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Fiction
Ray’s submission was as expected. Having contributed several short stories to Jaguda Quarterly, the young writer’s love for blood and gore had become familiar. A cursory scan of the opening paragraph once again proved the genius with which the writer curated devastation. However, there was something unnerving about this entry. A sinister veil clung to every word, and line after line, the tale built to a tempo too haunting to dismiss. The editor reached for a cigarette, lit up, laid back on the recliner, and began reading the story a fourth time. The mandate was clear: they were to bring his head. The Hyenas understood the task. The legend had been told from generation to generation. They were the privileged ones; the ones chosen to add another glorious chapter to the legacy of the Society. The six of them waited in silence. In a few minutes, they would earn their spots in the Hyenas’ Hall of Fame and become part of the Hyenas’ thriving folklore. The would be immortalized. This was the day the Hyenas had chosen. They would rejoice and be glad in it. Church bored him. The rites and rituals were a drag. For many years he avoided any kind of congregational worship. But this day, he was left with no other choice. He had asked the hand of a retired Archbishop’s last daughter in marriage. There was no way the renowned clergyman would give his blessings anywhere else but in church. “If anyone has any reason why these two should not be joined in holy matrimony, please speak up now or forever hold your peace,” the officiating Bishop announced unrushed, each word reverberating off the cathedral walls. Having never witnessed such an objection he adjudges this portion another banal requirement that ought to be done away with. He desperately wants to yawn, but he puts up an attentive veneer, an art honed from years of practice. After all, he was going to be an Archbishop’s son-in-law. “If there is no one, then we shall proceed,” said the Bishop in a manner which showed he had done it by rote many times. “Before nko,” the groom muttered to himself as the Bishop launched a brief sermon e about the sanctity of marriage. He heard without really listening and waited for the only part that mattered to him. “Do you, Adeagbo David, take Ilekhomon Elizabeth, as your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?” “I do,” he answered with a depth and fullness in his voice, as he looked into the eyes of his pretty bride. She blushed, and cast a glance at the diamond-encrusted ring resting on her fourth finger. The Bishop turned to her and repeated the same lines. “I do,” she replied and the church came alive with a standing ovation. “You may now kiss the bride,” the Bishop shouted above the thunderous applause. That was the sign they had been waiting for. Six of them got out of the mini bus and jogged towards the east entrance of the cathedral. They approached with axes in hand, chanting the Creed of the Hyenas in unison, “…to do as told, to defend as needed, to fight, to die, to kill, to protect, whatever it may cost me, even the ultimate price, to defend the honour of the Hyenas worldwide.” Sighting them, congregants seated close to the entrance sprang up in a frenzy and pandemonium ensued. Soon, the hysteria spread across the massive cathedral like a tidal wave. Horror had come to church. He heard the familiar chant from afar. It was something from his past, from a dark corner of his life he never wanted to relive. He saw them as he turned towards the exit. They look like a Nollywood version of The Expendables: purple bandanas tied across prominent foreheads, taut biceps encased in snug black T-shirts. They look exactly the way he must have looked that Friday afternoon fourteen years ago. Akeem became the Amir of the Muslim Students’ Society, Federal University of Lagos in the latter part of 2002. Smallish and whippet-thin with a brush of goatee on a narrow face, the Amir was respected by his ummah but fiercely avoided by the rest of the student populace because of his aggressive views on campus gangsterism. Sermon after sermon, he berated the evil and swore that given the chance he would do everything within his powers to rid the institution of the menace. That vehement commitment had compelled him into the student union, where he was eventually elected President of the Students’ Union Government; thanks to the massive support of his course mates in Mass Communication –the largest department on campus- and the Muslim student society. It was then they began to call him Alfa Aluta. He couldn’t have asked for a better nickname. Alfa Aluta went after known and suspected cultists with cut-throat ferocity. Many were arrested, some were dismissed from school while others faced legal prosecution and ended up behind bars. Many more were forced to publicly denounce their membership. In one semester, the university was purged. Fellow students cheered him on and the authorities applauded his quest. He became a hero. But he had made enemies amongst the various fractured confraternities. Only one cult group mustered enough leverage to take him on. They called themselves the Hyenas. The rumour mill had it that the Brotherhood of the Hyenas sought to avenge the ridicule their members had suffered at Alfa Aluta’s hands. From a different campus, they set up a strike force of six and went after the unionist. One Friday afternoon, as he left the mosque after juma’at, Alfa Aluta was shot dead. Two quick fire shots to the chest brought him down. The riots that followed his murder were unprecedented in the University’s history. Property belonging to suspects were vandalized and or looted. Cars were set on fire. The halls thought to be housing the culprits were burnt down. Those believed to be girlfriends of the cultists were publicly assaulted. Anarchy was set