Category Archives: Essays

Thrilling Awoonor Tribute as AWF Hosts Obemata and Egwudah By Elvis Iyorngurum

It was not part of the original plan for the Abuja Writers’ Forum’s Sept 28, Guest Writer Session    but then Kofi Awoonor’s death was also unexpected, and given his eminent role in the development of modern African poetry in English, it made sense to have a tribute.

In a thrilling poetry performance supported by background  guitar and violin music,  Actor Jide Atta threw the audience into a solemn mood as he recited the poems of Awonoor, who is one of Africa’s renowned literary icons. He read ‘The Cathedral’, “The Weaver Bird,” “This Earth, My Brother,” “Across a New Dawn” and “Dzogbese Lisa Has Treated Me Thus.” Emotions rose high as he recounted Awoonor’s history, lamenting his untimely death by the hands of the Somalian Al-shabab militants and the painful loss it portends to the continent’s literary community. Someone  hearing about the Ghanaian poet, Kofi Awoonor for the first time through Atta’s reading would have felt very familiar with him and felt the pain of his demise like that of an old friend. The presentation received a prolonged and resounding applause. Kabura Zakama and Obemata also read poems dedicated toAwonoor.

Although Temi Sode could not make it to the venue because she was indisposed, the other two originally billed for the event did not disappoint. Activist, lawyer and poet Abdul Mahmud, popularly known by his pen name, Obemata, read from his debut collection of poems titled Triptych. The collection  he said was inspired by his urge to express his frustration on his identity crisis, being an Abdul Mahmud from the south; his years in exile during Nigeria’s dark years of military rule and his deep love for his fatherland.

Obemata’s recollection of the history that inspired his writing of Triptych revealed the travails of a young man who as the president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), organized the largest students protest in the history of Nigeria, against the plans of the Babangida regime to remove government subsidy for petroleum products. Obemata was arrested and detained in 1991 at the Kirikiri Prisons under the dreaded State Security and Detention of Persons Decree Number 2 of 1984, on account of his opposition to the military dictatorship led by General Ibrahim Babaginda. He was again arrested in 1996 and detained by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) and the State Security Services (SSS), following claims that he knew or participated in the killing of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, the wife of the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election, Chief Moshood Abiola.

Obemata is widely represented in poetry magazines and anthologies, notably Sentinel, African Writer, Wordriot, African Writing, Origami, Liberty, Swalelife, Blackbiro, Next, Ijele, The Nigerian Guardian and ‘Witness’: anthology of war poetry (Serengeti Press, Ontario, 2004).

The story of the devastation that was brought upon Ibaji, a Local Government Area in Kogi state by the floods that ravaged many communities along the coastal lines of the rivers Niger and Benue in 2011 was told in a documentary produced by a non-governmental organization, the Civil Society Coalition for Poverty Eradication (CISCOPE) and International Rescue Commission (IRC). The NGO had intervened, bringing succor to the people of the local government, with funding from ECHO, a donor organization based in New York, United States. Peter Michael Egwudah who represented CISCOPE recalled that in 2011, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) issued a flood alert that the agency said would affect communities along Nigeria’s coastal line. He said governments at the national, state and local levels did not heed the warming and so were not prepared for the disaster when it eventually struck. The documentary detailed the calamity the affected communities faced with thousands of families losing their homes, farmlands and other sources of livelihood. Visuals of whole communities submerged along with their sources of livelihood painted a picture that to many who had not witnessed the floods, was shocking, to say the least.

The greatest tragedy of the situation was the inability of the government to make a timely response to the disaster. CESCOPE’s intervention in Ibaji saw the organization inject 1million Euros, which was a grant it was offered by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a United States based aid agency.

While answering questions from the audience, Mr. Egwudah said the government of Kogi state had initially refused to cooperate with them in their relief efforts. He said the Deputy Governor of the state on a certain occasion, threatened to arrest them, accusing his organization of bringing ‘terrorists and spies’ to the state and at some point fumed at why such a huge amount of money had got to the organization without passing through the state government. Responses from the audience praised CESCOPE and its partners for their humanitarian gesture which had brought hope and survival to thousands of distressed members of our society.

