Looking back, this was supposed to be a mere interaction. My initial mission was to simply chat up the poet; and be informed about who I was reading. But before we could go far, an instinct prompted me to make sense of her responses—a revealing friendly chat.
From the very deep questions already discussed, I asked her what should have been the initial question: when did you start to write; when did the interest in writing emerge? She looks at me straight in the eyes, lifts her face up and within a split second seems to have suddenly recalled .
Her response: “From youth, quite early in life, I found myself fascinated with words. My parents instilled and nurtured in me the need to read—guided teaching.
“I loved reading the newspapers in my father’s office. I loved the excitement of waiting for the crossword puzzle on the back page of the Vanguard newspaper. I lived in pleasant expectation for the weekend visits to the library.”
It was another way of saying that the passion for writing came along with her interest in reading. She was always scribbling. She had papers littered around her space: the little bedside table, stuck in between pages of her textbooks, and inside her school uniform pockets.
In her words, “In High School, I did what most teenagers did—I wrote love notes, expressed self, poured out emotions. I could look at an object, a piece of clothing, a structure, and weave a storyline about it.
“I wrote about anything and everything. I lived in a world of imagination. I had good teachers. I wanted to learn.”
As was the fashion in those days, Uboho loved novels—Mills and Boons, James Hardley Chase, Agatha Christie, The Pacesetters, John Grisham, etc. Intrigued by words and phonetics, she ventured into encyclopedias and dictionaries. The poet in her was being nurtured.
Here is the secret: “I attempted to write my own stories after reading novels. This jolted my thinking that I could one day venture to write a book. I had two exercise books transformed into my idea of poems—books that remained under my pillow no matter what.
“As with all things in life, this phase faded out of my mind when I entered the university. Writing had become only a hobby. I had no thought that it could take me anywhere in the life I had mapped out for myself.
“Of all the admired professions, no one would have listed “A Writer” amongst the first five. Everyone wanted to be a doctor, an engineer, a pilot, an architect, or a scientist. I wasn’t in any way different from the other children.”
As disclosed in the earlier parts of this discourse, she found herself drawn effortlessly into the literary world. What she has become today did not come without challenges.
With excellent weave of hair-raising metaphors and complicated imageries, Uboho is walking me through the short corridors of her life. She speaks as a poet—hiding a lot behind choice words. I refuse to pursue further because she is making it sound like there is a privacy that must not be advertised.
Her words: “My journey of discovery that I could put down words has helped me in life. It became magnified after I was trapped in silence for years in a relationship that made me question my existence—who I was.
“Writing was a buried gift I unearthed, long interred under the vicissitudes and challenges of becoming a wife and a mother. It was most difficult, at the time to believe in myself, my abilities, or my worth.”
“Writing forced me to put myself under scrutiny. Sharing my writings seemed to me as if a microscope was trained on my life like a specimen in the laboratory. Would people want to debate my motives? Would they judge and find me wanting, lacking in excellence?
“Writing came out of the void of enforced silence. It was like a fountain that burst forth from rusty, creaky pipes after decades of abandonment. The flow was not confident. It came in spurts and wheezes, meandering through rattling pipes, shuddering, and stuttering in its feeble attempt at expression.
“The years had done its best. The challenges were quite peculiar to my circumstances. Now, all I had was the relentless urge to pour out my pain on paper.
“Writing was the vent opened to me from the dungeon of gross darkness. It was the beacon that called me back to harbour like a ship lost at sea. I welcomed the joy and tears that came with the remembrance. I did not think it was a pretty sight.
“All my vulnerabilities, I wrote them down. This was me—writing what I was too scared to say. No cloaks to hide beneath. No masks to hide behind. No fake smile to disguise my pain.”
I am deliberately in silence as she talks. Then I find myself asking, before what look like tears start to fall: advise someone on how to overcome fears—using yourself as an example. I’m seeing a smile, as she opened up again:
“You come to terms that you have lost it all, everything that matters, except this gift of writing. That’s all you have left. It is your one chance of redemption—to make something out of yourself. You say to yourself: “If I perish, I perish.”
“And so, I comforted myself with the logic that we can only hear the stories when it is told, and when it is read. I told myself, ‘Uboho, be courageous enough to say, I can begin again. Be bold enough to say, I will never give up.