loose. To arrest the tension, the Vice Chancellor announced an indefinite closure of the campus. And everyone went home. Days later, it was announced that the 6 suspects had been rounded up across four different campuses and taken into police custody. Five of them died while in custody. Only one escaped. Word got around that he was escorted out of the country by a team of police officers. It turned out he was the only son of the State’s Commissioner of Police. It didn’t take long for the Hyenas to gather that it was the boy who ratted them out. The Brotherhood declared him persona non grata amongst the rank and file of confraternities and a pledge was made to ensure the renegade paid for the breach of trust with his life. The editor rubbed his eyes as the familiarity of the story hit home. Memories flooded him with astonishing clarity. He got up from the recliner and peered down the length of the swimming pool. There was no soul in sight. But he knew he was not alone. He could smell death, like the smell of a decaying rat in a stuffy room. “Hi, Davo,” a voice came out of the gloom. The editor froze and peered into the darkness. No one had called him Davo since he had been smuggled out of the country years ago. And no one had, since he returned some 8 months back. “It’s been a while, brother,” the voice said. Six silhouettes stepped out of the shadows. Five of them held small axes, while the sixth was armed with a sawed-off shotgun. David could barely make out the bandanas on their heads. Hyenas! “Guys, please. Don’t do this. Please my brothers…” The eerie slide of metal over metal stopped him as the one with the pump action readied his weapon. Ignoring his growing panic, they began to recite the Creed. “…to do as told, to defend as needed, to fight, to die, to kill, to protect, whatever it may cost me…” He had forgotten all about the finality of the Creed. In that instant, he broke into a run. The pump action went to work. The bullet carved a fist sized hole through his spin and slammed his fleeing form forward against the tiled floor. The shooter stepped close to the fallen man. Ignoring the feverish twitches of his victim’s body, he pulled back the barrel, chambered the next cartridge and pumped another round of shots into the editor’s forehead, splattering his brains all over the floor. Satisfied, they faded into the shadows. They had earned their legend. The text message had just one word: DONE. Fourteen years of pain and vengeance had been finally put to rest. Rasheedah rose from bed, and did ablution. She then threw her hijab around her head and rolled out her prayer mat. She would make prayers for the repose of her dear brother’s soul,the one they called Alfa Aluta, the one who first called her Ray. “Inna Lillahiwainnailaihiraji’un,” she began. A dam of grief bursts giving way to streams of tears. Bankole writes to live. Winner of the Christmas Nostalgia Contest (Naija Stories 2012); Finalist, Farafina New African Writing contest (2013); Gold Winner, Young Lagos Advertising Ideas Festival (young LAIF 2012); Winner, Miami Ad School Scholarship competition (2014); he currently works in Corporate Communications of a foremost Insurance Company. His short stories have been featured in a couple of anthologies including the ANA Review (2013), Of Tears and Kisses, a collection of short stories on Naija Stories (2012), A Basket of Tales, a Benue ANA publication (2015), amongst others. twitter: @banky_writes
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Fiction
Her husband’s dirty clothes from yesterday are still unwashed. The children will soon return from school and lunch is not ready yet. Mama Osas picks up the match box from the trolley close to her television, the cellophane of salt, her container of Maggi and another of ground pepper and heads towards the kitchen. Maybe I go just make yam for them, or small concoction rice. I no get power to cook another thing. She has been sleeping since everyone left the house. Rest only comes in snatches when her husband and children are out. The kitchen is located at the back of the ‘face me I face you’ house, not far away from the toilet. “Mama John, good afternoon o”, she greets her neighbor who is engrossed in the song as she washes the mountain of clothes in front of her, her movements synchronized to the song. Her stove is on a cabinet for easy access because of her condition. Her hand impulsively caresses her baby bump and she smiles. She is carrying a messiah, a savior, the son who will remove suffering from her life. Everything suddenly has been good for the past few months. Her husband refrains from hitting her, scared that he might hurt his son. All he does is throw insults instead of the blows that had been her portion during the other pregnancies. This boy is special, and is to be protected from harm. Someone touches her lightly on the arm. It is Mama John asking if everything is fine. “No mind me jare. I dey fine, I just dey think some things.” She picks up a tuber of yam and starts peeling. “You see as papa Gift take beat mama Gift this morning?” Mama John says. She ignores her. “You dey hear me so?” “Me? Na wetin you talk?” “Where your mind even dey sef? Na wa o. I say whether you no see as Papa Gift take hammer Mama Gift this morning?” Mama Osas rolls her eyes and replies, “I hear o, wetin happen sef?” “Wetin happen? Wetin dey happen for that house wey pass Gift? Me I no even know who that man marry sef, whether na Gift abi na Mama Gift.” “Ehen? So na Gift make am wan kill him wife this morning?” “Yes na. Gift been dey complain say she no wan go wan go school, naim her Mama beat am. Papa Gift wey no know wetin happen for the matter, just hear him pikin dey cry, e no even ask wetin happen, e just give the wife pow for face!” A sudden stab of pain makes Mama Osas drop her knife. “Yes o, na so the surprise sef take catch