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Encounter With Uboho Bassey (1)

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Moses Oko: Jailed Without Trial?

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Sam Akpe
She didn’t display the stone-faced, unsmiling look of a typical poet. If she were a novelist—writing about some romantic issues—or just another author, no one would question her credentials.

But a poet? She looks too simple, harmless, and so ordinary to belong to that tiny kingdom of mystery writers. How did she get here? Who initiated her? These questions rocked my mind as I looked into her babyish face that afternoon.

Encounter With Uboho Bassey

Uboho Bassey

Apparently stunned by her captivating smiles, I started wondering if we had met before. No! We hadn’t. This was the first time. Then she laughed at my first question: You, a poet? Her laughter had the semblance of a flash of lightening across a dark sky.

We stood there looking at each other—as reconnected old friends often do. I was amazed at her literary boldness. She was amused at my amazement. My eyes kept darting from the books I had in my hands to the audacious author standing in front of me. Let’s see if I can start this story from the beginning.

It was lunch time. I made the announcement, dropped the microphone and walked towards the bookstands. For about three hours, I was the compere—an assignment I did not prepare for; something I’m not in the least qualified for or even good at.

The event was the National Conference of Book Clubs; hosted by the Uyo Book Club, of which I am a member. As I walked into the hall that morning, Dr Martins Akpan thought if I neglected that duty—standing in as a compere—then the event would fail. When all protests were rejected, I obliged.

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Books mean a lot to me. It was the great Marcus Tullius Cicero who once said that a room without books is only compared to a body without a soul. Charles W. Elliot captured it in a different way when he opined that “books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.”

So, I went for books; while others went for food. Then I saw a strikingly beautiful smile; radiating from a brilliant, sparkling face, imprinted on a book cover. With a wrist watch on her right arm, I noticed we had something in common—that’s how I wear mine. I went for the volume. The title added to my curiosity: From Trauma To Triumph, Finding Liberty.

Who on earth is this? My eyes went in search of the author’s signature. The name did not ring a bell. I didn’t have to search my brain for a recall. I was sure I had not read her before.

In that picture on the cover of this book, Ubong Bassey wears a red blouse, her hair is set backward, with her jaws tenderly supported with her two raised palms. What a defiant but humble pose!

Almost no information about the author could be found in the book. Then I saw another volume with the title: The Untameable Spirit—a collection of poems splashed across 434 pages, with forward by one of the finest established poets in Nigeria, my friend, Kufre Ekanem.

Then I opened the pages. My eyes went straight to page 170: The Silent Woman. The first few lines read: “The silent woman/The hurting spirit/How she suffers/A time of great sorrow/Seasons of grieving/Tears, her only language….”

Quietly, I moved to other pages. Then I spotted another title on the table: The Uncommon Housewife, another collection of poems. As I opened it, some lines on page 172 smiled at my intellect. I adjusted my glasses and took a deeper look. The poem is entitled, Your Days.

Here is the first verse: “I’m restoring the years you sowed in tears/With harvest so richly endowed to overflow/Taking you to the future you always dreamt of/Your days of laughter are here.”

Then the last verse: “I’m remoulding the flawed image nature gave/With trials set to far above mediocrity to stand tall/Your days of excellence are here.”

Just before I could open the next collection entitled, The Unveiled Treasure, I sensed someone staring at me in silence; closing in. I turned; slowly. Her presence shadowed me with unnerving smiles. I felt she must have been observing my unhidden curiosity in total silence; for several minutes. There was something poetic about her voice, as she introduced herself.

I know that I am not a poet—you can perceive this from a kilometre. I can’t even attempt to be one; because I’ll be easily exposed. So, I hide behind David Carradine’s admonition that “if you cannot be a poet, be the poem.”

But I love poems; especially when they come in simple expressions. Sometimes, I type out some verses; with regular and irregular patterns; expressing some emotions. My mood determines how I write. Surprisingly, some people called to say “that was poetic!” Such comments make me laugh in my dialect.

Every poem has some elements of emotions—be it political or scientific. This must have been what made the great Robert Frost to state that “poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” T. S. Elliot has however argued that poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion…The argument continues.

I regard poets as rare breed of writers. They thrill us with hidden intents. Most times, they hide behind coined words to step on toes; and then walk away with contrived innocence.

They jeer with a smile; and earn applause through a skilful use of contemptuous words. You hardly understand poets until they turn the few verses into intelligent prose. Exposed!

What strikes me most about Uboho’s collection, is her simplicity of language. This is equally reflected in her persona. Some people have warned that we should never judge a book by its cover. So, if this is a façade, then she is good at it.

We spent a few fruitful minutes chatting. I asked her more questions than she expected; and got some intelligent answers. They ignited my curiosity.

