Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Portrait: Grace Jones Wired

International model and disco queen Grace Jones has just won the award for most promising disco artist of 1977. Her fisrt two disco releases: That's the Trouble and I Need a Man-have soared to the top of the charts. Her first album is called Jones-Portfolio. 9/9/1977. Image: Bettmann Collection/Corbis

Grace Jones on the set of the James Bond 007 film "A View To Kill" by John Glen, October 1, 1984. Image: Nancy Moran

Grace Jones in Provocative outfit. Date: January 1977. Image: Bettmann

Grace Jones performs in New York City in 1977 taken by legendary rock and roll photographer Chuck Pulin

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Kenya: 2010 FAFA Fashion Show

Models put on dresses backstage before the fashion show organized by FAFA (Festival for African Fashion and Arts) at Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, 30 October 2010. FAFA was set up in Kenya in 2008 during the post-election violence which killed more than 1,000, in order to change perceptions of other communities by exploring and bridging cultures through fashion, art and music. EPA/DAI KUROKAWA

A model takes to the catwalk wearing a creation of a fashio brand Deepa Dosaja by Kenyan designer Deepa Dosaja during the fashion show organized by FAFA (Festival for African Fashion and Arts) at Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, 30 October 2010. Image: EPA/Dai Kurokawa

A model takes to the catwalk wearing a creation of a fashio brand Deepa Dosaja by Kenyan designer Deepa Dosaja during the fashion show organized by FAFA (Festival for African Fashion and Arts) at Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, 30 October 2010. Image: EPA/Dai Kurokawa.

A model takes to the catwalk wearing a creation of a fashio brand Kiko Romeo by Scottish designer Ann McCreath during the fashion show organized by FAFA (Festival for African Fashion and Arts) at Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, 30 October 2010. Image: Dai Kurokawa.

Model takes to the catwalk wearing a creation of a fashion brand Nkwo by Nigerian designer Onwuka during the fashion show organized by FAFA (Festival for African Fashion and Arts) at Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, 30 October 2010

A model takes to the catwalk wearing a creation of a fashion brand Nkwo by Nigerian designer Onwuka during the fashion show organized by FAFA (Festival for African Fashion and Arts) at Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, 30 October 2010 Image:EPA/Dai Kubokawa

A model takes to the catwalk wearing a creation by Kenyan designer Nike Kondakis during the fashion show organized by FAFA (Festival for African Fashion and Arts) at Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya, 30 October 2010. Image: EPA/Dai Kurokawa

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hoha! (Pointblank): Show People

"It feels really good to get the OBE but I dropped it on the floor. So that was a bit embarrassing. I'm just glad I didn't trip over."..."I feel really, really privileged to be here, especially as there are so many people who have done amazing things here. My Winnie Mandela part was my favourite ever I think. A character like her is such an iconic character and she has all the ingredients; you get the chance to play the whole gamut of emotions."

-------Actress and Academy Award nominee, Sophie Okonedo on dropping the OBE Medal on the feet of Prince Charles of Wales during the award ceremony.

"The Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated that joint venture extensively and found no suggestion of any impropriety by Dick Cheney in his role of CEO of Halliburton."... "U.S. regulators collected $1.28 billion in penalties and criminal fines in the Bonny Island case after settling charges of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a 1977 law that bans the bribery of foreign officials to obtain business."

-------The Wall Street Journal reports on "Nigeria drops bribery charges against Cheney, Haliburton.
Cheney's cartoon by Cox & Forkum

“I have travelled far and wide, but I'm proud to tell you that no country can match our rich culture in Nigeria. The natural resources like good locations are already there for us, so it is left to maximise the privilege,”...“I can't shoot a low budget film because it will underrate my status. I learnt that some people shoot for as low as N300,000 or there about in Nigeria, but I can tell you that such film cannot go anywhere internationally. The international market is my target, so I have to put things in the right perspectives to achieve that conveniently. All I want now is good indigenous script.”...

-------Nollywood filmmaker Ademola Olanibi on why he 'can't shoot a low budget film.'

Memorable Images and Time

23 Oct 1962, San Francisco, California, USA --- 10/23/1962-San Francisco, CaliforniaNew middleweight champion Dick Tiger is hoisted on the shoulders of his Nigerian countrymen after he won a 15-round title bout against former champ Gene Fullmer at Candlestick Park. --- Image by Bettmann/CORBIS

05 Oct 1954, Mackinac Island, Michigan, USA --- George Daneel, prominent South African and Springbok rugby player, is shown chatting with Adolphus Mbah (left) and Chief Yakubu Tali at the Moral Rearmament Assembly on Mackinac Island. Mbah is vice president of the Nigerian Federation of Trade Unions. Chief Tali is a member of the Gold Coast Parliament and president of the Northern Territories Council. At an interracial meeting in Capetown Daneel recently made a public apology for his attitude of superiority towards the other races in Africa. Segregation is rigidly enforced in South Africa. --- Image by Bettmann/CORBIS

14 Jun 1962 --- Nigerian parliamentarians pose for a photograph while on a visit with President John F. Kennedy

12/10/1974-Washington, D.C.- World heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and his brother Herbert Clay (L) meet with President Ford at the White House. Ali said he liked the White House, and just might go after the job. Ford said there were times he'd be happy to let him have it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Images: Nigerian Jungle Blues

This one here beats me...Getting high on his own supply

10 Dec 2008, LAGOS, Nigeria --- A child washes clothes in Iwaya, one of the poorest areas of Lagos --- Image by Friday Zannu/Handout/Reuters

01 Feb 1999, Finima, Nigeria --- Flooding in the Niger Delta --- Image by George Steinmetz

2005, Lagos, Nigeria --- Cars Passing Checkpoint in Nigeria --- Image by James Marshall

28 Jul 2004, Afiesere town, Delta, Nigeria --- Urohobos Bake Tapioca in the Heat of a Shell Gas Flare Site --- Image by Ed Kashi/Corbis Images

Classic: Elegantly Dressed Models

New York's newest fashion face, model Iman, a 20 year old, 5-10, regally striking Somali tribeswoman, launches her modeling career at a press conference in Manhattan, New York. She was discovered by photographer-adventurer Peter Beard. She's wearing a sari-like sheath of brightly patterned chiffon with her black hair coifed high off her forehead and the ivory tusks of a wart hog joined with silver around her neck. Date: October 22, 1975. Image: Harry Leder.

Model Grace Jones, also known for her acting and singing career, is wearing a clingy pink dress with an attached hood for the Tunisian designer Azzedline Alaia Women's 1986 Spring-Summer Haute Couture line in Paris October 30, 1985. Image: Pierre Vauthey

Model Beverly Johnson wearing a cotton knit cardigan, matching button-front tank top and a dark pleated wool skirt by Bill Bass with a soft-brimmed hat by Don Marshall and flat envelope by I. Miller. Date: February 1974. Location: New York. Image: Francesco Scavullo

 Tyra Banks modeling a halequinn patterned blazer with leather pants and hat in the Perry Ellis, by Marc Jacobs April 7, 1992. Image: George Chinsee/Conde Nast

Ikoli Harcourt-Whyte 1905-1977


Ikoli Harcourt-Whyte was born in 1905 in Abonnema in the Niger delta of Nigeria to a family of the Kalabari tribe. His parents- Munabo and Odibo named him Ikoli, however he adopted the name Harcourt-Whyte later on in his life. He was trained by his parents in the vocations of the Kalabari people, fishing and trade and also was schooled in the traditional vocal traditions of the Kalabari.

He was disagnosed with Leprosy in 1919, at the age of 14 and was sent first to the Port Harcourt Hospital- the closest hospital to Abonnema- by his siblings and then to the Uzuakoli Leprosy Hospital in the East of Nigeria. In keeping with the practice at the time, he and other patients were kept in virtual seclusion since Albert Schweitzer's vaccine had not been developed by then. Its also important to point out that his beloved mother and father died in 1916 and 1919 respectively thus making him both an orphan and a victim of one of the most dreaded diseases of the time at a very young age.Substantial background about Harcourt-Whytes affliction with Leprosy is provided by the research of Hazel Mae Rotimi (wife of Ola Rotimi) and Achinivu Achinivu who wrote a PhD dissertation at the University of Berlin on the life and works of Harcourt Whyte- the symptoms of the disease were first noticed in 1918, and the symptoms aggravated very quickly until its full blown manifestation in 1919. Especially noteworthy was that In ancient lore, leprosy was considered a curse from the Gods and Lepers were banished, resulting in most committing suicide.

