Monday, August 5, 2013

The Wounded Generation

Fine Boys by Eghosa Imasuen; Kachifo, Farafina, Lagos; 2011

Gertrude Stein back in time said her bit about “The Lost Generation” while Wole Soyinka added the dimension of “The Wasted Generation”, but in my book, as far as so-called generations go, what commands the most demanding attention is the age of Structural Adjustment across the African continent that I here name The Wounded Generation. It was a generation that laid bare the modern-day fall of man, the destruction of whole peoples and the unconscionable unraveling of societal and communal values. The birthing of wounded children would in time compromise all mores. This is the premise of the 379-page novel, Fine Boys by Eghosa Imasuen, a sending-up of campus life in the upside-down world of post-IMF Nigeria. The advent of the military presidency of General Ibrahim Babangida all but turned Nigeria on its head, and the concomitant rise to power of his sidekick General Sani Abacha after the ruinous annulment of the June 12 presidential elections literally unhinged the cosmos.
            Eghosa Imasuen who lived through all the crises to qualify as a medical doctor can, like the great Russian playwright and short story master Anton Chekhov, vouch that medicine is his legally wedded wife while literature is his mistress such that when he gets tired of one he spends the night with the other! Imasuen’s protagonist Ewaen in Fine Boys incidentally studies to qualify as a doctor at the University of Benin, a campus beset by Nigeria’s utter bewilderment in the murderous years of General Abacha.
            The novel which flows quite seamlessly is divided into three parts: “Year One: January 1993 – March 1994; Year Two: March 1994 – March 1995; Year Three: June 1995 – Eternity.” Early in Fine Boys Ewaen bonds quite roundly with his middle class family such that his daddy entrusts upon him the task of doing the school runs. He is the elder brother of the somewhat paradoxical twins, fair Osaze and dark Eniye who were at once “intense rivals and soul mates”. Ewaen matriculates into the cults-addled University of Benin from Federal Government College, Warri as the coming-of-age tropes up in tension.  
            Ewaen’s parents are an uncanny couple, as Imasuen limns: “Daddy and Mommy had their major quarrels every two years. It was like clockwork. Every even year I could remember, ’82, ’84, ’86, ’88, ’90, all had a month or two when we packed up and left with Mom to our granny’s, Nene. Most times this displacement was preceded by a night of terror from which Mom emerged with a black eye here or a bruise there. But she always came back.”
            Violence at home of course pales in comparison to the mob wars on campus which eventually leads to the brutal death of Wilhelm whom Ewaen introduces from the beginning as “one-half of my crew of best friends.”
            Riots are the staples of campus life with student union leaders linking the incidents “to the attacks on our democracy, to the annulment of June 12, the stepping down of the gap-toothed general we called Maradona, the inauguration of the interim national government and its overthrow by General Abacha.”