me. You dey drop knife, me wey almost drop my pot of soup nko? I thank God sha say e nor fall, because for this economy, my husband for just kill me throwaway!” Another stab of pain hits. Experience from having three children tells Mama Osas what is happening. She picks up her knife and continues peeling, faster now. “Na so o. That girl ehn, as she small so, every time her mama go dey cry because of am. Na everything wey she want the Papa dey give am.” Mama Osas grunts. “I even hear say Papa Gift dey touch him pikin,” Mama John whispers. “Na die that man dey find so. Him go just die throwaway. Tufiakwa!” Mama John moves a hand in a circular motion round her head and snaps her fingers to express the abomination. Mama Osas stops peeling suddenly. Athink they tell me say make I begin come hospital once I smell labour make my pikin for no die? She packs everything including the yam peels back into the cabinet. “Mama Osas, wetin you dey do?” “Nothing o.” She remembers that for some reason Mama John is always around when she’s having a baby. She won’t let that happen this time. “This one wey you dey squeeze your face so…” “Na nothing o, na so I dey do my face sometimes o, I no even know why.” Mama Osas returns to her room with hands still dirty from peeling yam and picks up the nylon bag holding her delivery items that had been carefully arranged for more than a month. Minutes later she walks out of her room and jams the door shut, then walks out the compound. She bites her lower lip from groaning aloud as she waits for an okada. One stops for her after a few minutes. “Madam you dey go?” “Yes o. Fate Hospital.” “Hope everything dey ok.” “Just carry me go,” she says. “Na one fifty o” he says, his face changing from concern to annoyance at her tone.” “Ehn? 150 ke? Wetin them dey carry fifty naira?” “You dey go abi you wan talk story?” “Oya make I give you 100 naira,” she says. He kicks his bike in preparation to zoom off.” “Oya carry me make we go.” In ten minutes, they are at the hospital. Mama Osas only finds a two hundred naira note in her wallet and hurries inside without waiting to collect her change. Immediately she enters the reception, she screams, “Labour o! Labour o!” nurses come to her aid. “Na our patient she be?” the younger nurse asks. “Yes, she register for here.” “You no serious o. So if I no register for here nko? You no go answer me abi?” Mama Osas raises her voice, releasing some of the pain she has been suppressing for almost an hour. “Madam no be so, na new nurse be this,” the other nurse says. “She just start work yesterday na im make she dey ask. How your body?” “Na im you dey see so o, make this boy comot for my body make I rest.” “God go do am for you, na small small,” the new nurse says. The doctor on duty came out as soon as he was informed about Mama Osas’s presence. She screams immediately she sets eyes on him. “Doctor my boy wan come out o.” The doctor smiles. “Take her to the labour room and get everything set. Call me when she is ready.” Dr. Esele walks into the ward. Inside, a woman sits on the edge of her bed staring at a newborn inside a crib just beside the bed. She turns when she becomes aware of his presence and looks up at him. He nods in answer to her unspoken query. Everything is fine. *** Mama Osas is tired from pushing for so long. It has never been this difficult for her. A part of her mind reminds the fact that this is a boy, and she relaxes before summoning all her strength for a mighty heave. “I see the head,” Dr Esele says. “Keep pushing.” A baby wails. She’s done it, finally. Her son is here, her world will change for the better. She watches as the doctor takes the baby from the nurse who is going to clean him up. “I’ll handle this myself. This is one special baby.” Mama Osas smiles. The cry of a baby snaps Dr. Esele to the present and he looks at the child being stretched towards him. “He’s yours now, thank you for this precious little girl,” the woman says with a British accent while staring at the baby who is now in the crib the boy once occupied. Dr. Esele starts rocking the boy in his arms so he can stop crying. “Hope she’s fine? No complications?” “She’s fine,” he assures her. “We need to leave now because the new mother will want to see her son.” “Of course,” she says. She retrieves a suitcase from beneath the bed and drops it on the bed. “This is yours, five million naira cash, as agreed.” Dr. Esele drops the baby on the bed and opens the suitcase. His eyes widen at the number of freshly minted one thousand naira notes in one place. “Thank you for doing this for me,” the woman says. “It means a lot.” Gently she lifts the little baby from the crib and cuddles her. “What can I say?” Dr. Esele asks. We thank God.” He locks the suitcase with care and picks up the baby, dressed in a coverall that isn’t part of the things Mama Osas brought. Of course he has an explanation for that already. “This is it then. We part ways to never see again.” “Of course,” he answers. In his mind they have never met. He doesn’t even know her name, she never told him. She walks out of the room and with the baby in one arm and her bag in the other, looking back one last time to ensure she’s forgotten nothing behind. Never again will she go through the ordeal, this is her last child. Never again will she care for a child only to have him die in her arms. One is better off with a healthy daughter, than a sickly son. Linda Orajekwe is a graduate of English language and literary studies from Lagos State University. A social media manager and a Journalist with a certificate in public relations from the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations. She promotes the African culture and literature through her blog www.linorajj.com. When Linda is not writing, reading, beading, sewing or talking, she’s definitely watching a movie or looking for shadows to chase. 