Harcourt-Whyte however sought a deeper meaning for his fate and conviction that his life had a greater purpose than his affliction and the attended stigma represented to him.

Whilst at the Leprosy hospital, he immersed himself in Biblical text and in particular developed a strong interest in the religious hymns sung in the Hospital chapel and was encouraged to join the choir by the English Missionaries who ran the hospital and soon became an important part of the choir, subsequently becoming its conductor. He was encouraged by the missionaries also to compose choral pieces in Igbo, which though not his native language was the language of expression at Uzuakoli of which he mastered.

Harcourt-Whyte wote over 200 choral pieces in his career, an incredible feat for a man with virtually no formal education. In 1949, upon Schweitzer's vaccine gaining widespread use, he was cured of Leprosy, upon which he dedicated the rest of his life to composing inspirational music and educating on the need for care of Leprosy patients.

His music incidentally became a source of comfort for Igbos during the Nigerian Civil war, especially the track Atulegwu. three of the most popular recordings of his work were namely two albums by the Choir of the Uzuakoli Leper Colony (comprising Leprosy patients) and conducted by the legendary Musicologist and poet- Nnamdi Olebara, whose haunting and powerful poetry and narrative make these two of the most important classical works ever recorded in Nigeria. The third being the album "A e na o" by the St Louis Missouri African Choir, the only readily available recorded version of his work. By the way the Choir was composed entirely of Americans.

Harcourt-Whyte died in 1977 in a motor accident, however his compositions gained huge global critical acclaim after his death and whilst not on the same scale as his contemporary Fela Sowande, however his work is immprtalised in the published research by Hazel Mae Rotimi (subsequent to a 23-year research), Achinivu Achinivu's work and Ola Rotimi's great play "Hopes of the living dead" which featured the music of Harcourt-Whyte.

At some of my most challenging times- especially when undergoing Chemotherapy last year, the music of Harcourt-Whyte was inspirational to me - especially the song "Atulegwu" (never fear), also his composition "Umu gi emebiwo uwa gi" (Oh God, your children have destroyed the beautiful world that you created..) is one of the most moving songs I have ever heard and has resonance with several themes of the beauty of this earth destroyed by man's greed, avarice, covetousness and individualism. It is important also that Harcourt-Whyte's ministration never included condemnation of other faiths but focused on the simple philosophy love, compassion and empathy for your fellow men. A smiple man, he never sought acclaim, money or fame, he believed his life had a purpose beyond the challenges he faced or merely acquiring material achievement. One of the greatest African's who ever lived, if you asked me.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

IBB: Where Is the NSO File?


A law enforcement official was once asked how he thought history would view his tenure. "I think history will take care of itself," he said. He was convinced he had put in his best. Let the facts speak for themselves. By the time he died several years later, history had truly rendered its verdict.

It concluded that the officer may not have been guilty of all the transgressions that occurred during his tenure but stood no chance of public pardon. His lack of leadership were so apparent and offences so egregious.

His Nigerian equivalent has no such humility. He always harbored hideous intentions that were not so discernible. “Secret agenda,” the media cried. There were broken promises and its attendant chaos. He believed he could undermine the lives and choices of the people and supplant them with his own personal ambition. After all, he felt, he was the master of the universe, a Maradonna in a non-level playing field for he had thrived on treachery and betrayals in the past.

But society was still willing to forgive with the belief that he was perhaps, a dedicated public servant whose tenure could have been appropriate in earlier times. It concluded that it was in the interest of society and natural progression to consign him to history books; he was such an egomaniacal figure, a misfit for the job at hand at the time he served in that he nearly destroyed the society he pledged to protect.

He was so tunnel vision, who failed to see the big picture every leader contends with, the multi- color details that shows society to be a whole lot bigger and more complex than he could conceptualize.

The above description fits the profile of Ibrahim Badamasi Babaginda, one of the self-styled political retrofits jostling to lead Nigeria in 2011.

Unlike the officer, Babaginda has no patience for history. He wants to re-write it without acknowledging his failures and lack of leadership qualities. His style was simply basic, to exploit greed and hunger of the masses in a society that required a more sanguine and delicate handling, a society that craved competition, in a hurry to catch up with the rest of the world. He could not see that aspect of the Nigerian population at the time.

But now they have grown out of his needs to re-validate himself. They have no patience for visionless experiments. He now blames the military government, which he led for all the bad decisions of his 8-year rule.

Since he has chosen to be a permanent feature in the Nigerian political space, intent in re-writing history, we would assist him first in documenting some of the atrocious acts as they were before he attempts to re-write them. Journalism, they say, is history on the fly!

Some of the issues are already well known and I will unveil some others for him to determine where his “reputation defenders.” should begin their job.

The June 12 election annulment is pretty much covered along with Dele Giwa’s assassination and Gloria Okon, who was arrested in Kano for drug trafficking. She died barely three days after she reportedly embarked on hunger strike. We all know that even laboratory rats on food deprivation live longer.

Babaginda, the man who wants to rule Nigeria, should explain to the public what transferred in the confidential file room at State Security Services office on August 28, 29, 30, 1985 soon after he deposed General Muhammad Buhari.

Perhaps, he forgot that some activities are never so sheltered from the public even if they conducted in total privacy. In certain circumstances, even the walls have eyes. On the days mentioned above, the confidential file room of SSS also had ears. While the country waited for IBB to unveil his programs, he was alone in a highly private room on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi.

He had embarked in search of a resolution to his immediate troubling issue which was to locate his personal file as compiled by the Buhari government. That trumped all state matters. For the next three days IBB sequestered himself, sought no assistance from no one and asked no questions. He was determined to rescue his confidential file the custody of SSS. By the time he was through, the neatly arranged confidential file room was in disarray. Every file folder was pulled and its content emptied on the floor, and some file cabinets were over turned. It was in a mess, an elephant locked in such a tiny space could have done better..

He did not know that SSS at the time had deployed some advance technology in record keeping by using microfiche for some personal files of certain categories of criminal suspects. When he finally found it in a microfiche, he heaved a sigh of relief and promptly removed it and walked out in triumph. You scallywag!

It is the content of this file that has formed the basis of his refusal to reconcile with Buhari. They will reconcile for the file contained a lot of gory details including his dalliances with all sorts of people some of which were referred to by Gideon Orkar in his attempted coup broadcast. It also included details of his expanded drug trade and his numerous bank accounts in phony names in foreign countries. They were huge balances for a general in the Nigeria army. It was also illegal for any government official to operate a foreign account. IBB had several. Some of the SSS case officers who compiled the information were promptly retired others detained under house arrest for several years.

Is this the man that wants to repair the damage he did to Nigeria? Probably so! He can begin the repair work by returning that file to the treasury without any alterations. We would then evaluate its content.

That file was compiled with public funds and it should be returned to where it belongs. There is nothing in public service regulations that authorizes any official military or civil to remove his personal confidential file from the treasury no matter the content. IBB took his own file away.

The purpose of this article is not to discourage Babaginda from running for president. In spite of my personal disagreement with his leadership style, I want him to run. He represents one thing: bad leadership who represents everything evil or what a good leader ought not to be. He simply does not have the traits. He cannot continue to experiment with people’s lives.

He also has the capacity to unify opposition, those who reject slimy politics, deception and falsehood, lack of transparency and above all lack of vision!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Portrait: Nudity and Beauty

Blurred silhouette of a woman's body. Image: Fendis. Unrated and undated

Woman holding her hands out. Location: Deutscland Image: Fendis, Unrated and undated

English actress Pepita Bobisela, who was the wife of dramatist Charles Hadden Chambers. Image: E.O. Hoppe; 1919

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Memorable Images and Time

(L-R)Ambassador Alex Quaison Sackey (Ghana), Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Nigeria), Diallo Telli (Guinea)and US Diplomat nd Nobel Laureate Ralph Bunche at the International House, United Nations July 19, 1959. Photo: Paul Cordes, courtesy of Department of Special Collections UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, sponsor and Guest of Honor of the African Dance Festival, held Monday evening, December 14, 1943 at the Carnegie Hall. Shown here with her are Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe (center), head of the Academy of African Arts and Research, which is presenting the festival, and Mazi Mbonu Ojike who came from the University of Chicago representin the African students. Image: Bettmann Collection

Monday, November 22, 2010

The World Ends: A Conversation With African Music Archivist Uchenna Ikonne

By Oscar Paul Medina, The Hydra

As the counter-cultural movement reached its apex circa 1967 in San Francisco with swarms of people preaching peace, love, communal living, psychoactive drugs and “dropping out,” there was a similar revolution commencing in Nigeria that had nothing do with good vibes, wearing flowers in your hair, or communing with New Age mantras. Nigeria was in the midst of a brutal civil war that would end up spanning over two years and extinguish over three million lives in the process. “The World Ends” is the newest compilation of African psychedelic music released on Soundway Records that gives voice to the renaissance of music that occurred after that savage period in Nigerian history. I interviewed Uchenna Ikonne, the man who has been tracking down the music from this turbulent era, and we got to speaking about the apoliticism of the post-civil war generation, Fela as a proto-Kanye West, and some of his favorite records off the comp.