            Like Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Imasuen has his finger on the pulse of lived history. The boys’ company of the novel, notably Ewaen, Tuoyo, Wilhelm, Odegua, KO and Ejiro, are in Imasuen’s remarkable softness of touch not submerged by the sordid history. There are human vistas of, for instance, the young hero discovering that Gulder but not Guinness is his preferred brand of beer, and failing to make the girl who has no time for a Jambite! The visit to the offices of “Dr. Spirit and Law, the White Wizards” in the search for Mesiri’s stolen money emotes the lower frequencies of run-of-the-mill Nigerian life writ large.
            The depiction of actual Nigerian contemporary events lends subtle verisimilitude to Imasuen’s Fine Boys thusly: “While MKO was in jail, while the Italians were shaming Nigeria out of the World Cup, while the universities burned, while students sat idle at home, a paradigm was shifting in the delta… Just over a year ago, the arrest of Ken Saro Wiwa on allegations of incitement to murder had made him a cause célèbre for the aspirations of the people of the delta.” Further on in the novel we learn: “November was a very memorable month. It was also the month Saro Wiwa was executed, hanged and finally pronounced dead after five attempts. He and his men were then bathed in sulphuric acid to make identifying there remains impossible for their families. If that was not enough, the men were buried in secret unmarked graves to prevent the site from becoming a shrine. The international community was in an uproar.” This could read like special pleading.
            Students’ confraternities in Nigerian universities remain controversial ever since the well-intentioned formation of The Pyrates Confraternity by Soyinka and his six pals at the then University College, Ibadan. In Fine Boys the deadly confra boys of Back Axe and Cosa Nostra are killers, leading up to the mauling of Wilhelm who gets “brought in dead” (BID) to the hospital. The tragedy speeds Ewaen’s dad to send Ewaen and his brother Osaze away from the University of Benin to resume their schooling in the UK, presciently foreshadowing the brain-drain that became the lot of The Wounded Generation.  
            Eghosa Imasuen is indeed a very engaging storyteller. He has definitely upped the ante from his first novel, To Saint Patrick, which deigned to tell the alternate history of Nigeria. Imasuen and his editor, Molara Wood, deserve plaudits. Fine Boys tells the Nigerian story in an unapologetically Nigerian style that does not bend over backwards to dubious universalism. If the matter deserves to be called wahala, Imasuen calls it wahala without italics or roundabout explanatory notes. But the publishers and their printers deserve knocks for not binding the book well. I treat a book I love and want to review like a sweetheart deserving of all styles of engagement, ranging from the good old missionary position to the “impossible Indian position” as identified by Ayi Kwei Armah in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. It detracts from having a great climax when the pages of Fine Boys almost always fall apart at every turn.
Well, the menace of a bad binder-cum-printer should not lead to a withdrawal from an author who has so much on offer. Eghosa Imasuen is an eloquent voice of The Wounded Generation.           