“This second opportunity that life bestows makes me deaf to doubts, and blind to fears. It is this attitude that enables me respond to criticism from people who do not connect with my writings in a healthy way.
“I absolve them of all responsibility and burden, just as I am open to constructive criticisms and feedbacks. They do not have to applaud or understand my story.”
READ ALSO: Encounter With Uboho Bassey (1)
So, like a plant brought out from the shade under the brightness of light, she started to bloom. People read what she wrote and were impressed. She even wrote birthday poems for her friends. They got excited.
But then, “The damage to my psyche had taken a huge chunk out of my confidence. It is hard to believe when you have been repeatedly told you have no substance in your brain.
“It is difficult to find hope when it has been crushed for so long. It is even more traumatic when you think you have missed out on all the opportunities life could have given you to become someone.
“There I was, having been told that I couldn’t be anything other than a common housewife. There I was, age not on my side, watching young people accomplish great things, set up businesses, and make money of their own.
“These people, my small audience on social media, helped restore my self-esteem and worth with their edifying words. I was no longer under the perpetual influence of someone who diminished and reduced me to nothingness.
“My writing—I have come to realize, and accept that it is not really for everyone. It is for me—first of all. It is a passion flowing from my heart. It may wash over some people, by igniting a chord.
“It may flow over others—striking a rhythm. It may just glide by others, with no impact. But the most important aspect is that writing healed me. It may heal another hurting soul, somewhere, I hope.
“I have overcome my fears because I found a way to prevail. I have overcome my hesitations in thinking about who my story might hurt or call to question their actions. I have overcome, knowing that if I had given up, I would have had no story to tell today.
“I have overcome, seeing how it resonates with some people. I love the occasional compliment. I love knowing that I can serve people with this gift. Most importantly, I am mindful that it is all for God’s glory—as I serve humanity.”
READ ALSO: Encounter With Uboho Bassey (2)
Enough of the tear-generating recount. How does it feel to be a poet? She did not disappoint. Her response rhymes with my belief. Here she goes again!
“I count myself really blessed to be one of the people who can think, be able to express their thoughts and feelings in words. Perhaps my empathetic nature calls me to deeply connect, intuitively to people and situations around my environment.
“The poet attempts to accomplish through the words of verse what the painter intends with color in a work of art, or a fashion designer through a piece of fabric.
“Poets are wordsmiths, always trying to pack in as much meaning as possible with every word they use in a poem. Being a poet is like being placed on the path of the rising sun.
“It sheds light on the vulnerabilities we are so desperate to keep hidden, out of view of a society who we imagine not so kind or lenient with our failures, our delays, our mistakes, and the things that limit us.
“I feel energies, I feel rhythms, I feel nuances. Sometimes, the depth of feeling makes me shed tears, or propels me into awe and wonder. Poetry pulls me into the very vortex of emotions. It enables me to express myself better and deeper in compelling urgency.
“Words excite me. A simple word or phrase can conjure up several images in my mind. My imagination is actively connected, attuned, and synced to the play of words: to nature, to people, to feelings and emotions. I do not only see injustices, but I also feel them. I am immersed in the rushing flow of life.
“Being a poet means I have a voice and I cannot be silenced. It means I can speak my truth and own my story. It means I can speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
“Being a poet confers on me the strength and power to rewrite my past and recreate new chapters for my future. Being a poet is what makes me want to lift people higher than they could lift themselves.
“Being a poet makes me want to make people see better, have a loftier view of issues, have the veil removed. It makes me want to uncover the darkness that weighs heavily on the psyche of the hopeless and the voiceless.
“Poetry empowers me to look at the failed social services in our nation and see them for what they are—an assault on our collective conscience as citizens.
“Being a poet has taught me that perseverance is not just a choice, it is a way of life—that one day, soon, I will tell my story about how I overcame what I went through and it will become someone else’s survival guide.
“Being a poet keeps me humbled. There is so much excellence in published works of great poets that I find myself falling short of such brilliance. I stay teachable, humble.” This conversation ends tomorrow.
