Monthly Archives: December 2010

Christmas Eve Bombing, Jos, Nigeria, 24 December 2010

I have put off writing anything on this blog about the Christmas Eve bombs in Jos, in part out of weariness, in part perhaps feeling that if I didn’t write anything perhaps it would not be true, in part because we know so little real information–I don’t want to add to the rumour mongering and disinformation that so easily causes problems during these times. I am in Jos, right now, but most everything we hear is just hearsay.

Here is what I know and have seen: I went with my family to a Christmas Eve church service on the south side of Jos that started around 6:30pm. We crossed over the Gada Biyu Bridge on our way to the service around 6:15pm or 6:20pm. At the end of the service, someone came onto the loud speaker encouraging people to go home because there had been a bomb that had gone off around the Polo field. Looking at my phone, I saw I had two missed calls from one of my friends in Jos. When I called him back, he told me he had seen bomb blasts on Ring Road at Anguwar Rukuba. Thinking the earlier reports of bombs at Polo field were reported in the wrong location, we headed home down Zaria Road. Around the Polo roundabout, where the traffic was getting heavy and people seemed to be terrified, we were turned back by a panicky policeman who told us the road was closed and we should go “find a place to hide.” We could smell smoke and hear gunfire.

Fortunately, my brother has a place not far from where we were turned back, and, although he had planned on spending Christmas eve with us at my parent’s house, we ended up spending the night at his apartment. We sat around on his balcony drinking hot cocoa and hovering over the radio listening for news,  listening to the night which became increasingly more quiet except for the lorries which kept rumbling by on the road (perhaps trying to find streets that were not blocked off?) I posted as my status on facebook via phone:

Red moon rising over jos, and now that the bombs hv stopped and the gunfire quietened, and the cars chased frm the streets, it is a silent night, (except for 1 distant siren/

It was a bizaare moment, the eerie silence marred by the occasional siren or gunshot. Going inside, flipping through television channels, watching interviews with Matt Damon and Harry Potter stars, and then seeing a brief blurb on BBC with Jos identified on a blocky map of Nigeria. Making out beds on couch cushions and blankets, knowing that less than a kilometre away, there were dead bodies, and fire, and mourning families.

Around 6:40am, my father got us up and said we should go. A guard working at the compound had just come through Gada Biyu and said the traffic was flowing. We left around 6:55am and passed through Gada Biyu around 7:03am. There were people out on the road, but we saw no mobs. I saw families with small children, with suitcases, perhaps looking for transport out of town. People were walking in groups of two or three as if out to see the damage. As we drove through Gada Biyu we passed several parked lorries. One of them had been partially burned, but there was still a cow with gigantic horns sitting in the back, alive, and seemingly unharmed.We later found out that at around 7:30am, people began burning cars at Gada Biyu, so we had passed through just in time.

Heard from others: The rest of the day, yesterday, Christmas day, seemed fairly calm from our location in Jos North. When on Christmas evening I spoke with my friend  Godfrey Saeed Selbar, who had told me about the bombs at Ring Road, he told me that he had been out and had heard the first bomb blast on Ring Road, sounding distant. He had gone outside and had only been a few metres from the second bomb that went off. He said he knew at least four of the people killed in the blast and that he tried to help one victim whose leg had been blown off. He said he still had blood on his clothes. He said later there was another bomb at a drinking spot not far from where he was. He has photographs of around 15 people killed in the bomb. He also told me that a few other people had been killed by the youth on Christmas morning. He will upload photographs to his blog when he is able to access the internet. When I just tried to call him to get an update (4:19pm, 26 Dec 2010), his phone was switched off. [UPDATE: 30 December 2010: Godfrey has just uploaded a few photos and an account of his experience of being "flung to the ground" by one of the bombs in Anguwar Rukuba. WARNING that there is at least one graphic photo of a dead body on his site.]

Another friend told us that a nine year old son of a friend had been caught in the blast while running an errand. He had not been killed outright but had his jaw and the side of his face blown apart and was taken to the hospital hardly breathing.

I have also heard that youth have blocked off Ring Road with corpses insisting that the governor come and see. According to the hearsay, some tension over this ended in soldiers shooting some of the youth. Apparently some of the corpses have since been taken away. (But this paragraph is all hearsay)

What happened, according to the news: From the reports I’ve read, it seems that about 6 or 7 bombs went off in two different locations, on Ring Road and the Anguwar Rukuba area and at Kabong near the new Gada Biyu overpass bridge, around 7pm on Christmas Eve.  News reports from various agencies are reporting that there were 32 killed and 74 wounded in the attacks.