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Series
This series takes a keen look at Nigerians, home and abroad, who have made a name for themselves in any particular endeavor that relates to art and how their arts impact popular culture.  The portrait of President Barack Obama will soon go up in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and the former president personally chose Nigerian painter Kehinde Wiley to paint him. Kehinde Wiley, who painted a lot of the arts found in popular series “Empire” took up the paint brush at age 11 when he enrolled in an art class and frequented Museums. His regular visits to the Museum made him conscious of the lack of representation of brown faces in the portraits, and even at that young age, his keen sense of self built in him an understanding of the role of power and privilege or its dynamics in art.  Kehinde Wiley’s Art is bold, very colourful and tries to present comtemporary culture in a backdrop of classic art, all in the quest to open the door into a world his likes were never invited to. Kehinde Wiley’s Mother is an American woman who met his dad, a Nigerian, at UCLA. Kehinde Wiley, obviously, is a twin (Kehinde is the name given to the first child of a set of twins by the Yorubas). He was born in South Central L.A and earned his B.F.A from Yale. As if that isn’t improbable enough, Wiley is one of the most commercially successful artists of his generation. Wiley’s Art is a history Laden representation of the present, with insights from popular culture. Some of his subjects are popular black individuals that includes MJ, LL Cool J, Biggie, Eto’o amongst others, painted on a backdrop of decorative patterns; arts and crafts; fabrics and floral designs that are sourced from all over the world. He is also known to do ‘street casting’. In Wiley’s arts, the ‘very’ white Kings and saints of Classical protrature are reborn as Blacks; possessing the same pose and dignity, but with modern attires to represent contemporary culture. The thrones and crowns are replaced with blings and Nikes. 20150220161406-EL137.63 His work has been likened to that of Markelene Thomas – the Brooklyn based painter whose complex rhinestone and acrylic paintings of black women draws heavily from pop culture, and the late Jean Michel Basquat who reconstructed arts by pulling strings from his origins. But Wiley’s Pastiche paintings bear more resemblance, theoretically, to the controversial works of Barkley Hendricks in the 70’s. Like Hendricks’, Wiley’s work is also deemed controversial by some critics. They are quick to point out that his paintings, especially the inclusion of designer labels, are too pop culture infused to be regarded as high arts. In an interview with the New York Times, Wiley answered: “Fashion is fragile and fleeting, but it is also an indicator for the cultural and social appetite for a nation.” He went further in an interview with NPR, “Why take it out? The brands people wear are serious business.” But the issue or question as regards the measure of his assistants’ involvement in his paintings are not so easy to answer, and won’t go away anytime soon. The patterns in his works, a mainstay of his style as much as anything else, are painted by these assistants in a studio in China. It leaves a lot of unanswered questions about the involvement of outsiders in his art, and the quality of the patterns sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. And while Wiley has chosen to paint the everyday, or the powerless, the fact he is set to paint a former President, especially one as iconic as Obama is a testament, not only to his talent, but to his unwavering and triumphant believe in the inclusivity of art. Western Arts, Wiley believes, has ignored brown faces and he sees it as as a duty to change that history, until blackness or brownness is as much a thing in Museums as whiteness. And it has to be said that he is succeeding, and in doing so has become one of the influential artist of the 21st century.
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Series
This is a weekly feature where we take a look at someone, something or a period that has changed humanity. This week being Stephen Hawking’s birthday, we look at his Ted talk, which seems like the perfect culmination of both his life’s work and his ubiquitous scientific mind.   Sometimes – oftentimes infact, the best way to move forward is to question our answers, even the most mundane and assured. Having an open mind illuminates a path that leads, not only to self discovery, but also to an understanding of the future. Stephen Hawking was a brilliant theoretical Physicist, who, even at 76, had possesses one of the soundest minds in human history, and that, despite a body riddled and made helpless by Lou Gehrig’s disease. Yet, he still manages to put his best foot forward in his inquisitive quest to not only ask the difficult questions, but also the unanswerable. He once surmised: “My life’s work has been to unify the theories of the very large and the very small. Only then can we answer the more challenging questions: Why are we here? Where did we come from?” Stephen Hawking, who was Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge was born in 1942 in England, and spent his life trying to answer the ultimate question – “Why are we here?” and “What does the future holds?” No one knows why we are here, and the tale of the beginning of life, while traced to the big bang – an expansion of the singularity that exploded and expanded the universe – part of which our planet is, hasn’t really resulted in answering any of the questions. That didn’t stop Stephen Hawkings though. That answer and many more are found in his brilliant Ted talk where he tries to ponder the answers.
This brings me to the last of the big questions: the future of the human race. If we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy, we should make sure we survive and continue. But we are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history. Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million. 
You can watch the TED Talk below.
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Fiction
It’s been one of those days. The kind of day that leaves me feeling undervalued, undermined, and feeling that I deserve better than what I’m getting from the tyrants who call themselves my employers. I’m wondering whether I’m actually cut out for the career path I chose, or whether I missed the call when it came to determining professions. I am scared of failing, scared of ending up as an also-ran, scared of letting down my family and myself. I could end up choking to death on these depressing thoughts if I remain seated behind this office desk, so  I decide to take a walk to clear my head. Hands in pocket, earphones plugged, playlist swinging from John Mayer’s “Stop This Train” to The Script’s “Breakeven”, I look for a different perspective, a new distraction, something to save my mind from the drudgery that is paid employment. “Okpa di oku. Okpa di oku!” The call pierces through my earphones, and ultimately interrupts my thoughts. She is selling a meal which is a distant cousin of moin-moin though made from a different plant, and more filling. I stand and stare at her and my eyes meet hers. She walks in my direction, assuming my interest is in buying what she has to sell. A smile finds its way to my face as I inhale the steamy aroma of her stock. It reminds me of the city to which the meal is indigenous, of a phase in my life and of a girl named Oge. I first ran into her three years ago at a students’ conference; one of those conferences where youths gathered for purposes other than the central theme. I needed the distraction; I was in my final semester and my project supervisor happened to be competing with the villain in Maleficient to see who was meaner so I took the trip to ease my mind. Then again, the host university was located in a city of which I knew nothing about except its popularity for coal and limestone and I wanted to find out more for myself. I had been drawn to her wit, and despite her attempts to ward me off, finding my overconfidence annoying, I found ways to bump into her for a better part of the three days the conference lasted. I was in a camera-happy moodand even when she did not want to, she ended up in my phone’s photo gallery. My stubbornness ultimately paid off, and by the time I made the return journey to school, my contact list had a new addition. The four-hour trip from coal country to Ancient sands had Oge’s image dominating my thoughts, and while I faced the last lap of my undergraduate sojourn, I longed to see her again. There was something in those eyes that reminded me of Nse Ikpe Etim, there was the nose I wanted to rub with mine, and there was all the sarcasm I could not get enough of. As Fate would have it, we had a chance to choose the location for the next phase of our academic pursuit, in our quest to become lawyers. