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

Labor Day Fela Kuti Tribute

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Search for Keni St. George and Ozo

A whole lot of interesting stuff regarding the incubation of Nigerian music and legends of the arts have popped up, and the debates have been fascinating and engaging. It is no baby talk. It is real and serious. Comb Razor who had blogged for quite some few years now, and who I did exchange correspondence from time to time on music of our era - the 70s and 80s - is now on a documentary spree, and the characters involved is really amazing.

The 70s, however, and unquestionably, were the golden age when indigenous African music exploded universally. The local ensembles all around the continent and parts of the Caribbean enclaves took their crafts to UK and other parts of Europe with the coinage of musical categories.

From South Africa, Dudu Pukwana ran from a persecuting regime and landed in London, bringing along with him members of the Blue Notes who kept the Mbaquanga, Township music flavor afloat. With trumpeter Mongezi Feza and drummer Louis Moholo, Vertigo Records signed a newly formed Assagai.

From Ghana, Teddy Osei, Mac Tontoh, and Sol "Rhythm Man" Amarfio joined hands with their Caribbean colleagues - Wendell Richardson (Antigua), Spartacus R (Grenada)- in what would be coined Afro rock and the birth of Osibisa with a horn-driven Afrocentric funk.

And from Nigeria, many played the London gigs; and starting from the Eastside bands, Funkees, comprising of Harry "Mosco" Agada, Jake Solo and Sonny Akpan, took the bold step of relocating to London for more enhanced studio rehearsals, recordings, gigs and jam sessions.

And as that kind of popular culture became the trend, Ozo trooped in. I first heard the Ozo group, while a teenager and hanging out with my buddies when the humming sound of the single "Anambra" echoed from the DJ's box, and what I usually do in such occasions having a feel for a music I haven't heard yet, is ask who the artist(s) is/are, before a trip to the record shop for purchase.

Ozo had been rare among vintage Nigerian music from the 70s Afro Rock until lately when You Tubers began putting the acts on display. Save for "Listen to the Buddha," I haven't seen any live performances yet.

And as time passed by with the collection of music in our era - the age of crossroads and uncertainties - coupled with evolved music over time and technology, we tend to preserve the archives by keeping up to date the classics by way of music scholarship.

And growing up with the 70s Funkees, Apostles, Matata, Hugh Masekela, Osibisa, Afro Funk, Tee Mac, Thomas Mapfumo's Halleluja Chicken Run Band, Baba himself - I mean the Chief Priest Fela Kuti who coined Afro Beat; and many other casts of fine musicians at the time, and after much debates by commentators, musicologists and bloggers, Ozo seemed to have been off the radar.

On November 8, 2007, I had blogged "The Search For Ozo & The Rest" after my chit-chat with Mike Egi who had compiled a collection of old-school jams, "Flashback I & II".

Commentaries followed the blog post and still pouring in as I write. And as the comments swooped in, big time 60s/70s guitarist, Dele Olaseinde, who had been part of the 60s Clusters and early 70s sessiom man for Ofo The Black Company helping produce "Allah Wakbarr," propped founder Larry Ifedioranma as a great composer and musician. Olaseinde talked about his studio recordings with Ozo. "I was in Ozo in the early 1980s. We recorded many of the tracks at Utopia Studios in Belsize Park and Rak Studios in Charlbert Street with Ray Shell (later of Starlight Express fame) and John Mizzarolli. I probably still have many of the albums and 12" records plus a lot of rough takes on cassette," Olaseinde wrote on my blog, April 16, 2009.

"Very, very interesting to what you are revealing. Can you please shed more light because Ozo was one of my favorite groups back in the day. What happened to Keni St. George?" I responded.

"I haven't seen Keni in over 25 years. I did some session work for Ozo and a couple of other of Keni's bands. We even made a video for two tracks "Anambra River" and another track called "Skintight." I still have the VHS tape - not much to look at these days. I was really shocked to learn that J.J. Belle had passed away in 2004 - he was such a fine guitarist," wrote Olaseinde.

And telling Olaseinde "I do not know of anyone that knows the whereabout of Keni," Olaseinde responded: "Ambrose, this is a great idea and it is good to see younger people like yourself interested in Afro rock music of the early seventies, and helping to keep the music alive. There are many stories you will find quite interesting and I still play some of the songs on my guitar at home and marvel at the chord sequences and song structures. I currently work in the arts and creative industries development and I have a band called the River Niger Orchestra."