Egwudah said working with CISCOPE has enabled him support the poor and vulnerable in different communities in Nigeria with skill-acquisition, education and advocating for pro – poor policies for the vulnerable as well as support and rescue people who are affected by one form of disaster or the other.

Film producer and director Kasham Keltuma, Jide Atta and Obemata, also presented certificates of participation to the second introductory class of the AWF’s Creative Writing Workshop. The participants had undergone intensive training on creative writing techniques spanning the four Saturdays in the month of September. One of the participants, Oluchi Agbanyim responded on behalf of the class. She praised the forum, for the great initiative which has provided writers and aspiring writers, the opportunity to develop their writing skills and take the quality of their literary output to a higher level.

It was also a reward day for winners of the forum’s monthly writing challenge as they receivetheir prizes for winning the contest in various categories. Other features were  musical renditions by Tokunbo Edward who showed up this time with a backing duo including a violinist and soul rock singer Adzer David.

The Guest Writer’s Session of the Abuja Writers’ Forum began in 2008 and has remained consistent, creating a platform to celebrate published authors resident in Nigeria and abroad. The Forum also runs Creative Writing Workshops, as well as a critique session that holds every Sunday at the Internal Institute of Journalism, Asokoro, Abuja.

Iyorngurum is a Writer, Poet, Editor and the Secretary of the Abuja Writers’ Forum. He writes from Abuja.

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Posted by on 03/10/2013 in Essays


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Why China will Rule the World by Madaki O. Ameh


by: Madaki O. Ameh

In the past 12 months, I have spent a total of 109 days in China, pursuing different business transactions. During this period, I came into China on three different occasions in June, 2012, January 2013 and May 2013.  Since my first ever visit to China in October 2010 for the Canton Fair in Guangzhou, South China, which is undoubtedly the biggest trade fair in the world, I have never ceased to be fascinated at this country. The Chinese have been able to demonstrate in a consistent manner, that they have all it takes to rule the new world.  But in a different way from what the world has been accustomed to with the dominance of Western countries of Europe and America.

To start with, the Chinese economy has been growing consistently at double digits for almost two decades.  It is now no longer news that most companies produce in China, largely due to the efficient production processes in their factories, leading to more competitive prices.  The furore generated by the production of American jerseys for the last Olympic Games in China, and the impact this had on the American national psyche, is still quite fresh in the minds of well informed watchers of world events.  But I guess all those are stories for another day.

The main plank of this piece is to examine why China is well positioned to play a dominant role in world affairs in the years to come and into the foreseeable future.  With an unusual version of democracy, where there are no periodic expensive and rancourous elections, as the rest of the western world is used to, China has been able to establish a stable and secure country, where everyone, both citizens and visitors like me, can feel genuinely secure to go about their businesses without any fear of attacks, molestation or arrest, and this sort of environment really helps to foster business transactions.  The impression of China created by the Western world of a place where people are not free, and are always looking across their shoulders for fear of being arrested and detained on trumped up charges, cannot be further from the truth.  Indeed, because the Chinese mind their own business and do not meddle in the internal affairs of other countries in an obtrusive manner, the country has been able to foster bilateral relationships with other countries based on principles of equality of nations and mutual respect, which has made it virtually immune from being a target of international terrorists.

In fact, the approach to internal security in China is so sophisticated that you can hardly ever see an armed security man on the streets.  Throughout the period of my stay in China, I have only seen armed policemen on two occasions, and on both occasions, bullion vans were delivering cash at two banks in two different cities.  And on both occasions, I did not feel threatened in any way. The ever present, gun totting policemen and soldiers, virtually ready to shoot at the slightest provocation or suspicion of one being a terrorist in America and Europe since 9/11, is completely non-existent in China. The unfortunate fate that befell a young Brazilian a few years ago in the London Underground, where he was mistaken for a terrorist and shot in cold blood by the Metropolitan Police in London still leaves a harrowing memory. Yet, the vast majority of the huge Chinese population which accounts for easily 20% of the world population, are law abiding, in the sure knowledge that there are laws in the country, and that the Government has the will and the resources to enforce them in a consistent manner.  Whenever there are issues of internal security, the situation is quickly brought under control and normalcy restored, such that it is almost seen as a miracle how such a huge country can be carrying on without major incidents, practically year in, year out.

