Saturday, 19 December 2015

AKE FESTIVAL 2015: Of Gods of Hymens and Fucking Vaginas

The Gods of Ake Festival 2015 usually have lunch together upstairs and then trickle down, not together as a bunch of broom, but sparingly like falling inches of salt and merge seamlessly with multitudes of mere mortals.

You are not a God. You are one among the numerous mortals. Those ones that queue up in a flash to garner low-cost bargains of books on the Etisalat Longlist. Those ones that visit the Ake Bookstore, admire covers of the array of books in display, marvel that you crossed the same doorway with ‘the author of this one’ earlier, feel the subtleness of the book covers, weigh the straddle of cash continuously been depleted in your pocket, and finally decide to pick one book, again, while inwardly swearing and reminding your brain that this is the last book you will buy, lest you trek back to Kaduna on foot.

PART 1: Three Gods and the Caterers

Before all this, you were still a mortal, just with lesser number of books, visiting Abeokuta for the first time to participate in a Fiction Writing Workshop at the Ake Arts and Book Festival 2015 to be facilitated by three of the Gods, amongst the biggest in the field.

Caterers of Gods and Mortals alike 

Courtesy demands that Gods be taken care of, and sometimes, the mortals too. Now, at Ake this is solely the work of the ‘Caterers of Gods and Mortals alike’. You arrive in Kuto, Abeokuta and walk down the sloping terrain of the Cultural Center. Harmattan wind is been sneezed by the skies, drop by drop, threatening a full-blown escape. Squeezing sound of talking drums herald your arrival. You trudge and nod to the beats, like an agama lizard. 

And there she is, the phenomenal Lola Shoneyin. You see her in that instant, for what she is: one of the Gods. Then like a chameleon, she changes. She calls for the stool, for the round tables to be placed, for the microphones to be set. She blends. A perfect camouflage. A God and a Caterer alike. There is a pure Caterer by her side. Seun Mabo. An elixir of passion and enthusiasm. She introduces you. Ushers you in. Bathes you in hospitality. You are immersed in the festive mood already.

Cyborg Gods and Vine Hairs

The eerie face of Fela Anikulapo Kuti and host of Egbaland heroes in perfect tarred busts stare intently at you. You find a seat, flanked by more than a dozen other budding mortals (for now) awaiting the arrival of the self-confessed rudimentary cyborg, Nnedi Okorafor. You are a bit jittery. Even a little tummy butterflies. 

Her vined hair came in first, then the classic eye glasses. She shuffled in like a character from her strange books and settled amidst the gapes, sheepish smiles and total awe. A God amongst mortals. For the next 120 minutes, you flip-flop and unscrew her vined hair, chew her strange brains in and out, and then leave satisfied. A rudiment of one of the Gods in the making. 

“She is just an elegant little bird” 

That was Lola’s characterisation of this second of the Gods. To be able to convey a good story of the Gods, you will need to tweak with different narrative voices. Different shades of speech

I am one of the finest of the Gods (no, common not me really!). 

You are one of the finest of the Gods (we all know I don’t really mean you!). 

We are one of the finest of the Gods (okay, enough of this!). 

She is one of the finest of the Gods!

Enter Taye Selasi.

She really did flaunt in like an elegant bird. Charming. Charismatic. Immediately, the brightest star in an already dazzled room. Even the grumpiest of minds will bow and laugh hysterically at the feet of this literary character. But first, she makes you pick a pen. You are going to write in variousnarrative voices. You write. You read. She stops you with her palms. Swirls her hair. Tilts her head in a perfect angle to speak

You’ve got to take that again slowly. Intergalactical bus? Lagos? 2096? I love this. 

You smile. The Gods approve of your craft. You then write, write, write and laugh!

The Elusive of the Gods

Helon Habila sauntered in. Your archetypal college Professor. Professional and straight to the point. 

The best fictions are those that use the devices of poetry. 

The worst crime for a writer is to be provincial. 

You find yourself taking down notes impulsively. Even the air breezed through like that of a standard class. Nice. But before then … 

(24 hours earlier)

… you waited for an angel. The elusive of the Gods. Helon Habila was supposed to broaden your horizon first, before Taye Selasi dragged you through her narrative voices and Nnedi Okorafor capped it all with the finesse of editing. Alas. When the Gods evade even the Caterers, what can mere mortals do? The Gods work in their preferred miraculous ways. You wait …

It is 24 hours later, after complete doses of narrative voices and editing, there you are on the seat of honour, on the right hand side of the Gods, time well measured, ready, to broaden your horizon.

