Category Archives: African Literature

Agbero Tales*

By Rafiq Raji

danfo carpark

“Ojuelegba, Ojuelegba, …!”

The bus conductor cried out in one of the City’s busiest motor parks. From the well-dressed, to the trader aiming for the market and the mechanic going to his workshop, we all took our place in the beaten bus. It is always a mistake to underestimate the resilience of these rickety vehicles.

“Abeg, abeg, oga shift inside. Na five people dey siddon there!”

Already sweating in my suit, I retorted instantly.

“What do you mean five people? Are we sardines?”

“Hey, hey, see this one, you think say you sabi English abi? Oya now! No shift, you hear?”

I should have just kept my mouth shut. The agbero was not done yet. As we headed towards the bridge and his breadth reeking of dry gin, he goes on mockingly.

“Dem no get motor but dem sabi English. Oyinbo, where is your car? Your mates are driving jeeps. Are we sardines? No, you be Titus! We too go school na.”

Likely accustomed to the ways of his assistant, the driver simply looked ahead. Now the wiser, I start to placate the “gentleman.” Well, in a manner of speaking.

“You no see say the place too tight for five people?”

To succumb immediately would have stirred the hornet’s nest. Not that this would stop the odd mix of resentment and jolly written all over the face of the veteran “assistant driver.”

“You too e don do you! The man don keep quiet.”

The trader who couldn’t wait to get to her shop tries to calm things down. Now somewhat chagrined and embarrassed, I try to throw in a few expletives of my own.

“No be your fault now, if no be because of hard times, me and you for they drag on top seat?”

At this point, the other passengers could no longer contain their mirth.

“So you fit speak like us. We think say you be oyinbo na?”

Of the myriad of voices, one was distinctly familiar. I remembered now. Earlier, her dress was nearly torn as she tried to maneuver the tight spaces between the seats in the bus. Ever keen to make an extra buck, the bus owners insert additional rows into the bus, tearing apart the much more comfortable factory-fitted arrangement.

Not one to be left out, the agbero tunes it up a little bit.

“Ojuelegba na 200 naira o! I no get change o!”

While still trying to get the attention of my neighbor, Deborah, that was her name. I quickly did a mental calculation of how much I had in my pockets. When did they increase the bus fare? I pondered. The bus conductor and I were really going to get into a real fight now.

“Wetin you mean by 200?” I quipped in pidgin English.

The bus conductor, now really amused, puts on his best bully’s countenance.

“No waste my time abeg. Na 200. If you no fit pay, come down now! With all him suit and tie, he no get 200 naira. Oya now, speak English! I say speak English!”

Of course, I couldn’t disembark midway to our destination. Apart from the fact that it would cost more, there was also the potential police palaver to worry about. The wily conductor knew this. Seeing my dilemma, Deborah quickly hands out twice the amount to the conductor.

“Take, for two”

Feigning chivalry, I quickly pull out the 1,000 naira note I’d been carrying with me since the beginning of the week. I bring the note out just enough to be in sight while making the requisite protestations.

“No, Deborah. That won’t be necessary” saying this as I tried to reach for the conductor’s hand. Just close enough, of course. The conductor already had Deborah’s money in his hands. My bus fare had been paid.

“I really don’t understand how they can arbitrarily increase bus fares like this? Just last week, it was 150!”

My lamentations to her were just loud enough for the other passengers to join in. It was a well-rehearsed ploy. Soon, the debate would get heated and no one would remember or care how it started.

“You never hear? Tanker drivers don strike!

“This country sef! No be just yesterday dem finish one” another passenger says.

Now in my elements, I raise the tempo.

“They are not patriotic! Is the suffering not enough? Any little thing, they go on strike. Teachers, doctors, tanker drivers! We, ordinary people are the one who suffer. The politicians don’t care! What, with their chauffeur-driven cars and sirens. And what do we do as citizens? We just sidon look like mumu!”

While I’m pontificating about all that was wrong, I look slyly through the corner of my eye to Deborah. Okay, a little bit more.

“If I’m the Oga at the Top, I won’t tolerate such nonsense!”

The bus conductor who had been unusually quiet hitherto – however briefly – now couldn’t contain his anger.