Destroyed building and brunt Trailer following the Christmas eve bomb blast in Jos (c) Vanguard

Vanguard reports:

Briefing journalists yesterday, Plateau State commissioner of police, Mr. Abdulrahman Akano, said a total of seven explosives were planted in two parts of the state capital.

According to him, five of the explosives were planted at the Kabong area while two were planted at Angwan Rukuba. One of the bombs was planted in a busy market at Kabong where people were making last-minute purchases for Christmas while another was planted at a relaxation spot in Angwan Rukuba.

He said the police and other security agencies had swung into action to get to the root of the matter and had already got some leads which were being followed to unmask the culprits. He said dynamites and about 100 match boxes were recovered from one of the places combed by men of the bomb unit of the police and were being analyzed.

The most recent information I have found is from RTE: “Houses set alight in Jos, Nigeria.” 26 December 2010. Xinhuanet also reports that at least one was killed and houses burnt today, Sunday 26 December. 2010. In church today, we heard news that there was tension around Katako Junction and have heard from other friends living near the abatoir that there has been conflict in that part of Jos. However, we have seen no smoke and have not heard very much gunfire from where we are.

In other news, there were other Christmas attacks on churches in Maiduguri and in other parts of the world.

As a Christian, it is quite a blow to have such violence committed on a day so sacred and devoted to peace. One of the best known Christmas scriptures (Luke 2:14) features angels bursting through the night sky to sing to shepherds:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

It is hard to understand. Why? Why on Christmas?  (Why ever?) Why kill innocent people celebrating the birth of Jesus, who is venerated in Christianity and Islam?

I have seen a lot of anger from Christian friends on the internet. And it is completely understandable. However, I think the important thing to remember is that these bombs were the acts of extremists and cynics. Any acts of violence against the innocent Muslim population in Jos will play right into the hands of those who planted the bombs. The bombs were planted to create chaos in Jos. The best way to defeat the intentions of the evil people who did this is to act in accordance with the very peace that we celebrate during this season.

When I first heard of the bomb blasts I thought immediately of the article for my column I had submitted to my editor at Weekly Trust only two days earlier, set to come out the following day on Christmas. In it I celebrated the successful Peace Cup Games, organized by the Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Inter-faith Foundation, in which teams, made up of half Muslim/half Christian participants, from Jos North and Jos South concluded a two week peace-building football camp with a final match.

Players from the teams from Jos North and Jos South hold hands as they enter the stadium for the Jos Peace Cup games, 21 December 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

I had been very hopeful about the peace-building efforts and the friendships built between youth on these neighborhood teams and their communities, quoting the idealistic words of the musicians who had performed at the Peace Cup ceremony: Jeremiah Gyang, the multi-ethnic rock band Threadstone, and the Hausa hiphop group JAPS:

The musicians perhaps said it best. “All our wounds were self inflicted cause we burned down our bridges,/ then we realized that hope was all we had,” belted out the Threadstones in their “Miracle for a Lost City.” Hiphop musician Sani Japs told me, “What religion has shown us, both in Islam and Christianity, is peace. The Quran has shown us we are all one, but the best one among you is the one who forgives and forgets. So what I think will bring peace is if all of us think of ourselves as One Nigeria, brothers and sisters.” This sentiment was also expressed by Jeremiah Gyang, who sang, “Zo, mu rera wakar Nigeria, Zo mu rera waka sallama.” Come let’s sing the song of Nigeria, Come let’s sing the song of peace.”

And my thoughts wandered back to that old Christmas hymn, “O Holy Night”: “Truly He taught us to love one another; / His law is love and His Gospel is peace./ Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother/ And in His Name all oppression shall cease.”

Barka da Kirismati. Happy Christmas. May the peace of God be with us all.

Sani Japs and Nazeefy Shuiabu from the hiphop group JAPS perform at the Jos Peace Cup games. (c) Carmen McCain

Umar Jawfu (guitar) and A.Jay Kafang (vocals) of rock band Threadstone perform at the Jos Peace Cup games, 21 December 2010, Bukuru Stadium. (c) Carmen McCain

Jeremiah Gyang sings at the Jos Peace Cup Games, 21 December 2010, Bukuru Stadium. (c) Carmen McCain

Sitting on my brother’s balcony I sent this text message to my editor:

“My column tomorrow is going to look awfully ironic. Jos in flames again. Apparently at least 5 bombs have gone off. We had gone out for christmas eve service and can’t get home but fortunately my brother has an apt in town where we are holed up.