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Godwin Usidamen: A Life in Photography

The man took out special time on his recent 62nd birthday to savour the camera which has put him into more trouble than he can be able to count. He was once nearly sacked from the newspaper he then worked in for publishing the out-of-wedlock son of a former vice-president of Nigeria. He had to go into hiding when he published the photograph of a never-seen second wife of a very flamboyant First Republic politician. He was beaten and locked up for taking a photograph of the Chief Judge of the then Bendel State in party mood with the army commander and police commissioner which he captioned “Gold meets Gin and Whisky”, a coinage from their names. A maddened parent of a Page 3 Girl he photographed nearly had him murdered for his efforts. As a photojournalist, Godwin Usidamen stood tall where even generals feared to tread. His philosophy can be summed up thusly: “Get the shot even if the heavens fall!”
The art of publishing photographs and being damned for the affront has been the forte of the affable Godwin in his decades of work at NBC/TV, The Guardian, Punch, Vanguard, Daily Times, Sentinel Magazine etc. At his 26 Ibidun Street, off Ojuelegba Road, Surulere, Lagos operational base, Godwin is not today into photojournalism but undertakes industrial, advertising, modelling and general photography through his agency PapaGee Productions. The 62-year-old grandfather may appear retired but he is definitely not tired, and may yet stage a comeback into the charged battlefield of telling great news through greater photography.   
            Born September 11, 1950 in the rural locale of Uokha in Owan East Local Government Area of Edo State, Godwin had his early education in his hometown and at Obiaruku in today’s Delta State before enrolling as a typist because there was no money to send the young lad to secondary school. He left Obiaruku for Auchi in 1964 with his elder brother, trekking the long distance because of lack of money. A year after he was taken to Ibadan by her mother’s younger brother who worked in the Central Bank branch there. At Ibadan he underwent apprenticeship in electrical installation and plumbing. He bore witness to the first military coup in January 1966 at Ibadan as well as the July 1966 counter-coup in which Head of State Aguiyi-Ironsi was murdered in the selfsame Ibadan. By the end of 1966 his maternal uncle was transferred to Benin, but he could no longer continue his electrical installation apprenticeship in Benin and was now more or less used as a houseboy which he didn’t like.
            When the Biafra war broke out he decided on the spur of the moment to find his way to Lagos. He somehow flagged down a Volkswagen car that brought him to Lagos, and to the home of his shocked elder brother who could not understand how Godwin evaded the Biafran soldiers who had overrun the then Midwest Region. He was declared missing back home as nobody knew where he was. He became apprenticed to a refrigerator and air-conditioner installer on a pay of one Pound a week. He left the work after four months because the air-conditioners were much too heavy for the gangling youth. He joined his elder brother Augustine Usidamen in his painting trade, painting all night and hawking the paintings all day through Palm Grove, Iddo, Carter Bridge, Marina etc.  
            Tired of the painting and hawking, Godwin told his brother he wanted to learn the art of photography instead. He thus became apprenticed in 1968 to Pa Johnson Ojeikere, an uncle of his who had his studio in the Yaba area and worked for Lintas Advertising West Africa. After the war, in the early 1970s, he told Pa Ojeikere he was tired of being an apprentice and wanted to actually practice the art on his own. Another brother of his bought for him the necessary working tools, and barely three months after he bought a sports bicycle and had his business name emblazoned thus: Goddy International Photos.
            In 1972 he alongside his friend Raphael Ikharo founded the company More-Sell Photo Works that did jobs with agencies engaged in advertising and modeling, even getting jobs from Lintas where Pa Ojeikere reigned. By 1974 he had bought a car, and it was while washing it on a certain day that he met Usman Abudah who advised him to go into photojournalism instead of restricting himself to just advertising photography.
            While working as a freelance photographer he went to then NBC/TV to do some work in the darkroom only for some menacing soldiers to dash in, seizing him together with his camera. The soldiers took him to Barbeach to serve as the only still photographer to take shots of the execution of Dimka and JD Gomwalk who had been convicted for leading the coup that killed Head of State Murtala Muhammed on February 13, 1976. That was his Baptism of Fire.
            He left Lagos for Benin in 1977, working for Punch because Usman Abudah had given him a letter of introduction to Sam Amuka. He covered the entire Bendel State until resigning from Punch in 1980. It was good old Uncle Sam Amuka who again gave Godwin a job in Lagos when he set up Vanguard in 1984. Usidamen took the photographs of the early Vanguard buildings in Kirikiri Canal. He left the Vanguard in 1985, and was employed at The Guardian on the recommendation of the photo editor Sunmi Smart-Clole. Godwin would later work for the Daily Times, Sentinel Magazine and the Sunmi Smart-Cole Gallery in Yaba. Now he runs his own photo enterprise PapaGee Digital Productions on Ibidun Street.
            “I have still so much to contribute,” the affable Godwin Usidamen says to me, flashing his trademark smile as I gleaned through his range of very rare photographs which will gain remarkable plaudits in a public exhibition.          