“Shut up, abeg! Thief! If you get there, your own go worse! You way use wayo collect Auntie money just now.”

A few of my co-passengers manage wry smiles. They had their own worries. But this was interesting. The conductor continues.

“No be the same thing these ones wey dey there now talk yesterday? Where dem they now? Na so so siren you go they hear”

“True talk” someone seemed to say. It was a common truth.

“The other day, I go buy shoe for my pikin. You know wetin dem tell me? 2,500 naira. Ordinary Kito!”

The middle-aged man had seemed unconcerned about the conversation hitherto. Then he goes further.

“Dem talk say market don dear for where dem they import the shoe. How much be my salary? We no go chop?”

“I simply tell my children say make dem go repair the ones they have”

As a new school term was just about to begin, this was a common dilemma.

Undaunted, I continue as well.

“But, I’m serious. There are procedures. Essential personnel cannot just go on strike. You take them to the industrial court!”

“Hmmn” goes the chorus in the bus. In jest, of course.

“You way no get liver. You be Gani, abi? Sidon abeg!” another passenger adds.

As if totally oblivious to my remarks, the middle-aged man continues with his lamentations.

“With all that is going on, I had to bring them back home from their boarding school in the North.”

At this point, a sympathetic passenger tries to comfort the man.

“God dey”

In my cynical mind, I’m thinking: Now we’ll hear about your own tribulations as well. Wait for it.

“Before the wahala start, I dey go Kaduna go buy textile material. You still fit go, but the wahala don too much now. Police go check everything. Checking points everywhere! So I decide say if my customers no want Aswani material, na dem wahala be that!”

Trying to still be part of the conversation, I ask with surprise about the textile factories in Kaduna. I didn’t know they were still functioning.

“I no know say the factories still dey work” No point trying to seem educated now.

“Yes, some are still working. But a lot of them don close” the lady replied as she adjusted her very elaborate head gear. The sense in going through the trouble despite the discomfort made sense now. She sold textile materials. Putting on her patterned dye prints was good business.

While all this is going on, we are stuck in traffic. Horns are blaring and street hawkers are bearing goods.

“Pure water, pure water!” Slow traffic makes for good custom.

One of the passengers hands out a 5 naira note to the rather persistent vendor.

“Oga, na 10 naira!” the sachet water vendor shouts.

“What do you mean 10 naira? For ordinary water?”

“Oga if you no fit pay, give me back my pure water!”

In slow traffic on a sunny day, the vendor had power. The sun was friendly. Fate itself was smiling. The vendor knew this. At some point, commuters would need to slake their thirst with something.

Now a little tired from my stint at sanctimony, I look to the vendor.

“Do you have mineral water?” This was deliberate. To my mind, it was unlikely such distinction was lucrative enough to warrant bearing the scorching heat for the occasional custom.

“E dey, 200 naira!”

A little astonished, I take the bottle reluctantly. To get out of this, I had to conjure up a very credible excuse for not buying the drink. So I proceed with the ritual of touching the bottle with the back of my hand as if to check its temperature.

“It’s not cold, take!”

He ventures down into his ice cooler and brings out one almost at freezing point. An experienced man, this vendor. Now we’ll see how you get out of this one, his eyes seem to say. I had little choice now.

“Okay bring 800 naira change?”

As I said this, I was dreading the thought that I might have to part with my 1000 naira note at last. I was playing a delicate hand now. There was a great chance that the vendor might not want to part with that much change. He would wonder if it was worth parting with change that could be used to service at least a dozen or more customers. And from the look of things, the slow traffic was going to endure for much longer.

“Hey Deborah, do you want a drink?”

It was the least one could do. Or so it seemed. So much for not wanting to part with the bus fare. As her makeup was already deteriorating under the heat, taking a drink would have ruined it even further. As per tradition, she was meant to decline anyway.

“Sure, I’ll have what you are having.”

She was not being polite. Or maybe she just wanted a drink.

“Oya, bring one for Auntie. Very cold o!”

Realising she might not have contemplated the additional discomfort taking the drink might cause her, I make to wipe the sweat on my face. She caught on.

