Being the concluding part of a paper presented by Adagogo Brown of the Humanities Department Rivers State College of Arts and Science, Port Harcourt at a seminar organised by the department, recently.
The sense of loss and enormity of efforts put in generating the goods that are carted away by the Opobo traders, in the name of trading, is captured by Nna Odum Egege in his sarcastic comment:
All day long, in the rain and in the sun, you and your children toil in the bush (demonstrating): cutting, planting or harvesting. You cut, boil, pound and press the palm fruit for the oil; you pot or -calabash, the nuts are left to dry before you crack and basket. (He pauses and looks round). You take the goods yourselves to the market to sell to buyers or exchange them voluntarily for other goods. The work you do, the market you buy, the acceptance of their prices and articles, everything you do, you do willfully, they don’t force you … (p3)
The lamentation of the people of Azumini is an allegory of the exploitation and dispossession of the Niger Delta people of their crude oil by the Nigerian State and their collaborating multi-national oil companies.
More light is shed on the sense of loss and the exploitation of the Azumini people when Chijioke says:
… But today we’ve lost the value of our labour ….
The water people can now come and take our goods and offer us whatever they like …. (p.3).
Chijioke appears not to speak for the Azumini people only, he also speaks for the Niger Delta people whose natural resource is exploited and carted away without consideration for those whose land and environment the resource is taken. In the name of derivation, the Niger Delta people are offered pittance determined by the Nigeria state ever since the exploitation of oil from the Niger Delta, the same way “the water people” offer Azumini people whatever they like for their goods.
When Odum Ogege asks Azumini people in a rhetorical questions:
“Are you not the owners of the oil kernel and foodstuffs that make the peoples of Okoloama and Opuboama wealthy and great?” (p.3) he is indirectly asking the Niger Delta people if they are not the producers of the oil that has made the Nigerian nation wealthy and great. Even Ikechi corroborates the stupendous Azumini wealth that has been lavished in the development of Opuboama and Okoloama when he says:
Only those who have been to Opuboama and Okoloama know how much they’ve robbed us to build those their kingdom. (p.4).
The same is of the reality of the plundering of the Niger Delta oil proceeds which have been deployed by the Government of Nigeria in the development of Abuja, Lagos and other parts of the country excluding the Niger Delta.
With the increase in the awareness of the economic exploitation of the Azumini people, Odum Egege, tests his gift of all along been lying dormant.
First, he takes them down memory lane reminding them of the bravery of their forebears. Loaded with inflammatory elements, the speech is designed to spontaneously ginger and spur the people to revolt. Odum Egege queries:
… What has now come upon the brave people of Azumini … ·.? Your forebears were brave men who untiringly fought to protect their children from head-hunters. And you are now afraid of protecting these rights for which they fought and died, those rights without which you cannot ensure the continuity of your race …. (Pause) After eating basa, drinking manya ngwo and Esiriesi, you go about puffing, (demonstrating). I’m an Ndoki man! I’m an Ndoki man! (Pointing) to the water people, you are nothing! (p.5).
This and several other statements, no doubt, awakened the spirit of rebellion and prepared the people of Azumini for the assignment of protecting their economic rights from the invasion of King Jaja and Opuboama.
From knowledge and self-realisation, the play moves to protest and self-preservation. This is the point where the Azumini people, having realized that they have long been cheated and plundered, are ready to take their destiny In their own hands and reverse the trend. Readily, Odum Egege becomes ‘the rallying point of protest and military campaign. He urges the people:
… it is a good thing to recognize one’s rights, but a much better thing to be able to fight and protect them. Yes! Owughi egu a na ete na nkikara mkpuru. For it needs a lion’s strength, a devil’s determination to ask the oppressor to stop oppressing, the exploiter to stop exploiting, and the robber to stop robbing. The dangers are great, although the honour in life and even in death is greater. (p.6).