Hydra: How did you come across all the records/knowledge that are contained in the compilation? Could you relate 1 or 2 interesting stories in the process of finding these records?

Uchenna: That’s a bit of a tough question. I wish I could share with you picaresque adventures about discovering this music but I don’t think that journey has been all that interesting. I was born in the 1970s and while I was too young to have ever been a part of this scene, I grew up in the shadow of it, hanging around older guys and trying to decipher their reminiscences of the music they had rocked to in the seventies. For some reason, those memories stuck with me for years even as this music was forgotten by the masses and maybe about ten years ago I started trying to actively collect some of these lost records.

That led almost organically to me trying to document the history of the musicians who made these records and the world that influenced them. So I started doing a lot of research. I spent almost a year crisscrossing Nigeria, tracking down these guys, many of whom had quit the music game decades ago; some of them didn’t even remember the records I was talking about because this was several lifetimes ago for them. They were pretty flabbergasted, some of them, that these old records were remembered at all, let alone being appreciated by a new audience overseas.

Hydra: You say that the Nigerian army was instrumental in providing the necessary resources for these young musicians to access instruments. Could you explain how politics played a role in the music itself? I know that the music showcased in this comp is after a heavy civil war, so I wonder if the musicians were trying to escape the political realities that they had just experienced through music, or did they use the music to expand and understand their communal experience of civil war?

Uchenna: The musicians themselves were largely apolitical— like 99% of young guys who join bands anywhere in the world, they mostly just wanted to have fun hanging out with their friends, playing the music they loved, and meeting girls. But I suppose there was a subtle political component to the music. The majority of the bands that recorded during this period came from eastern Nigeria, the part of the country which had until recently been the secessionist state of Biafra, which was the primary theater in which the war had unfurled as Nigeria fought to re-absorb Biafra into the union. By the end of the war, the previously-rich region had been left devastated—physically, economically, and spiritually. Most of the indigenes had lost family members and all their possessions, and while everybody was glad the horror of the war was over, the current reality was still pretty harsh. Many of the survivors of the war testify that the music was a means of escape that really kept their spirits up.

Hydra: What are your top 3 songs from the compilation and why?

1. “Somebody’s Gotta Lose or Win” by The Hygrades: I like the rollicking, deep rhythm & blues feeling on this. The Hygrades were led by Goddy Oku—a veteran of The Postmen, who were the first rock & roll band in the Eastern region of Nigeria—and he retained a lot of that old school sensibility. So even though most of the performances of the 1960s Nigerian rock & pop bands might be lost to time because so few of them got the chance to record, this track provides some insight into what they sounded like.

2. “Deiyo Deiyo” by The Hykkers: The Hykkers were also one of the groups from Nigeria’s forgotten 1960s rock & roll heyday; in fact, they were probably the first pop band in the country. They were known primarily as TV stars who appeared on a weekly show, playing mostly Beatles covers, so the wild, psychedelic sound they display on this record was a major change of pace for them. Actually, it was a change for the scene as a whole since it was one of the earliest records in this psych-fuzz style.

3. “Blacky Joe” by P.R.O. (People Rock Outfit): I love the rich, emotive vocal tone of the singer Stoneface Iwuagwu on this rock ballad. A lot of times when people talk about African music, the emphasis is always on rhythm and uptempo bootyshaking, but the truth is that what most Africans (and especially Nigerians) are really into is saccharine melodies and sentimental ballads. Of course, there’s also a pretty wild guitar freakout at the end of the song to justify its inclusion on a compilation dedicated to psychedelia.

Hydra: You talk about Fela in the notes and I thought it was interesting that you made Fela out to be an opportunist, which frankly didn’t surprise me. How do you think the youth of that time viewed him and his music? Were they trying to break free from Fela and his influence, much like how the Sex Pistols wanted to destroy the Beatles/ Pink Floyd? Perhaps my example is a bit abrasive, but what I would like to know is if the musicians of the scene were in a way tired of Fela and what he represented. If they did in fact continue to revere Fela and hold him in high esteem, could you explain why?

Uchenna: There was no time for them to be tired of Fela or what he represented because what Fela represented at that time was actually considered quite fresh and state-of-the-art. Even though he had been on the scene since the early sixties, his music had been considered a bit too avant-garde and as a result he hadn’t experienced much in the way of major success until the single “Jeun K’oku (Chop & Quench)” was released at the end of 1970—around the same time as the rock explosion. And what made that record unique from all of Fela’s previous output was the fact that it was produced like a rock record.

At that point, Fela had been referring to his music as “afrobeat” for a few years, but up until then it was little more than a theoretical genre tag looking for a sound to attach itself to. The funk-rock edge of “Jeun K’oku” functioned as the roux that coalesced Fela’s highlife and jazz influences and finally gave afrobeat the backbone and musculature it had thus far lacked. It very quickly became the best selling record in Nigerian music history and its phenomenal success served as a major impetus for EMI Records to not only sign more rock acts (who had been ignored by all the major labels up until then) but also to urge them to develop a more overtly “afro” sound rather than merely aping Western styles. So even though he hailed from the previous generation, Fela was—obliquely—a godfather of the afro rock scene. Of course, the young rockers probably didn’t aspire to emulate him directly: coming from a jazz background, his music was primarily horn-based while these young guys were more interested in electric guitars and organs. But even Fela himself soon traded his trumpet for an electric organ, an instrument intimately associated with rock music.

As for whether the respect between Fela and the rock musicians was mutual, it’s hard to say for sure what he truly thought about them. In general, it’s hard to tell what he thought about any musician other than himself, really. Like a lot of ego-driven genius-types, Fela liked to give the impression that the only music he had ears for was his own. He sometimes spoke glowingly of certain foreign musicians, but it was rare for him to comment positively about other Nigerian acts. But what’s important to remember is that he was, above all, a professional musician operating in a fiercely competitive environment, so he probably did not see much value in promoting or even complimenting any musician who could be considered a rival to him.

As much as he criticized the rock bands for being unoriginal and imitative of Western musicians, by the same token he also dismissed the practitioners of hardcore indigenous music styles like juju as being embarrassingly quaint and hokey. Even when esteemed Ghanaian afro rock pioneers Osibisa (whose music exerted a huge influence on “Jeun K’oku”) came to Nigeria, he lambasted them and tried to incite the audience against them. Fela was kind of like the Kanye West of Nigeria in that he was never comfortable with any situation in which he was not the center of attention!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Southern Sudan Fashion Model Lucy

Charles Bibbs decorates Lucy before the shoot.

Live drawings of Lucy by Charles Bibbs.

It was the Music and Arts Festival in Los Angeles, and a culture without parts showing an entity, and I poked around finding my humble self bumping into fine artist Charles Bibbs' mobile studio sitting on the back lot of the Vision Theatre on Degnan Blvd. in Leimert Park Village. Bibbs, in the previous week, had told me he would be slamming LPV Music and Arts Festival with his finest arts. What happened? I got there and pulled out my camera and began to take pictures of an original beauty while Bibbs and his artistic colleagues kept busy drawing a portrait of South Sudanese Lucy. It was a class act.

Lucy and I spoke at length and our discourse was Southern Sudan related...The Genocide. The hunger. The excruciating pains and sufferings in her homeland of Southern Sudan. The atrocities. The rape of women and humankind's most gruesome act. Lucy talked about how she escaped all the atrocities landing gracefully in Los Angeles.

I had talked to Lucy while the drawing was taking place at Bibbs mobile studio, and while tourists were trooping in taking a look and wondering how she popped up 'impromptu' to an event the entire City of Angels stomped on.

