Wole Soyinka at 80

good evening everybody and a very warm welcome to the british library my name is marion wallace and i’m the curator for african studies here at the british library so first of all i’d like to say that we are truly delighted to be hosting this event with professor wallace tonight we’re honored to have you with us before handing you over to the people you really want to hear from i’d like to briefly mention two things about the british libraries collections and activities the first is that as you may or may not know the british library has extensive collections of african literature we have professor schoenker’s works and we have beyond that we have big collections of published books novels poetry drama literary criticism in english in african languages in french and portuguese and we also have large numbers of relevant sound recordings these collections belong of course to you the public and you are welcome to come and use them just one word about that if you don’t have a reader pass you’ll need to get one first just have a look at our website secondly just to let you know that we’re currently preparing a major exhibition on west africa we’ll be focusing on the power of the word in its many manifestations arabic manuscripts symbolic systems oral literatures modern creative writing to name a few and we’ll be telling stories from across west africa the exhibition opens in october 2015 and runs until february 2016. we invite you all to put the date in your calendars uh what about mobiles if you could make sure the sounds turned off please and uh twitter handles for those who know about such things are on the slide finally i’d like to give a big thanks to everyone who made this event possible particularly our partners the royal african society i now hand you over to their director richard dowden thank you very much marian and welcome to the british library and this wonderful event to celebrate well they seeing his 80th year my name is richard dowden and as marian said i’m director of the royal african society um and uh just briefly what we do uh we see ourselves as the big tent for africa we we have an academic base with african affairs our academic journal and our aim is to get a better understanding of africa in britain and the world uh we have folded we have a huge meetings program something like 70 meetings a year and we work in parliament as well to make sure all those mps and minister ministries are well informed about africa we administer the africa all party group um we also work with business because business is now moving into africa with the african economies booming so we try and make sure that they know where they’re going and what they’re doing and how they should behave when they get there so we run quite a big program for for businesses and we try and get all this out on our globally on our websites of the royal african society website but also african arguments which is a debating website discussing and analyzing the the current issues and also we list all the events that are happening on africa in london and uh even broader than that on gateway to africa so those are our three websites we also worked on a program engaging the diaspora to make sure that the africans in britain’s their voice is heard on african matters and our two big fun events are film africa which we hold in november about 70 films over 10 days look out for it and the book festival african rights which is uh this is its opening meeting though the main event won’t happen until uh july um but it is london’s biggest uh festival on on african writing um and this year uh we have the uh which and it’ll be held in in uh in july in this in this on july 11 13 and uh it’ll be the we’ll have the kane prize shortlisted writers

africa in translation uh poetry in emotion um which uh is a symposium exploring the works of african poets including wanguiwagoro vuzi and gabriel okunji and many others and also a session reclaiming the feminine voice which is a poetry evening featuring an all-female group of poets including the warsan shiree belinda zawi rubka sibatu and chinwe azubuike our headline event will be with amma atta aidu the leading ghanaian author poet playwright academic and former minister of education um who’s written many books so that’ll be the big event which and it will all be held here and there will be a book fair for children here and and workshops family activities so do join up if you’re not already a member and so you can follow all this on our website now to the main event uh my job is simply to introduce the chair tonight margaret busby who i’m sure most of you all of you know um i asked her if she minded being called the godmother of african literature in the uk um and i got the impression she didn’t like that very much but she’s very modest i would say she was the fairy godmother of it because i can’t wherever there is a literary event margaret’s always uh at the heart of it and she’s on the board of all the uh all the awards um and uh started her her own uh publishing company alison and busby back in the 1960s and it’s still going strong so thank you for coming and margaret take take it from there thank you richard thank you good evening it’s my pleasure to introduce to you our guests of the evening professor wally schoenke i was going to say he needs no introduction i’m going to give him one i’m going to try and sum up a wonderful life in in a few words professor wales inca is one of africa’s foremost literary figures with an international stature second to none he was born in ake at biokoto western nigeria in 1937 so this evening is part of an ongoing celebration of his 80th birthday which will be in a couple of months time unbelievably he was educated in nigeria including at the university of irba and in the uk where he gained a degree in english literature at the university of leeds he began writing plays in the 1950s his plays from that decade include the invention the swamp dwellers the lion and the jewel and he spent some time working as a script reader at the royal court theater in london where his first play was staged in 1957 i believe correct me if i’m wrong when anything i say oh probably all right before returning to nigeria to study african drama and subsequently becoming a university lecturer wales has played an active role in nigeria’s turbulent political history spending nearly two years imprisoned in poetry confinement recounted in his 1971 book the man died prison notes his criticism of nigerian governments has often exposed him to great personal risk in resulting in periods of voluntary exile abroad apart from plays he has published novels the interpreters in 1964 season of anomie in 1972 memoirs notably aka the years of childhood in 1981 i can’t believe i had the audacity to abridge our caper radio 4 20 years ago anyway and most recently i think your memoir you must set forth at dawn in 2006 as well as many significant collections of essays such as art dialogue and outrage in 1988 and poetry including mandela’s earth in 1988 too and his work has won international acclaim for its deployment of rich poetic language steeped in european mythology and the europa spiritual traditions of west africa a playwright poet novelist essayist memoirist editor and much else filmmaker songwriter translator actor rainmaker rainmaker in 1986 became the first african to win the nobel prize for literature among many other awards and recognition