“I’ll take it when we get moving again”

A good sport, this one.

“So, tell me…”

 *******

*”Agbero Tales” is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

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Tazarce*

By Rafiq Raji

spy

“Quiet lion approaching airport, confirm all clear over”

“All clear, alpha team. Quiet lion is safe to proceed”

Colonel Umar had a slight smile on his face as he listened to his CSO check in on advance teams stationed at various points en route the Aminu Kano International Airport. Umar thought to himself: “Quiet lion? Which one of them morons thought of that epithet?” Like his fellow brethren in the public service, he spent his weekends in his home city, Kano nadabo. He also liked performing the Jumat service at the Masalacin Sarki; you have to keep in touch with these two-ear bastards you see. That was one of the perks of serving a Christian president. Because the former president was a Muslim, they all had to wait till he attended the service at the National Mosque in Abuja before heading out of the capital city. And he would have had to wait till the president was safe in Sokoto before boarding one of the jets in the presidential fleet to Kano. The security protocol was still the same though. They stopped all traffic one hour before the presidential motorcade was due to pass and snipers stationed at various points en route had a standing order to shoot to kill any living being in sight who was not in a designated area. No point trying to find out why someone was fixing his flat tyre just around the time the president was due to pass. Simply take them out. No one in sight until the president’s motorcade and at least three decoys had passed at other routes, those were the orders!

As chief of the Secret Service, his security arrangement had to be less overt whenever he was outside the green zone. Usually, what his security detail did when he was returning to Abuja, was to send ahead a three-car convoy with covered plates to the airport to give the impression he had left. Thereafter, a nondescript car, bullet-proof of course, took him for what was really an uncomfortable ride to the airport. No sirens blaring, no flag waving, nothing. They even stopped in traffic! Quiet lion? Yeah right. The boys did their jobs though. There were agents stationed as normal people at strategic points on the route. The cover of the last group stationed just a few kilometres from the airport was that of youngsters playing football carelessly on a field of sand. Their backup were dressed as mobile policemen doing routine checks at a checkpoint close by, a daily fact of life in any typical Nigerian city. Once at the airport though, all protocols had to be observed. The presidential wing was a green zone.

He’d always wondered about all the fuss though. Well, not really. He understood why it needed to be done. It just bothered him that he had to be so cautious in the city of his many firsts. He got to know women felt pain and pleasure the first time in the dark alleys of Yakasai. And all that blood, Gosh! Of course, it was no matter subsequently. You only saw red the first time. And even then, it was only afterwards. He would go with his boys to Sabon Gari to drink beer with the Inyamiris. On other days, they would go to the mammy market in the army barracks. Those were the two places you could buy alcohol in Kano. It used to surprise him then how many do-gooders they ran into at these water holes. Not anymore. There are just too many hypocrites in the world. His job enabled him peer into the inner recesses of peoples’ lives. After twenty years at the SS, he had simply lost the will to believe that people were capable of any good. Well, not all people. Politicians were the ones he disdained the most, including his principal. But he swore an oath. So even though the president was an inyamiri, even though the president was a Christian, even though the president was set on running for a second term at the expense of the ambition of his mentor, it was his duty to protect him. And Colonel Umar was very good at his job.

***********************

“The National Executive Committee decided today to nominate President Okpara as the consensus presidential candidate of our great party, the All Nigerian Salvation Party (ANSP). The president has accepted” said the ANSP Chairman with great cheer to a packed hall of reporters and government functionaries.

Just as Colonel Umar and his boys were beginning to feel some relief that the press conference was going exactly as planned. A reporter asked the question they had all been dreading.

“Mr Chairman, how did you get Governor Sanusi to drop his ambition?”

“You can ask the Governor himself” said the Chairman.

“Your Excellency, what made you decide to drop your ambition?” Amina asked the usually boisterous governor who was strangely subdued at the press conference.

“I realized it was inappropriate for me to contest the primaries when in fact the president was desirous of a second term. As is his right, of course” the governor replied.

“So it was not because of the corruption case pending against you and your son?” Amina wasn’t going to be brushed aside easily.

“Of course not!” The governor retorted.

No more, end the press conference. The Chairman was given the signal.