Lucy was born in Jada, Southern Sudan and now models out of Los Angeles. The photo-Op here was at Charles Bibbs mobile Studio during the Music and Arts Festival in Los Angeles. Proud of her heritage she likes it out here...A lengthy interview has unfolded and Lucy is ready...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Model Flaviana Matata

Photo courtesy of Fashion Junkii ON Sugar

Tanzanian beauty queen and fashion model won the first edition of Miss Universe Tanzania Pageant 2007 and went on to represent her country in the Miss Universe Pageant the same year, where she placed among the top 15 semifinalists and ended up in the 6th Place after the fashion parade on the runway. Competing with a shaved hair she was the first of that kind from Tanzania. She now models out of South Africa and recently modeled print advertisement for Sherril Hill.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fashion Model Imat Akelo-Opio: In Her Own Words


Q: Tell us a little about where you were born and where you were raised and the most important things you learned from your parent:

A: I was born in Africa iand grew up around the globe from Africa, Pacific and Australasia. The most important things I learnt from my mother and father were not said, nor were they taught. The most important things I learnt were from their actions. My mother especially being a woman, I learnt integrity, discipline, faith, hard-work and perseverance. My maternal grandmother taught me nothing is impossible through faith.

Q: Where did you go to school and when did you launch your career?

A: I went to International Schools in Africa and on the Island nation of Papua New Guinea. Then we moved to Australia where I studied at tertiary level and I then moved to USA, New York City, to study performing arts with a major in acting at Herbert Bergoff Studios. My career I believe launched when I was appointed a co-choreographer for the 2000 Olympics and performed as one of two lead dancers for the Opening Ceremony. I also recorded the official Olympics African Arrivals track with Pee-Wee Ferris in Sydney for the Olympics 2000 Compilation CD.

Q: What stage do you consider your career to be at now?

A: I believe that I am still growing, I am still learning because with acting one can never know it all, one is self discovering everyday with every word and through every moment.

Q: Where do you see it going and what’re your aspirations?

A: I see myself going to where only I can go as an individual and unique actress. I see myself breaking barriers and opening doors for others in places in an industry, entertainment-acting, that people have thought to be impossible. My aspirations are to be the best me, the most honest and true me first of all and to live a Great life of color that inspires and changes all people’s lives for the better through my gift of acting of performing--people of all backgrounds, ages, creed and color.

Q: Talk about some challenges and how you conquer them?

A: There are many challenges in life and more-so with entertainment. In order to conquer any challenge, I believe you need to know who you are first; because once you get that revelation, that job that didn’t come through or that role that you didn’t get won’t knock your self-esteem.

Q: List some of the professional -modeling, acting, business, entrepreneurship--accomplishments you're most proud of?

A: I am most proud of Otino-International, my medical non-profit organization, because I know that there is nothing more precious and more fulfilling than helping another and seeing them grow to excel, there is no monetary value on the gift of life. Modeling and beauty-for me to be chosen as one of Africa’s most beautiful women in the Diaspora through Miss Africa USA and voted in the top five and doing magazine interviews has really been blessing. I have just finished shooting a small role for a new TV series coming out in Australia. Every play that I have been cast in from the Leader --Off Broadway-- Get Smart, to Wole Soyinka’s Death of a King Horseman (Premier production in Australia) to Chrysalis (which is available in all drama book-stores), TV series (Newstopia), MTV and features in block buster movies (Matrix II and III, Kangaroo Jack and Stealth) have been great achievements for me.

Q: Talk about brainpower and beauty?

A: This is a must because it’s like having a beautiful BMW, Bentley or Ferrari and the engine doesn’t work, it doesn’t move, it’s useless as it cannot do anything and cannot fulfill its potential. A beautiful unique being that is more exquisite than the world’s most luxurious cars, as we all are, that does not use his or her brain is doing him or herself injustice and is only existing and not living, for to live requires you to exert energy to fulfill your potential and destiny and empower others.

My Philosophy: Enjoy your journey and know that when you stay true to who you are, though you fall and stumble when you have faith it will come to pass--that which you were sent to accomplish. Though remember there are many wolves in sheep’s clothes so guard your dreams and purpose with your life and only share with one or two that you know who will always be for you. Also education is the key- it opens so many doors and knowledge is power, the more you know the higher you will achieve.

Social work, community and public service: I have set up my Non-Profit Otino-International that is a non-profit providing medical assistance to displaced innocents who have returned back to their ancestral lands after conflict. We are staring in the nation of Uganda and look to expand to other countries around the globe. I also contribute as a full member UNIFEM, United Nations Development Fund for Women and IAS, International AIDS Society.

My Wardrobe: I don’t believe in brands- My motto is “I wear the clothes, the clothes don’t wear me”. So for me I wear what looks good, it can be a brand label like Zara or an un-known brand from China town but if you work it, what use is the brand. Lotions for my skin, I am a big advocate of Palmers Cocoa Butter and Nivea –Blue for deep replenishing because they always make my skin glow and keep it from being dry and it doesn’t hurt they have a yummy aroma. Make-up, Bobby-Brown for my foundation and lip gloss, eyes- nothing but Diorshow my sister told me use it once and I have never looked back, Diorshow Mascara lengthens your eyelashes so well that most people ask if they are real, Diorshow always for stunning eyes. Mac for clear lip-glass, lip gloss and Blush. Perfume, my favourites are Angel (Thierry Mugler), Burberry Brit (Burberry) and Tresor. Shoes are my weakness, again for me I wear the shoes, they don’t wear me; but having said this I find that Australian Designer Tony Bianco’s shoes always make my feet that little bit more elegant and feminine, they never let me down.

Words of wisdom: Always listen to your soul, when it's quiet and you are alone especially in the midst of trial is when you learn who you truly are and what you are capable of achieving, so always listen to your soul.

Secrets of success: I think that success is a state of mind. As a man thinks so is he. I have learnt to believe in myself despite what the world may think and decided to enjoy my journey on my road traveled. Believe and work, for you shall receive.

Favorite all time 3 movies:
The Passion of the Christ, Gone with the Wind, and Anything with Sidney Poitier.

Favorite all time 3 books:
The Bible, All Og Mandino’s books and The Richest Man in Babylon

Three leaders that inspire me the most: All Mothers- My Mother- These are the true leaders of nations for Mothers birth the leaders of our nations. My mother is exceptional, she has risen from a young girl from a background of poverty to one of the most powerful women in the United Nations today, but she is the most humble person I have known in my life. Yaa Asantawe- Ghanian Female Warrior who stopped the British from taking over Ashanti land. Nelson Mandela-Because he forgave, that is truly divine. To forgive and move on from being oppressed for 27 years is amazing.

Five favorite musicians/entertainers and their songs: Whitney Houston- All her songs. Janet Jackson – because as a child she was the very first artist’s album that I bought- All her music. India Arie- because this is a woman; her music is the very essence of life, she is so real.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Uchenna Ikonne, Renaissance Man

Some of Ikonne’s prized 45-inch records. Photo: COURTESY COMB & RAZOR

By Jayne Usen, NEXT

Uchenna Ikonne could be described as a walking encyclopedia of some sort because of his knowledge of the history of Nigerian music. Based in the United States, he is a filmmaker by vocation and a lawyer by training, but his consuming passion is Nigerian music. Ikonne is currently working on reissuing a lot of Nigerian classic songs under his label, Comb & Razor Sound. He shares his story with NEXT.

With your knowledge of Nigerian music classics, many would be shocked to realise that you are only 35 years old

That does often take people by surprise. I’m primarily known as an online presence, chiefly for my writing on my blog (, so most people have no idea of my background, age, or appearance. They generally expect me to be much older than I am because I’m writing about Nigerian music and popular culture of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s; and they’re often alarmed to learn that I’m in my 30s.

The funny thing about it is that I have spent a lot of time interviewing musicians from that era, and even when I’m sitting with them face-to-face, they still forget how old I am. Like, we’ll be discussing some events that happened immediately after the civil war, and they’ll say to me, “Shey, you know that nightclub we used to go to in Port Harcourt… You remember when so-and-so played there one Friday night like that in 1971. Were you there that night?”

When stuff like that happens, I’m not quite sure how to process it: do I take it as a compliment that I appear so knowledgeable of the era that they forget I wasn’t there? Or does it mean that hard life has aged me to the point that men in their 50s and 60s can look at me and think I am their age mate?