On the social side, the Chinese are very proud of their cultural heritage, dating back thousands of years, and do not make efforts to become other people, in order to be seen to be socially correct.  Every day, Chinese and foreign nationals troop to their world class national monuments like the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and several such tourist sites spread across the country, to savour the wonders of their ancient life, drawing inspiration from the great heritage of their ancient heroes and Emperors, who achieved great feats which remain wonders in Engineering and science, even today. I have never ceased to wonder how, over 700 years ago, when there were no earth moving machines, cranes, helicopters or other equipment known to modern Engineering, the Chinese were able to build the Great wall, on top of a very mountainous area, spanning practically hundreds of kilometers, a feat which remains a wonder today, as it was hundreds of years ago when it was constructed.  And this, by an Emperor who was reported to have been married to 3,600 women and lived in the Forbidden City, clearly outclassing the famous King Solomon of the Bible with his 1,000 recorded women!

From my close observation of the Chinese, they just love to be themselves and to live their lives without pretence. The Chinese are the closest specie of humans to the Africans that I can imagine, as their traditional lives are very close to nature, and the way they raise their kids, tell tales my moonlight, and cook their food, is very much like the practice in typical African villages.  It may therefore be no wonder why the Chinese have increasingly endeared themselves to African countries, and are increasingly widening their influence in Africa in a symbiotic relationship based on trust, mutual respect and a desire for genuine development, rather than an all-knowing, master-servant relationship that African countries have had to endure these many years in their association with the West.



As a patriotic Nigerian, I am personally excited at the prospects of a better political, social and economic relationship between Nigeria and China. On the eve of my return to Nigeria during my current trip, I am aware that the Nigerian President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is coming to China on his first State visit since becoming President, on 10th July, 2013.  This historic visit is very exciting because it is the very first such visit by a serving Nigerian President in recent times. There is no gainsaying the fact that after this visit, Sino-Nigerian relations will no longer be the same.  As the largest and most influential country in Africa and the entire Black world, Nigeria stands to benefit a lot from China’s positive posture towards Africa, and only needs to take that leadership role by fostering sustained diplomatic contacts with the Chinese authorities in a way that ensures that all the benefits of such engagements flow to Nigeria, and by extension, the rest of Africa.

I am aware that the staff at the Nigerian Embassy in Beijing are doing a great job in identifying opportunities for sustainable partnerships between Nigeria and China, and they deserve the support and encouragement of the Nigerian Government to ensure that all these efforts come to realization, to the mutual advantage of both countries.

There is no doubt in my mind that, with the approach of China towards economic management and international diplomacy, the country is well positioned to be an all round leader in the new world, and indeed the entire world will be better off for it, because it is obvious that after so many centuries of Western domination of world affairs, the world can do with a breath of fresh air under the leadership of China.

Madaki O. Ameh, an Oil and Gas Consultant and Public Affairs Commentator, is the Managing Partner of Bbh Consulting based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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Posted by on 03/07/2013 in Essays


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Of Lawan’s tragicomedy and Obasanjo’s vindication

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Posted by on 21/06/2012 in Essays


Ribadu and the Fate of ‘Baidu by Dr Aliyu Tilde

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Posted by on 10/02/2012 in Essays


Shocking: Jonathan Officially Concedes National Maritime Domain to Niger Delta Militants

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Posted by on 23/01/2012 in Essays


The New Challenges of Boko Haram by Dr Aliyu Tilde

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Posted by on 17/01/2012 in Essays


Reluctant Combatants by Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed

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Posted by on 06/01/2012 in Essays