“That should do for one day, this press conference is now over. Thank you, everyone.”

Colonel Umar was about to leave quickly when Amina called him by his nickname. “Yaro na gari!” She meant that the other way round. It was more like “stop or I will call you dan iska!” Which was certainly not a compliment.

Putting on his widest smile, the Colonel played along. “How are you, Amina? Was that really necessary? Putting the Governor on the spot like that?”

“I knew you’d say that” Amina replied with a suggestive smile. The other guy moved. This woman was simply mischief. “What now?” he managed to say. “Well, you could stand there or simply take a walk with me” She knew he couldn’t do that. But then that was not what she meant as she slowly walked away. By this time, the other guy was in a sprint.

**********************

“The governor and his son are off the hook, aren’t they?” Amina always kept her head. Those curves were not the only reason he found her irresistible. She could at least try to put some clothes over those curves now that they were spent. One last glimpse, an image to trigger the next tryst.

“Umar?” Amina knew she had his attention now.

“The judge will probably look very closely at the case” Umar quickly managed to say. “You know how serious the president is with his anti-corruption campaign.” The ever-careful spy didn’t want to risk going on record even though the love of his life was the most discreet person he knew. She got the message. Now for the real ask.

“Your boys took my third-cousin into custody yesterday. He is not a member of Karatu Aha, Umar. He is not” How does she do it? Umar wondered. Change subjects like that.

“If he is in custody, it must be because they have evidence of his involvement” Colonel Umar coolly replied.

“Don’t give me that bullshit, Umar!” Amina was raising her voice now. “You are letting a governor whose son was caught with millions of dollars at the airport go scot-free. But in the case of my brother, you remember all of a sudden that you are a professional”

“That boy must not stay a single night in detention! You hear me?” She had him in her mouth now. Amina was a weakness.

**********************

There were still other stones remaining in the president’s shoes. One in particular. The guy simply wont’ let go. Because he was very publicly and vociferously opposed to the president, eliminating him was not a feasible option. The blowback on the president would simply be too much to handle were that to occur. As he was also a very highly respected public figure, making him disappear was also not an option. What to do? Colonel Umar was still mulling this when his phone rang.

It was the red line. Something was up. Just then there was a news flash on the TV screen.

“Bomb blast hit convoy of prominent opposition politician”. He did not need to answer the call. He’d been summoned.

The president was furious.

“My instructions were very clear. There were to be no targeted assassinations. We are no longer in the military era”. Ever the professional, Colonel Umar let the president let off steam before clearing his throat.

“Mr President, it was not us. We didn’t order the attack. He seemed surprised. That was understandable for a civilian in any case. Otherwise, he would know that fighting men kept their word.

“So, who did?” asked the still ruffled leader.

“I have a theory”. Colonel Umar prepared himself for another embarrassing show of naivete by the relatively inexperienced head of state.

“I think he did.”

“Who is he?” he retorted.

“I think General Soho organized the attack on himself”

“You know it has been problematic for him politically. The increased spate of attacks just after he lost the last elections”

“That is the most ridiculous stuff I’ve heard in a while, Umar. How could he order an attack on himself when he could have been killed? It is irrational.” The furrowed brow of the man suggested the spy’s theory struck a chord though.

“He survived, didn’t he? Well, it is probably ridiculous as you say.” Colonel Umar wasn’t just a spy.

“One thing is for sure though, you have your work cut out for you in the upcoming elections.” The baKano didn’t say that of course. He was more politically astute than that. But then spies do their masters’ bidding. So yes, he also had his work cut out for him in the upcoming elections!

**********************

*”Tazare” means “To proceed” in the Hausa language. It is used colloquially in Northern Nigerian political circles when referring to a political office-holder’s self-succession or second-term plans.

