Here’s the story of my life during this pandemic written by Okey Uwaezuoke in today’s ThisDay Newspapers- https://okeysworld.wordpress.com/2020/04/26/in-new-york-and-smack-in-a-pandemic/
I enjoy talking. I enjoy the stimuli of intelligent conversation. And I hope to see underlying questions in retrospective. I talk some more when asked a question. I learn from talking. I learn from sharing. Let me share this fantastic interview with Omenka Online, the magazine for the Ben Enwonwu Foundation. Oliver Enwonwu, the son holds the grounds very well. He is also the President of the Society of Nigérian Artists.
Here is the link to my interview- https://www.omenkaonline.com/tony-nsofor-on-language-the-subconscious-and-the-mundane/
Our home in the village sits at the crossroads where 3 roads meet. So it must be a magical place to live in. I remember waking up on some mornings to find a basket full of sacrifices on the road. My young friend Nonso is a thriving native doctor. I must ask him why this is important. The sacrifices seem to have reduced, since I put a strong searchlight in front of my house. I needed to light up the area, as some young vandals had come to steal the battery from the NDDC solar lamp post. Apart from playing soccer, people come to the field of Trinity High School to learn to drive. I have taught some friends on this field. The cattle sellers drive their cows to graze here also. From my vantage point on the second floor, I drew inspiration for some of the images in my series of paintings A Thousand Cattle, Two Hills. As night falls, people come there to smoke weed, etcetra… The vast space has allowed me to enjoy working on larger canvases. My latest canvas cannot even fit into the door to my studio, so I have to paint outdoors. I am free here. The spaces are for flying. The air is light. The lake is nearby. This is truly home.
There is a young mad woman in my village that loves to dance at the sound of good music. From her countenance you can see that she is clearly filled with joy at the sound. As she danced among the thronging of revelers, what kept going through my head was, ‘what does she really think is happening here-‘So we have as many mad people as myself in this village, and they have been pretending all this while!’ Outsiders may get shocked at the carnival of madness called Ogene Nkirika-three days of music, dancing and dressing up in outrageous costumes, all part of the New Yam celebration in Oguta, Imo State. Mother Earth seemed to unleash all the passion and joy of a great harvest in those three days.
As the day approached, I was filled with anticipation and excitement, again, in lieu of the horrid recession and hunger in Nigeria. I wondered if people would return home to the festival, as in times past. Was there still money for transportation and beer; were people willing to laugh for three days like there is no tomorrow (and commit all the other sins that come with consumption, to boot?) I have long stopped being a moralist, since ‘none is perfect’. I wanted to record the rising of the human spirit through daunting times. The locals will become innovative; they will create wit, drama, and humor out of daily living. That’s the spirit of Ogene Nkirika.
The village of Oguta lies on both sides by the Blue Lake. The residential area is on one side, while the farmlands are on the other. So, visitors don’t see bushes and farmlands between houses, as appears in most of the other villages around. They see only the well-planned road network and neatly placed houses.
The villagers go to the farmlands across the lake to plant yam, cocoa, cassava, vegetables, etc. They sometimes live on these farm settlements for long stretches, only visiting the residential areas sparingly. By a strange twist, many other Ogutans may never visit the farmlands all their lives! The same goes for the farmers.
Around August of every year, the farmers return to the residential area with their harvest to mark the end of the cycle of farming. Ogene Nkirika is the period when all Oguta converges to share stories of happenings in the town, to live out their experiences. Buhari or no, I was delighted to find that this year would not be any different. Individuals dramatized their narrative, dressed up as drag queens, danced around. One thing to note is that the principal actors in the parades is all male. Old, young, middle-aged men play the part, as some dress like women too.
I saw the boy carrying his pet dog named after the president; the ‘girl’ that had lost her virginity and was going through the crowds with a kerosene lantern searching for it; the ‘girl’ gone crazy taking selfies; the ‘snake-carrying girl (alluding to Mami-wata, the Lake goddess), wearing sunshades and dreadlocks, going up and down Amaeshi road, looking like Phyno, holding on to a crowd of pushing children with gifts of sweets and balloons thrown into the air at intervals! There were different groups of dancers, some advertising a announcing a new Nollywood flick; a middle-age ‘bride’ escorted through town by uniformed ‘bridesmaids’, smiling and welcoming felicitations from passersby; the key story of the new religion in town told by a procession of whip-wielding soldiers torturing the people’s messiah through the streets as he staggers with his cross; the ‘wizened old’ man who moves around with so much effort!