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Dear Chief Gani Fawehinmi
By Omoh Giwa
Since your departure and subsequent transition to AlJannah Firdaus, you seem to have shirked your responsibility and might be taking Rest in Peace literally. One would think you were “unAfrican” which might account for the neglect and escape from your ancestral duties of stability and balance among the living.
Do not bother about the legalities of offering libations as that is the duty of the living. Can you even ask for the benefits of your current placement when you have never performed the duties required? Do our people not say that the neck of a child will not be bent for long in the presence of adults? How unfortunate that our necks might snap from the hangman’s noose and the celestial elders seem to look on without interference. Ironically, you played Senior Advocate of the Masses during your lifetime yet have chosen silence in your ascension.
At what point did you decide to become a thorn in the flesh of our oppressors? When did it become your mission to criticise the government and their draconian laws? The almighty Gani, who stared tyranny and cruelty in the face despite the dangers (as a certain client of yours paid with his life) and challenged military dictators and trigger-happy uniformed men.
I will not bore you with my incessant, uncontrollable ramblings and will dive into the crux of my resurrecting feat (since you have chosen to ignore us, we will not allow you rest).
How can an oil-producing nation like ours experience fuel scarcity for this long? I will not even inundate you with tales of our economic woes (you’re not the military dictator that occasionally sends funds from the other divide) as this is just a drop in the large ocean of troubles. I knew we were contesting with forces beyond our control when boko haram rebranded from religious terrorism to an economic pressure group. They even had a spokesman who negotiated ransom and was visibly upset (on national TV) that we insisted on identifying them as kidnappers (what do you call someone that takes another forcefully, holds them hostage until a huge sum is paid for their release?)
Does a tailor’s child wear rags? Or the child of a butcher lack meat? How do we explain this fuel scarcity of over 10 months? As though to spite us even further, we are currently experiencing a shortage (scarcity is apt) of legal tender. Yes sir, you read that correctly. A few years back, there was a shortage of yams (we were buying miserly, sickly looking yams for as high as N3,000) thereby elevating the cheaper, less desired sweet potatoes (talk about the rejected stone) or when onions became gold.
This money scarcity began when a certain official decided to revamp the Naira notes and insisted that such an innovation had not occurred in over 19 years plunging us further into the abyss. People have spent hours queuing at banking halls and ATMs looking for the elusive dye-coloured legal tender. As though it was not enough to be overtaxed, we have to suffer to withdraw our own money. I found it ridiculous when a governor accused the authorities of printing money indiscriminately (they thought it was the solution to inflation) last year and now, we seem not to have enough (I shudder at what this recall is actually covering). Then he said some mischievous elements were hoarding money (if 63% of Nigerians are living in poverty, how have they convinced us that this hardship was to punish the hoarders) yet these redesigned notes have found their way back to the coffers of the rich. The scarce commodity is not so scarce at Nigerian parties and dance-floors. Did one rich wife not flaunt the packets of monies her husband gifted her?
Look at the chaos this redesign has birthed and so close to our general elections (if there is already tension before elections, what happens during and after?). What does this spell for the average man? We should have suspected the antics of this administration when they reduced cash withdrawal to N100,000 per day. When we complain they ask us to use alternative means as if I can ask a pepper seller if she would settle for transfer. Can you imagine entering danfo, the conductor stretches his POS at you and in their usual brash and uncouth manner asks: savings or current (one chance?).
Do you remember when he seized the accounts of cryptocurrency traders with the claim that they were responsible for the devaluation of the naira? My absolute favourite was his rampage against abokiFX on influencing the downfall of the naira at a parallel market. This is the same man that bought his party’s presidential form for one hundred million naira (I know you have never heard of an openly partisan money governor. This is also our first).
These clowns touted themselves as having the solutions to our problems yet they have taken us on journeys we thought impossible. Do you remember when there was a hike in bread prices with bakers threatening us with strike action every other day? (Bread too decided to hide from us and nobody is doing anything about it).
Some years ago, Venezuela went through an extremely rough economic patch that a dozen eggs was sold for $200 while Americans bought same for $1.38 of the same year and the Venezuelan bolivars was 1000 to $1. Nigerians are buying eggs for N100 when we used to pay N30 for it. I especially love the defense that Americans pay much more than we do for fuel so we should thank our jailers for their benevolence. To think that we are still being threatened with fuel subsidy removal when we are already buying N330 per litre.