The role of Odum Egege and other Azumini elders in the pursuit of their right to control their resources can be likened to that of past and present Niger Delta people in agitation to also control their resources. With time, the struggle has gradually shifted from dialogue to arms struggle. In this we see correlation: literary characters and actions literally signifying historical personages and events. The signified personages and events observed since the Niger Delta struggle have remained a recurring decimal. The include Harold Dappa Biriye, Isaac Adako Boro, Ken Saro Wiwa, Edwin Clark, etc.
Before Odum Egege dies, he challenges Alabo Fubara who has come to impose Opoboama trade and protection agreement on Azumini people:
… (To Alabo Fubara) On Okoloama and Opuboama, we’ve never sought to impose our terms, and on us we refuse vehemently their coming to impose theirs. We’ll begin trade with the whites. If you can trade with them, why can’t we? We want to derive full benefits from our labour. (Addressing the elders) Umunna, is it not so? (The elders nodding) (p;49).
The imposition of oil revenue sharing formula and other conditions by the Government on the Niger Delta people is a literal translation of the efforts of King Jaja and Opuboama people to impose their trade terms on Azumini.
The objection of Odum Egege and his men to the imposition of terms of trade, calls for King Jaja’s adoption of a military option in suppressing the Azumini revolt. This same situation plays out in the Niger Delta as the Government considers military option in quailing the protest and agitation of the people for higher percentage of oil revenue derivation or resource control.
Although King Jaja and Opuboama defeat Odum Egege and Azumini, consistently, Odum Egege’s prophetic statement while undergoing torture on his journey of death in the hands of king Jaja’s executioners comes to mind as reported by King Jaja’s messenger.
He said many things. He kept on saying, for example … em, yes! I remember: “for there shall come someone to avenge innocent blood …
as I die for justice others will survive it”. When they come to the mouth, blood spluttered, and his speech become unintelligible … then, in fact, your Majesty, he mentioned, “seeds planted … “ p.l09.
Odum Egege’s last words are full of prophecies of the emancipation and restoration of Azumini rights to the prophecies of the doom of Opuboama for denying others their rights.
Hear Oruogolo: Opuboamapu, moored by divine will, Infested now by human will, The ship stinks and soon Will be tossed
With a hopeless crew
For the hearts’ desire of men
Often block their ears to the voice of the gods
And lead them always to And lead them always to destruction…
Eeee! Eeee! (He turns, skips and smiles)
For nothing but the cleaning of t his land
Can save it from being washed way.
And posterity from agony, disunity
Hunger and death…
(He turns to the king, who is looking blankly
In front of him) Amanyanabo, fromw hat
You have done.
Refusing others’ rights
Yours shall also be denied!
Nature has no better balance… (p.111)
In the concluding part of the statement of Oruogolo, the messenger of the gods, he appears not only to have prophesised but also cursed King Jaja for his unfair treatment of Odum eGege and Azumini people. The full implication of the statement for Nigeria is very obvious. In the manner Oruogolo has assured Opobo and posterity, of agony, disunity, hunger and death, except the land is cleansed, same, including disintegration appears to await the Nigerian State, except the rights of the Niger Delta people are granted.
For me, Oruogolo’s statements of caution or warning of impeding doom to King Jaja is one that the leadership of the Nigerian State should take seriously and learn from, in handling the Niger Delta question.
How Heinemann, Pacesetters Promoted Growth In Nigerian Literature
The emergence of the African writers series by Heinemann in 1962 really helped to boost the Nigerian and indeed African writings of the Achebe era. According to Odimegwu Onwumere, a poet and media consultant, the series has been a vehicle for some of the most important African writers, ensuring an international voice to literary masters including Chinua Achebe, Ngugi was Thiong’o, Steve Biko, Ama Ata Aidoo, Nadine Gordimer, Buchi Emecheta and Okot P’Bitek. “It provided a forum for many post independence African writers, and provided texts with which many African universities could begin to redress the colonial bias then prominent in the teaching of literature”, Onwumere wrote. The works in the series include novels, short stories, poetry, biographical writing and essays from across Africa.