Some of the performers just wore panties and ran through the crowds spilling powder or blue (for washing white clothes) on their friends who had come to participate as mere spectators; there was the Oguta secondary school ‘girl’; the hairy-faced nurse with her ears plugged in a stethoscope; the ‘old’ man with a rickety bicycle and bag who had been thrown out of his house, and so on and so forth.
Commercial photographers were on hand to snap the girls who had dressed to kill for the crowds. There were other men who made videos of the actors. Many people don’t know that the renowned Nollywood star Clem Ohameze is an indigene of Oguta. He came with a camera crew to record the festivities, and did short interviews with the performers. He also had his cameraman go from Amorocha (the shores of the lake) to Umudei village recording entire space. He will upload the movie clips of this year’s Ogene Nkirika on his online station- ClemOhamezetv on YouTube!
I documented from my point of view. Of course, nothing beats the ‘real’ experience of being ‘there’. Besides Nigeria’s second largest lake situated in Oguta, the rich culture of the settlers stands out in contrast with that of nearby villages. Oguta as a viable income earner with huge tourism potentials can never be understated. A source said that the poorly kept golf course is the largest in West Africa.
About 60% of the oil wells in Imo State are on Oguta’s farmlands, yet sadly, the village rarely enjoys electricity. I documented the protests a few weeks back. In terms of urban planning, only a handful of Igbo villages (Abiriba, Ohafia, Onitsha) can be compared to the small village by the banks of the blue lake. The locals have started to work at making the place great again, if the government will continue to ignore it in a sinister plot that seems to undermine all the development that Oguta has seen.
At some point, Osisioma age-grade, Oguta, joined hands to execute developmental projects like putting up signposts of streets. James is the son of the late Guy (pronounced ‘Gor-ye), longtime proprietor of Guy Spot, a popular local beer parlor and restaurant. The restaurant has stayed opened for over forty years, and is run by ND and Uzoma, siblings of James. James has ventured out to set up his own bush bar by the lake, building and hoping to attract visitors who come for picnics or just to swim.
There is the five-star hotel under construction by Ernest Nwapa, a former executive secretary of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board. The high-rise hotel will have 8 floors, a boat club, swimming pool, golf course and children’s amusement park, among other things. The December carnivals organized and financed by prominent indigenes, with the maverick entertainer and musician Charley Boy and the award-winning international music star Dr. Alban is there to make your Christmas an unforgettable way to end the year.
Speaking of things to come, mark the date for Ogene Oma (the good Ogene), coming up on the 11th– 14th of September, about two weeks from now. The whole town joins in, with age grades and friends dressing up in their best native attire. People will be dancing on the streets and making merry. That is how we play in Oguta. The fun-loving people of the land have a saying- O di m ka chi ejina (I wish night will not come) the party must go on. I am witness.
Many times in the past I have painted cattle in different ways. At a time, I used them as a symbol of how providence and good fortune comes from a higher being, or luck. That was in a work I called Cattle on a Thousand Hills, a paraphrase from the bible where God talks about owning and being the provider of wealth.
There is another significant artwork titled ‘The City Eats Grass’, an artwork that talks of rural/urban migration of sorts that harms the economic landscape. The rural areas that used to be productive spaces become empty as people migrate to the urban spaces in search of greener pastures. The urban spaces are so devoid of greenery, and thus imply a lack and foreboding of hunger and loss of agricultural activities that will support lives.
Pastoral tales are as old as the act of human survival. In prehistoric times, primitive man painted bulls and scenes of the hunt, and capture. Picasso, who comes from a culture that has the bull featuring in a local pastime, made a lot of artwork with the bull as subject or matter. He pushed the idea by connecting the bull to other representations in other cultures, to other myths. In Nigeria, the Fulani cattle herdsman was a popular subject at the birth of western styled painting.
In the nineties, as a student union activist fighting the corrupt leadership of the time, Olu Oguibe made the drawing The Beast Had The Face of Someone I Know, alluding to apocalyptic references in the bible, connecting the satire to General Ibrahim Babangida who ruled Nigeria at the time. Instead, the bull’s head had the pasted face of the gap-toothed military dictator.
