After a very exciting and successful 2011 literary season which featured readings by established and emerging writers, creative writing workshops, and weekly critique sessions the Abuja Writers Forum (AWF) is set to kick-start its 2012 literary calendar with the duo of Uche Ezechukwu and Steve Okecha at the Pen and Pages Bookstore, Wuse 2, Abuja on February 25 by 4pm.
Uche Ezechukwu is Anambra State-born multi-lingual and multi-disciplinary journalist, writer and public affairs consultant, with nearly 30 years of cognitive experience in the different areas of media and public affairs practice. He has been a newsroom reporter, state correspondent, features writer, columnist, editor and publisher in the different print media organisations. He has also been an image manager of ‘difficult’ public figures and their platforms ranging from General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, General Sani Abacha (as Nigeria’s 10th head of state), General Muhammadu Buhari(as the presidential flag-bearer of the ANPP in 2003) and Dr. Andy Uba (as PDP gubernatorial flag-bearer in Anambra State in 2007), among other personalities and organisations with obvious public image challenges, to the extent that he has become an acknowledged expert in handling difficult image issues.
He has also authored four books of biographical, historical and sociological genres, including: Abacha: The Myth, the Man (1977); In God’s Hands (1999) (the amazing story of the Biafran Air Force); Land of the Risen Sun; and Ojukwu: The ‘Rebel’ I Served. Another book, A Bridge Across Time (a depiction of the Sokoto Caliphate) is in the press and will be published by June this year.
Trained at Nigerian and East European institutions in Political Studies, Mass Communications and Political Economy and practices in English, French and German, with equal fluency in those three European languages and with a working knowledge of Hausa and Spanish languages, Ezechukwu is, of course, adept in the spoken and written aspects of his own indigenous Igbo language.
His latest book, Ojukwu, the ‘Rebel’ I Served (2012), is an intimate account of a writer and journalist who worked very closely and intimately, for two non-interrupted years, under the ex-Biafran leader, as a media aide and speech writer, at a time Ojukwu’s image needed rehabilitation most. The 222-page book which the author started and concluded in 17 days after the announcement of the death of his subject on November 26, 2011, contains accounts and insights into areas of the man’s life that had never been touched on before, or which had been distorted. He gave such rare insights into the man’s persona that are not readily available to those who had looked at and seen him from the distance, as a warlord without a heart or soul. He unravels a new Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, as a man who possessed all the superlative personal qualities that he was publicly associated with, but who was also imbued with such rare and tender qualities that could not have been imagined about him. It is a work that shows that, at the end of the day, the ex-General of the Peoples Army of Biafra and the Ikemba Nnewi, once feared as a rebel and a loved leader of his people, was really an officer and gentleman, highly and rarely gifted…and yet, an ordinary, caring and patriot Nigerian, who loved his country more than his own life.
Steve O. Okecha, is a distinguished Professor of Chemistry and currently a consultant with the Federal Ministry of Education, Abuja. Educated at the well-known Government College, Ughelli, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and at the University of Sweden, he was born in Obiaruku, Delta State and is a scholar of international repute and of multiple competencies.
A versatile chemist, environmentalist, university administrator, poet and orator, Professor Okecha is widely published in international scientific and literary journals. His most recent book, The Nigerian University: An Ivory Tower With Neither Ivory Nor Tower, is not only a scathing discourse of the rot in Nigerian universities but offers worthwhile solutions. Erstwhile Newswatch Magazine co-founder and editor, Dan Agbese, makes the following observation about Professor Okecha’s book: “This 144-page book is dynamite. Anyone who reads it will have tears in his eyes. It is, perhaps, the most informative little book on the decay and the rot in Nigerian universities so far. Every page is an indictment of the nation and its leaders. Every chapter is packed with disturbing facts on the progressive ruination of the university system. It is an angry book written by an angry scholar who has devoted his entire life to teaching and research in Nigerian universities and has come to the fork on the road in his personal academic journey, and now begins to wonder why the dusk has not kept the promise of the dawn… “At the last count, Nigeria had 92 universities, made up of 27 federal universities, 30 state universities and 35 private universities. In addition, there are 19 degree-awarding institutions in the country. More private universities must have been established since Okecha collected that data from an NUC publication.
The race to own universities is on. “Nigeria has an impressive number of universities, enough to meet almost everyone’s thirst for higher education. Sadly, the quality of university education lags very far behind the leap in numbers. Even sadder still is the fact that these universities cannot admit one quarter of children who qualify annually for admission for lack of facilities, such as classrooms, academic staff, etc.
“Itis Okecha’s pet theory – and he repeats it almost ad nauseam – that ‘the decay of the Nigerian university system is due, primarily, to lack of political will, and sound, purposeful, visionary leadership.’ He has done a comparative analysis of our university system with the university system in a good number of countries, developed and developing. In virtually all the indices, Nigeria takes its dishonoured place near or right at the bottom.
“Take funding. The difference between Nigeria and sixteen other African countries is a matter of national shame. Even poor countries like Niger, Burkina Faso, Lesotho, Liberia and The Gambia spend much more on education than Nigeria.
While nearly all the African countries are striving hard to meet the UNESCO recommendation that countries spend at least 26 percent of their annual budget on education, Nigeria almost grudgingly spends less than seven per cent. The federal government has consistently ignored even the home-grown advice of the Etsu Nupe panel and the Vision 2010 committee that in 1997 recommended 30 per cent and 26 percent annual budgetary allocation to education respectively. It is not for lack of money. A country that earns an average of $45 billion a year from crude oil export alone is not exactly short of cash. According to Okecha, between June 1999 and May 2007, the country earned N16.447 trillion, almost all of it from crude oil export. Think of what difference even ten per cent of that earning could do for the university system.”
The Guest Writer Session started in June 2008 and has been a consistent feature of the nation’s literary scene. The February 25 Guest Writer Session will include the usual side attractions of poetry performance, mini art exhibition, and a raffle-draw as well as live music. The Abuja Writer’s Forum meets three Sundays each month and hosts a reading on every last Saturday at the International Institute of Journalism and Pen and Pages respectively.