But re-reading over the article, I was glad I had written it anyway. Perhaps the uneasy calm that lingers over some parts of Jos (I say this with the knowledge that my words here may later sound ironic) has something to do with the efforts of the Young Ambassadors, who have been tirelessly going around the state trying to bring Muslim and Christian communities together.  Slowly, slowly, step by step, if we can continue to follow the teachings of Jesus who taught peace and love, patience and forgiveness, truth and justice, perhaps we can achieve peace.

And to those  angry people, claiming Christianity, I have seen on the internet advocating a war of revenge and retaliation against Muslim communities you are assuming to be guilty, with  no proof, please look first at this sermon preached by the great American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on Christmas 1957: “Loving Your Enemy.” I keep posting this link over and over again on this blog, but I was particularly touched when I went back on Christmas morning, after finally reaching home, and read it again, realizing that it was actually a Christmas sermon. We need his words, reminding us of the peace Jesus came into the world to bring, now more than ever:

First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us. It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression. The wrongdoer may request forgiveness. He may come to himself, and, like the prodigal son, move up some dusty road, his heart palpitating with the desire for forgiveness. But only the injured neighbor, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm waters of forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the canceling of a debt. The words “I will forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you’ve done” never explain the real nature of forgiveness. Certainly one can never forget, if that means erasing it totally from his mind. But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. Likewise, we can never say, “I will forgive you, but I won’t have anything further to do with you.” Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again.

Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.

Second, we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy. Each of us has something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against ourselves. A persistent civil war rages within all of our lives. Something within us causes us to lament with Ovid, the Latin poet, “I see and approve the better things, but follow worse,” or to agree with Plato that human personality is like a charioteer having two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in a different direction, or to repeat with the Apostle Paul, “The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”

This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath. the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts are not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding, but in spite of this, we know God’s image is ineffably etched in being. Then we love our enemies by realizing that they are not totally bad and that they are not beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love.

Third, we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding. At times we are able to humiliate our worst enemy. Inevitably, his weak moments come and we are able to thrust in his side the spear of defeat. But this we must not do. Every word and deed must contribute to an understanding with the enemy and release those vast reservoirs of goodwill which have been blocked by impenetrable walls of hate.

Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.

So when Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies-or else? The chain reaction of evil-hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars-must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.[Emphasis mine-CM]

Another reason why we must love our enemies is that hate scars the soul and distorts the personality. Mindful that hate is an evil and dangerous force, we too often think of what it does to the person hated. This is understandable, for hate brings irreparable damage to its victims. We have seen its ugly consequences in the ignominious deaths brought to six million Jews by hate-obsessed madman named Hitler, in the unspeakable violence inflicted upon Negroes by bloodthirsty mobs, in the dark horrors of war, and in the terrible indignities and injustices perpetrated against millions of God’s children by unconscionable oppressors.

But there is another side which we must never overlook. Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

A third reason why we should love our enemies is that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and forever more, and may we be granted the miracle of peace this Christmas, in this city Jos, and in this country, Nigeria. Amen.

For more information on the most recent violence in Jos, see the following reports:

AlJazeera: “Nigeria Vows to hunt bomb suspects” 26 December 2010.

AFP: “Troops Patrol Nigerian City after Deadly Attacks.” 26 December 2010

BBC: (video and short report) “Nigeria Probes Deadly Bomb Blasts” 26 December 2010.

Leadership: “More Casualties Reported in Jos Bomb Blasts.” 26 December 2010.

Nation: “Police Confirm 32 Dead, 74 Injured.” 26 December 2010.

Nation: “CAN blames Govt, Security.” 26 December 2010

Sunday Sun: “X-mas tragedies: Harvest of Death.” 26 December 2010.

Sunday Trust: “Christmas Eve Tragedy: ‘We’ll fish out those behind Jos Bomb Blasts’ -Jonathan ‘It’s an Act of Terrorism’- Army Chief” 26 December 2010.

Vanguard: “Jos Xmas Eve Blast: 32 people confirmed dead, 74 hospitalized” 26 December 2010

Bloomberg: “Christmas bombs in Nigeria’s Jos kill 32, in Attack Army Calls Terrorism.” 25 December 2010.

NEXT: “Jos residents reel from twin blasts that kill tens” 25 December 2010

For other posts I have written on this blog and elsewhere about the ongoing crises in Jos, see the following:

“Village of Areh Being Attacked Right NOW… 18 July 2010.” July 18, 2010.

“July 17 Attack on Maza Village, Jos, Plateau State” July 17, 2010.

“Photos of Peace Rally in Jos.” July 3, 2010.

“Youth Peace Rally, Jos, Rwang Pam Stadium, Thursday, 1 July, 10am” June 28, 2010.