Kano State and Literature Development by Zaharaddeen Ibrahim Kallah

Kano State is one of the largest centres of literature in Nigeria, with a significant number of youth who are writing in both indigenous and foreign languages. The state produced numerous talented poets and great writers such as Akilu Aliyu, Bashari Farouk Roukbah, Sheikh Na’ibi Sulaiman Wali, Bashir Othman Tofa, Professor Abdulkadir Dangambo, Professor Aliyu Kamal, Dr Yusuf M. Adamu, Bala Anas Babinlata, Ado Ahmad G/Dabino, Balaraba Ramat, Hafsat Abdulwahid and many Young writers such as Nazir Adam Salih, Fauziyya D. Sulaiman and Muhammad Lawal Barista. These people produce master pieces that help in the broadening and strengthening of our culture and tradition. It shows our power of creativity and initiatives that could be utilised anywhere in the world. With this good start, one could understand the readiness of our writers to take the leading role in literary development in the country and beyond.

It is unfortunate that writing and writers remain uncelebrated in Kano. Anywhere in the world the medium to recognise and encourage the works of people is celebrating them in order to inspire the young ones, and also organise special programmes where the related activities would be discussed. I don’t think the people in authority don’t know the merit of supporting the creative writing which is now being overtaken by youth. They are also aware of the consequences of underutilising and not supporting these potentialities of the teeming youth who are looking for the support of our elites.

As I mentioned earlier Kano state is blessed with writers who are writing in the indigenous Hausa language. This attract large market from other states, it even goes beyond West African countries to some parts of Europe. Despite the fact this is to the advantage of the state as it helps in preserving it culture and booming the economy when utilised. What I mean here is that many young writers who are gifted and brilliant were recognised but underutilised, basically because they lack means to publish their works, or even attend fora and workshops that could help them in reshaping their creativity. I know writers Associations in Kano such as ANA are doing their best to promote these young writers, but it goes beyond their capacity. It is a gigantic project that needs a lot of resources. In the 1930s up to the late 70s the northern government invested a lot of resources in the area of literature development. Writers of those days were sponsored to produce novels and books that benefited our country, such as Ruwan Bagaja, Shehu Umar, Magana Ja rice, Idon Matambayi, Kitsen Rogo, Uwar Gulma, Matar Mutum Kabarinsa, So Aljannar Duniya and so on. Prizes were awarded to them for job well done, which motivated them to produce relevant materials that are in line with our culture and tradition.

Why the contemporary young writers are neglected, it is the duty of the whole society to support them so that their creativity can be seriously utilised for our own collective good. I cannot say everything concerning the problems of literature and the way out in this state, but it is pertinent for the Kano state government to look at the issue critically. I knew when the Kano state Governor, Engineer Dr.Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was preparing to take the mantle of leadership had set a transition committee on Kano State Censorship Board to advise appropriately. This is the board that is duly responsible for anything that has to do with writers and film industry in Kano. I hope the committee has taken note of the previous administrations mistake, where much attention was given to film industry at the detriment of literature development.

I therefore strongly advice that the state government should pay attention to the area of literature development. No doubt literature is related to our education system, because it encourages reading culture among the younger generation. It is obvious that, no generation would develop when young people of that society lack interest in reading. The poor academic performance in our various schools is quite related to an endemic poor reading habit.

It is good if Kano state government through its Kano State Censorship Board organises programmes that would lead to the utilisation of our teeming writers in the state. This can be possible by organising annual prizes on good write-ups that promote culture, tradition and the religion of our people. The programme should help in re-orienting our society by inculcating good values.

The state should organise book fairs and workshops for writers annually, when these are done the young writers in the state would be empowered. The workshops would give room for enhancing their works to tally with the demand of modern world and our society. Organising book fairs is equally important as a means of displaying the product of creativity in our state. Whenever we meet in the national convention of the Association of Nigerian Authors, other writers from the other parts of the countries are amaze to hear the high number of writers, including women who write in the indigenous language. Therefore organising book fair annually would help in promoting and publicising their works.

Another area that I feel needs a serious support is the area of sponsorship, although sponsorship here may be in many stages. It could be sponsoring young writers to produce good manuscripts for publications; it could also be sponsoring their activities. Supporting young writers is a collective responsibility from government, banks, multi-national companies, and non-governmental organisations.