Recently, the upsurge in Fulani herdsmen attacking and maiming members of their host communities to suppress them has shifted the attention of the nation. Now, the leadership is sponsoring a Grazing Bill in the National Assembly to allow reserves of grasslands all over Nigeria. The hypocrisy of it is in the fact that the sitting president is a professed owner of some of these cattle. He also is employer of his fellow Fulani who have been creating terror and murdering villagers from North to South. The national outrage is that these terrorists are not being called to order. It seems that the leadership is biased in its treatment of this menace of herdsmen.
All came together after a visit to the Walter Battiss exhibitions that ran concurrently at Wits Arts Museum, and at the Origin Center of the University of Witwatersrand. The line drawings took me back to my own origins, in Nsukka, the Uli School.
Cattle have come up again in my work. They are being painted to show their movement, the trail of blood they leave behind. They move as though they are suddenly become sacred, owning the ‘so-called silent spaces’ of Nigeria. The cattle suddenly threaten the existence of the 5 percent who feel unrepresented at the centre of power. The beast gains preeminence even in this dearth of farming and other agrarian activities that will support our development and elevate the scarcity of homegrown foods. In protest, I had stopped eating cow meat. Now, I paint ‘moving cattle’ in protest of the importance they are being given over human lives and existence. The numbers will grow, from ‘Cow 1’ to maybe a thousand. In defiance, cattle have become subject matter. Maybe the nation will notice, that men matter more. Farmlands matter, too. Nigeria shouldn’t have sacred cows. It is as simple as that.
The tragedy of citizenship in a country that does not reward her children becomes more obvious when one leaves that country, to another country. Seriously, what are the benefits of being a Nigerian citizen? What government policies give a citizen advantage over any other person? What basic utilities or amenities do we enjoy? What reasons do I have to be proud of my nation?
These reflections could be coming from a hangover from dancing to House music all night at Kitchener’s Bar, in Johannesburg. It was a Friday night, and my friend Bukosi had advised that that was the coolest place around. So I walked down Joubert Street through Park Station to the place. This is not so much about my night out as it is of the people (person) I met there.
Since I came alone, I mixed freely till I met Nomfundo, a tomboy South African girl who introduced herself as a former nerd and wizkid. I stayed with her, dancing the bobbling rock that goes with House music. The music seemed like a never-ending sound that had little vocal accompaniment. My Nigerian mentality waited in vain throughout the night for some vocals or familiar Nigerian music. I jumped up and down sporadically danced till we left around 3am in the morning. It kept the cold away.
Nomfundo and I talked about many things. She wondered why the rest of Africa wants to come and stay in her country. ‘We are a young democracy,’ Why wouldn’t everyone else (other African nations) let them (South Africa) grow their economy to benefit her citizens? The Zimbabwean or Nigerian will come into the country and take up jobs at half the salary that a South African citizen would take. The South African had a better appreciation and self-worth, than people from some of these African countries, she said. True, as here, things seem to work for the citizens.
Nomfundo took me to issues of religion. Nigerians seemed to be quite religious, yet they would do anything to acquire wealth. We seemed not to have a conscience, she said. I recalled her first exclamation when I told her that I am a Nigerian, ‘Where are my drugs, ‘she shouted in laughter! She then told me the pathetic tale of her stepsister’s death at the hand of a Nigerian. She believed the sister was murdered so that the husband could get her insurance benefits. I think our Nollywood movies do not help matters. Nigerians are portrayed as ritualists and corrupt in many of these films. The rest of the world is watching it.
South Africans are quite vocal. They seem to protest about anything, and everything. Their rights must be respected, at all times. This is one country where a sitting president has been convicted for mismanagement of public funds, and is in the process of refunding the money to the government. The rule of law works here!
It is not farfetched to see how things work in this country. After decades of apartheid, the people came to terms with their history by creating public hearings where the victims and the perpetuators of injustice faced each other. All over South Africa, the government has erected monuments and institutions to preserve the history and lessons of their darkest period. The youth must know what led to the building of the nation, the sacrifices of the founding people.
Nigeria had her own Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission set up to do something similar in the mind of the masses to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up to help deal with what happened under apartheid. The Nigerian commission stopped short. It seems that the Nigerian-Biafra civil war and the injustices from the period- the unjust government policies against the Southeast and South-South peoples doesn’t count in the conscience of Nigeria. What about the abandoned property laws set up in places like old Rivers State, which saw many pro-Biafra citizens forfeit their lands and properties?