Then it was time to return to the microphone. I quickly placed an order for four of her books. While taking delivery of them the following day, I decided to explore her mind a little deeper as the reporter in me came alive.

For about an hour, we stood at the car park of the event centre, talking about books, poetry and writing generally. Uboho’s interest in poetry is still difficult to understand. She came naturally made for it.

After her secondary education in 1985, and supported by her parents, she had her sight fixed on a career in the medical field; or what she calls the noble profession. She recorded excellent scores in the sciences; and even won government scholarship to study medicine and surgery in a Russian university.

That dream was however scuttled when her parents reasoned that she was too young, too fragile to stay beyond the shores of Nigeria, alone. She ended up studying microbiology at the University of Calabar, in southern Nigeria. Instead of getting frustrated, she believes that was “a detour process; a realignment towards my gifts and talents.”

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She calls it a “becoming,” something akin to growing into the fullness of a passion she had underestimated or overlooked. She sees her entry into the writing world as walking into a path she did not consciously choose. That was how she hit the intellectual expressway to literary addiction.

The implication is that she did not deliberately set out to be a writer. She started by reading books beyond her academic field. Each time she studied a book, she got challenged by the depth of the author’s creativity.

She would end up writing down her thoughts, which were beyond what she was reading at that particular time. Thereafter, she would try to expand and develop such thoughts into something realistic.

She told me, as though in confidence, “I became a writer by practice, by patience, by consistency, by devotion. I felt better each time I translated my thoughts into words, and every time I put my words on paper.”

She felt delighted and got drawn into it deeper and deeper. The more she read other peoples’ work, the more mysterious ideas flowed into her. Suddenly, she encountered deep satisfaction as she kept working on, or rather, taming those raw ideas.

As if revealing a secret, she volunteered, “I have come to understand, over the years, the almost insistent urgings of writing down thoughts, emptying out the contents of my mind, pouring out my imagination, venting my frustrations, exploring every desire, and attempting to capture in words my feelings—and failings.” I noticed that she smiled at this point.

Whenever she fought or tried to supress such deep, unsolicited urge, “it kept me restless until I would yield to its persistent stirring. It became absolute joy for me. It became a saving. Writing offers me healing. Nothing gives me greater joy and fulfilment than writing.”

It was expected that I would ask the question. When it came, she looked at me with undisguised interest in the subject matter. Then she beamed one of those her trademark smiles.

Why would a science-oriented scholar dare the literary terrain reserved for the gods, with such authority and impact? Poetry! What drove her into this literary terrain where even some experts in creative writing try to avoid!

There was a short silence from her end. I refused to rush her. She definitely was not contemplating what to say—but how to say it. She needed to coordinate her thoughts. If this was an interview, it was her first at this level.

But I refused to make it look like one. It was an informal, friendly chat. There was no electronic recorder. I could see that she was quite relaxed and seemed to enjoy the company of this 24-hour out-of-the-blues stranger.

Then she started talking. I listened attentively. Well, her answer will form the second part of this piece.

 

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Opinion

Professor Ayo Olukotun, My Eyuze

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Readers’ Showers Of Encouragement
Prof Tony Afejuku

 

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.

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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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Opinion

Witch Persecution And Dream Experiences In Nigeria

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Witch Burning, Impunity And Abuses Linked to Witchcraft Beliefs In Benue State
Dr Leo Igwe

By Leo Igwe

The Advocacy for Alleged Witches welcomes the arrest of a young man, Joseph Friday, who allegedly murdered his father for witchcraft in Akwa Ibom. The development represents some of the best ways the police could help end impunity and beat back the tide of witch-hunting in the country. The suspect told the police that the father used to appear to him in a dream. He said that the father would hypnotize him before depositing a spell in his body. Mr. Friday said, “My Father used a charm on me; he appeared in my dream and hypnotized me. Whenever he appeared, something like a tortoise entered my body, and I would start to behave abnormally”.

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Akwa Ibom is one of the states in Nigeria where witch persecution is pervasive, and abuses linked to witchcraft beliefs are widespread. As in this case, many cases of witchcraft accusations are linked to dreams, mystical interpretations of dreams. It will take more than arresting suspects and perpetrators to end these savage acts.

In Akwa Ibom, people are taught to take their dream experiences seriously. They believe or are made to believe, that those who appear in dreams are witches or agents of the occult. People are taught that dream experiences are revealing; they disclose potential harm and harmers. So people believe that their dreams point to what would happen to them or their families. So, whenever a person sees someone threatening or attacking them in a dream, they confront, attack, or kill the person when they wake up. Some people have noted cases where they have seen people pursuing them with a machete, or pressing their chest in the dream. And they felt horrified upon waking up. People who see others in a dream prefer to expose and kill them before they wreak further havoc. People take the dream experiences as real-life experiences. Incidentally, this mistaken idea of dreams is real and dangerous. And as this case has illustrated, the mystical idea of dreams leads to horrific abuses.