The brain behind the series was the Heinemann executive, Alan Hill, and the first editor of the series was Chinua Achebe, who focused first on West African writers, and soon branched out, publishing the works of Ngugi Wa Thiongo in East Africa, and Nadine Gordimer in South Africa. By the time Achebe left the editorship in 1972, over 40 writers from 19 different countries had been published in the series. According to records, apart from the editors, James Carrey anchored as the editorial director of the label from 1967 to 1984, and during his tenure, the series released over 250 titles by authors from more than twenty-five African countries.
In spite of the obvious advantages of the series, it also had some shortcomings. According to Onwumere, many African authors saw the series as part of the colonial masters strategy of exploiting the relics left of Africa. Consequently, many of the authors did not want the label, AWS, to publish their works; they wanted African publishers as against the neo-colonial publishers. The genesis of this contentious relationship between the AWS publishers and the African authors ranged from advance/royalty payments to editorial recommendations. This was why perhaps, Wole Soyinka, for a time, resisted having his novel, The Interpreters appear in AWS; though he said it was for fear of being confined to the ‘Orange ghetto’ defined by the recognizable colour scheme of AWS volumes. The contention could also been the reason for Ayi Kwei Armah’s hope “to find an African publisher as opposed to a neo-colonial writers coffle owned by Europeans but slyly misnamed African”
But the factor that really led to the steady decline of the series seem to border more on economy than authors-publishers relationship. In Onwumere’s words, “After a fairly prosperous beginning, the series faced (the economic) difficulties that mirrored those which faced the continent as a whole. By the mid-1980s, only one or two new titles a year were being published, and much of the back catalogue had fallen out of point”.
However, from the early 1990s, Heinemann has been making attempt at reviving the series by publishing new works, text originally published in local release and translated works. So, in conclusion, while there are all sorts of ways to critique what the AWS turned out to be, in the words of Aeron Badly, “it is absolutely unquestionable that Alan Hill’s establishment of an ‘African Writers Series’ for Heinemann was the most important and most influential publishing infrastructure through which ‘African Literature’ was first developed between the late 1970s and early 1980s Nigerian young writers were given the opportunity to have their works published curtsey Macmillan publishing company. Through the company’s young writers’ series, known as pacesetters, hundreds of youths across Africa were published, with Nigerians forming the largest percentage. The series dealt mostly with contemporary issues that were of interest to young adults. Among the lucky young writers to be published were Mohammed Sule, author of the undesirable Element (1977) and the Delinquent (1979), Helen Obviagele, who wrote Evbu My Love (1980) and Dickson Ighrini who authored Death is a Woman (1981) and Bloodbath at Lobster Close (1980). Other work in the series include, Kalu Okpi’s Coup!, Sunday Adebomi’s symphony of Destruction, I’ve Oparandu’s The Wages of Sin, Sam Adewoye’s The Betrayer, and Victor Ulojiofor’s Sweet Revenge. By the early 1990s, there were about 125 pacesetters titles. And the books were widely available, even in the market bookstalls, which usually sold only textbooks.
However, with the economic decline which began around the 80s, Macmillan separated from Macmillan Nigeria, taking with it the pacesetters copyright. Consequently, the series vanished, and only occasional pirated versions of a few titles could be seen in Nigeria. But, those who were fortunate to have been published have made their marks and some have even gone further to produce more serious works. Among such writers are Mohammed Tukur Garba (author of the Black Temple-1981); and Muhammed Sule, who published Eye of Eternity and the Devil’s Seat, respectively, in the 90s.
Collection Of Poems For Ken Saro-Wiwa
(Tribute to Ken Saro-wiwa)
Dance to us again
The dance of your people
The ogoni traditional dance
The Scintillating dance
That rekindles the fickle minds
Motivating them to sing war songs
Songs of freedom, injustice and rebirth
We watched you at the wrestling contest At the literary battlefield
And saw you acrobatic displays
The defeat of your opponents With your piece Sozaboy”
A novel in rotten English
In another harvest, y our poems. Their verses were sonorous
Yet they indicated sadness, pity…
Oh! That of “Ogale’”, a poem of war conditions
Threw me apart mentally, as Ogale a town did lie naked
In the hands of the Nigerian civil war.