*”Tazarce” is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Piercing Pains – A Short Story #BringBackOurGirls #AfricaWrites

By Rafiq Raji

SAM_0351

“You, stand up! Mai Ungwa, take her to my quarters”

Babangida had been relishing this opportunity for a very long time. He was determined to have his virgins here on earth. There wouldn’t be much privacy but the tent would do. In any case, his brazas needed to know he didn’t think the flowers beneath him. Some were already jealous of the life he enjoyed. His was the spoils without the slightest suspicion. As an elected public office holder, he had immunity. And he could count on his men’s loyalty. Anyway, they needed him more than he needed them. Who has been informing them about targets? And our people in the security services need to be taken care off regularly. Who provides the untraceable funds? This was not a bad reward for his troubles. The rhetoric around the security problem they created had also helped him politically. These were good times indeed.

“Kina da daurin kay, ko? Inna gama da ki, za ki sani”

“You think you are stubborn.”

The girls were all unkempt. He always thought Mai Ungwa was crude. Didn’t he know they were supposed to look appealing?

Mai Ungwa, before you go, make sure she takes a bath”

“But we are hard-pressed for water, Commander”

“This is an exception; make sure she takes a bath and don’t take too long, I still have to go back to amarya.”

“Your new wife, yes.”

—————–

As Zainab waited for her husband to show up, her life hitherto played before her. A few months earlier, she had just passed her O-Levels with distinction and had pondered at the great task before her. Having congratulated her, Baba had told her he would like to discuss an important matter when she was done with her chores. Her father rarely sought an appointment to speak with her. It did occur to her though that people around the house had been extraordinarily nice to her lately. She did think this could not have been only because she did well in her exams; especially as Yaro, didn’t do quite well. The privileges her brother enjoyed always left a bad taste in her mouth.

“What are you looking at? You had better mind your business. Anyway, you’ll soon be married off!”

She had grown accustomed to Yaro’s taunts. As usual, he was about to go smoke some indo again. Don’t they see his darkened lips? Leave Yaro alone, Mama would always say. She pretends not to see him roll the smelly weed. Last time, Yaro asked the driver to drop him off at a friend’s place on the way to school. He didn’t show up for classes that day. What does Mama do?

“He’ll change, Zainab. You just focus on your studies, my dear.”

She thought maybe it would not be difficult after all. Zainab wanted to go to University before getting married. After all, she was still young. At 16, she could still find a suitor when she finished her teaching degree four years from now. The degree itself was a compromise. It was either that or Medicine. The difficulty of convincing her parents to allow her finish a 7-year medical degree before getting married didn’t escape her.

—————–

“I have spoken to your husband, you know him, don’t you? Hassan. He was the one I told you brought gifts for you the other day”

Who is Hassan? Mama told me it was Babangida. He was a popular politician who until his recent accession to public office was just another drifter. Even back then, he was feared. I had always wondered why. The rumour mill had it he belonged to a radical Islamic sect. We all knew he was a Brazas (if only they would pronounce “Brothers” correctly). There were suggestions this was a cover for much more violent allegiances. Not that the local population didn’t already dread these brazas. You knew a mother had lost her son to them when implausible excuses were given for their wards’ recurring absences. Then suddenly, they show up with brand new scooters and a louder voice. You knew something was off when older men started ingratiating themselves to these small boys. And you thought, what about tarbiya? Everybody got the message after the Limami was kidnapped. The police found the Chief Imam’s charred body dropped like rubbish in Sabon Gari market. A very public place. The thought sent shivers down her spine. Surely, her father was not going to betroth her to such a man. Baba would have found out if the rumours were true. Maybe, he is really just a little bit religious than usual.

“He will make a suitable husband. You know I always watch out for your interests. Hassan is a good man. And good husbands are hard to find these days.”

“Baba, I’m worried he won’t…”

“I’ve spoken to him about it. He has promised to sponsor your university education. You are a lucky girl, my daughter!”

“But Baba, he has two….”

“Good husbands are hard to find these days, Zainab!”

He only calls me by name when he wants to seem firm. That meant my objections were to be muted. Hassan would be my husband.

“Baba, what if I get pregnant? Would Hassan be willing to wait till I’m at least 18 years old before we go in together? It is only two years?”