Do Nigerian youth know enough about Nigerian songs of old?

I would not even be exaggerating if I said that many of our youth actually believe that the Nigerian music industry started in 1998 or so. They realise that yes, there must have been music in Nigeria “back in da dayz” - but they think that maybe we only had a handful of artists: Fela, Osadebe, Sonny Okosuns, Onyeka, maybe Evi-Edna, and a few other really popular names like that. I am not playing!

I have had many young people express this to me directly! But what’s curious is that a lot of times, even Nigerians who are old enough to remember better have completely forgotten most of the music of the past; cultural amnesia is an epidemic in our society, and that’s a shame.

Tell us why you decided to embark on this task

If I didn’t do it, who would? Well, the main thing I am working on right now is the Comb & Razor Sound record label, which will be reissuing a lot of classic music from Nigeria, as well as other countries in Africa and South America.

I’m trying to make it so that our releases are more like “publications”—big booklets full of historical information, stories, and photographs with a CD attached to them.

Because really, people aren’t that interested in just buying CDs anymore and CDs are too easily pirated, anyway. You have to give them the value for their money. We’ll also be releasing the music on vinyl records, which happens to be my preferred format.

You recently embarked on a trip to Nigeria to get more information; were there any challenges?

The number one challenge is always the relative inaccessibility of the information. It’s not like you can just walk into a library or something and comfortably find information. You have to dig for it. And frankly, not a lot of people have the stamina or resourcefulness to do that.

I remember when I first started telling people in Nigeria that I am looking for old records and stuff like that.

They told me, “You can’t find that kind of thing in Nigeria today.” My reply was “No, you mean YOU can’t find it… I can!” And they would say “Ha! You won’t see that sort of thing in the market o!” The market? Are you kidding? Who is looking at the market? To find this stuff, you need to go ‘under’ the market! For months on end I would be rummaging through dark and filthy storage spaces, day in and day out. Getting sinus infections from the dust and mould… digging through urine-soaked garbage and getting bitten by rats. And in the end, when I show all the material I’ve gathered, people always ask “How did you find this stuff?” as if I’m a magician. But really, it’s all right here under our noses!

Security was also a major challenge. Undertaking the project required me to traverse the breadth of the country several times over, and navigating the terrain while trying to stay ahead of the kidnapping epidemic in the East. Well, let’s say it required a good deal of gumption and creativity.

The challenge I feel defeated me, though, was the complete unavailability of a lot of the material. I’m actually a filmmaker by vocation, and my original intention had been to make a documentary film about Nigerian musicians.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get enough period footage to create a sufficiently dynamic documentary because of a lot of the tapes of musical performances recorded for television in the 1960s, 70s and 80s were either dubbed over or thrown away. So, unfortunately, I had to put that project aside.

Any collaborations with record labels in Nigeria for more information?

No, not really. For one thing, most of the big record labels from Nigeria’s golden age of music - EMI, Phillips, Decca/Afrodisia, and the like - they don’t exist anymore. And many of them even discarded or destroyed most of their records, master tapes, artwork, videos, and documentation.

Record keeping is almost non-existent in Nigeria. Why do you think this is so?

It’s probably a controversial view, but I think that we as Africans have a peculiar relationship to the concept of antiquity. We joke about “African time” and what-not, but I really do believe that the African perception of time is a bit more… fluid than it is in the West. We tend to live primarily in the present, and even our concept of “the present” is very elastic.

I once read about an anthropologist who was looking for artifacts in a certain African country, and he was presented with a carved wooden mask representing an ancient fertility god. He asked the indigenes if the mask was “authentic” - by which he meant: “does this particular mask actually date back to an ancient era of this land? Is it an antique?” And the people told him, “Of course it’s authentic” - by which they meant: “Yes, it was made here, and it still represents this particular fertility god who we still worship.”

Whether or not the mask is old was unimportant to them: all that matters is whether the mask did its job as the avatar for the god. It wouldn’t make a difference to them if the mask was carved 3000 years ago or yesterday. And if there was a mask from thousands of years ago representing a god that they no longer worshipped, then they would have no qualms with burning it or throwing it away because it served no useful purpose for them in “the present.”

So it is with us in Nigeria. We’re fixated upon how utilitarian things are to us in “the present,” and “the present” trumps everything.

That’s why you have television stations erasing the only copies of classic TV shows like ‘The Village Headmaster’ so they can use the tapes to record today’s music videos. It’s why record companies hired contractors to cart away and destroy entire libraries of master tapes of Nigerian music from the 1940s to the 1980s, so they’d have room for the music of the 1990s. ‘The present’ is all that exists for us.

When will your releases hit the market?

The first of these publications will probably be released in the US and Europe at the end of November. I’m not sure exactly when it will come to Nigeria, but obviously it will find its way here. It’s a musical chronicle of the years of Nigeria’s Second Republic (1979-83) and covers a lot of the notable developments of that era: the increased professionalisation of the Nigerian music industry with the rise of high-tech independent labels like Phondisk and Tabansi, the rise of solo singers as the old bands died, the emergence of more women in the music scene, and so on.

The next one will probably be out in December, and it will focus on the venerable Semi-Colon Rock Group of Umuahia. Then in early 2011, we’ll have something concentrating on music from Cross River and Akwa Ibom States and then a spotlight on Benin-style highlife, and lots of other stuff in the pipeline.

Is royalty payment a big issue for you?

It is a big deal to me. A BIG deal. You see, one thing that a lot of people don’t know is that most Nigerian musicians of years past never made any money off the sales of their records. I mean, ask someone like Onyeka Onwenu if she ever made even one naira from record sales. There’s no way I can in good conscience perpetuate that kind of exploitation of our artists and so, it’s of the utmost importance to me that the original artists are paid, even if it’s not a huge amount of money.

CDs actually are not selling as much as they were ten years ago, so nobody is getting rich off selling discs. But one thing we’re working on is developing ways to licence the music for use in films, television, adverts, ringtones, and other applications, and hopefully we can make some decent money for the artists that way, because some of them really, really need it.

What do you hope to achieve with this project?

I’d love to tell you that I hope to become a millionaire from it, but I’m much too realistic to even fool myself with that, let alone fool you. If, as a result of my efforts, Nigeria’s rich heritage of popular culture becomes fully recognised and celebrated, and I get to see our national artistic legends reap some of the money and kudos they deserve, I think I’d call myself a happy man.

And if I’m able to even make a few pennies from it myself to stay afloat and continue doing what I do, that would be a bonus, because this is really expensive work and I fund it pretty much completely out of my own pocket.

What’s next after this?

Well, I don’t like to look like I’m this guy who is stuck in the past, because despite my interest in history, I’m very much on the cutting edge of culture! I want to sign some contemporary artists to Comb & Razor Sound; I’m just looking for artists who are really unique. What I would really love is to find a really cool, young Nigerian hard rock/funk band.

Also, this whole music thing is really a side track that I stumbled into over the past two or three years and it has taken me away from my work as a filmmaker, so I’d like to get back to making movies soon.

To that effect, I have some film projects I’m developing. I haven’t completely given up on the documentary either. I’m also working on a book on the history of Nigerian film-making, and a cartoon series for Nigerian TV.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Interview With Novelist Myne Whitman

Photo Courtesy of Myne Whitman

Born Nkem Okotcha in Enugu, Nigeria, and writes with the pen name, Myne Whitman, she talks about her humble beginnings, her new book, interests and the future. Her new book, "A Heart To Mend" can be purchased anywhere books are sold.


Much has been said already. But my readers would like to know more about you. Tell my readers about yourself.

I am a Nigerian blogger, writer and poet. I am also the author of A Heart to Mend, my first novel. I live in Seattle with my husband and write full time. I write mostly romantic fiction and love poems though recently I have been trying my pen at literary short stories. I am currently working on my next novel. I am the managing editor of Naija Stories, a social networking website for aspiring Nigerian writers. I'm also a member of the Seattle Eastside Writers group and the Pacific NorthWest Writers Association. I blog at and I am on and .

Tell me about your childhood, growing up and your surroundings.

I was born at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu, Nigeria and I grew up in that city till my middle secondary school. I attended Ekulu Primary School, Queens School Enugu, Special Science School Agulu and Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka. I remember as a child studying a lot, reading everything I could lay my hands on, and then trying to play the rest of the time. My mother was a school teacher and my father worked for the electoral commission, so the love of reading and education came from them and from the environment of Enugu, which is a part an academic and civil service city.