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity; I chose Coal City. I got what I wished for, and while that branch of the Nigerian Law School was not the most conducive in terms of infrastructure, there was something to look forward to on weekends. My first official weekend in Coal City had coincided with Oge’s birthday, and I remember telling Clara, a friend whom I had accompanied for shopping at the city mall, to help take my purchases back to school, as I had something ‘urgent’ to attend to. “If I don’t return by 8pm, something is wrong,”I told Clara. I met with Oge at a secluded area of the city mall upon Clara’s exit, and she told me of how her birthday was shaping up to be a bore-fest. I took a ride with her on the mall’s roller coaster and gave her a treat, all too glad to save the day. I returned to the campus by 9pm that day, Clara and my other colleagues wearing huge cloaks of worry on their faces. I was right; something was wrong. Oge was what had gone wrong with me. More trips to the heart of the city on weekends followed, accompanied by long phone calls, but while I flashed all the signals, her heart refused to switch from red to green. I eventually poured out my feelings in black and white, but my application for admission into Oge’s emotional space was turned down. As is the usual reaction when a man’s love is unrequited, I withdrew, cutting off all forms of communication. This did not last long though. Just when I thought I had her out of my head, text messages with the words “I miss you” flowed in. I began to hope again, and laced my love-boots. In my opinion, there was still a chance of being Oge’s significant other. My fondness for Oge began to reflect in my attitude to the city. The “okpa” began to taste better, especially when washed down with a 35cl bottle of Coca-cola. The city lights became brighter, the roads appeared smoother, I fell in love with music from Phyno, and places like Trans-Ekulu, Nike Lake and Independence. Layout began to appeal to me. Heck, I even joined in fervent prayers when the governor of the state was away from the country, unable to perform his official duties due to a mysterious illness. In spite of the long nights out however, red light never turned to green, and in time, I threw in the towel, channelling the energy to my academics. I was however civil enough to provide room for one last rendezvous; after my make-or-mar professional examinations, I delayed my journey home by a few days, agreeing to spend time with Oge in one of the city’s half-decent guest houses. It was in one of those suites that I found out the reason why she had refused to grant a lease of her heart: someone was already in residence. Twenty-months have passed since I last set my eyes on Oge. Communication is infrequent, but nothing, nothing beats physical contact. Technology can only do so much, and phone calls don’t give me the chance to stroke her hair. I miss her to bits, and the feeling is mutual, but circumstances are a lot different now, and wishes remain wishes. Now I don’t plan to steal love away from anyone, but I am just saying that if Oge opened even one of her emotional windows, I would jump right in. I know her heart is someone else’s, but I wouldn’t mind being allotted just a corner of the room, with a little mat to lay on. I get curious;I want to find out just how her brand of lipstick tastes, how flexible she is and how fast her pulse can get. “Okpa di oku! Oga, i-nwe-ne?” I look up. The woman’s eyes nurse hope that I will buy from her. I shake my head and smile, not because her okpa is inferior or not steamy enough, but because I fear that after eating, I just might be tempted to board a bus to Coal City, just to get a chance to rub my nose against Oge’s. This first appeared on Kalahari Review. Ifeanyi Jerry Chiemeke is a lawyer and freelance writer who lives in Lagos. A foodie and enthusiast of the Fine Arts as well, Jerry’s works have been featured on Brittlepaper and The Kalahari Review
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Features
Just before the elections that brought in the current administration to power, Nigerians were told that the APC Candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari was not going to participate in any debate. Many were shocked; some saw nothing untoward about it, and even excused it. While the rest decided to ignore what it meant. Instead, the APC released a manifesto, that in hindsight, now looked more of fiction than words born of meticulous planning, and backed by research or serious political will. I remember watching events unfold with a palpable disinterest. We had been there before, and I believed, wrongly, that Nigerians had little to say in the political process that brought Politicians to power. And I wasn’t alone. And I have come to realize certain Politicians bank on such thoughts to win. They bank on our disinterest, which gives them the baton with which they control the narrative and subsequently, the results. Buhari, who had contested the Presidential elections three times prior to 2015 and lost all, won the APC’S primary by beating Kano State Governor Rabiu Kwakwanso, Former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, and Rochas Okorocha, without much as  articulating his plans for the country. His biggest attributes were not his ability to sway with his words, or his intellectual sagacity, but the perception of him as a sort of savior, especially in the North. He was what you could call a populist candidate, adapted into Nigeria’s inherent peculiarities, and therein lied my scepticism.  Populism elevates the individual over the system; and tries to sell a notion of a messiah that is all knowing and who has the sole attributes to bring change. Buhari successfully styled himself as the man who was incorruptible and who has an active disdain for the elites who have been plundering our resources for the better part of the country’s independence. Even though it took a coalition with former PDP party members for him to stand a chance in the election, Buhari directed most of his angst against the same ruling elites, taking great pains to contrast himself with them. In a speech to APC delegates just before the election, he said; “while some who have occupied those same positions have grown mysteriously rich, I still live on my army pension. I own no companies profiting from government contracts.” “I am what you see before you – a simple man who believes in serving both God and his country. A man who is impatient for change, who loves Nigeria and seeks to serve it once again.” Buhari, rode on his wave of  popularity in the North, and then made the right coalitions in the south and West to win just enough to be declared President. It mattered little that for all his years outside power, he had little to show for it, and his economic policies while he was head of state was neither here nor there. Without much evidence to back himself up besides the cliche, he still managed to control the narrative that he was a savior ready to rid Nigerians of corrupt elites. In 2011, Goodluck Jonathan, then the Vice-President campaigned with something almost akin to his successor.  Even though he had been in around the corridors of power for the better part of the decade, and had benefited from it, he still ironically, and successfully painted himself as an outsider. He was obviously helped by the so called “Cabal” during the last days of Yara Dua who tried to stop him from becoming President, even though it was the constitutional thing to do. His viral campaign about having no shoes, and his journey from grass to grace had one end game – to make him look like the ordinary Nigerian who has but his dreams and hopes, and in Jonathan’s case, also a good name that brought him luck. Not to mince words, Jonathan was no outsider and the whole “no shoes” was to sell us a poor candidate. He had been deputy Governor and then later, Governor of Bayelsa State. Yet, somehow, they managed to control the narrative so much so that Churches and even Comedians started using him as an example of the will of God and the importance of giving your child a positive name. My thought then, and still my believe now, is that any candidate with his years in power who has little or zero tangibles to show, and still has to pander, mostly, to the emotional and intangibles, has to be questioned, vigorously. And I see us making the same mistakes again. One of the biggest mistakes we could make, is to allow those who colluded to plunder our common wealth and were rightly butted out in almost emphatic fashion, to reinvent themselves, not only as beacons of good governance, but as the only true hope of the common man. We should not allow them control that narrative. If not, then we haven’t learnt anything, and history will mock us, before repeating itself, loudly.