Saturday, August 3, 2013

All the Goals of Stephen Keshi

Stephen Okechukwu Keshi was in his playing career arguably the most influential player ever to play football in Nigeria. As the head coach of Nigeria, Keshi has added yet another feather to his cap by becoming one of only two people, along with Egypt's Mahmoud El-Gohary, to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as both a player and a coach. Since Egypt’s El-Gohary is dead, Keshi stands tall as the only living man to have won the cup as a player in 1994 and as a coach in 2013. Born on January 23, 1962) in Lagos, Keshi hails from Ilah in the Anioma area of Delta State, a town renowned for producing great football stars and administrators such as the celebrated administrator Pa John Ojidoh, former captain of Leventis United Matthew Onyeamah, Bendel Insurance legend Sam Ikedi etc.
Keshi has since been conferred with the high national honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger by an appreciative President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for leading Nigeria’s Super Eagles to win the 2013 AFCON trophy in South Africa. Popularly acclaimed as “Big Boss”, Keshi is now the toast of all for leading a team that was largely unheralded to defeat all comers. Keshi started his football career quite early in Ebenezer Primary School in Ebute-Meta, near COSTAIN, Lagos. He then starred for St. Finbarrs College, Akoka, distinguishing himself in the Principal’s Cup competition among secondary schools. He was drafted into the Greater Tomorrow age-group league at the national level before graduating into the Under-21 National Team, the Flying Eagles.
Keshi started his football club career in 1979 with the African Continental Bank (ACB) team, Lagos. He played just ten games for ACB, scoring one goal, before transferring to the star-studded New Nigerian Bank (NNB) of Benin in 1980. Between 1980 and 1984 he played 42 times for NNB, scoring four goals and winning the WAFU Cup in 1983 and 1984.
Keshi was drafted into the then Green Eagles as a replacement for the ageing skipper of the team Christian Chukwu after the winning of the African Cup of Nations in Lagos in 1980. He led the Eagles to the final of the 1984 African Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast under coach Adegboye Onigbinde where the team lost 3-1 to Cameroun.
The Nigerian Football Association (NFA) under the chairmanship of Air Commodore Anthony Ikhazoboh, now late, banned Keshi and some of his mates for indiscipline. Keshi travelled to Cote d’Ivoire in 1985 to sign for Stade d’Abidjan where he played 13 times and scored two goals whilst winning Coupe Houphoet Boigny for two years in 1985 and 1986. In 1986 he moved over to Africa Sports of Cote d’Ivoire, playing 22 times, scoring two goals, and winning the double of Côte d'Ivoire Premier Division and the Côte d'Ivoire Coupe.
Keshi then led the charge of Nigerian players playing professionally in Europe when he was signed-on by Belgian club Lokeren in 1986, and in his one season for the club played 28 times and scored 6 goals. He then transferred to the giants of Belgium, Anderlecht, in 1987. He starred for Anderlecht from 1987 to 1991, playing 99 matches and scoring 18 goals. He won the Belgian Cup in 1988 and 1989, and the Jupiler League in 1991.
Between 1991 and 1993, he was with RC Strasbourg in the French League, scoring nine goals in 62 appearances. He then went back to Belgium, playing 40 times for Molenbeek and scoring one goal in the 1993/94 season. He played 20 games for CCV Hydra in 1995 where he scored one goal. In 1996 he took his services to Sacramento Scorpions, USA, playing 16 times whilst scoring three goals. His last club was Perlis FA in Malaysia, playing 34 games in the 1997/98 season and scoring four goals. In 2000, an unprecedented testimonial match was arranged for him in Lagos.
His national team career with the Eagles spanned from 1981 to 1995. He won 64 caps, scoring nine goals. He took over the skipper’s band in 1982, and capped his career with the appearance in the 1994 World Cup in Atlanta, USA with a match against Greece which the Super Eagles won 2-0. 
Keshi has since taken to football coaching, becoming at various times an integral part of the coaching staff for the Nigerian national team. He was the head coach for the Flying Eagles at the 2001 African Youth Championship which also served as qualification for the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship. The team could not qualify.
In 2004 Keshi was appointed the head coach of the Togo national team, and he shocked the world by qualifying the minnows for their first World Cup tournament, Germany 2006. Even with the epochal qualification for the World Cup the Togolese officialdom surprisingly replaced Keshi with the veteran German coach Otto Pfister. The excuse the Togo officials put to use was Togo’s dismal performance in the 2006 African Cup of Nations in Egypt where the team failed to advance to the knock-out stage.  
However, Pfister did not last beyond a controversial World Cup campaign that nearly resulted in a player's strike over pay. Togo remained without a manager until February 2007 when they re-engaged Keshi in time for a friendly against Cameroon.
Keshi worked as manager of the Mali national football team, after being appointed in April 2008 on a two-year deal. He was sacked in January 2010, after Mali's early exit in the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Keshi was eventually appointed the head coach of the Super Eagles in 2011. He of course led Nigeria to qualification for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which the Super Eagles went on to win, defeating Burkina Faso 1–0 in the final. The following day, there was the disturbing news that Keshi had handed-in his resignation. The resignation was rescinded a day after, and rest, as they say, is history. Married to his beloved wife Kate, Keshi is Nigeria’s legendary role model, a precious gift to Africa and the world at large.    