This early background made me very cosmopolitan because I went to school with people from all across the country and outside. Reading a lot makes me sometimes come across as quiet but I do like a good loud debate too, having watched my father and his friends talk politics and football. In three words, I will describe myself as friendly, caring and fun-loving. I realized early on through books that it was possible to be whoever and do whatever you wanted to do. I learnt to stretch my wings even further when I first left the country. I have been a teacher, NGO consultant, banker, skate-hire attendant, and researcher and have worked for the government both in Nigeria and Scotland.

When was the first time you put your thoughts on paper and have others read it?

This was between my primary and secondary school, and only my siblings and friends got to read it. It was a children's adventure mystery set in Nigeria.

You have written your first novel "A Heart To Mend" which remarkably is doing well. While growing up as a kid, did you ever envision seeing yourself writing a book, signing autographs and attending book fairs and events of that nature to promote your work? How did all these began?

I did envision myself writing a book, but back then, I did not know about promotional events and all these events. None of the books I read back then were autographed. I thought authors just wrote the books and got on with life.

Reading many of the reviews, I must freely confess it is a thumbs up. In what environment did you come up with the fascinating characters -- Aunty Isioma, Gladys, Edward, Chief Okirika and the rest in such a compelling story?

The idea first came up in Nigeria. It was meant to be a novella of less than 30,000 words. I'm glad people find it interesting. I sent it out to one publisher in Nigeria and never heard back from them.

And how do you feel about the reviews and receptions?

What can I say? I am very happy and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. Both from fellow writers and also from readers who I know from their honest feedback really enjoyed the book.

In the literary world of where you grew up, romance novels are not common save for the ones foreign authored. It's either storytelling, civil unrest, corruption in government, scandals of moral outrage coupled with all kinds of social problems and things like that. And since romance novels are not best sellers in Nigeria, in my opinion, how did you conclude writing such a compelling, compasionate love/hate idea would penetrate the Nigerian literary market?

I think love and romance are universal concepts. And I do not agree that there was a lack of romance novels authored by Nigerians. Half of the Pacesetters series were romantic fiction and many of them were written by Nigerians. However, when I decided to publish A Heart to Mend, I never knew it would blow up like this. I just sent it out to get it in the hands of my blog readers who were clamoring to read it after I had been sharing excerpts of it on my blog. I'm surprised how it caught on in Nigeria but I guess it shows that people will always like a well told story despite what genre it is cloaked in.

I read where you mentioned not having the desire to dabble into Nigeria's political turmoil, the pogrom, civil war and things like that, thus leaving it to those who "chooses" to do so. Romance thrilling novelists do chip in situations of their national interest. Nigeria is economically, politically and socio-culturally unstable. Why are you not chipping in?

My novel is set firmly in Nigeria and shows up the tumultous political and social landscape, there is no way to escape that as a realistic writer. In A Heart to Mend, I mentioned where thugs are causing violence on election day and making it difficult for people to move around. Also the upheavels in the economic and financial climate in Nigeria forms the major backdrop, with the ailing Nigerian Stock Exchange standing center stage. In my current manuscript, one of the characters had lost a parent in political clashes between the Urhobo and Itsekiri in 1952 and battles his emotions on ethnic relations with other people.

When I said I would not dabble in those areas, I meant that I would not write a political thriller for example, or one where the main story is about the civil war. I believe that there is a wide range of ways to tackle issues and I have chosen this method. It is a method that will draw in both old and new readers into a light and enjoyable story and also pass along some messages without being preachy.

Let's talk about Myne Whitman and Nkem Okotcha. Born Nkem Okotcha and penning with Myne Whitman, what are the relationships? Any resemblance?

They are the same person. If you look closely, you will see that the pen name is just the translation of the other. It allows me some privacy to my real self and a channel for my creativity.

When did you decide to write "A Heart To Mend"?

Like I said earlier, the idea for the story actually came to me some time ago, and I wrote a short story about it. That was a few years ago but I never had the time and didn’t think I was in the right mental place to complete it until last year. It was summer 2009. I had just moved to the United States and I was in love for the first time in my life.

When you made up your mind since it was your debut, what was it like putting all the stuff together -- from thinking about the characters, the brainstorming, the rough sketches and manuscript before ending up in the publishing house?

I decided to dust up the story and try my hand at full time writing. I used the earlier short story as more of an outline for this longer work. I finished the story in one month. It took me another five months to finish three drafts of the novel and complete the editing before handing it over to the publishers.

Successfully debuting with a novel of its own class and with many writers still out there having difficulties to publish, what would be your counsel?

I would encourage other aspiring authors to keep writing, that's what makes us writers. And also have the courage to send out their manuscripts to a broad range of agents and publishers.

What are your other interests besides writing?

I love travelling, visiting and exploring new cities and meeting new people. I also read a lot and watch movies either at home or at the cinemas.

Have you started working on your next project, and when do we expect it to arrive the bookshelves?

I am working on another Manuscript at the same time as promoting A Heart to Mend. The novel is now in it’s third manuscript draft. The working title is Ghost of the Past and it is also set in Nigeria. It spans about ten years and references some important historical events so I have had to do some goodly amount of research. I hope it will be out by next year.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ehirim Files Classic: The Igbo Presidency Debates

"Enyi, Obasanjo egbuele Nigeria. Enyi, Obasanjo wuzi diktator. Enyi, ahuhu no n'ulo. Ala anyi emebiele. Enyi, nsogbu nokwa. Odi egwu oh!" cried Dr. Edmund Ugorji of Los Angeles, carefully going through his ordeal and the extreme hardship people are facing during his brief visit to his native land of Mbieri in Imo State. "Enyi, ole mgbe iga abia ka anyi kpoo ndi mmadu zukoo mara ihe anyi ga eme gbasara obodo anyi? Enyi, ole ihe anyi ga eme? Ike agwulam nihi obodo anyi enweahu di mmekwata. Egwu di kwa!"

"So what do you think is the problem? And why is it not getting any better since Olusegun Obasanjo was handpicked by his military junta cronies to take over the affairs of state in the Fourth Republic? Do we really have to blame Obasanjo for all our woes even though I have consistently despised him in the past?"

That was my counter question-response to his clarion call for immediate action regarding the fragile state in Igboland. Nevertheless, Ugorji did toss a meeting of Igbo dignitaries and "homeward bound" new Igboist at his Los Angeles home, for a feasibility study in tackling voter apathy and fraud which denied honest and legitimate Igbo candidates from winning elections. Jimmy Asiegbu, Dr Julius Kpaduwa and many others honored said emergency. I did not attend for the call's lack of an agenda. When I spoke to Asiegbu about the outcome of the meeting, he did not tell me much other than it was an exploratory gesture. Kpaduwa did not say much either, when I ran into him. His counsel was we should keep fighting for what we believe in. That was the end of Ugorji's call for immediate action, I would guess.

Honestly, how badly I wish we could all agree that the ensuing Igbo presidency debates-along with many other issues having nothing to do with the well-being of the Igbo nation-is totally beside the point at this moment and then move on to substantive issues. Sadly, for the past few years, we've seen eruption of bitter battles between the pros and cons who have taken sides on the necessities and irrelevance of an Igbo president. It has become dangerously senseless in many ways especially at Acho Orabuchi's Yahoo Igbo Forum bloggers. Every blogger at that site seems to be adding up to what matters and what doesn't, now that it's an Igbo thing. Orji Kalu, Achike Udenwa, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Kalu Diogu-what a line up-and a long list of desperados had been suggested as better and potential candidates. Very soon they will add Arthur Nzeribe, which brings about the absurdity of one chasing a rat escaping from the flames while his house is being burnt down.

In another related incident and quite often, long time friend, Austen Oghuma and I would get into a heated debate thematically about the sorry plight of a cursed state-Nigeria-in which Oghuma agrees exhausting his options but had insisted "there's no immediate replacement for Obasanjo," that for the moment, a sovereign national conference or a gathering of ethnic nationalities is the nations last hope for survival suggesting it would be a starting point towards correcting the ills of the country since the Amalgamation of North and South. I have refused to buy the idea of a national conference for many reasons at which one is weary of pointing out, though, Oghuma disagrees with me. Perha-ps. that is why Nd'Igbo are bent, or so much worried about 2007 presidency we all know has a bucket full of uncertainties, especially with the ongoing turmoil, the "political rat race" and tension, civil unrest and religious disturbances of all sorts resulting to the sack of Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and dissolution of its state legislature. Oghuma, however, reflected on among other things, history repeating itself on the basis Igbo presidency may not arrive come 2007.