“Riots in Jos as okada ban is enforced” June 28, 2010.

“The Most Recent Violence in Plateau State” March 8, 2010

“Taking Sides” January 28, 2010

“Massacre at Kuru Jenta/Kuru Karama” January 23, 2010

“On the Latest Jos Crisis” January 21, 2010.

“First installment in a series of thoughts on the Jos crisis” December 12, 2008.

Collected or Stolen? Sothebys set to auction a plundered Benin Mask on 17 February

Benin mask, likely of Queen Idia, set to be autioned at Sothebys (Photo Credit: Art Daily)

In a posting on facebook and his widely read Naijablog, Jeremy Weate brought my attention to the proposed auction at Sothebys of a 16th century ivory pendant Benin mask, looted during the “Punitive Expedition” by the British on Benin in 1897. The mask is thought to be a representation of Queen Idia of Benin. According to the Art Daily website, which describes the mask with a cool anthropological sort of detachment:

The mask and the five other Benin objects will be sold by the descendants of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Lionel Gallwey [...]who was appointed deputy commissioner and vice-consul in the newly established Oil Rivers Protectorate (later the Niger Coast Protectorate) in 1891. He remained in Nigeria until 1902 and participated in the British Government’s “Punitive Expedition” of 1897 against Benin City.

The mask is expected to sell for £3.5-4.5* million.

British soldiers of the “Punitive Expedition” of 1897 proudly pose with looted art (Photo Credit: ModernGhana.com)

There has been, as one might expect, much outrage in Nigeria and among Nigerian communities in the diaspora about the intended sale of stolen Benin treasures. An online petition begun on December 22 to “stop the sale of stolen 16th century Benin mask” has so far (as of the time that I am writing, still on December 22) garnered over 370 signatures. To add your name to the list, click here. If art looted from families during the Nazi era in Europe is being returned to the descendants of those from whom it was stolen, then there is no excuse not to return these valuable cultural artifacts back to the palace in Benin. The renewed anger over these stolen artworks reminds me of Wole Soyinka’s revelation in his memoir You Must Set Forth at Dawn of how he tried to “liberate” the Benin Mask used in replica as the symbol of FESTAC.

The most useful way to stay up-to-date on the progress of the campaign to have the mask returned to Nigeria is to check out the facebook page “Stop the Sale of Stolen 16th Century Benin Mask.” This page was only created today but already has a series of updates about contact with the Sotheby’s African Art department and other links on comparable art recovery projects.

UPDATE 26 December 2010. In an almost unbelievable but very encouraging testimony to the power of social media, it seems that Sotheby’s has bowed to pressure and has removed the mask from intended auction. You can see the list of announcements on the Sotheby’s website here and download the very terse note that says:

24TH December 2010

STATEMENT REGARDING CANCELLATION OF BENIN SALE

“The Benin Ivory Pendant Mask and other items consigned by the descendants of Lionel Galway which Sotheby’s had announced for auction in February 2011 have been withdrawn from sale at the request of the consignors.”

Sahara Reporters notes that:

The auction had spurred a widespread protest by Nigerians and other sympathetic groups organized by the UK-based Nigeria Liberty Forum   (NLF). Hundreds of protesters had contacted Sotheby’s in writing, through phone calls or by street protests to demand the cancellation of the sale and to push for the return of the mask to Nigeria.

[...]

The protest organizers encouraged Nigerians across the globe to contact Sotheby’s auctioneers by phone or e-mail. These tactics as well as threats of legal action forced Sotheby’s in London to initially put the sale on hold while seeking further information from the NLF. By Christmas Eve, the sale had been canceled and the announcement removed from Sotheby’s auction calendar.

The campaign marks the second time the NLF would conduct a successful “telephone campaign” to stop high-profile acts of violations of public interests. The group’s first major campaign was to mobilize Nigerians to bombard a Heathrow Hotel with phone calls to drive away Nigeria’s former Attorney General, Michael Aondoakaa, who had sneaked into London to sabotage the trial of associates of former Governor James Ibori. Mr. Aondoakaa was forced to flee the hotel as Nigerians all over the world made more than 1,500 calls to his hotel in less than one hour.

Mr. Ogundamisi told SaharaReporters that the NLF was monitoring other artifacts purloined from Nigeria by British colonial officials and held in different parts of the world. “We will not rest until these cultural assets are returned to their original owners in Nigeria,” he said.