To end witch persecution, Nigerians need to change their attitudes towards dreams. Nigerians should understand that dreams are natural, not supernatural phenomena. Dreams are a stream of images and sensations that well up in the mind whenever a person is asleep. They have nothing to do with witchcraft or magic as popularly believed. People dream because their brains are not dead. Dreams are rooted in thoughts and imaginations that the mind entertained while awake. It is grossly mistaken to attack or kill someone based on another person’s dream experiences.

Dr. Igwe is an executive director of the
Advocacy for Alleged Witches.

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Opinion

Where Did All The Money Go?

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Mike Hunder

By Mike Hunder

For eight straight years, the Buhari administration had been turning up the “no money” rhetoric.  Added to the puzzle, at a time when oil-producing countries were reaping sustained windfalls from high oil prices, at above $100 per barrel on average in 2022, following the Russia-Ukraine war, the NNPC made zero remittance to the federation account for most of the year. 

Now, a series of striking revelations have contradicted the administration’s “no money” claim, at a dramatic speed.  

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First, the Auditor General, in a 2022 letter to the Senate revealed that “a total of 17,877,705 barrels of crude oil valued at $1,020,969,281.12 (over one billion, twenty million dollars), were exported between 2016 and 2020, without proper records. This perhaps explains the non-remittance of funds by the NNPC into the federation account that characterized the administration. 

Second, things got so bad that, the then Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, locked horns with NNPC over shortchanging the government on several occasions. In one instance, in June 2018, there was a standoff between the National Economic Council and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), when the then Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, pointedly accused the NNPC of short-changing the government.  She declared NNPC’s account to the federal accounts allocation committee (FAAC), “unacceptable” and asked that they render the full account of the “missing billions”!

What happened there after?  The “deep state” clipped her wings, with allegations that she forged her NYSC certificate. Three months later, she resigned, and life went on.

Another revelation came to fore on the floor of the Senate in December 2022. That about 100 federal MDAs failed to account for the sum of #1.9 trillion naira from 2017 to 2021, despite several invitations. More shocking, most of the agencies involved, report to the presidency. This included the State House, Presidential Fleet, Ministry  of Finance, the armed forces, Police, Accountant General office,  NEMA, Ministry of Defence,  Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and many others.

The fourth was a bigger problem than many first thought. The CBN embarked on unfettered “printing of money” for the Buhari administration since 2015, in repeated disregards of the laws. Under the CBN Act, “ways and means” facility (a code for printing money for government), should not exceed 5% of the previous year’s revenue of the government and must be paid within the financial cycle. Then again, Section 38 provides that, “ways and means”… must be refunded before the collection of another one.” Yet, the Buhari administration kept collecting “ways and means” from the CBN, without making a refund, in a zeal not seen before, hitting #23.7 trillion by December 2022.

When the Edo state governor, Godwin Obaseki, first spilled the beans about CBN’s printing of money for the federal government back in April 2021, the government denied it. Now, realizing that the “ways and means” account, cannot possibly be kept way from the public beyond May 2023, the president has sent a request to the Senate to give it a second life. Asking for a legislation to restructure it, and pass the repayment to future generations over a period of 40 years! Added to the puzzle, the request contained no records of how, when and what the #23.7 trillion was spent on.

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Until recently, the administration claimed that Nigeria does not have a debt problem, but a revenue problem. Then, it embarked on constant external borrowings, increasing external debts by 300% between June 2015 ($10 billion) and June 2022 ($40 billion), without a corresponding increase in foreign currency earnings.  Now, Patience Oniha, the director general of the Debt Management Office, when appearing before the House of Representatives to defend the 2023 budget, revealed that Nigeria does have an external debt problem. To the extent that Moody’s and Fitch downgraded Nigeria to a Category ‘B’ economy in 2021, the international market has closed its doors of borrowing against Nigeria, making it difficult for the country to borrow.

On top of this, fell the huge national debt stock, at seventy-seven trillion Naira.

Thus, an ugly spiral has developed: huge sums of money that are unaccounted for, constant external borrowings without a corresponding increase in foreign earnings – and a gigantic national debt of seventy-seven trillion Naira, completes the circle!

In the current climate, what is puzzling to people is, where did all this money go? Many who have defended the administration on financial prudence, now say they cannot go beyond this caricature. Then again, post-May 2023, things will probably get worse, before they get better. So, now comes the hangover! 

*Mike Hunder, an economist and business-training consultant based in Lagos, is a former General Manager at Union Bank Plc and Oceanic International Bank, respectively. He can be reached at: hundermike@mikehunder.com

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