he has been accorded including several honorary doctorates in 2005 the lumina foundation established the wallis joe inca prize for literature in africa which is awarded every other year now that’s a brief summary of a wonderful life and i’m going to field a few questions to you and i know you know there are some that going to come up but i’m going to start from the beginning aka your childhood memoir is is notably very revered it’s a classic of autobiography now what led you to write that book about your first 11 years i believe i never set out deliberately to write a key i was on my way to something else i wanted to capture it said period a very special very rare period which was disappearing and this was the that colonial period which everybody politically wants to get rid of but which was very rich in so many ways a kind of transitional atmosphere and i felt it was disappearing and it felt a need to capture it and i wanted to capture it through a biography of my uncle uh the reverend i o ransom cootie in other words fella anikulapu’s father and then when i came back from uh studying abroad i met him as we spoke and he’d agreed that you know we’d work together on this and then he died on me so i just shoved it and said that that’s it and then uh one day just came back just came back to me that whole period and also this sort of mental composition i’d already done rudimentary writing which i’ve don’t in my head not one word you know on paper and so i had to write it and that’s how okay happened i never really said how to do it well in in that book you give your parents nicknames while christian your mother and essay your father how did that come about or what does that mean to you well the essay one was was filial enough it wasn’t quite as i was surprised when people say how could you possibly give your mother wild christian but then they didn’t know her essay was what my childhood hearing you know made out of the initials of my father which was s a and so when his friends came along essay essay essay and so he became essay in my mind and he was a he was a schoolteacher and a bit of a an intellectual and i i saw him as a kind of embodiment of an elegant well composed well written well thought out essay and so everything so you fit it perfectly no my mother she was wild yeah when you talk about christianity hers was a really really deep christianity she she believed that everything that she did was the work of god the instruction of god she poured water in a glass and a bit spilled to her and she looked and said my hands are no longer steady as they were that’s the punishment of god for something and since i wasn’t that much of a christian and she did her best to convert me she beat the living [ __ ] out of me she she was why she clobbered me and decided that i was going the way of the devil and she was going to bring me back by hook or crook and so i said this woman is wild so i i call her wild christian she was an anglican your father was an angry minister as well was he she was sorted an anglican yes protestant anglican that’s right saint peter’s that was the name of our church our patrons yes okay well you’ve summed up your parents now what characteristics do you think you inherited from each of them i think that i must have inherited my curiosity about things from somebody and i have a feeling that that must have come from my father intellectual curiosity etc etc uh curiosity not from my mother she wasn’t curious about anything at all except you to pertain to god to christ to to jesus christ from my mother i think i inherited a a dramatic flair she was very dramatic by her nature for the rest an uncanny

and rather dangerous patience i also inherited from my father if you committed some infraction you pretend he never saw you until evening time wallet don’t bring the stick that is here it’s a mixture of for the two of them i think so you had this christian upbringing and how did the yoruba side of your your value system come in yeah that was part of the problem my father thank good my grandfather it was an out and uh out and out uh uh urushima pagan uh to use the christian expression pejorative expression and was very proud of him and eventually he also fell on the you know the missionary zeal uh which which made me even more angry against christianity because that side that traditional side of my upbringing of my environment was something which i valued enormously i was drawn to it naturally for me it was more poetic it was richer more colorful more mysterious there was nothing left in mystery uh they’ve been imparted to me through the stick you know they attend at conversion but that uh that side of my spirituality if you like came for through my grandfather and so that i really shaped my sensibilities in many many ways my sense of myth uh sense of community etc that came from from my grandfather’s side and where did your political consciousness come from when did that emerge came from everywhere but i think largely in terms of a sense of the imperative of activism not merely of studying a political situation but being active in in that situation uh i took that from my great-aunt mrs ransom cootie she mobilized the women against feudal despotism of the arakia of abercrombie i liked her sense of organization uh you know had her teaching she was also a great political teacher and i also inherited some of that from my uncle uh ransom couti they were both anti-colonial forces they they saw while they collaborated they were quite at ease with the colonial officers british officers but politically they were very much aware of their being interlopers and impeding in some ways the development of african society in their own way so then you decided to become a playwright at what point when did that happen i don’t know that i decided uh i just started writing please i began with short stories but simultaneously i think as a child i was also fond of putting together my siblings to enact short stories so it started it all started very early what sort of age was it um as far as i can remember as early as you like um maybe as soon as i could uh listen to short stories and understand the short story there was always a tendency to want to enact them in one way or the other and can you remember what the first play you wrote would have been i believe it was a radio play uh bbc was coming into west africa nigeria and uh um there were all kinds of funny sounds coming from that uh which signified human beings doing unusual things guys to listen to those plays and eventually i think i sent a play to the nbc the local nbc radio and i believe that was the first radio play in nigeria at the time oh yes i think that was mid 50s correct yes i was still in school and just marvelous just to hear my play on the radio so when you came to britain to study you began writing plays that were being staged how sorry no i was going to ask how did you feel when you actually saw your plays being enacted on the stage of say the royal court theatre very dissatisfied it