To read the full statement from Kayode Ogundamisi, convener of Nigeria Liberty Forum, see this note on the facebook group “Stop the Sale of Stolen 16th Century Benin Mask”

UPDATE: 23 December 2010:

When you google “Benin Mask Sotheby’s” you find half sites that are advertising the sale of the mask and half sites that are protesting the sale. The Antiques Trade Gazette is a good representative of the sort of patronizing tone taken when discussing African art in the final paragraph of its article about the sale of the piece:

It is unusual for material of this type to be sold by Sotheby’s in London (typically tribal art is sold in Paris), but, according to the auctioneers, the consignor specifically requested its sale in the UK.

Art historian S. Okwunodu Ogbechie points out the double standards applied by museums and institutions like Sothebys, who seem to apply different standards for ownership to African works than they do to artworks from other parts of the world:

Some commentators have suggested that Africans should try to buy back their stolen artworks when these come to public auction. I consider such suggestions preposterous since it allows the vandals who plundered Africa to benefit from their plunder twice over. When Britain and other colonial powers pay restitution to Africa for the rape of the continent,then I will entertain such suggestions. In the absence of any real compensation for centuries of plunder and genocide against Africans, raising this issue at all is clearly a racist form of responsibility avoidance.

All across the world today, many stolen artworks are being repatriated to their countries of origins. No one is asking the cultural owners of these artworks to pay for the privilege of retrieving their ancestors’ properties. Therefore, the relevant issue is whether Africans have any legal rights to their lives, natural and cultural resources. At what point does the brazen dispossession of Africa become a significant political, economic and moral issue? The Sotheby’s sale is part of a broad disregard for the very real impact of dispossession on the reality and fortunes of black Africans today. There is no justice here and it does not appear that black Africans or their descendants will be afforded any kind of legal justice in the prevailing context of white Western power. And yes, this is clearly a racial issue. Zahi Hawass has by and large stopped Western institutions from brazenly trafficking in Egyptian artifacts. He continues to negotiate the return of large numbers of looted Egyptian artworks back to Egypt. Most of these artworks were removed from Egypt more than 250 years ago. Italy has repatriated artworks to Libya. Western museums have repatriated artworks to South Africa. But so far, all requests for repatriation or reparation by black Africans have been dismissed without hearing. This is not surprising: African Americans have so far only received an apology for their centuries –long enslavement and, through their overwhelming imprisonment, they continue to fatten the coffers of modern-day slaveholders who run various prisons in the USA. There has never been any Western country held accountable for their actions in Africa, not even Belgium that oversaw the genocide of close to 10 million Congolese between 1880 and 1920. Sotheby’s multi-million dollar sale of stolen Benin artwork would seem insignificant within such a list of atrocities against Africa but make no mistake, it is part of the same current of morally and ethically dubious actions unfolding without any regard at all for African concerns.

It is therefore time for all Africans who have the resources to contribute to a massive effort to bring the global legal system to bear on these institutions who traffic in stolen African cultural patrimony. There are already precedents: the Holocaust reparation legal challenge is a clear precedence; so is the Native American Graves Repatriation and Protection Act. The issue of African cultural patrimony is an urgent human rights issue. Africans deserve equal access to and equal share of the economic value of artworks created by their ancestors. More importantly, they deserve to have a say in what happens to these artworks in the contemporary era. These artworks arrived in the West on a boat of plunder and bloodshed. Uncountable numbers of African lives were destroyed in the avaricious pursuit of colonization by Western powers. There needs to be an accounting for this history. Western institutions like Sotheby’s that broker the sale of these artworks should also cease and desist. They may not be legally liable for their actions today, but they will be legally liable at some time in the future.

Other excellent commentary is going on at the following blogs:

Jeremy Weate’s Naijablog: “Selling What was Stolen.” 22 December 2010

S. Okwunodu Ogbechie’s AACHRONYM: “Sotheby’s is Trafficking in Stolen Benin Artworks.” 23 December 2010.

MyWeku: “Help Stop the auction of Stolen 16th century Benin Mask.” 23 December 2010

Kwame Opoku’s essay “They are Selling Queen Mother Idia Mask and We are All Quiet” on the Facebook group Stop the Sale of Stolen 16th Century Benin Mask. 23 December 2010.

Katrin Schulze’s Contemporary Arts in Northern Nigeria: “A Quick Interim Report on the Upcoming Sale of Benin Artifacts at Sothebys” and “Update: A Quick Interim Report on the Upcoming Sale of Benin Artifacts at Sothebys” 23 December 2010.