But the truth of the matter is that government should take a leading role, by being the agency for decision making, law and order; it has a vital role to play in the implementation process. Kano State Censorship Board is taking the responsibility of censoring what comes from our writers, but sincerely speaking, it must go beyond that. They should also participate in the promotion of literature; because we have all the ingredients to develop the sector. If in the 1930s, wonderful stories could be developed, why not this 21st Century when the agents of development are everywhere and our lives unfolding in drama.

Another very important area that needs government intervention is the establishment of writers’ village in the state. Recently the Kano state Governor announced his intention to establish a Film Institute. This to us is a welcome development and a good initiative that will enhance the role of Kanywood. Writers’ village would also serve a similar purpose, because it will give room for writers in the state and beyond to develop good creative works.

Finally in this world that is increasingly globalised, it is very important to recognise the value of improving our literature. We have to build on the knowledge of our local community, in order to cope with the globalisation and maintain our relevance. We have to read a lot, and learn to copy from others so that the good things in others can be aped and utilised. This is the only way we can penetrate the international market. I am therefore calling the young writers to read everything that comes their way, because that is where the foundation of their ambition lies. Fiction is more truthful than fact.

Zaharaddeen Ibrahim Kallah is the Branch Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors Kano State Branch

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Posted by on 25/10/2011 in Essays


Nollywood: Giving Hollywood a Run For Its Money

Generally, if the words “film industry” or “cinema culture” are being bandied about, it is assumed that Hollywood films are the topic of conversation. However, since the early 90s, two countries have eclipsed the number of films in production by the Hollywood machine. India, which churns out upwards of 3000 films per year is the world leader in film production. The Bollywood industry is the leader in film output as well, far outdistancing all other countries. The second country at the top of the film production leader board is Nigeria. Though its output is smaller, the actual number of films in production, in what has become known as Nollywood, places Nigeria at the center of a new hotbed of film creation.

The largest film industry in Africa, Nollywood, primarily produces work for the home video and straight-to-DVD market. Rather than relying on big budgets, a cadre of wealthy producers, and major distribution, Nigerian filmmakers, much like the independent film makers currently operating in Europe and the US, produce films almost entirely alone. While this does often have a noticeable affect on the visual quality of many of the films produced, it has not hampered the creativity of the Nigerian filmmaking community at all. If anything, working with tight time and budget constraints has caused movie makers to approach their filmmaking art in ways that have given the Nigerian film industry a look and “feel”, all its own.

In order to understand how Nigeria’s film industry rose to be a powerhouse of African cinema, one must look at how the movement developed. In the 60s, erstwhile Nigerian filmmakers found the cost of making films to be completely prohibitive, and turned to the burgeoning Nigerian television industry, which was government supported, in order to utilize their filmmaking skills. Initially, they focused on filming the many plays that were produced in the already well-established Nigerian theatre community. A country with a vital and culturally significant storytelling history, Nigeria afforded local filmmakers with a rich and exciting creative palette. The theatrical productions they filmed were subsequently reproduced, and set the stage for what would become a thriving home video market. It was not until nearly 30 years later, in the early 90s, that the film community established a successful identity in its own right, with the release of “Living in Bondage” by Kenneth Nnebue. The success of that film, and more importantly, the word-of-mouth distribution model that would become a hallmark of the Nigerian film industry, set the stage for an explosion of film. Rather than relying on established international distributors in glass towers with

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Posted by on 25/07/2011 in Essays


