‘landscraping’ of the landscape. The text reveals that the activities of over-exploration come with attendant social problem of environmental degradation. Candidly, what Agary and Habila have been able to do through their texts is to mirror the bizarre visage of the Niger Delta landscape of Nigeria in Africa. Eteng in “The Nigerian State, Oil Exploration and Community Interest: Issues and Perspectives” acknowledges that, “oil exploration and exploitation has over the last four decades impacted disastrously on the socio-physical environment of the Niger Delta oil bearing communities, massively threatening the subsistent peasant economy and environment and hence the entire livelihood and basic survival of the people.” Ikelegbe’s research notes the debasing and tears-evoking contempt and manhandling of the landscape. He points out that, “between 1976 and 1996, about 2,369,471 barrels of oil were spilled. Out of this quantity, about 1,820,044 barrels of oil were never recovered — meaning that this quantity was absorbed by the soil that consequently became infertile for agricultural activities” (109).

The high point both in fiction as seen in Oil on Water and Yellow Yellow; and fact, as seen through the papers of critics such as Eteng and Ikelegbe is none other but a picture of the consistent harm assaulting the African landscape which through their fictions and researches, they attempt to expose and correct.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nnadube Jonathan Ejiogu is a graduate of English Department, University of Lagos. He is a scholar, critic and researcher who has teeming interest in African Literary Studies, Post-Colonial Studies, Ecoafricanism, Comparative Literature among others. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

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ON A TOWN-CRYING

By Chidiebube onye Okohia

Guest Writer Session with Chidiebube onye Okohia.

Vol. 18

In TSTR’s poetry debut, guest poet, Chidiebube onye Okohia, revisits maternal roots and declares the new, true mantra for African beauty.


Our mothers are not fat,
They are full of lore—filled, filled with the ferment
And fervour, flavour, that are of life, of love,
Of laughter, yes laughter, that keeps us content
With the flora and fauna of our cove,
Where no far-forged ice-forked-frost-eyes hang, no. Here,
Harmattan tans with the hammer of a singeing sun, sun, Black sun, yellow sun,
Duh! gold sun, that licks our bodies. It’s our stove
Here, there they make a chimney that’s their few fun-
s. We should not rove, no longer, no longer rove
But let’s let out a cheer, a cheer, let us let out a cheer
Of beauty that binds our backs and breasts and ah! let us shove
That tape—that trims our bodies to stick-slim-fit—from yonder, there;
No thin-shaped char is ours, no, or is it? No; their rule is done.
So, our mothers should not fear, fear, yes! no fear
For their faces lie in that fat; oh, no fear, fear, fear, fear, fear.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chidiebube onye Okohia is the author of the chapbook, Of Dark Tides and Darkling Times. He is a poet, writer and artist. A graduate of English from the University of Lagos, some of his works have been published online and print by Counterclock, Farafina and Kalahari Review. His short story, No City for Young Bloods, was nominated by Counterclock for the 2020 Pushcart Prize and has been reprinted by fresh.ink. He currently blogs at thehuesofolden.wordpress.com.