And man, you did! You successfully lifted the veils of hitherto obscured horizons. And that was how a two hour session, so engaging, swept past. It felt like the whole moment was a single stroke of the minute hand of a clock. Tock. The elusive of the Gods departs like a wisp as he had arrived.

PART 2: Festival of Gods and Men 

You draw out your festival guide from the pillage of books now rapidly increasing the weight on your shoulders. It says you will be engaging the fringes in the next few days. A headless barely naked figure submerged in gibberish on the front cover stares back. Art. You chuckle and flip through the pages. Gods from all over the world have gathered in Abeoukta. 82 eclectic world renowned writers will be assembling with much enthusiasm. You are at crossroads. There are so much of the Gods that they cannot fit into every discussion at once. The festival guide has split up the Gods. You have to choose. A strange choice: to choose sides amongst Gods, and fast!

It is a rollercoaster. Panel Discussions. Book Chats. Readings. Books. Books. Books. Gods disagreeing. Gods of Africa Magic. The Man Who Mends Women. Books. Books. Books. Hours rolled by. Days rolled by. It is some intense cultural immersion. 

Ake does not allow you catch your breath, it drags you with it, and suffocates you in a good way with fruits of the pilgrimage. And the array of Gods, they spiced it up with drama, with magic.

Of Gods of Hymens and Fucking Vaginas

Red-haired curls, vocal, fiery, passionate and oozing with humour. Mona Elthahawy hooked you, together with the audience, straight in the eye and let you know, she was here to talk about vaginas. Yes! So you better jump in. The audience ishysterical, cringing, like a biology class during your undergraduate days, forcibly trying to be comfortable with the idea that vaginas and penises are normal vocabularies. The entropy is pitch high. Discussions engaging. You realise then, that there are some 50 shades of Gods, and red-haired ones stand out, prominently.


The Ake buzz enters another gear. Acquaintances are made. Gods are at par with mortals. Impromptu workshops. Books. Books. Books. Readings. Laughter. Satire. Fictional Felons. And then you all HEAR WORD! Naija women talk true. You listen. The message resonates. You rise with the theatre hall as one. Applause. Applause. Applause. You don hear. 

At Ake, the buzz never stops. More doses of books, publishing, religion. Books. Books. Books. Sandwiched with readings, books, business, politics and an already tired governorAnd then the poets take over. 

The Son, The Father and the Holy Poet

Once the Gods of poetry take to the stage, others just take a bow and blend with the mortals. You sit under the fluorescent light of the Poetry Evening. The poetry squad captained by the effervescent Professor Remi Raji blows your minds and brains out. His poetry squad warms the floorWith a gratifying and a well-deserved voluminous introduction the Coach is finally sent to the field. It is the moment you have been waiting for. Professor Niyi Osundare takes the mantle. The Holy Poet parts his lips. The hall is silent. You can feel the sound of his breath. He begins.

The Longest Love Poem in the World

Yes …

He saunters quietly back to his seat as the enormity of a single word dawns on you. You clap and clap and clap till your palms soar. Mixtures of emotion rush through your veins. You drift back in time 5 hours back …

… earlier Prof Niyi had captivated the crowd. Then, The Holy Poet recited more than a word. An emotional piece birthed in tears of Katrina. He rose enigmatically to perform. 

I don’t insult poetry by reading it sitting down. 

He talked of the books his parents read to him as a child, from his father’s library … full of yam. He touched the shadesof our conscience and responsibilities. The depth of our possibilities. Of muses and inspirations. You watched God of the Gods sway his words with awe. You swore forever to remain a poet. 


Right now, the adrenaline of the fond memories and excitement of mingling with the Gods of literature in Abeokuta still meanders around your heart. You came to Ake Festival a mere mortal. You left as a soul that is much more than that.

Saturday, 11 April 2015


He does not like the way they all trouped in with grim faces. It felt like they were on a condolence visit. But he has not died yet; he just lost a damn election.

The new set were coming in, feet shuffling in their flying bleached white clergy gowns, the sound of their slimly palms reverberating across the villa, grim-faced and ashen-stricken, their faces looked like they were greased with dark crude oil. He went straight to receive them with outstretched arms smiling, and behold his simple smile transformed their greasy faces washing away the slimy aspect. He transferred the Easter mood and spread it on all their faces like the sprinkling of holy water.

The group of clergymen broke bread and ate chicken, not turkey, with the outgoing President while talking about the virtues of Christ in this reflective season. The issue of the 10 million votes that miraculously disappeared between 2011 and 2015 was not reflected upon yet though. He was not going to bring it up on his own too; he was not a sour loser. He would continue to be the hero. He smiled and chewed on the chicken bone, and they prayed. They prayed for Easter, for Jesus for the nation’s emancipation. 