He further argued that in today's Nigeria, if an Igbo man should be president he must be of national interest in its totality, and not just an Igbo president. That he has nothing against Nd'Igbo and that he believes merit should apply to every political and government enterprise citing the beauty of hard work by way of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's top notch appointment at the Finance ministry. He gave more instances of hard-working Igbo men and women of industry who had paid their dues and had been rewarded, mentioning Fabian Osuji, Ojo Maduekwe, Kema Chikwe, ABC Nwosu and many uncountable others.

Meanwhile, I did not, never mind the subject-matter, give impression I was not comfortable with the names he specifically pointed out to make his argument since the focus of our discourse was Igbo presidency and 2007. For the time being, what bothered me most was the way the country, the Igbo nation in particular had been plunged into chaos by a relevant financier-oligarchic class-the Chris Ubahs, the Iwuanyanwus, the Nzeribes, the Offors and many uncountable "Barons" of the day. Which is why the bastardized Nigerian state lost its middle class to anarchic empire which leaves every indigene with the idea of "get rich or die trying." This is a common characteristic enemy that must be defeated for any nation relying on economic well-being, progressive social reforms, upholding democracy and the rule of law.

But, then, the question is, why is Igbo presidency so hot these days? Would it just be a media hype or propaganda to distract the people from focusing on an inept and corrupt administration its priority has nothing to do with the people other than chaos? So what's all the haggling in the media about Igbo presidency? Why is it so important an Igbo must be president as a "balanced act," in other words, the rotation of the presidency come 2007? How's that going to bring about change? Why is the Igbo desperate? And why are Nd'Igbo worried they are not "shortchanged" this time around? Where is the hullabaloo for Igbo presidency project taking us to? And if one may ask: Igbo president for what?

In fact, no week has gone by since Obasanjo's "no sacred cow" vow of May 29, 1999 that commentators, analysts, newspaper editorials, internet discussion groups, email chain letters, barber shops, beer parlor, isi-ewu and nkwobi joints did not mention the need for an Igbo president. Too many articles have popped up. But frankly, in the great argument that has raged over the last four years based on fairness and equity, the discussions have been very exhaustive, the reviews and essays somewhat engaging, and the exchanges not simmering down for now. It has been a long and arduous struggle, cruel and nasty with the end not yet in sight, perhaps until the uncertainties of 2007 elections is resolved, that is, the 2007 elections in which an Igbo president is expected to emerge.

Not even myself could keep up with the flood of articles on Igbo presidency which began before and after Alex Ekwueme lost to Obasanjo at the Jos People's Democratic Party (PDP) primaries. And more commentaries are pouring in from writers, political analysts, editorials, etc. suggesting the need for an Igbo president with some pundits arguing against the much talked about, much debated and presumed controversial 2007 elections.

Again, what's all the excitement for and why is the issue so hot in the news media? Prof Ben Nwabueze committed himself for a must 2003 Igbo president when he gave us "Issues in the Igbo Presidency Project" followed by Dr. Okenwa Nwosu's "How Valid Is the Case for Igbo Presidency?" Obi Nwakama in his "The Orbit" column contributed his quota for the relevance of an Igbo president. Orabuchi posted his at Iwuanyanwu's Daily Champion. One Bolaji Abdullah penned "The Trouble With Igbo Presidency" charging that the 2003 presidential elections eluded Nd'Igbo on the ground they had fielded too many candidates from different political platforms lacking the consensus to produce a flag bearer on behalf of Nd'Igbo apart from party affiliation. There's Tunde Adenobi-whether he exists or not I have no idea-questioning the authenticity of Igbo presidency in his essay "Igbo Presidency: What Now?"

Vanguard Group of Newspapers' Abuja Bureau Chief, Sufuyan Ojeifo, in his eight-page political analysis asked "Who Are Southern Aspirants? Where Are They?" Governor Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom State when cornered by a wave of reporters at Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja, on the topic of the presidency and zoning said: "Whether the North will keep it for two terms or one term and it rotates to another zone is another matter. But, I clearly remember that caucus meeting where it was agreed that we will let the president have a second term, but by 2007, it should go to the North." Ohanaeze stalwart and former Second Republic Speaker of the House of Representative, Edwin Ume-Ezeoke did not go without being noticed when he acknowledged …"what Ohanaeze has taken as a stand on behalf of the Igbos and that has not been controverted, is that come 2007, somebody from the South-East must be president of this country. And I think that is the only way we can have a permanent peace."

Even Ebenezer Babatope who lost his respect among his Awoist followers, and who had made a personal decision to join Sani Abacha's reign of terror made his own feelings about 2007 known when he encouraged opposition parties in the country to "invade" the nation's political scene with "adequate propaganda," to avoid another PDP daylight robbery of the elections, which increasingly so has turned Nigeria into a one-party state. And, of course, the ebullient governor of Imo State, Achike Udenwa, when asked of a potential Igbo presidency in 2007, had this to say:

"You must realize that Igbo alone can't make anybody the president and that is why we think that the time is now for us to start it and carry it through. The Igbo were battered in 1999, you saw what happened in Kaduna where there was also conspiracy and we finally lost out. Wt the end of it we were badly beaten. And again in 2002, we saw that the likes of Ewueme showed interest, Nwobodo, the late Chuba Oakdigbo, Ike Nwachukwu, Idika kalu, they all showed interest. And at the end of it they lost out. So it tells you that the Igbo have been politically wounded…"

Also, there's Elvis Agukwe, former PDP Director of Research and Planning rooting for "Atiku 2007" and clearly stating Igbo should forget the presidency project, that the North, by all accounts and party platform are the recipients and shouldn't be contested. He tells Emmanuel Aziken of Vanguard:

"I have made it clear that it is not our turn, it is the time of the North and we are discussing with the North and when the time comes we will start work together to realize our own turn."

Agukwe himself has faded away since he tried to sell 'Atiku 2007" ticket to the media and the people, claiming PDP caucus has tailored Atiku to succeed OBJ, and blaming Igbo politicians who insist Igbo must land in Aso Rock in 2007 as not being "sincere" and had blown it away when they had the chance to take the mantle of so-called leadership. Agukwe, the spoiler that he is, was used initially by a gang of PDP "stalwarts" to dissuade Nd'Igbo quest for the presidency has disappeared and no longer speaking out as he used to now that the PDP zoning system is on the crossroads.

But even though the ilks of Agukwe may have vanished, there have been inflammatory remarks and flattery on the road to 2007 and Igbo presidency. There have been, also, attempts to concretely put in place and confirm a Northern shift in terms of 2007 presidential elections. There has been, too, mockery of the Igbo on the basis they have no clue what exactly it is they want in the nation's polity especially in the much heated debate on the presidency and zoning. There has been, as well, a whole lot of contradictions, chicanery and double-speak for an overall genuine mandate concerning Igbo presidency on a national consensus by way of constitutional provisions which really doesn't exist. So what's all the fuss about?

The brouhaha, however, prompted Kaduna State Governor, Mohammed Markarfi to make caricature of Igbo presidency in question when he "warned" the presidency should come back to the North and shouldn't be an issue at all based on a done deal. Even Abacha's right hand men-Alhaji Shehu Malami, the Sarkin Sultan of Sokoto and Wada Nas, Abacha's Minister for Special Duties-contributed their own two cents, too. Malami in his own words:

"If you are talking about democracy, you cannot say anything good about democracy when you are already determining where the president should come from without waiting for the voters to decide. Let the voters decide who will be their leader; that is my position."

In that case, listen to Nas reacting to Alhaji Usman Farouk's rabble-rousing annotations:

"Igbo are among the most resourceful, intelligent, educated, imaginative and hard-working people in this country who are far ahead in invention and industry and therefore have the required brain to produce a leader who can rule this country. In terms of the attributes listed above, we must be frank to say the Northerners are not near Igbo, yet the North has been producing leaders for the country. In fact, going by history, the Igbo deserve the support of Northerners as of right to rule this country."