Professor Mohammed Mai Mangoro had always worried about his daughter’s stubbornness. She takes after him in that regard. After his last rendezvous with Amina, he had come to the resolution that the only solution was to marry her off. Amina was a third-year Psychology student at the University. They had been seeing each other for some time now. He first sighted her when she came to visit one of his daughters at their campus bungalow. She had stirred something in him. Let’s just say, those stirrings were no longer fantasies these days. But the guilt had left him hollow. No, Zainab will marry first! I’m not going to live to see another daughter of mine in tight jeans and body hugging blouses. And what is that horseshit they all put on their heads? Does she think any man would wait even a day talk less two years before exercising his rights? This matter would require some tact though. You are her Baba, she’ll listen to you. But gently now, Mohammed. Gently.

“I have discussed that matter with him as well. Hassan is an educated man. He shares your concerns as well”

“But Baba, he already has two wives. How does an educated man have that many wives and still want more?”

“Just remember what I told you, good husbands are hard to find these days”

—————–

“Mai Ungwa! Mai Ungwa! Come here right this moment!”

“Commander!”

“What is taking so long? I don’t want my new wife to get suspicious. You know I still have to drive back to town. And you know how long that takes with the soldiers and all. Did you deliver our gifts to them? You are sure? Because, if you didn’t, you know they’ll bother me on the way back”

Ta na da daurin kay, Babangida

“Are you telling me you couldn’t control a 14-year old girl?”

“No, Commander….”

Zainab proved too difficult to acquire. And the wedding cost him more than necessary. He was going to make her return every dime. University? Am I her father? How an educated man like Professor Mai Mangoro couldn’t see his ruse baffled him. Maybe he pretended not to know his real intentions. Suitors like him didn’t come about easily. Hassan looked back at his life. He had once run into her, the arrogant bitch. She had the temerity to ignore his advances. But back then, he wasn’t exactly ango material. He wore the same clothes everyday and was lucky if he got some odd job here and there. His luck changed after he started attending the new mosque. After listening to one of the young Sheikh’s sermons, he felt enlivened. One day, after many visits, he was approached.

“I see you are a very serious Muslim”

“Yes, you.” Hassan couldn’t believe his ears. He never imagined Sheikh Zakari could have noticed him.

“I try my best, Sheikh”

“Very good. I’m happy when I see serious young Muslims”

“You should come and see me when you find the time. After Isha prayers, tomorrow perhaps?”

That was a while ago now. Today, he was a local government chairman with all the accouterments of office. He drove in convoys, had an Aide-de-Camp and people stood up when he entered the room. And there was no way the authorities could know he was a sponsor of Karatu Aha. Wait a minute, he was the authority itself. Even the Emir almost bowed his head a bit the other day. The thought brought a wry smile to his face.

“Commander! Commander, the girl is ready”

Hassan wondered how long his reverie had been. This escapade would have to wait another day.

“You know what? I’ve lost my appetite! We’ll continue this tomorrow. And this had better not repeat itself. And make sure to tell the others, she is not to be touched. They can take their pick from the others”

“Allah ya ja zamanin ka!”

—————–

As she waited for him after the last guests departed – the big wedding was an unnecessary expense if you asked her, she prayed very hard that Babangida would be gentle tonight. She had no illusions. He was feared for a reason. That Friday, after the Jumat service, Baba had asked her to serve lunch. She thought that unusual since Mama always served his food. And there he was, Babangida, meek as sheep. He even pretended to be shy. She wasn’t fooled. And now as his third wife, she wondered about her dreams. Who is to stop him now that she was in his house? Just then, she heard the sound of his jeep. Where did he go even? What type of groom runs off with friends minutes after his wedding? Well, maybe that is a good thing. Baba had told her he promised to wait a while. Her quarters weren’t that bad. She saw a tint of jealousy written over wife no. 2’s face. Asiya was no longer going to be the favourite; at least for a little while. They did their duty though; comforting her as she sobbed at the departure from her father’s house. Even Yaro managed to conjure up a sullen look. Yeah right, like he wasn’t already relishing the opportunity of being the only centre of attention now that she was gone. Hassan had done well for himself. Each wife had her own quarters; a living room, kitchen and bedroom. That should reduce the likelihood of petty quarrels, Zainab thought. She was still pondering where she’d put all the wedding gifts when the door suddenly creaked open. For some reason, she was jolted. Not that she was not expecting him. But, she had wanted to pre-empt his move; maybe even negotiate about her going to University. Too late.