didn’t turn out to be quite what i expected all kinds of you know strange things happened in their production at the royal court theater uh joe duveen by this time i’d sent plays san juan america to the royal court theatre and while waiting for the opportunity to stage this play george devine had this marvelous progressive idea of bringing together young playwrights this was the time when john osborne was breaking through the mould of british theater and georgie bean and the rock theater wanted people like anna wesker around him angelico and then instituted the sunday night theater which is part reading part performance and after being playwright for some you know play reader uh he would then try out their plays you know in sort of rough and ready form at the upstairs theater and it was the invention i think which is first stage there and all kinds of disasters what sort of disasters the climax the bomb didn’t go off in so time know technical agencies that’s why they said this is not what the place should be like but anyway it was very good exercise for me but when nigeria became independent you had a play that was performed at the celebration there um the dance the darts of the forest how did that come about it was a competition i remember organized by encounter magazine i think this was done for every country that was just becoming independent and i sent in the play to the judges and it was accepted for the nigerian independence play but when it came to the sponsoring of the play by the government and this was these were the conditions that whichever play was uh selected from whichever country the government would present it you know back it all the way somebody then pointed out uh or we pointed out it’s wrong to say pound it back because that means it was there what was pointed out let’s just say that somebody then told them that this play was subversive that this was a dance of the forest you know independence was supposed to be joyful joyous and celebrating and you know it was supposed to be a party and then he said there’s a subversive message in that the gathering of the tribes is critical of the of the the post-independent generation it went into history but the history was supposed to be a kind of paralleling of the of the dangers which we mostly unconsciously were entering into given the nature of the first generation nationalists what i already saw and embedded in the play you know these very clever clever civil servants you know in the cultural department and so the government said no we’re not we’re not going to touch it but the the prize money was reasonable for the time and so i used it to stage the play anyway if you mentioned the word subversion that seems to be a theme through most of your life um yeah people many people don’t understand the word you know you tell the truth and they say you’re being so aggressive what can you what can you do about that you’ve been very critical of many of the governments of nigeria how did you find yourself in the position to you you kept putting yourself in personal danger because you spoke out was that something that you thought about consciously or you just no it um when remember this was a period of very heady interpret also struggle for independence and at that stage we weren’t really looking i’m talking about people of my generation those who were politically conscious aware of what was going on in the world we were not even thinking in terms of our own nations mostly africa was focused on south africa on kenya on what you might call settler colonialism are supposed to um surrogate colonialism which the british

operated through others chiefs and so on so you didn’t really feel you were being robbed in a very visceral way as in the case of the rhodesias south africa where the racism became for us a personal rebuke you know a race an act of racial disdain and we felt that our mission our destiny in life was to go down and liberate southern africa so the mental preparation and other forms of you know self-preparation was in the direction of southern africa which we were waiting eagerly the day the whole of africa would go down and liberate southern africa and then we began to encounter the first generation leaders of our nation and we saw that they were more concerned with liberating with occupying the shoes of the departing the chairs of the departing colonial parts that they’ll come to england ostensibly to hold meetings serious meetings and we saw that they were more interested in just having a very good time so we turned our gaze again inwards and said listen we better liberate the home front before we go down to south africa that’s how i became involved in internal politics of nigeria you say we but quite often you’re acting in a very individual way well i um let’s say i felt things a bit more deeply than some of my colleagues uh far more deeply i’m thinking of example of the time um when you famously was it held up a radio station listen i was put on trial and i was acquitted i just want to hear your version i want to hear your version well actually i give the game away a little in you must set without dawn i felt sufficient number of years had passed for me to give a hint of what may have happened at the time you’re something of an action man actually i mean there are other occasions where you got yourself into scrapes um what would you say do you see your writing as inextricably linked with your political activity i would say so because most of my writing has uh political coloration but then i don’t set out deliberately always to write political place and there are plays of mine which are not political which are mythological historical in which i actually try to replicate what happened historically you know sticking as much to the facts as possible taking only dramaturgical licenses not political um don’t be more motivated by making a political statement or anything of this sort uh i believe that there’s so much tumult in life that and also the same time there’s quite a lot of beauty in life that one also wants to transmit in one’s own words you’ve written in many different forms is there one particular form that you feel closest to i expect you to say plays but i mean you’ve written poetry as i’ve said you’ve written essays you’ve written novels another fiction which is the the genre that you think not just right in the place envisaging it as it would be on the on the stage on the boards what about your acting ambitions oh i never had any um if you saw me on stage acting at any time circumstances caused either somebody has dropped out at the last moment i’m directing a player perhaps somebody’s dropped out or more likely i’ve thrown somebody out and then i have and i can’t find a replacement in time so i have a moral obligation to step on stage or before the camera that’s uh but acting no um not can you tell me something about the mbari writers group that you’re involved in and how how that came out what what its aims were um i came back and i was anxious i mean i’d interacted with uh with the theater here uh i’d seen