Chika Okeke-Agulu’s Ofodunka: “Sale of stolen Benin ivory mask by Sotheby’s.” 23 December 2010

For more information about the Punitive Expedition and the looting of Benin art, see these articles:

2003 Guardian article “Spoils of War” by Jonathan Jones.

ModernGhana.com compilation of articles from 2008: the Vanguard’s “BNC gives FG 21-day ultimatum to render account on Benin artifacts” by Simon Ebegbulem, and the Guardian’s “Benin rulers renew campaign for artifact’s retrieval in US” by Tajudeen Sowole.

Website featuring Peju Layiwola’s 2010 traveling exhibition “Benin1897.com: Art and the Restitution Question.”

2010 Next article “Revisiting the 1897 destruction of Benin” by Akintayo Abodunrin.

In response to Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s “In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse” an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani (c) Sunmi Smart-Cole via African-Writing Online

When I first began to read Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s op-ed piece “In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse,” published in on 12 December 2010 in the New York Times, I thought I would enjoy the piece. [If you have trouble finding the full text of the article without signing into the New York Times site, you can find it copied over onto the USA/Africa Dialogues blog and now also on the NEXT website.] She argues that it may be a blessing that Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o did not win a Nobel Prize this year, reasoning that such a prize would encourage young African writers to aim to be the “next Ngugi.” New African writers should pursue their own style, Nwaubani contends, rather than slavishly imitating the elders of African literature.  Although it does not necessarily follow that honouring a writer for a lifetime of work must necessarily create slavish imitations, I am sympathetic to arguments about pursuing new styles and themes, especially coming from a new Nigerian author who in I Do Not Come to You by Chance has given us one of the freshest and funniest novels I’ve read in years. Nwaubani has been the Nigerian author you are most likely to hear me recommending as a good read this year.

However, my first eyebrow began to rise when I read her statement. “Ngugi, Achebe and Soyinka are certainly masters, but of an earnest and sober style.” This is a fair generalization. A Grain of Wheat, Arrow of God, and The Interpreters do make for studies in high seriousness. But has Nwaubani read the complete works of each of these authors? Sure, Ngugi’s English language work does tend to be quite sober and earnest, as do Achebe’s early novels. But Ngugi’s satirical fable Devil on the Cross(translated from Gikuyu) is one of the most simultaneously hilarious and ideological works of African literature I’ve read–and much of its richness, I think, comes from it’s original composition in Gikuyu. Soyinka’s fiction is, granted, famously obtuse, but performances of the Brother Jero plays are some of the funniest and most thought-provoking things my family has seen on stage. Achebe has similar humorous moments in Anthills of the Savannah.

Even if I were inclined to agree with her in general about the serious nature of the “old masters,” I nearly fell out of my chair when I read this statement:

“Many fans have extolled his brave decision to write in his mother tongue, Kikuyu, instead of English. If he truly desires a Nobel, I can’t help but wish him one. But I shudder to imagine how many African writers would be inspired by the prize to copy him. Instead of acclaimed Nigerian writers, we would have acclaimed Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa writers. We suffer enough from tribal differences already. This is not the kind of variety we need.”

I don’t greatly care if Ngugi wa Thiong’o wins the Nobel or not. I think it would be good prestige for African literature around the globe, and I think he certainly deserves it. Ngugi’s Devil on the Cross almost always makes my “favourite books” list, and I would be delighted if he received the Nobel in the future. But were I trying to make a point about the blessings of Ngugi not receiving the prize this year, as Nwaubani does, my argument would be that the value of Ngugi’s work and of other African literature does not depend on the judgment of some prize committee in Scandanavia, which has made quite conservative selections in the past, but rather on the importance it holds first in the eyes of its “home” audience in Africa.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 15 October 2006 (c) CM

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 15 October 2006 (c) CM

I was, to put it bluntly, horrified by the assumptions with which Nwaubani draws her over-easy conclusions in this short piece. Whether or not Ngugi ever wins the prize, I wish there would be many more African writers who would copy, not him, or his style, but his commitment to writing in the language he grew up speaking. Why is great literature in Igbo, Yoruba, or Hausa (or Tiv, Itsikeri, or Nupe) a shudder-worthy accomplishment? Nwaubani seems to be implying that the mere fact that people speak and laugh and love and dare even to write in different languages is furthering “tribal differences”  She says “This is not the variety we need.” On the contrary, I would argue this is exactly the variety we need.

Of course, we also need translation. Translation, as I have heard Professor Ngugi say on multiple occasions, is the only equal relationship between languages. Why should we not translate works of Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo into English or even into each other, in the same way that Norwegian or Japanese (smaller languages than many African languages) works are translated into other languages? Why is “the Nigerian reader,” by default, defined as an English speaker. This sort of thinking merely furthers the distinction between the elite and the masses in Nigeria. To my mind, it is not African language literature that furthers divisions between Nigerian peoples, but rather this sort of thinking that sees African languages the enemy rather than a source of creativity and celebration–promoting monolingualism in English rather than the multilingualism that has long been a strength of the continent.