Friday, August 2, 2013


It was akin to the desert talking to a museum. The celebrated high chief, Dr. Newton Jibunoh had made three expeditions across the Sahara Desert, and in his Third Expedition he took along the ace photographer Kelechi madi-Obi. Didi Museum, founded by Jibunoh, on Wednesday August 29 undertook a special auction of 15 photographs of different sights of the Sahara Desert taken by photographer Kelechi Amadi-Obi, on its premises at 175 Akin Adesola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria.
The renowned arts patron Otunba Kunle Ojora and celebrated novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie were the Special Guests Honour. The venerable Ojora recalled his halcyon years with Jibunoh to the delight of the audience. It was revealed that as a 14-year-old Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had sent her poems to Dr Jibunoh!
The 15 photographs on auction were carefully selected from the over 5,000 shots of Kelechi Amadi-Obi during the Third Expedition across the Sahara by Dr. Jibunoh who led a new team of Desert Warriors. The 15 photographs had been on a month-long exhibition at Didi Museum, and the auction marked the clincher to an epoch-making event.
The pictures capture the ravaging sweep of the Sahara as historical evidence of the lost land, the disappearing grazing fields, the depleting underground water resources and the general woes of desertification. The auction was aimed at sensitizing the public to the clear and present danger that the forest that occupied about 50 percent of the land space in Africa south of the Sahara in the 1960s has been reduced to less than five percent today. Through the auction, Didi Museum welcomed all to be a part of history, made in Nigeria by Nigerians for the world.
The title of the auction, Whispers from the Sahara @Didi, was developed between the “Desert Warrior” photographer Kelechi Amadi-Obi and Dr Jibunoh’s personable wife Elizabeth. During Dr Jibunoh’s Third Expedition across the Sahara, his wife wrote: “In living our lives together, the tales of the Sahara and the threat it poses to humankind have been quite topical. Never in my wildest dream however did I imagine that my husband would want to keep revisiting the Sahara. To think of driving alone across the Sahara is frightening. To actually do it is daunting. To keep repeating it is a miracle.”
While addressing the guests gathered for the auction, Dr Jibunoh said: “Any work you collect today will be recorded as part of the mitigation against desertification and will become a historical collection. The rest of the thousands of photographs taken at the expedition will go on tour of African states and beyond. The Museum will welcome sponsors for the travelling exhibitions: to create awareness, to sensitize the people, to be part of the UN mitigation and adaptation principles.”
The auction was sponsored by Fine & Country, the leading real estate marketing firm worldwide. The CEO, Fine & Country International West Africa, Udo Maryanne Okonjo, LL.M (Lond.) graced the auction.
The photographs on auction had arresting titles. The first photograph auctioned was entitled “The Tents are Folded” and had the following chilling lines: “Only two trees are left in what used to be a forest. The erstwhile vegetation has now been taken over by the Sahara. Africa south of the Sahara used to have at the very least 45 percent forest cover in the early 1960s. It is a clear and present danger that the forest cover is now down to less than five percent!” It fetched N450,000 in the hotly contested auction.
The next photograph put up for auction was “The Majestic Nothingness” which is described thusly: “Now one tree only stands, and as the saying goes, one tree cannot a forest make. Newton Jibunoh’s footprints are imprinted in the sands of time to check out what life is left in this lonely place that once used to be lovely.” The inimitable auctioneer clanged his bell at M605,000!
Then the photograph titled “The Spirit Dance” went up for auction with this attendant description: “In the forest of yore, the birds used to sing and the wind used to blow and the trees used to dance. Now the Sahara has taken over, and the leaves of the trees are all gone, and the birds have disappeared as the trees start the spirit dance.” It was bought for all of N700,000!
“Dunes of Damnation” came up with these words: “With time, the sand dunes will completely take over. Just a look over the dunes, and one sees a hamlet about to disappear into damnation.” The auctioneer had it “gone” at N300,000.
“Searching the Sand and Sky” featuring camels and the words “They have searched for some greenery but there is no grass in sight. They then searched for some water but no luck. Now they are looking up to the sky for some rain” was bought by guest of honour Otunba Ojora for N300,000.  
“Desert and River Meeting” was auctioned at N490,000, and these were the words of the photograph: “And the Sahara and the river met, and a fight developed. Who wins? The answer flows like the tidal wave of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s music Water No Get Enemy.”
The last photograph auctioned that night was entitled “Minutes of the Last Meeting” in which the desert almost completely overwhelms the river and there are these words of lamentation: “By the minutes, the Sahara seems to be winning, shrinking the river into a mere rivulet. But for how long shall this last?”
Because the night was fast advancing Dr Jibunoh called a halt to the proceedings, stressing that the auction would resume at another date. Renowned broadcaster Sonny Irabor was in his elements, describing it all as one of the most memorable days of his long career.