Can you blame us? A fellow resident of your current abode once said: we often stand in the compound of a coward to point at the ruins where a brave man used to live. But if we remain cowards, who will bell the cat?
Hence my desire to quicken your spirit into speaking for the voiceless and downtrodden as you are known for. Or did you not promise to rise from the grave to fight for the poor?
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My Thoughts On Prince Harry’s Autobiographical Spare
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Spare, Prince Harry’s explosive tell-it-all narrative about his royal life and the reasons why he quit monarchical bondage hit the streets weeks ago and became an instant bestseller, earning him enemies, earning him some loyalists, and testing the patience and maturity of his king-father. To be sure, the peccadilloes of royal life will make great news any day, especially on social media and the tabloids. There had been intense speculations about how hard the book was going to be on the monarchy and how that arcane institution would take a vitriolic attack on it.
The media sensationalized everything about Prince Harry and made a monster of Meghan, painting her as the devil woman who was pulling the charming White Prince with her well, black charm, from the luxury, pomp, and pageantry of royal life. Both as a Black woman and as an American who does not understand the niceties and courtesies of royal life, Meghan was a fitting demon and enchantress to blame for Harry’s rebellion against his kith and kin! Lynching will remain with us for a long time! And the foul-mouthed Piers Morgan is a lynch master par excellence who has not forgiven Meghan for choosing Harry over him! The insane Jeremy Clarkson published an essay in the Sun tabloid ‘imagining Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, stripped naked and publicly humiliated before jeering crowds! Are we still surprised that Harry had to flee racist Britain?
Autobiographies are often designed to polish, to present a viewpoint and to record aspects of history which the reading audience may not have been privy to. When royals tell personal stories, if they elect to do so, they tend to be reticent, leaving out stories that could discredit that arcane institution. The late Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s only sister authorized a biography which detailed her escapades but not in the way Harry’s recently released autobiography Spare has enthralled the world and rattled the British monarchy!
Spare! What a title! Though titled Spare, the raging prince did not spare some characters in the narrative. Somewhat ominous, loaded with innuendoes as spare as the word is for the title of a prince’s autobiography, the narrative did not spare the prince himself in documenting his somewhat wayward behaviour. By the way, the book is a good read. The ghost writer did an excellent job with the narrative both in terms of style and use of language. Spare is easy to read and comprehend. Its subject matter is intriguing. What are these royals made of? This accounts for its mass appeal. Harry spared nobody that deserved some bashing in this tell-it-all book. Camilla? The husband snatcher who now sits as Queen Consort whose disruptive presence in the Prince Charles and Lady Diana marriage caused the split in the royal marriage ultimately leading to her death, is one of the targets of Spare’s ballistic missile!
I am more interested in what has made Harry what he is. A rebellious, deeply traumatized prince who is willing to throw everything overboard no matter whose proverbial ox is gored! He has fled America well ensconced in the arms of his American sweetheart whom doomsayers have predicted would ultimately drop him and move on. I don’t have any reason to believe this. Which is not to say that a divorce cannot come into the picture someday. In the Western world, people marry and divorce at will. They add no taboo to it as we do here in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. So, if at some point, the marriage is no longer worth keeping, the lovers are going to part ways and move on.
But Harry is a wounded soul. Almost broken. He seems to be arrested in time psychologically from when the reality of the brutal circumstances of his beloved mother’s death dawned on him. He is angry with the media for hounding his mother to death. Angry with the media for coming after his wife. Angry with the racists in the monarchy who saw and see nothing good in his choice of a spouse. Angry with Camilla. Angry with his brother William. Angry with everyone. What is the root of this stream of bitterness that has blighted his soul? How did the ‘spares’ before him manage their lives without quitting royal duties in the time? Will Harry ever heal? Has he made eternal enemies that could also hound him into a tunnel of sorts in the years ahead?
Parents must pay attention to their wards and kids. Some kids are vulnerable to uncomplimentary words and actions. Some may say Harry overreacted. If a child has been cast as a worthless person, it could result in such crisis. Some adults are damaged kids arising from the actions of their parents. Too many damaged adults walk the streets these days. Kids who were abused sexually or verbally. In her days, Princess Margaret did not hide from the media. She defied the press men who wrote lurid reports about her. We are told that ‘the carefree royal dismissed press reports and was defiant about her extravagant lifestyle’.