Why is there a dearth of reading culture of African literature in Nigeria? Much of it probably is that there is not enough of the funny, light-reading novels like Nwaubani’s available. But much of it may also have to do  with how “reading culture” in the Nigerian context is almost always defined as reading culture in English. Does Nwaubani know that there is a flourishing market of Hausa language literature in Northern Nigeria that crosses borders into Niger, Cameroon, Ghana, and even further flung places like Saudi Arabia and Malaysia where there are Hausa speakers? Does she know that one of the richest sources of women’s writing and women’s voices in Nigeria is being written in Hausa, where hundreds of well-known and beloved female authors write about love, marriage and their everyday experiences, or that Hausa novelists have long dealt with the national experience of being Nigerian? The bestselling Hausa novel, thus far, In da So da Kauna self-published in two parts in 1991 and 1992 by Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino sold over 100,000 copies (200,000 if you count both parts), which although hardly a New York Times bestseller is a good selling book even for Western publishers like Penguin or Random House. Is that literature (and what I hear is also a rather flourishing Yoruba literary scene) doomed to be trampled and denounced by Nigerian intellectuals and English-language writers because it is not written in the “language of unity,” which because of the history of colonialism happens to be English? Is it doomed to be trampled and denounced because, since no one has translated it, it has not been read by those large corporate publishers in America and the UK, who have made the careers of so many recent Nigerian authors writing in English?

I intend no disrespect for African literature in English here. It has its beauties and its advantages, such as a more immediate global and, yes, national audience. But we NEED literature in African languages because embedded within their etymology is history and a rich cultural heritage that we will lose if they die. These languages should be given the chance to develop same way that English language literature has developed, through literature. And this English language literature would never have developed had not rebels like Chaucer or Shakespeare insisted in writing in the vernacular rather than the more elite Latin that was the universal language of the educated elite in Europe at that time. We need such literature in the same way that we need literature in Danish, Mandarin, or Tamil. We need such literature because it is often in that literature you can capture exactly the kind of light-hearted banter, the vast reading audience, and the stories of ordinary working class Nigerians that Nwaubani is seeking. Perhaps, more people across the country would read if more Nigerian language literature were translated. Rather than calling for the death of African language literature, I would rather call for the investment in scholarship in and publication of this literature and the commitment of writers willing to translate it. Maybe then, Nwaubani will recognize her fellow “literary groundbreakers,” not in the old sober masters of the English language, but in those of her contemporaries who capture millions of readers in the language they speak every day.

UPDATE 19 December 2010. Since my response to Nwaubani’s article shortly after I read it last Sunday, a number of brilliant responses from African writers and intellectuals have popped up around the internet. Here are some of them:

“In Africa, The Laureate’s Curse” by Chielozona Eze on Africa Literature News and Reviews, December 12

“Not so, Adaobi” by Chuma Nwokolo on AfricanWriting.com, on December 12

“The Laureates Curse? I think not” on Kinna Reads, December 14

“The Nobel and Ngugi’s Cause–a short response to Tricia Adaobi’s article, In Africa the Laureate’s Curse” by Nana Fredua-Agyeman on ImageNations, December 14

“Why Nwaubani was Wrong” on Nigerians Talk, on December 15

“Nwaubani, Ngugi, and the Nobel” on Molara Wood’s Wordsbody, December 18

And for a piece arguing the opposite of what Nwaubani wrote, see Zoe Norridge’s piece in the Guardian, “Why Ngugi wa Thiong’o should have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.”

[UPDATE 13 February 2011. I am currently uploading photos and links to some my column in the Weekly Trust. I used this essay, slightly edited, as one of my columns on 18 December 2011: “Regarding Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s ‘In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse.’” To read the piece in the original version, click on the photo below which will take you to a photo large enough to read.

Happy Islamic New Year 1432!!!


An old woman prepares to pray (c) Carmen McCain

Happy New Year to all of my Muslim friends in commemorating the 1432nd year since the Prophet’s Hijra. Allah ya ba da zaman lafiya.

Welcoming us in (c) Carmen McCain

Iyan-Tama Multimedia Awards

I was very humbled and honoured last week, 25 October 2010, to be honoured along with many other journalists and media houses with an Iyan-Tama Multimedia Award in Recognition of Support and Contribution to the Growth and Development of the Hausa Film Industry. I was also very grateful to Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu who collected the plaque and certificate for me, in my absence, and sent me photos on his phone. I hated to miss the event, but I was glad to hear about it from so many friends who had also received the award. Kannywood Online, who also received the award, also has their plaque and certificate on display at their site.