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Features
When an anonymous person paid the bail to grant David Henry Thoreau his freedom, the writer was angry, appalled even. A non-conformist and a firm believer in civil disobedience, Thoreau was in prison because he refused to pay his tax, in defiance over the American-Mexican war. Thoreau, a writer, poet, conservationist, inventor,you and surveyor was also a mis-normal in every sense, and had very few friends, one of which was the writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson. When Emerson visited him in prison, Thoreau asked his friend why he wasn’t behind bars, too. Thoreau had famously said “for a Government that imprisons one unjustly, the place for the just man is also the prison.” Once released, Thoreau went on to write what is surely one of the most influential, politically at least, piece, of not only his time, but of all time. His “Civil Disobedience,” which states his antagonism for a government that uses his taxes to wage an immoral war still speaks through the ages, and remains one essay whose potency is as palpable today as it was when Martin Luther King took a page out of it during the American Civil Rights Movement. Or when Mohandas Gandhi read and was inspired enough by it to tailor Indian’s fight for independence from the British around civil resistance instead of armed Gorilla tactics that was the norm around the world at the time. Writers are the gatekeepers of an era – the foundation upon which the epoch of beauty and obscenity are laid – they are a reminder of our antiquity and renaissance – the human flowery of truthful rites, and sensitivity. “All writing are political,” George Orwell famously said. And he couldn’t have been more right. If you add the Bible and Quran to the long catalogue of writings that has changed our political society, then you see that the writer, consciously or unconsciously, are the real change drivers. But not always for good. While Adolf Hitler was serving a prison time for treason, he began writing what would later be called “Mein Kempt” – a poorly written tirade against everything non-German, especially Jewish. And once in power, he went into great pains to disseminate the book, compulsorily making it a gift to every newly married couple and soldier in Germany. Its wide readership and acceptance as a manifesto paved the way for Germany invading Poland. The book – a massive propaganda, was published at a moment when post WW1 Germany was uncertain about its place in the world, and this made it resonate with many and gave the Nazis some form of political authority, which they happily wielded. The written word first emerged in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) around 3500 – 3000 BCE as a form of marks on wet clay tablets. This initially was represented by signs, which primarily gave rations to be counted, but later developed into complex combination of word and signs around 2600 BCE. The later development allowed more ideas to be passed and made understanding them much easier. While the earliest form was developed to aid accounting, writing or literature in the Far East, China and Mesoamerica only developed as a way to record name of individuals, with an eye on the afterlife. The first known written word (not a sign) was “Meskalamdug” which stood for “Puabi, Queen,” on a stone seal in a tomb. This was meant to immortalize the deceased which in Sumerian culture meant a secured afterlife. But the written word has since taken more importance, especially in spreading awareness and changing the status quo – from the Magna Carta, and then Johannes Gutenberg invention of the Printing Press (1440) which was a precursor to Martin Luther’s 95 thesis (1517), which changed the face of religion forever, a lot of writing has taken political bent, and has tried to either change or promote the status quo. For most repressive Governments, the number one state enemy is the writer or the intellectual. Unlike the militias and the burgees, the writer has in her repertoire, a most potent of all weapons – a device, better than any in chronicling a people’s barbarity and displaying it in the light of history – a writer is armed, not with AK47, but with the ability to sway history towards the path of truth. The writer has the written word. Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience hinges on the principle of Moral Contagion – which assumes that civil resistance would have a moral impetus on the conscience of others and institutions, and that the individual is interrelated to the society, and then tries to raise the consciousness of every citizen to the later. Unlike his mentor, Emerson who believed a moral man is separate from the large society, Thoreau wrote that a just man is inseperatable from the society and that an injustice to one is a disservice to all. As a writer he tried to raise the consciousness of people, and in doing so, wrote his name into the history books. From Trump to the Kremlin; and from Iran to Nigeria, Civil disobedience has now become the citizen’s go to rite against oppressive governments or rules, while the oppressor have also discovered a most potent weapon – disinformation, or fake news. And it is also writers that are employed to create and pass the dis-information.  So the role of the writer, in our age, has become ever more critical – you can either inform or dis-inform. But the danger lies in the fact that shedding people from the truth dulls their consciousness, and ultimately, their political will. A writer should be a composite of independent thinking that strays not where the path leads, but where the pen tips.