The Rhythm of Fear and Violence in Umaisha’s Hoodlums by Isaac Attah Ogezi

In the late 1980s, Achebe, in his timeless classic, The Trouble with Nigeria, classified Nigeria as one of the most unsafe places to live in the world today. Daily events in the country have made this assertion truer in our times than in the late 1980s. Only last year when the nation was in a euphoric mood of celebrating her fiftieth anniversary, a gift of bomb blasts at her seemingly impregnable Eagle Square was handed to her. If the army barracks and the Police Force Headquarters in our federal capital could have their share of bomb blasts, where lies our security? Indeed, the perennial ethno-religious crises in Kaduna, Jos, Bauchi and most parts of the north appear to have come to live with us like the Isreali-Palistinian crisis. The Niger Delta militancy in the south-south, the emergence of the extremist Islamic sect called Boko Haram in the north and the obvious disaffection and disunity among the citizenry have made fear the commonest denominator in Nigeria today, the all-pervasive kind of fear that preceded the Civil War in the late sixties which prompted Okigbo in his poem ‘Come Thunder’, to lament: ‘… a great fearful thing already tugs at the cables of /the open air.’ It is this fear, which is more often than not trailed by violence and debauchery, that has become a recurring decimal in our chequered history as a people and forms the fulcrum of Umaisha’s collection of seventeen short stories, ‘Hoodlums.’

In ‘Hoodlums,’ Umaisha explores several themes, ranging from fear and violence in our polity, feminism and the plight of children during crises, politics of bitterness and godfatherism and love, to metafiction and dystopian literature. In the stories, ‘Militant’, ‘After the Riot’ and ‘Hoodlums’, we see the gory pictures of the activities of the Niger Delta militants and the ceaseless ethno-religious violence in the country. In a season of anomie such as Nigeria’s, hoodlums are daily birthed; whose targets are the sane, ‘those who still had a future’ (p. 13). Umaisha unravels further the moronic psychology of hoodlums on the same page 13 when he wrote: ‘When the hoodlums sighted someone, they would rush and beat him repeatedly till he fell. Then they would slaughter him. The more a victim pleaded with them the more brutal they became. After slaughtering such a victim they would set the body ablaze.’ Hoodlums are therefore psychopaths who revel in bloodletting. They are monsters and bloodhounds. Like J. P. Clark’s all-embracing definition of casualties in the Nigerian Civil War in his famous poem ‘Casualties’, Umaisha sees hoodlums as not only those who physically unleash violence but include even the educated elite who fan the embers of disunity such as the journalists who incite crises by sensational reporting. On page 27, Umaisha made a Police Inspector speak his mind, thus:

‘”Do you see those hoodlums out there?” He pointed at some fleeing matchete-wiedling youths. “You and your editor and all the other journalists who help to escalate this crisis by sensational reporting are no better than them. They are all hoodlums and they will be treated as such.”’

In reply to this accusation, Ben, a journalist character in the title story unwittingly drops his guard when he pleads: ‘I don’t think it is too late, sir. One editorial is enough to do the magic. The fighting will stop. Even the reprisal attacks in other parts of the country will stop … ‘(p. 29). The activities of hoodlums on rampage will always result in mayhem as graphically painted on page 26:

‘The number of policemen and soldiers on the streets was obviously too small to cope with the situation. Dead bodies were everywhere, the driver barely avoided running over them. The sight was so horrible that grave silence pervaded the van.’

In ‘The Outcast’ and ‘The Forbidden Path’, Umaisha shows his disenchantment with our patriarchal society for its preference for men over women. In ‘The Outcast’, Ilema was discarded in a rubbish dump by her mother when she was an infant on account of her being a female child (p. 40). Umaisha paints the picture of a callous society that does not forgive a woman’s childlessness as he aptly put it in the mouth of his character Mummy on page 43: ‘“I am an outcast”, she continued. “I was rejected by my people. I was branded a witch and rejected because of my inability to bear a child. Even though in my desperate quest for a child, I moved from one husband to another like a harlot, they still failed to understand my plight. They said I couldn’t give birth because I ate my babies in the womb.” Because of the sexist society that she lives in, Mummy dreams that Ilema will ‘grow into a woman of substance, into a man’ (p. 45). Similarly, in ‘The Forbidden Path’, Onkwo, the oldest person in Irebu village is branded a witch and ‘… from that day, children never went near her again’ (p. 55) because apart from having one of her sons ‘lost to the city’ (p. 55), the rest of her other ten children are dead including her husband!