They prayed harder. He reflected harder.

Jonah not long ago had some of the richest pastors in the world, surrounding him, and earnestly disbursing prayers, cementing his every lizard-hole with it. He always knelt for their prayers, all of the lot. He might have been the president but President Jonah was a humble servant of the Lord too; not even a President is greater than the Lord’s cronies, he knew that deep in his heart. Yet those cohorts could not deliver his message to the Lord, with all the prayers they amassed in their private jets, none travelled more than a mile up to the Lord it seemed. One miracle indeed.

The full-stomached clergies kept pouring their own bouts of prayers though. Loud Amens collided with the humming silence, and the eerie reflections in his head with the warm weather of the Easter afternoon.

Even when it was clear the numbers from the south will not overturn his rival’s in the north, they didn’t stop cooking up dry facts. 

Sah, we will surely win it…it will be a landslide” one would say. 

“We will win it again Sir…by hook or crook…” they always pointed.

Special advisers or special patronizers, he was staring at defeat, but they kept feeding him false altruistic meals; only the white-bearded general told him the truth, the bitter truth.

By hook or crook?

He thought of that means too. But why continue to fight when even God has shunned your persistent kneeling?

The clergy’s long prayers were done and the chickens were now merely bones. Finally, the issue of the 10 million votes he lost was next on the list. Diplomatically, in a way only the men of God knew how to, they began:

“What God has ordained surely no son of man shall drag with it. Mr. President you are a world hero. Yours is a story chipped right out of the Holy Scripture. We are proud of you, the whole country is proud of you, and even our Saviour is smiling at you from heaven”

The ordained fate. What even their Godly eyes could not show them though was that deep down he was happy, contented to be free. He was tired of the choky Abuja atmosphere. 

Aides, meetings, advisers blowing hundred different perspectives on issues into your head with none out of the whole bunch corresponding, all different simulations. How is one supposed to transform everything like that? Haba!

“Mr. President you have etched your name in Gold. Your attitude and humility as a leader is to be ascribed to, this singular act of yours has been unprecedented” 

Unprecedented. The new darling word that has now giving Transformation a technical knock-out from the lexicon of the villa; it flew around pecking him as he tried to run and escape its bloody bite.

“Surely you will continue to rise; this is not the end, for those who have done right shall rise to life. Behold, heed to the spiritual story of our Lord Christ and it shall be your own emancipation. May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you as you leave with only the best of intentions!”

Yes, it is all the doing of God. But he has already been emancipated. The elections were his emancipation. Jesus the saviour had saved him, aptly in this Easter period too. Jesus has risen with him.

Jonah can still feel the soreness on his legs, from all the campaign travels, all the prayers and all the kneeling. The pastors, the bishops, the shrines, the wizards; all of the shouts, wailings and the gibberish; the heavy breathing, bad breaths and all the descending floods of saliva and the rough hands manhandling his presidential skull. 

*May all your enemies die like Sisera! May those who love you rise like the sun in all its power!

*I therefore declare that His Excellency will win the coming elections!

*The Lord will return his Excellency to his presidential seat!

*There is no vacancy for The General at Aso Rock!

*I declare divinity’s decision to return Jonah to Aso Rock!


And to think they all spoke God’s mind, all of them. Wonderful God, Benevolent God!

Jonah has no regrets whatsoever though. The meeting with the clergymen was lighter in mood, he thought, as he ushered them out of the presidential home. It was tenser when he met the Governors he recalled, but even then he was bold too. Yet he smiled. The smile seems to be flowing all too easily these days. It is the single bullet left in his armory. 

The Governors’ entourage, those that were brave enough to come, arrived sheepishly, like a heavy load was mounted on their arched backs, dragging them down. It was not like they were the only cause of his dismal failure at the polls, well even though they did contribute, but he was not half as grumpy as they all were. He actually has never felt as free and light as he was these days. 

Light like a feather, the spirit of Christ is with him, he has nothing to fear, nothing to lose. 

Jonah has been propelled up the trajectories in all his endeavours, all his life. Deputy Governor. Governor. Vice-President. President. Surely his Lord has been generous. He decided not to lift the burdened guilt they carried on their bent backs. For the first time he was stern in their midst. He did not even bother to have a sip from the bottle before they came, but, he was now ready, the confidence and the ego were exuberant, the Lord is with him. He told them off brusquely and blatantly.

“I’m not saying you should go down with me, no, but let the young people vote with their hearts, trust me you will feel much lighter and better spiritually when you do. The era of electoral fraud and manipulation should be closed; you will be heroes, win or lose. Just look at me now!”