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Fiction
Kanyinsola thought long and hard about it. There he was, long and hard. And fretful. And she thought about this fretfulness, his fretfulness, long, and hard. For the duration of a blink she panicked at the enormity of it all. What had she gotten herself into? Na mistake to get boyfriend again? True, a woman’s “nothing” can mask plenty. True, a woman appreciates a man who isn’t fooled by the cutaneousness of things. True, she appreciates, every now and then, the constant, genuine (from the looks of it)concern (unusual in men) for her wellbeing, as though her wellbeing were inextricable from his. But still. A woman needs her introspection every now and again, needs to live in the pond of her own head, unrippled by pebble boyfriends. Sometimes they need to understand the skies cloud over for the fun of it. She was furious and wanted, like an electron being slapped around by photons, to break free of her ground-state calm. She wanted to rent her tank top, beneath which she was naked. She wanted to fling at a wall something that could shatter. She wanted to burn things that could pop and whistle. She wanted to scream screams that each could lacerate a larynx. She did none of these, sorely though she was tempted. Instead she lay still, contenting herself with her ground state, the back of her head nestling in the weave of her ten fingers, staring up beyond the ceiling into something unknown. She had not imagined it was this pathological a need, this need for Lanre to seek a personal Nirvana through the Eight-fold Path of her psychological wellbeing. Or his perceptions of it. She had not imagined Lanre to be the kind of guy  who doesn’t feel in a relationship, feels less of a lover, is emasculated, if he isn’t putting out fires. But maybe it gives him sustenance. After all, did some fires no burn without smoke telling on them? Lanre is a first responder, his love as intense as the high sun at noon arriving hose blazing, many times at nothing. All it takes for the battery of questions to arrive is for her to drop the intensity of her liveliness (necessary every now and then; no one can be bubbly all their life). Are you ok? Ehn? What’s wrong? What is it? I’m here for you, you know? I’m your G (H,I,J,K ad nauseam, emphasis on the nausea). Talk to me baby. I can tell when something’s wrong with you. Talk to me. Shut up. Just shut the hell up. That, is what is now wrong with me. So what if they’d earlier done Tarkwa Bay in all its tranquil glory? It was her first time out on the sea, and those canoes with out-board engines masquerading as boats hadn’t helped matters. Not one tiny bit. She’d latched on to Lanre like a leech latches on to whatever a leech latches on to as the water rushed past, immediate and psychedelic in its terror. One by one, the horizon ate up Lagos Island’s citadels of capital. Sea-faring ships on the way to the high seas slithered past tooting gruffly their horns. God, they were slow. And gigantic! Oyinbos in sailboats sailed past. It could only be them. Oyinbos. Some daredevil boatmen went even faster than the boat she was in, jumping, borne by the unseen hands of giant waves. Then shore. Finally, shore. She got used to the water soon, egged on by Lanre. The receding water pulled the sand from beneath her feet. She giggled. They kissed. The salt stung her eyes and relented. She wandered farther from shore, farther into the turning and turning sea (this is the only beach at which you can try this and not become plankton, Lanre said). She jumped into waves, ducked under some. Some slammed into her. Sent her clawing and kicking to right herself. She shrieked with glee. They kissed – hugging tightly – as if to squeeze the life out of each other. She felt a oneness with this nebulous, endless thing. It was how omo omis must feel. It was home. She belonged here. Right here at the hem of this turbulent calm. It had been exhilarating. No, it had been exhilarating! So what? Back home, she’d retreated into her shell, for no reason really. Her mood had just called timeout Inexplicably. Nothing was going on. She wasn’t even tired. She just did not want to talk. Why would he not just get it? She’d told him nothing was wrong eight times now, EIGHT TIMES! But he still wouldn’t give her space to breathe (talk to me baby, he implored again, as if on cue, and she resisted the strong urge to exhale dramatically and roll her eyes). And this when he knows she isn’t the kind of girl to play girl with her feelings. But it never stops him. Perhaps his selflessness is a circular selflessness – an elaborate selfishness, a from-me-to-youback-to-me, a selflessness whose ultimate end was not her but him, a selflessness that was the ying to the yang of his turbulent mind. His inextricable linkage of their wellbeing probably made sense this way. They’d met at a training thing, one of the many things banks are obliged to subject their personnel to – not that you could tell that some of them had undergone any training at all. You naturally deferred to him. He exuded a centripetal influence. Things revolved around him and tended towards his centre. It hadn’t been a surprise when he was made group leader. She had woven scenarios in her head long before he came to sit beside her one training afternoon, her Arsenal key-ring the Judas who kissed Jesus. I see you around. You don’t say much but your face betrays you. What are you hiding… and you support Arsenal? Have you written your will yet? She learnt in two months. That, one – he was magnetic in public. That, two – he was an unsure, fretful thing in private. Just what the link was between these two personas was the e=mc2 she was searching for. And now he wanted a fire, firefighter’s axe swinging, waterhose raring at the orgasm. Fine. She would do better. She would give him a fucking inferno, something that roared and bucked and heaved, like Sango, or anyone who could be lord and husband of the mother of all things turbulent. She could go down the Biodun route. Biodun has been calling me, she could say, still looking beyond the ceiling. He would recoil slightly, even if he