“Take off your clothes”

“You promised…”

And then there was a piercing pain.

—————–

Postscript

Girl-child education remains a major challenge in Northern Nigeria. You’d be surprised to know that a majority of Northern Nigeria’s intelligentsia prefers to marry off their daughters at the earliest opportunity. This preference has foundations in culture and religion. In these societies, there is a revolving door between these two institutions. Incidentally, Islam does not make even the slightest suggestion that a girl child should not aspire to the highest academic achievement possible. In fact, Islamic history is replete with the scholarly achievement of women. It is thus unbelievable how some Islamic Clerics get away with such absurd assertions as there being a doctrinal basis for relegating women to their husband’s or father’s homes. For instance, Islam prefers that women attend to women on health issues. So tell me, how on earth would that be possible if there are no female doctors? In Islam, women have rights on the property of their husbands, parents, siblings and children. And surely, Islam does not accept marriages that cause harm to women before they are fit for childbirth. Such absurd practices like genital mutilation is also un-Islamic. The truth is, much of these practices shrouded in clerical proclamations and fatwas (and who the heck gave some mortal the right to make such proclamations in the first place; surely The Quran is encompassing enough) really stem from male insecurities. A lot of men are scared of women; their brilliance, elegance and grace. However, it should also be said that most Muslim women wear the hijab with pride. The idea that they do so unwillingly is simply absurd and really has more to do with western exceptionalism than fears of human right violations. That said, there are abuses. Thus, the society we should all aim for is one where everyone has an opportunity at redemption, is free to practise his or her faith without fear and one where there is respect for divergent views.

Hundred days have also gone by since the abduction of over two hundred girls in Northeastern Nigeria. This egregious act was purportedly under the banner of Islam. Muslims must therefore raise their voices in condemning these elements that commit crimes in the name of a faith they hold dear. As human beings, we must also do the needful. We should imagine these girls were our daughters, sisters, and nieces. Surely, our anguish would know no bounds if these girls were our relatives. They don’t have to be before we empathize with their parents and continue the advocacy that has made it possible for even the slightest progress that has been made toward their safe release. While some of them managed to escape or were saved, a significant number of them remain in captivity. It is mind-boggling that this remains the case in this day and age. The amount of time those innocent girls have spent in captivity is enough to change their orientation and personalities. There are reports that their locations are known and the authorities’ caution stem from a desire for the girls’ safety. Bottom-line, we should all do what we can to contribute to their safe release.

 

Note

Piercing Pains is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Photo credit: Rafiq Raji (Sunset in Cape Town)

The Hat and the turbans (A Tribute) #Nigeria

Innocents lost to the battle of the Hat and the turbans

Where is the outrage?

Silence their store until own is lost

Morning’s hope extinguished on the altar of power

 

The turbans turn a blind eye

Where is the Hat’s agitation?

Rock’s comfort fears return to the Creek

 

 

Were they ghosts?

Did they travel the land unnoticed?

The two ears silent to the terror of their feet

Heartless, ruthless, and shameless!

Await the day your old walls fall on the anger of your subjects

 

Fearing turban’s wrath, the Hat wields not his sword

Dear Innocents, please haunt the souls of the silent

Plague their dreams with horrors coming

Until they fulfill oaths sworn

 

 

Who is an African Writer? (Part Two) #ALAconf2014

Those curious about Africa (and indeed any country, continent or culture) look to its literary writers and their works to get some grasp, however ephemeral, of its cultural mosaic. “Contemporary” – if we mean it to be writings by young African authors as opposed to fictional depictions of relatively recent times – Sierra Leonean literature makes writ large the continuing debate about who qualifies as an African writer; especially as it relates to the increasing literary stature of Aminatta Forna.