Stories like ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Do or Die!’ poke fun at our unsophisticated politics of bitterness and godfatherism. ‘The Last Hiding Place’ and ‘The President’s Portrait’ depict metafictive processes of creativity and the enigmatic nature of artistes generally, while ‘Seat of Power’ describes a dystopian world reminiscent of Orwell’s masterwork, 1984. It is worthy to note that despite Umaisha’s dark world marked with violence and savagery, the victimization of women and children, politics of ‘do-or-die’, somehow love survives. In ‘Soul Mate’ and even the doomsday title story, ‘Hoodlums’, love flourishes even in a time of war. The love between Ben and Mairo in Kaduna cuts across the religious divide. It is pure, unadulterated love that is religion-blind. This is a bold, no-holds-barred story that shows that Nigeria needs writers like Umaisha who are detribalized and de-religionized. Writers who, when possessed by the creative muse, will utilize the social function of literature to unite rather than to preach sectionalism and religious intolerance.

Unarguably, Umaisha’s Hoodlums is a celebration of the blissful marriage of topical themes and aesthetics. As a poet, Umaisha has been able to transfer the subtlety that poetry is renowned for to his short stories, thereby placing some high demands on the readers to read between the lines to be able to fathom some unsaid things. Umaisha employed great economy of language like Hemingway in Hoodlums. This kind of cryptic use of language is evident in ‘The Forbidden Path’ when the writer used just two versified lines on page 57 to tell the entire story of Onkwo, why she is labelled a witch. This is a skill which reinforces the short story’s unique singularity of effect apart from the fact that it can be read at one sitting, with no single word wasted. Edgar Allan Poe, in the first real analysis of the short story, posited that: ‘In the whole composition, there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect is not to the one pre-established design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction.’

Perhaps, the apparent weakness in Umaisha’s Hoodlums is the lack of experimentation in narrative styles. All the stories conform to the traditional form of storytelling in the mould of folktales evident in the works of the early masters of the short story form such as Poe and Melville. In the entire seventeen stories, none of them is Chekhovian nor experimental like Hemingway’s. There is no doubt that the short story is more similar to poetry than the longer prose form of the novel, and just like poetry, form is as important to the short story, if not more important than the subject. Also, in one or two instances, Umaisha’s characters are flat, cowardly and not invested with heroism like Iyayi’s Heroes. The character of Ben, the journalist in the title story, is that of a despicable coward on page 30, as follows: ‘He got down on his knees and began to pray – something he had not done in a very long time … No one looked back except Ben. And what he saw was beyond words. He slumped.’ In ‘The Outcast’, Ilema’s character is portrayed to be weak when, upon the revelation of the circumstances surrounding her birth, ‘she suddenly lurched forward and slumped to the floor’ (p. 45). Melodrama in fiction is always accompanied with weak character portrayal. Ironically, the effect of melodrama in literature is always the opposite and negative, for instead of striking the reader hard in the face, it falls off flat on the ground because of its lack of verisimilitude. On page 11, Umaisha wrote:

‘Mummy was running fast. She spread out her arms when she saw Tene. The little girl also spread out her arms, running towards her as fast as she could. But just before she got to Mummy, another explosion went off close by and something she could not see lifted Mummy high and smashed her on the ground. Mummy struggled to her feet but fell back.’

The same can be said of Ben’s ‘hazy image of Mairo, weeping and stretching out her hands, inviting him to come over’ on page 29. Well-packaged and edited, Hoodlums is almost error-free save for a few lapses such as ‘contentious difference’ (p. 14), ‘And as he presently focused on a mob” (p. 99) and ‘His heart skipped a bit” (p. 102).

Be that as it may, Umaisha’s Hoodlums announces the arrival of an accomplished short story writer in Nigeria, who, in the succeeding years, will continue to give us more snapshots of the human condition and nature in a manner not amenable to the novel form. Even the great masters of the short story genre such as Melville, Turgenev, Chekhov, Hemingway and Katherine Mansfield could not boast of an accomplished first collection like Umaisha’s ‘Hoodlums.’ It is indeed a must-read for all those aspiring to excel in short story writing and for those on the lookout for real entertainment.

- Isaac Attah Ogezi

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Posted by on 22/07/2011 in Criticism, Essays


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