quickly gathers himself. They’d swapped ex stories in those early days, censoring just enough details, tucking backdated jealousies behind a veil of mirth that sometime slipped. She’d dated Biodun for three long years, till he left for England, too suddenly quickly, like, you know, a plane falling out of the skies. Not that she had wished him any ill. Biodun, who had been able to upset her equilibrium by the simple act of existence. And unbalanced, she had needed him—required him even—to sit ever closer to her fulcrum. Till suddenly he left her upended, clutching. Till he left her flailing wildly. She had since peeled a patch of bark from around the trunk of that tree of memory. She’d salted it, copiously. That tree had wilted and withered. She’d hacked the carcass into morsels which she fed into a funeral pyre. The ashes were loaded, meticulously, into urns which were swallowed by the sea, under the surveillance of dry, pensive eyes. It sounds straightforward now, but it had taken a whole lot more than five sentences to get over him. I’ve always believed it’s a waste of energy hating someone we once professed to love, Lanre would offer, joying in this new fire, pyrophiliac that he was. What’s the point? Well, here’s the real point, she would not reply, both love and hate are a misapplication of energy. A misplacement of priorities. He’s coming back to Nigeria, she could continue, tone as uniform as North Koreans, the implication so low-hanging he could gnaw at it with his teeth, because, why else would she be telling him? The silence would be one of those tense silences, a silence so silent you knew something shocking had to jump out of it. Out the corner of her eye she would see him squirm, unsure how to confront this new reality, this lapping fire, this impending loss. Or she could travel down that well-worn path, condoms not being one of Lanre’s favourite things. (To tell the truth, she couldn’t blame him – skinny dipping is just too good, too involved, too involving, too agricultural, to wrap-up in things inhibiting and plastic. Biodun had once compared it to eating a banana with the skin intact.) Lanre prides himself on control, keeping a tight rein about his wits. He reckons he knows just when to detach his module so things don’t balloon out of shape. And there is always Postinor, never mind the accusation in the eyes of those salesgirls. Never mind the conspiratorial whisper with which they suggest she put the pack in a black bag. Never mind that last time around it prolonged the Suicide of Spurned Eggs by two too many days, with the extra cramps and padding and all. But best laid plans also go awry. Safety itself has blind spots. Something could slip in and swim all the way. They say condoms aren’ entirely failsafe, that there’s always a smidgen of a chance something could squeeze through. The Postinor could be mere placebo, Postinor only in its nondescript whiteness, this being Nigeria after all. Or shit could just be written in your stars. All of which meant that one never could be quite sure what wasn’t what. Except you weren’t doing shit at all. And so Kanyinsola turned into Lanre, so she could look him not in the eye, but between the eyes, that point from where the nose grows down into a nose. Tongues of fire danced upon his face. The pyrophiliac brightened at the kindling of the fire he had always suspected was burning, hemmed her legs in with one leg, and pushed into her so she could feel the tautness, the alertness, of his body. I’m pregnant, said Kanyinsola, having arranged her face into the hangdog likeness of distress. His erection shrank instantly into insignificance (he was almost always erect around her, like she was a tarantula bite, and he unfortunate). She watched the fear jump into his serene eyes, watched the brightness on his dark face wither into dread. She heard his heart tumtum-tum like a big bass drum beneath a chest steadily going to fat. She saw his square jaw drop, saw the gushing stop, saw the limp hose fall to the floor from deflated hands, heard the clatter of its nozzle, saw him shuffle slowly backward. Wait, what? He said, his eyes two Os beneath bushy brows that now looked like drumsticks mid-beat. A millennium passed, in which it was found that Hitler did not expire in Berlin but lived on the fullness of Nazi gold and the odd Brazilian nymph near the expended Guyanan utopia of Jonestown, and in which the globe warmed so much fish learned the many joys of sand. I’m pregnant, she said, again. Seven weeks. At the corner of one eye a tear swelled into a globule and then ran, carrying with it mascara. A blur descended over the room, inserting itself into the machinations of clarity. She sniffled, tightening the act. He shifted away from her and sat up on the bed, back to headboard, legs crossed, gaze fixed beyond a blurry Henry frozen in full flight on the opposite wall. But I thought…, he started, one hand unfolding over itself, gesticulating. It couldn’t possibly be…She cut him off that path of suspicious doubt, beginning to bawl. She was a Hilda Dokubo, a Blessing Nwosu. The tears seemed real enough. No, the tears were real enough. His voice trailed off and fell. Then his hands fell too, having become tongue-tied. He couldn’t even look at her. She chuckled an inward chuckle. The speechless helplessness would eventually wear off to reveal a cold-eyed trouble shooter. That much she knew. The fire-hunting son of a Titan would return to the scene of the incident with a million fire trucks blaring their one million war-songs. When the fire-fighting effort was in full swing, she would reveal herself to be intact beneath the cgi. He would fume, his ears smoking like a Danfo’s silencer, like a character from a cartoon. She would kiss the birthmark shaped like Italy on his thick neck, and maybe cook him something nice. She was hungry, come to think of it. Kayode Faniyi is a writer and cultural critic. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from the Obafemi Awolowo University. His work has appeared on the The Kalahari Review and Music in Africa. Twitter: @kxyde
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