Now, I don’t know whether Harry will ever attain happiness traveling this route. There is sweetness in vendetta. But only for a while. Trust, brotherhood, and friendship are forever broken. If Harry returns to England for his father’s coronation, he will be kept as an outsider. No serious conversations can take place wherever he is present. Initiating dialogue with him could also be difficult. His next book or interview could explode in the face of the initiator. But the child in Harry needs a succour, needs a father, needs a mother. Who will be that father? Who will be that mother? So, in my view, any reconciliation must include the love of Harry’s life, the supposed Pretty Black Enchantress and Mother from the rebel colony of America, a nation which rejected the monarchy and dictatorial ways of Great Britain in 1776. Any attempt to persecute Meghan would only bring back haunting memories of his mother’s tragic ‘disappearance!
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In my short foray into mental health counselling, I have encountered many broken adults who are not able to deal with contemporary issues because of psychological baggage from their childhood. Some are wife beaters and abusers of children. Broken mothers do not have enough compassion in them to bring up rounded children. These kids may not be royalty or spares; but the psychological reaction of some of them are like Harry’s. True healing for Harry must come from King Charles 111, by opening his heart through back channels and embracing his son from the depth of his heart, and save the monarchy from further embarrassment!
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Professor Ayo Olukotun, My Eyuze
By Tony Afejuku
My bosom friend, Professor Ayo Olukotun, a man and personage for whom I placed considerable respect, who died recently, was committed to mother earth last Friday. The ever-delightful Professor Kayode Soremekun, the immediate past Vice Chancellor of Federal University Oye-Ekiti pointed my attention to this in his tribute to Professor Ayo Olukotun symbolically captured in The Punch newspaper of Friday, 27 January, 2023. After reading his tribute on the very day Ayo Olukotun normally appeared on the back page of The Punch as a five-star columnist, I nodded my head in painful pain. Kayode Soremekun’s tribute essentially captured aspects of our friend’s public life, and I gave some long thought to our departed humanist of humanists’ hurried committal to the brown earth of Ibadan which was not near his homestead, geographically speaking, in Egbe Yoruba of Kogi State. Was an injustice done to him in his prompt burial in Ibadan of cultural and poetic seven hills? Perhaps circumstances of his demise compelled his remains to be committed to mother earth in Ibadan of JP Clark’s “broken china in the sun.” (How my memory is failing me as a result of my emotional state!) The one who was supposed to get back to me for accurate information on and about the event did not when I was putting my words together. Another common friend and my friend’s course-mate at Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife, Ile-Ife), did not divulge this information in his similarly public picture of my friend in his The Guardian’s roaring tribute of Tuesday, 31 January, 2023. I am of course referring to Barrister Alade Rotimi-John who was one of the early bringers of our gone hero’s demise to my poor attention. The other person was Suyi Ayodele, Tribune’s Tuesday ace columnist.
Before Soremekun’s and Rotimi-John’s well-crafted tributes found me, Professor Olu Obafemi’s great elegiac poem of immortal diamond had galloped and gasped to me. The poem by our National Laureate, a Nigerian National Order of Merit winner, clearly made its mark on my mind. The privately circulated poem to a select audience was one in which Professor Olu Obafemi tried successfully to crowd Olukotun’s career with conquest in Olukotun’s years and years of eventful events. I never knew that Obafemi knew Olukotun until I read his afore-said poem entitled “Ayo, Omo Olukotun, Odabo!”
Professor Olukotun’s “Yagba homestead” and ancestry and scholastic biography right from “Titcombe College, Egbe in Kogi State” up to the “forest of Knowledge” in Ile-Ife and beyond as “hero of the Globe” were/are movingly and movingly rendered in the poem. But why was the dazzling adventurer “Okun, Son of Jege” committed to the red soil of Ibadan when his eyes finally and eternally closed? I tried in vain to reach Professor Obafemi, another worthy friend, and my friend’s close kinsman, for an answer. All I got was prophetically rendered in the poem as follows: ”It is doubtful that this adventurer into/the forest of knowledge/Shall return to these shores again.” Another common friend, Professor Ademola Da Sylva, who knew Ayo in their Ife days, was similarly moved by Obafemi’s elegy.