Leadership of 1 December 2010 gives a report of the event (I’ve inserted links to the blogs and websites of the awardees where available, so you can check out their work for yourself):

CHIOMA RITA ODILI, who was at the event writes:Iyan-Tama Multimedia is one of the oldest film production outfits in the sprawling Hausa film industry largely based in Kano , known as Kannywood. It was established 13 years ago and through its usually qualitative and meaningful productions as well as innovative stands, has contributed immensely to the growth of the industry till date.

It is therefore with great jubilation that Iyan-Tama Multimedia called on all and sundry to witness its 13th anniversary as well as to celebrate 20 years of the existence of the film industry. The event, which took place at Mambayya House in the heart of Kano , was attended by eminent personalities including traditional leaders, members of the diplomatic corps, journalists and filmmakers.

Several awards were presented in different categories to corporate bodies, diplomatic missions, media houses and individuals who contributed in various respect to the development of Kannywood in its two decades of existence.  Those who were presented with merit awards, at the well-attended ceremony, include the two titles of LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group; LEADERSHIP and LEADERSHIP HAUSA.

Editorial director of LEADERSHIP and publisher of FIM Magazine, Malam Ibrahim Sheme was among those honoured under the ‘Dignitaries’ category alongside others including former Kano State governor, Engineer Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Professors Isa Odidi and Abdalla Uba Adamu [see also his blog -CM], Hajiya Laila Dogon Yaro, Ms Carmen McCain, among others.

Other staff of LEADERSHIP who were presented with certificates of merit in recognition of their contribution included Al-amin Ciroma, Nasir S Gwangwazo, Abdulaziz Abdulaziz and Maje Elhajeej. In this category, several journalists from various media houses were also conferred with the merit award including Rukayya Y Aliyu (Sunday Trust), Bashir Yahuza (Aminya), Nasir Salisu Zango (Freedom Radio) and Sani Maikatanga (former editor of FIM magazine), and host of others.

Moreover, 19 other media organizations including foreign radio stations, TV stations, newspapers and a magazine also received awards at the colourful event. Those who were honoured in this category include Freedom Radio, Gamji TV, Desert Herald, Almizan and Hausa services of BBC, VOA, Radio Germany and Radio France International.

Similarly, the embassies of United States and France were also awarded for their support to the development of Kannywood through cultural diplomacy. Moreover, Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), including the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Security Justice and Growth (SJG), as well as the Society for Family Health (SFH), were also among the recipients.

Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu gave an address on the occasion:

In his address, the keynote speaker, Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu who traced the development of Kannywood, vis-à-vis the Iyan-Tama Multimedia, said Kannywood came into being exactly 20 years ago with the release of Turmin Danya as the first Hausa video film. He pointed out that at the time of establishment of Kannywood, there was no similar industry in the whole of Africa, including the now bustling Nollywood.

According to the academic, Iyan-Tama Multimedia Limited has played key roles and contributed immensely in the 20th years of its existence. Notable contributions of the company to the development of Hausa filmmaking is its procurement of modern equipment to boost the level of quality of the movies. Prof Abdalla recalled that Iyan-Tama Multimedia was the first to acquire a PSR-220 which enabled introduction of song scenes in the movies with the recording of “Badakala”, a song which featured in a movie of the same title.

He said, other achievements recorded by Iyan-Tama Multimedia include; the publication of the, now rested, entertainment magazine, Tauraruwa, production of several meaningful films that appeal to all categories of viewers, the first company to stop using songs in Hausa movies despite the obvious appeal. The company, according to the don, was also the first to be sponsored by diplomatic initiative (Tsintsiya, 2008) and the first Kannywood film production company to have its film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. It is also the company with the highest number of awards in its kitty in the whole of the industry.

Iyan-Tama’s film Tsintsiya on sale at Nollywood shop Africa Movie Place in Brooklyn, New York, November 2010 (c) CM

Readers may remember that the director, producer, and actor Alhaji Hamisu Lamido Iyan-Tama has recently been cleared of all charges, after a drawn out series of court cases filed against him by the Kano State Censorship Board and Iyan-Tama’s own countersuits against the board, following Iyan-Tama’s imprisonment for three months after a trial with a judge later found to be “incompetent” by the Kano State Attourney General. The award ceremony is a particularly poignant way to celebrate the ending of the legal woes of Iyan-Tama Multimedia.