Mohamed Kamara (Washington &Lee University) in his reading of the works of Aminatta Forna and Yema Lucilda Hunter titled “Constructing a Nation and it’s Memory: Reinventing Sierra Leone’s Past in the Works of Aminatta Forna and Yema Lucilda Hunter” highlights how a nostalgic and determined Aminatta tries to discover the truth about her father’s hanging (a government minister) in 1960s Sierra Leone while inevitably providing a glimpse of that period in Sierra Leone’s history and nationhood. Relying on her journalistic experience, she provides an investigative, unemotional and arguably distant (a recurring theme) memoir that doubles as a reconstruction of memories lost (or perhaps vanishing) about Sierra Leone’s turbulent history. “The Devil that danced on the Water” relies on both written and oral history to document, albeit intentioned as a personal memoir, a period in “Salone” (local parlance for Sierra Leone) nationhood that is becoming increasingly contentious on account of lost historical documents during Sierra Leone’s hitherto long running civil war(s).

However, Eustace Palmer (Georgia College & State University), another Sierra Leonean, points out some historical inaccuracies in Aminatta Forna’s “The Memory of Love.” His presentation titled “Defining the Sierra Leonean Writer: The case of Aminatta Forna” highlights the particular instance (amongst others) of her depiction of mass excitement about the American landing of a man on the moon as an exaggeration. Palmer recollects muted excitement (and perhaps some ambivalence) in Sierra Leone – being as he was resident in Salone at the time – about that great American scientific feat (not that there wasn’t an appreciation of the epoch). Palmer therefore wonders whether Forna’s distant (and sometimes inaccurate historical assertions) but highly regarded fictional depictions of Salone life qualifies her as a Sierra Leonean (and African) writer just because she was born to an indigenous father.

In her commentary, Joyce Dixon-Fyle (Depauw University) argues Forna’s increasing acclaim cannot be removed from her position of privilege. Western-trained, born of a Scottish mother, married to a European and working (residing) in western citadels of literary excellence, Forna’s vantage position gives her significant access to the Western literary intelligentsia and arguably contributes to her acclaim amongst western literary critics. However, there was a consensus (with Dixon-Fyle’s concurrence) on the very high quality of her work. Aminatta Forna writes excellently well.

So, who is an African writer? Arthur Onipede Hollist (University of Tampa) wondered if Palmer’s drift towards a definition that requires birth and a minimum formative existence (that extends to advanced education and some working life) may not be too restrictive; especially since most of Africa’s writers reside, work and teach outside of the continent. What about the non-African but very excellent and highly-regarded Writers of African literature? Would such a definition not exclude these significant contributors? Dixon-Fyle nonetheless thinks there is an indigenous flavour that inevitably eludes the well-researched “African” literary work by a non-African (including persons born to African parents but without any meaningful formative experiences in Africa).

The definition of the African Writer remains an open question therefore and a very important one.

 

Reference

“Ruins, Remainders, Residues: Sierra Leonean Literature and the (De)Formation of Archives”

40th Annual Conference of the African Literature Association
“Texts, Modes and Repertoires of Living in and Beyond the Shadows of Apartheid”
Venue: Wits Professional Hub, Room 314, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Time: 15:30-17:00 (18:00) Thursday, 10 April 2014

 

Who is an African Writer? Ruins, Remainders, Residues: Sierra Leonean Literature and the (De)Formation of Archives #ALAconf2014

Is an African Writer one born in Africa?

Or should she or he have lived in Africa?

Is being born to African parents a qualification?

What about non-African but highly regarded African Writers?

Is it more about acceptance?

Acceptance by who? Western literary critics or the African literary intelligentsia?

Who is an African Writer?

Separation (A poem by Rafiq Raji) #ALAconf2014

Humans desiring distinction
By race, class, education, lineage
Created free, he binds himself to the notion of betterness
Dare not impale my paleness
Separation!

Dishonouring origins for want of paleness
Is one free without roots’ pride?
Who then are your ancestors?
Debasing your ancestors on the plantations of life
Finding disciples in oppression of tribe, religion and ancestry
Separation!

Occupiers of lands without right
Awake in mind to the reality of your curse
Never to know peace while usurpers of noble dreams
Thought to kill the spirit of your hosts
Asking why He should endow them so
Separation!

Moving from land to land oppressed in spirit
Wanderings of a homeless spirit
Conscience long departed for fear of contagion
Separation!

What then when there are no more lands to conquer?
What then when there are no more peoples to separate?
Redemption fears invitation
Should forgiveness meet someone so?
Separation!