Professor Ayo Olukotun was no Professor Ayo Olukotun to me. He was simply to me – until he breathed his last breath Eyuze as I was to him Tone Baba. We first met in 1977 in Zaria now in Kaduna State. We were lecturing colleagues (Graduate Assistants – later Assistant Lecturers) at Ahmadu University. He was my tightest pal. Our other tight friend was the sociologist/criminologist Basil Owomero (a fellow Graduate Assistant) from Ozoro town in Isoko-land in Delta State. Basil died a pretty long time ago after earning a doctorate in Criminology. Of the three of us I am the only living one now. As I am reflecting on this confusion of thought, emotion, and vision of our then years a void stares at me pitilessly. The vastness of the then years of youthful youthfulness up to when we left Zaria at different times blurs and time becomes hollow. I am in the moment of writing remembering only one or two or three things of the happy and unhappy events we shared.
I remember that Eyuze Baba brought Adebayo Williams and me together. Adebayo Williams is now a Professor of Literature and a novelist and columnist of no mean repute. He and Eyuze were together as under-graduates in those years of tempestuous student unionism of patriotic patriotism when Eyuze made hay and held sway in Ife as President of the Students’ Union. But it is not this I am recalling and remembering. I am recalling and remembering… I am recalling and remembering Bayo Williams’ visits in his ever-faithful Passat to Eyuze (and then eventually to us) from Kaduna (where he was teaching at Federal Government College and at the same time working on his Master’s degree in Ife as we were doing in Zaria) when we dreamed dreams of Nigeria and our tempestuous love affair with your country my country our country. We dreamed the dreams of writing and of how to help this country to constitute ethical or moral or whatever science and knowledge of growth to shape it and humankind. Each of us endeavoured to adopt the method which would make him the peerless master of positive criticism of our country. Then we really had and held lofty dreams of enlightened patriots as young as we were with the whole world before us. Until he died Eyuze did not betray the dream and did not deviate from its anatomy. Our man was a stammerer and stutterer in private conversations but in his public speeches and lectures he was a brilliant and very brilliant orator and analyst of acute dialectical proportions who always was an orator’s orator. He always reminded me of the late famous socialist novelist Professor Festus Iyayi of the University of Benin (who famously led the Academic Staff Union of Universities in the military era that in hindsight is hundred percent better than this civilian democratic regime of rotten rottenness). And in Professor Olukotun’s shining and shiny writings you would not notice any stammering and stuttering. Let me refrain from citing numerous examples. Eyuze was simply and more than simply audaciously brilliant and courageously courageous. He stood on a very high moral ground which his elegant writings are evidence of.
What else am I remembering? When I was leaving Zaria finally, with my all-what-not, Eyuze accompanied me to the Mid-West. This attests to the measure of our tight friendship. We spent three days together in Sapele and Warri before we travelled back together in order for me to tidy up my disengagement from Ahmadu Bello University. I can write a treatise on the pure geometry of our healthy relationship. But it is immaterial now. Yet let me say this. In later years, in much later years, after we were fully committed to marital duties – with the vagaries of our politics and economy not helping matters – the cruel wind and breeze of boisterous Nigeria roped, wrestled, beat bare our friendship but we never ignored the generosity of our closeness through ample calls. In one of those calls I related the gloriously memorable one night I spent with him in the Lagos Daily Times estate/quarters he was staying in then as an editorial staff member of that once famous global newspaper before he was a faculty member of University of Lagos. He enjoyed it all then. I can imagine how he and our elderly GG Darah, who is also now a Professor, cordially and graciously – and very warmly, welcomed me to the editorial office when I visited Kakawa! Or is memory failing me again? No, no, no.
Is there anything further I want to recall about Eyuze? Of course, there are many more things to say about my kind and joyfully-minded Eyuze. But I must hold my breath here. In despair, of course. And my despair is not the vigorous pleasure of despairing. Our gone revolutionary humanist was every revolutionary’s humanist. He should not have left us now. But his time was surely up. I say this as a revolutionary mystic and peace activist – if you permit me to say so.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
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