It is a sad joke that the National war museum, with its archives, is located solely in Umuahia, and nowhere else. It is as if the Federal Government wants to keep the lessons of the civil war close to the heart of the Igbos. The terms of surrender, and declaration of a ‘no victor, no vanquished’ people portrays a false picture of the state of affairs. The nation continues to be run as the private property of a certain tribe and part of Nigeria.
Governments in Nigeria have been run like private businesses. One cannot point to tangible advantages one has of being a citizen. The people are so shocked, that they no longer complain or protest against the government. The so-called social critics have all been bought over, and the press reads more like a government release. For their sanity, fir their lives, some of Nigeria’s best brains were lost during the brain-drain era. The citizens who should form the middle-class would rather run away to other countries to work and live. The suppression of free speech; suspension of rulings of the judiciary; corruption; marginalization; poor infrastructure and unavailable utilities, among others, are some of the reasons for this exodus.
Why, for instance, should a nation with a huge unemployed population accept that the landlords rent out their houses for yearly leases? The economy has been crafted to favor the super-rich alone. The common-man cannot assess financial loans, and everything from education to personal property is paid for on a ‘cash and carry’ basis. I am still thinking hard to ascertain what my Nigerian citizenship has brought me.
Every time one crosses the border; one bears the shame and corruption of past political leaders. The Nigerian citizen is seen through the prism of a faulty system. The saddest part of it all is that no one is crying, no one is protesting the immorality, partiality and corruption of our times. Like a puppy beaten to submission, Nigerian people no longer fight for their rights. The will is gone. The will to remain faithful, too, is gone. The green passport is more of an obstacle. As a citizen, I must insist on my rights in this nation. I cannot do this from a foreign land. That is why I must return.
I got lucky to snap these photographs of Andile Buka. He is one of the artists (Andile is a photographer), who share the huge studio rooms at Anstey’s Building on Joubert Street. Of course photographers rarely have their personal portraits taken. He got his.
Actually I got lucky when Andile offered to take portraits of me with his mad Mamiya R67 film camera with the total manual settings! These shots were more of a complimentary payment for getting shot with that exotic vintage item. I even was willing to sell my Canon 5D Mark II for that camera because I know that it is a hard find. Here are my pictures with my good old 5D Mark II. We are still waiting for Andile’s photographs of me to be developed, and what other processes it will take before we see the finished image. I know he will scan whatever he gets at a point. Photography is old and complex. It didn’t just appear as digital overnight. I am still shooting; maybe I will trap a human soul in an image!
The things in the day of the life of an artist in a new land! It started on a Sunday afternoon when I walked to Arts on Main in Maboneng Province to see all that Art- from craft to fine art! Though I don’t really have the arrogance to differentiate between ‘craft’ and ‘fine art’. There are really no lines between creative work, only perceptions of exclusive inclusion and stuff.
Anyway, I enjoyed seeing all the creativity on display at Art on Main, that open bazaar! Then parked by the corner of the street I saw this mad mercedes benz! Some passersby saw me ogling at it and actually thought the car belonged to me. I wish! But one of them, a lady, said the car really would fit me. So that got me day-dreaming! Afterwards, she asked me to pose by the car as though I was the owner so that she could snap us. It wouldn’t hurt any, so I did, grinning like a proud father. Who would know the difference between one man and the other, anyway?! I guess they possibly thought the car fitted me because I had my retro Leica X2 camera slung across my shoulder.
Some of the pictures come from another night in Johannesburg, as I hung out with my neighbour Que and his brother as they smoked. I enjoy rides on the Gautrain because it is fast and hassle-free. I just load money in the card and don’t wait to queue. The clean, well-lighted coaches are just so refreshing pauses as one transits. On one of those journeys to Pretoria, I got into conversation with this boy. He was moved that I was an artist. He felt a kinship. But he later decided to become a lawyer. My case was different- dad had wanted me to be a lawyer but I preferred to study Arts, and at a later date, study Law. Maybe, when the rule of law is being obeyed in my country. Then I may actually have a chance at it.
On another day, I went to see Kemang’s exhibition at the Stevenson. I had seen his work in May in Dakar. This show was fuller. My view? Does it really matter? Opinions are like assholes-everyone has his! It would be interesting if you formed yours independent of another person. Afterall, we see the world differently, individually.