Many wondered about the whereabouts of Keni St. George. Academy Records founder, Mike Davis, had this to say about Keni: "I too have been looking for Keni St. George, as I would like to licence an Ozo song for a compilation I'm producing. If anyone could put me in touch please let me know."

On January 1, 2010, one Hannah made an anonymous post on my blog: "Hi guys, Keni St. George is my father. I'm his daughter Hannah. My family haven't seen Keni for around 14 years now but we have lots of his records including "Listen to the Buddha." If you leave me your email details I will see what I can do in terms of getting copies. I will check this site soon for any replies."

I left my email address, and some others left theirs, too, with links. I never heard from Hannah again, and do not know of any that heard from her. I ignored the post thinking of it to have been a handle. As it happened, Hannah was not a handle. Hannah is Keni St. George's daughter.

As my quest to locate Keni continued, I bumped into the daughter of one of Keni's bandmates. She is Chantelle Tracy Cummings, daughter of Vernon Cummings, one of the founders of the group, Ozo. Through Chantelle, Vernon popped up, and thus begun our e-conversation:

Me: I heard you played in the group, Ozo, in the 1970s. I would like to have a brief moment with you, if you don't mind.

Vernon Cummings: You are asking about Ozo. I was one of the founding members of Ozo until 1978. What do you want to know about Ozo?

Me: I want to know who and who made up the group and how it was formed in the 1970s, I believe. I am curious about Keni St. George whom I believe was your buddy when you wrote "Anambra." Have you seen Keni ever since? I blogged a post on Ozo in 2007 and every reader of that post wanted to know more.

Vernon Cummings: Ambrose, yes, Keni and I were buddies long before Ozo. We had a group called Danta, at the same time there was a group called Osibisa who were our rivals. We signed to CBS-Epic label. We had a few singles released, not long after the band broke up. Keni went off to work on a ship. He came back after about a year and we got together with the guys from Danta to form Ozo. Keni wrote "Listen to the Buddha" and with the help of a manager who Keni knew, we got a deal with DJM Records. "Listen to the Buddha" was released in 1976, followed by the album of the same name. To our surprise, the single was a hit in the States. It went on at No. 90, I think, on the Billboard top 100. We went on to tour Britain. Sorry, we didn't get to tour America. The good thing about the album is the track I wrote was a big hit among the clubs in New York. The track is called "Anambra" and up to today there are so many comments about that song. All the arrangements and most of the drums was done by me. When Ozo broke up, Keni reformed Ozo with some new members and re-released versions of Anambra which was released in Europe and I think Africa. He did send copies. That was about 10 years ago. Never heard from him again. He has disappeared, unless you know where he is. If you do, let me know...One love!

Me: Vernon, you mean you never had any contact with him for the last 10 years? There's one Hannah who claims to be Keni's daughter and that they haven't seen Keni for 14 years now. Are you aware of his daughter or any of his children?

Vernon Cummings: Ambrose, yes, I know of his daughters and their mother, Sue. Do you know how I can get in touch with Hannah? She would know me as Chubby, that's the name I was known as in the business.

Me: Ozo was a well known group in Nigeria, especially with the release of "Listen to the Buddha." Was the group also known in your native land of Guyana?

Vernon Cummings: Ozo was not known in Guyana as far as I remember. I didn't know we were so popular in Nigeria. After the release of the second album "Museum of Mankind," the band toured the UK during 1977. The single "Museum of Mankind" was not a hit. The record company began to lose interest upon a rubbished mangement. The managers didn't know how to manage a band and wouldn't listen to us. So at the end the band broke up.

Me: When Ozo broke up and Keni reformed Ozo, did you have any relationship with the new members in terms of session time and doing gigs together?

Vernon Cummings: I moved from London to the country and started a new life supporting my family. Keni reformed Ozo with new members and re-released the the albums with some new materials and the single Anambra in a different version. He sent me copies. As far as the members of the new Ozo, I didn't know any of them, but they sounded good. One love!

Me: Besides Osibisa you said were your rivals, there were other bands, too, that played gigs within the London metropolis. There was Matata from Kenya in which your fellow Guyanaian, tenor saxophonist, Colin Dyall was a member. There was also South African Dudu Pukwana-led Assagai. Did you get to meet them? How about Colin Dyall, ever met him?

Vernon Cummings: Ambrose, I knew these bands that was around at the time, but I regret that I didn't get to meet any members of those bands.

The search for Keni St. George and Ozo continues!