My problem with Nas' sweet talk and misrepresentation of the Igbo nation was the way Nd'Igbo in most discussion groups and the "media" welcomed a comment made by a full-blooded Northerner who decided to mess up with the brains of a people who had no more indication of what had happened to them. Ironically, Nas, just like that, became Igbo hero from his tongue-in-cheek comments endorsing an Igbo president for 2007. In several encounters of political discourse in most Igbo related forums about 2007, it had been suggested Nas adulation of Igbo presidency was an attempt to calm down the heated Igbo presidency debates which has caused an avalanche of distractions to more important issues required in addressing the frail state of the nation. But I don't think so. Udenwa and a host of others have been applauding Nas for what they termed an honest talk.

And of course, one cannot conclude the uproar of an extensive and nasty battle in the Igbo presidency drama without mentioning the Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum, Chief Sunday Awoniyi whose own version insisted power to the North in 2007 had already been discussed and resolved, and that anything less would not be acceptable. Which brings us to Awoniyi's ringing judgement:

"Many of those who talk against the slot coming to the North knew little or nothing about the tough discussions that nearly split the North on the issue, but for the typical Northern wise counsel that prevailed in the end. If the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo had been alive today, I am sure he would have spoken up and not allow the political goal post to be shifted in the middle of the match. The shift was to be North-South-North-South. There was no thought of a shift to any so-called zone in the South or in the North. This is the simple truth, when we were packaging it."

In brief, Awoniyi was arguing as a "Northerner," with the purest ideals of Arewa in mind and with the interest of the North in its totality. He wasn't arguing for the interest of the nation based on fairness and equity judging from the fact the North ruled and bastardized the nation since independence, save for January-July, 1966 (Maj-General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi), and May 1999 to present (selection of Obasanjo by his military junta cronies). The Interim National Government headed by Ernest Shonekan was a corrupt bargain and "pushover." Obasanjo's unwilling "lead role" from February 1976 to October 1979 was power controlled by the same Hausa-Fulanu military oligarchy. But, realistically though, what does the name Sunday Awoniyi mean or sound like? Hausa-Fulani or Yoruba? The last time I checked, the name Awoniyi has nothing to do with Hausa-Fulani.

Meanwhile, as the end of this heated debate is not coming to an end anytime soon, it's good to recognize the incisive answers and analyses given by Chuks Iloegbunam of the Vanguard Newspapers in a series he's not about to end in the near future. So far, he has written eleven parts and still counting. Illoegbunam's thesis "An Igbo for President" lectures that the problem of Igbo presidency is longstanding, that it has a single root cause, which is institutional. Iloegbunam includes references from federal allocation, population density, military enlistment on the basis of quota system, oil-revenue sharing formula based on the state with highest output, and why a massive discrimination against Nd'Igbo has persisted when proportional distribution of the above listed area under discussion is in question.

Iloegbunam is not alone in urging logic and fairplay to thrive in dealing with the Igbo presidency debates, or at least consider the fact Igbo has been "shortchanged" since the birth of the republic. But again, Iloegbunam expressed the fear Nd'Igbo are their own mischief makers on the ground saboteurs within would thwart any effort, say, a national consensus Okaying a green light for an Igbo president. And this boils down to exactly what happened in the Jos PDP Primaries of 1998.

The drama at Jos is worth telling for the fact it was a fellow ambitious Igbo politician who stood on Ekwueme's way, thus catapulting Obasanjo to Aso Rock. And when the former Governor of Old-Anambra State, Jim Nwobodo claims to be the architect and advocate of Igbo presidency, one is then poised to see there are a whole lot of problems within the Igbo nation. This makes the presidency debates senseless in many ways.

The past mistakes of Igbo presidency mandate which is more likely to elude Nd'Igbo again if history is allowed to repeat itself can be drawn from the carelessness and lack of political strategy to form a coalition of Igbo organizations/political parties with one common goal-an Igbo president in 2007. To produce an Igbo president on consensus, that is if it's really what Igbos want, Igbo leaders of thought would have to coordinate the enormously complex divide within the Igbo nation and bring about a one united Igbo front.

The troubled state of Anambra must be taken care of. The case of the MASSOBians must be generally accepted whether they like it or not. The state governors and legislators must be held accountable for misrule and misappropriation of state funds. And what that means is, Igbo must first resolve her polarized community which has been the core of its persistent turmoil. Take for instance, when Nwobodo spoke to the editors of Weekly Vanguard (May 08, 2004), asserting Ohanaeze Nd'Igbo came up short on who among Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Ike Omar Sanda-Nwachukwu and Nwobodo himself should be "considered as consensus candidate," little did he realize his political salesmanship and mastery of the Hausa language during the Jos Primaries would be the beginning of Igbo presidency demise in a new era of the nation's democratic founding. To prove his point and convince Nd'Igbo he wasn't running a show of his own personal interest, and that he walked the talk and took the initiative to lead, he had the following to say to a hyped media:

"In the last presidential election, our people made a good impact. They handled the camping very well in terms of sensitizing the awareness of others that they indeed want the presidency. You could see that from what happened during the presidential primaries of the political parties that people were disposed to the Igbo presidency idea. I am one of the people that promoted it. As far back as 1999, I started implementing the idea before others came to join the campaign. I was one of the presidential candidates who ran with president Obasanjo on the platform of the PDP. I and Dr. Alex Ekwueme. In 2003, I was again in the forefront of the struggle for the realization of the presidential project."

What a way of contradictions! But the bitter rivalry and perhaps the pursuit of personal goals which developed between Nwobodo/Ekwueme/Sanda-Nwachukwu on the one hand and Igbo in general, and Odumegwu-Ojukwu's All Party Grand Alliance (APGA) on the other, made the latter to carry out a tardy campaign. Indeed, APGA was no last resort if one should take a close look at the "political rat race" that ensued when every Dick and Harry mostly from Diaspora began to take a shot at "politics for change" in a self-centered ideology of running a show of their own personal interest. Nothing Igbo was in their agenda. They were all playing the same old following they've been known for since time.

For the fact Nd'Igbo were way off base in mainstream Nigerian politics and totally out of character in establishing its own political base, Chief Chekwas Okorie, whom I spoke with when he shopped around Los Angeles for support, pointed out it was about time Igbo gets up from its "state of comatose." As founder and chairman of APGA, Okorie, without a doubt, took up the initiative and gambled as in all gamblings. In a gamble you either win or you lose. APGA, the only Igbo base political party lost out, big time. In Imo State, for example, not even a seat was won by APGA in any contested slot. Before Okorie and his APGA knew what was going on, PDP's political destiny of a one party state had squandered an election that became a money game coupled with massive rigging.

This reminds me, and I still remember very well as a youth trying to connect with the real world and growing up when in 1978 the so-called Murtala Mohammed-Olusegun Obasanjo military regime lifted the ban on political activities with a likely Igbo president questionable when no Igbo came forth to form a political party. Nnamdi Azikiwe did not form a political party when the go ahead for political activities was ordered by the military juntas for a Second Republic coming. He had waited to be invited by Waziri Ibrahim's Nigeria People's Party. So where was the initiative to take up leadership as Pa Awo did when he wasted no time establishing United Party of Nigeria, an offshoot of Action Group based on Awoism and the principles of Egbe Omo Oduduwa? As usual, Igbo was tardy.

So why is the Igbo presidency a big deal as if it has not been attempted before? How did Ekwueme as Vice President during the infamous Second Republic address the plight of the Igbo nation? What difference would it make, though? What difference would an Igbo president make when as Governor of Imo State, Udenwa and his nefarious administration could care less if teachers were paid their salaries or not? What difference would an Igbo president make when Udenwa's administration in Imo State would sit on salaries of civil servants? What difference would an Igbo president make when money has been the object between Chris Ngige and Chris Ubah of Anambra State? What difference would an Igbo president make when a confused bunch of Igbo Diaspora supports the persecution and annihilation of MASSOBians while the deadly gangs of Ganiyu Adams OPC are walking the streets free of charge? What difference would an Igbo president make when basic education in Igbo-related states is now a luxury? Would an Igbo president make a difference when the present South East governors have done practically nothing in their respective Igbo states?

Maybe they've done a whole lot. Who knows? Well, the Igbo saying eshi n'ishi ahiri anu uto shi explains it all. It means when people like Udenwa becomes president, teachers and civil servants will not be paid their salaries. And it also means if Nzeribe can win an election under any party platform in Orlu Senatorial district, a rat with money can do the same as well including the presidency.

The saga continues!

This article was published exclusively on September 28, 2004 during the presidential debates at BNW Magazine