Portraits of Mandela light up the cityscape. Then there are the militant-looking political campaign posters…The graffiti artists of Johannesburg are hard at work. They deface where they will, just to put a message across, to add some colour. Art really has some importance in this society. The landscape is replete with colours. Of course there are lower, subcity zones, places where you find abandoned and dilapidated skyscrappers with dirt and clothing hanging from broken windows. Yes, I also went to Hillbrow. I had to hide my camera as I passed by. This was on good advice from my friends. I am loving it all. What is life if there are no contrasts? Things come in shades of grey, fading to white, or black, depending on one’s way of seeing things. I enjoy the colours.
We have been deceived as a nation. Corruption is not the number one problem facing any nation. This sentence presupposes that there is, in fact, a nation in existence. So, the first problem facing a group of people who come together to form a nation is for them to have a unity of purpose and a sense of belonging. Everyone that comes together to form any nation must feel that they receive an equal treatment. Everyone must be represented equally and power must be decentralized and lie in the hands of the constituent units.
For years, I have been angry at the founding father of Nigeria who represented my side of the nation-Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. I now realize that my anger was based more on selfishness on my part, than any other thing. In my thinking, and unlike his contemporaries, it looked to me that the man truly wanted Nigeria to be a federal government. People from all parts of the nation were to receive a fair share of the largesse. Power was not meant to remain at the center.
Nigeria, alas, all nations will suffer when the members of the constituting unit feel alienated, disenfranchised and subjugated from power. We cannot claim to be one when there is so much power at the center, and that center is headed by one member from the six geographical zones, and that member prefers to perpetuate the injustice of appointing authority and creating other sorts of imbalance by selecting to favor the ‘percentage’ that nominated him to power!
I see how Goodluck Jonathan got it right-he wanted everyone to feel represented at the center. The greatest corruption is the injustice of creating an imbalance in the delegation of powers from a biased center that holds all authority to heart. A fight against corruption is not the first way forward for any nation. There has to be a nation first, before we think of getting things right. I have had brainstorming sessions with my friend Claire Bell (www.consciousnesscafe.com) Claire bears two passports- that of her native Scotland, and that of South Africa. She has seen three referandums called by nations- the most recent one that led to the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union being the most recent. We talked about why nations could disintegrate.
Since the Nigerian civil war, South-eastern Nigeria has been cheated, and suppressed by the centre. They have not received a fair share of the national cake, so to speak. The so-called problem when Mr. Goodluck Jonathan came to power was that he wanted to practice the faulty structure of federalism on the ground. It is to his credit that he called for a Sovereign National Conference during his tenure. He should have finished the good work by implementing the proposals from the conference before letting another power-hungry man take over authority. That was the disservice that Jonathan did to the nation.
A nation must first be created, must first exist, before the people unite in purpose to develop that nation. We must feel we matter. There is no such thing as a separate ‘5%’ in the polity. Nigeria must first apologize to Biafra for the injustices and unfair treatment from the years after the war to the present day. A reconciliatory committee must be set up to openly speak of the evils perpetuated the civil war that led to the death of millions of people. Then, and only then, should we sit to discuss the state of the union? Why don’t we have a referendum, like other nations have had? Why should the people not be given the power to question their participation in the union? A lack of unity of purpose is the greatest failure of any nation. The greatest problem with Nigeria is her practice of a flawed federalism.
Why are you black? asked Morgan. I don’t know, I replied. Things that children say! One has to be careful the reply we give them. I took the easy way out so I could give myself the time to answer such a difficult question.
Morgan was white, the 5 year-old grandchild of Ron and Marelyn, my hosts at the Cherry Tree Cottage, a beautiful Bed and Breakfast residence in Linden, Johannesburg. Morgan and her sister had come to stay with their grandparents for a few days. They went to a German School, and spoke German at home. But they spoke English when they were with their grandparents. Ron’s grandparents were from Scotland. South Africa was such a place. They were such a mix.Back to the question they posed to me, the typically black Nigerian (a black South African girl I met in a taxi heading to downtown Johannesburg said we Nigerians have a beautiful skin color). I guess I am black because God, like most of us, likes variety. It explains why some twins aren’t identical, kind of. And why the days are never the same, and the times and seasons change, among other things. It is the very spice. South Africa has this question recurring daily. They must come to terms with it. We are the way we are because…well, we are. Existence and being must not always be about rhyme and reason. Discord is part of the collective memory. We must let be.