They stared at him with jumbled eyes, like they were watching a complete maniac spiraling out of control. He was now a mad man to them, he has lost his touch of reasoning, just for instructing them to allow the will of the people take its course. Jonah did not blame them though, but his mind was made up; he would not be a complicit to any treasonable act again. And he shall not turn a blind eye to it too.

Silence. It was the root of my failure.

He had listened to too much of their nonsense, and they took his silence as a seal of approval; but when everything debilitated and rot, the sour meat is served hot in his plate.

It is all coming to an end though. His aides and their foul advices are already shy of the villa. It is like the General’s win has also automatically sacked all of those runny-mouth advisers, or at least incapacitated them. He is still the President though, and he will be presidential, as much as he can be, in these final days. 

No more sycophants and their rotten sycophancy.

Jonah gave power to his enemies, the real enemies within. He was his own downfall; he could not rise to the challenge.

And no more.

“That is all I have to say”. He concluded calmly with the Governors. “Do the right thing”.

The Governors left with defying optimism in their head though. Their eyes were sunken and hollow like the end result of a widow’s grief, the resurgent vigour of this mad man would not stop them however. But the mad man knew, his eyes are open now and he saw the Lord’s vision clearly, they would all follow his suit in the coming days. There will be nothing they could do about it anymore.

Jonah now had only one agenda. 


He has to continue to be the hero they have crowned him now. The people might forgive easily, but would they ever forget? 

He is leaving peacefully. 


No bloodshed. No violence. He is the hero. Let them hold on to that for a longer while. 


The final peace shall reign. That would be his legacy. 


He made a mental note of it as he made for the bar. He no longer makes a dash for it, he is free, and a man of his own will, but he needed the soothing warmth after the day’s bout of grim commiserations.

I was the most criticized, but now I am the luckiest.

He smiled, that transformed smile, dropping the cup aside and gulping the bottle of the soothing thick crimson liquor down his throat.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

POETRY: Clueless Heroes

The elections have come and gone! All have played their part! All have been declared heroes, but who are the villains?


Publicly honoured heroes
Distinguished murderers
But heroes they are
They saw change with blazing drums
The vultures then left in a hurry
With incessant crying all the way:
We concede! We concede!
Hail Mary queen of grace
I present to you, heroes of our time
Hear: the Naira is sickly
The economy is on crutches
Foreign reserve has diabetes, 
The mellitus, decubitus ulcer of
dollar accounts, leaky holes
Plundering, squandering, raining dollars
But heroes surely they are
The Heroes then surrendered
Heroes of beers, of deaf protruding ears
To our bitter cries, to our aching appeals
Cult heroes indeed have reigned!
There, right at the edge of the valley
Heroes faint, heroes concede
We? Addicts of unending suffering
Not our job to yell, but to smell
Conferment of heroes by the experts
For we only grumble under the ashes
Buried at the buttocks of black stoves
Swimming in the torn mosquito net
Mr. Malaria our savior, our only Hero
But they, surely heroes they are

The Hero of the Bar, brewing his wish
And now he has covered our mouths
With stinking hands of slimy excreta
Even in darkness who are we to judge
The good, clueless, lucky Hero of our time
But heroes’ diaries do snap their deeds
Scene: Pound and plunder the national treasury
View: When they boasted and drank
On the fields of blood and sorrow
Our hopes split like lips of Harmattan
But alas heroes they are
Sculptors of anguish, heroes they are
Hear? Let’s drink beer at the hero’s funeral

Wednesday, 25 February 2015


God is Great! God is Great!
The subtle voice of Isha
Echoing call transmitted
From a croaky throat, geriatric
Trickling liquid on the palms
Massaging dribs on the face
Donning faith on the heart and
to soft pads, a forehead bows
Comforting temple, coolly-conditioned

“Give me more riches, dash me
further fame, keep me healthy
let me master my domain”
Litanies of a mind at rest
Beseeching knees on the softest of wool
Bowing and praying, here so cool
Whispers came ushering though!
Children of Buni Yadi!
Assembly lines of Potiskum!
Abandoned mosques in Mubi!
Razed, derailed farmlands of Bama!
Do prayers only come on cushions?

Little boys on rough cushions,
Where were their prayers stuck?
On the rifles of an insurgent
Forced to pray on stony paths
Internally displaced, internally in tatters
Why do I deserve to pray? A thought!

Peace be Upon You! Muazzim called
This round of litany concluding
Alas, this head still bowing, weeping
transfixed to the cushioned earth!