Give us your golden pen Pen of good hope
That makes the sarows, here and abroad
Where is Basi and company? Where is the publishers gone? When shall he return
To continue the liberation struggle?
When shall another Soyinka, Achebe
Shakespeare. Aristotle of Ogoni emerge in your place?
This death!, death at the crossroads
That struck you on the road to freedom Has left literal scholars in tears.
THE PERFECT LIGHT
Like a firefly that flies at night Ken flashed a perfect light
It was Daytime
And Tappers headed riverside Ogonis were awake
They reminiscence on their losses It was a perfect light
It contained uric-acid
Its luciferin reacted violently
In the minds of the minority people.
Like a firefly that flies at night Ken flashed a perfect light
That produced an amazing powers of revolution He shaped golden teardrops And had the razor on his lips.
As a rebel
Like a firefly that flies at night Ken, flashed a perfect light
And gave the candlelight of educational progress and Ogonis flew to Europe
I n search of knowledge
But today, Ken. has flew away He is trapped like an ant
Trapped in the tree’s honey like resin As he scurried along a tree trunk
Arguing for his peoples BiII of rights Lamenting against injustice
Injustice meted on his people, Niger Delta…
But his detractors switched it off Before Christmas
They should understand that Ken’s light The footprints of Ken Saro-wiwa
Still shines now and years to come.
To be continued Nwagwu Samuel wrote from Port Harcourt
This Generation Youths
Not to sound too Oprah-ish, but I was reflecting on the advice I would give my younger self, which is in harmony with the gifts I share with my own sons as well as the youth I am fortunate to mentor.
Although I fared well in an extremely volatile environment, these lessons would have saved me from some unnecessary mistakes and setbacks. We are currently in a very challenging and hostile environment. Unfortunately, today’s youth cannot afford to make the same bad decisions we made a generation ago.
I have been given some valuable gifts in my lifetime, but none has been more valuable and fruitful than the gift of knowledge and wisdom. Divine wisdom says “there’s more joy in giving than receiving,” so I generously give these jewels quite often.
Jewel No. 1: Think before you act. The simple but effective process of thought will help you avoid making critical mistakes that could cost you your freedom, education or your life. “. . . Thinking ability will safeguard you.” — Proverbs.
Jewel No. 2: Find an adult mentor. A responsible adult knows what is best for your well-being. Even if you have to sacrifice your reputation with your friends, draw close to an adult who you know has your best interest at heart. Ideally this should be your parent. Friends will come and go but your parents will be an unconditional and lifelong source of love and support. Don’t get this confused!
Jewel No. 3: Do not be a follower. Avoid being part of the crowd. Without being a loner, you can separate yourself from the group of people who are not involved in positive things and still have a social life. Avoid following popular trends that could lead to a high-risk lifestyle, such as becoming so obsessed with materialism that you will do illegal activities to obtain certain things.
Jewel No. 4: Be humble. In the current environment, it is popular to be haughty or arrogant. Such attitudes tend to prevent an individual from developing healthy relationships. Being humble allows you to be open to learning from elders and making adjustment to become a better person.
Jewel No. 5: Establish a set of values. There are many deep cultural, social and spiritual values that will benefit all people. However, I recommend three simple and basic set of values for youth: life, education, freedom. If you place a high value on each of these and consider them in your decisions, it will affect the choices you make. Put simply, if you value your life you will think twice about drinking and driving. If you value your education you won’t threaten a teacher, which will get you expelled. If you value your freedom, you will avoid criminal behavior the could lead to incarceration.
Jewel No. 6: Maintain emotion stability. Managing emotions is absolutely vital for navigating through these critical times that we are currently living in. Emotions run high in dealing with personal matters, family matters, work relationships, even in sporting events there has been incidents that go bad due to a loss of emotional control. If you are in control of your emotions most incident will not escalate. Remember, “life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we react to it” — Charles Schwindle
With an alarming increase in police violence against black youth in particular, there is a great need for special urban survival training. These lessons should be drilled and instilled in every youth these days.
By: Deon D. Price
Deon D. Price is an Author and youth life skills coach who lives in Fairfield, CA.
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