cafe theater remember it was during that period where what is that that that group called themselves i don’t think john husband was one of them it was during that period you saw the birth of the equivalent if you like of street theatre it’s cafe theater somewhere in seoul there was this this theater which eventually led to this magazine irreverent magazine whose first name i cannot remember anyway i saw both at the rocco theater and in that cafe theater setting i saw the marvellous project coming out through the interaction of artists musicians uh designers playwrights and so on and so forth so when i went back i before i even got back i envisaged the creation of something similar and i began looking for premises in fact the name that i gave it at the time was something the tall mind the tall mind that’s just whimsical name then came this austrian wanderer called uli and his wife an artist called susan wenger who came to nigeria and were smitten completely by yoruba culture and uli this wanted to start something along those lines woolly traveled out came back and said that he’d found a foundation who could assist in this and that if i could get some artists writers you know creative people together that he felt he would get us the money i said don’t you worry about that it’s there it’s all ready it’s just awaiting money and the ability just to parent and pay talking fees to some artists and that’s how the embarrass came about gathered the artists artist mabel shergung gino achebe j.p clark and debasson walco the artist the designer and he began to hold workshops and we had a bar and there was a lebanese restaurant just a very important part and so it became a community of artists experimenting branching up in different ways and eventually uh dual adipo i think saw what was happening fact he was invited to take part in the dramatic repertory and brought his this marvelous music tragedy of his oba kusu which later toured the world and he went back to shobo and set up a similar club which he called marimbayo after he made a pun on a barrie and that was the first branch of barry outside the baton how long did that last the invariant adventure it lasted virtually till the civil war you know and struggled on faithfully tried to keep on its feet after that but it was never the same again after the civil war you mentioned the civil war how did that impact on your life personally it impacted first of all in the sense of a loss of an artistic community basically we all scattered in different directions the biafrans went their own way some left for you know other countries my friends colleagues were on the other side it was one of the motivations for my you know trying to do everything to stop the shooting actually beginning because i knew where it would eventually and if it ever ended i think that was the main thing this the sense of loss of community in the shrinking shall we say of the creative spirit in terms of collaboration that’s the main thing i know you’ve probably spoken a lot about what’s actually happening now in nigeria with the abduction of the girls and boko haram would you like to talk a bit about that and see what your view is of how the situation has been dealt with what what needs to be done what the government is doing wrong well the first thing i would like to emphasize to people especially outsiders is that they shouldn’t be taken in by any notion that boko haram began just a few years ago boko haramism if you like began many many years ago when politicians began to use religion as a means of attaining power began to corrupt the minds of youth after having neglected them then uh indoctrinated them in extreme

religion religion religious citation began to build around themselves uh she would say armies of the al-majiri the jury that’s a name for youth in the islamic religion who sit at the feet of mullahs and virtually imbibe knowledge by root we have a tunnel a vision the entire existence is focused on attaining beneficies in the after world uh the afterworld they go out to beg er spartan parcel of their religious you know training they believe uh they depend entirely on the uh the benevolence of their teachers you know and uh they do not they’re not allowed they’re brought up in a way in which they have no alternative view of life as politics became hotter and hotter the politicians took over these this shall we say homeless armies um began to twist their minds even further they virtually told them your enemies are non-muslims and they are to be treated as spiritual enemies in fact religion became mixed with politics in their minds creating a toxic brew that poisoned their personalities completely now whereas before in my childhood we lived harmoniously with other religions as a as you know i was raised in a christian home and the christians would celebrate the various muslim festivals eid ramadan the whole lot some christians would even fast during the period of the muslim past gesture of spiritual solidarity and vice versa others in easter if that is muslims you know first in easter if they didn’t receive let’s say a piece of turkey or pudding you know it was sent to the other what what’s what’s wrong similarly the christians see they didn’t receive their hunch of uh of a slaughtered ram you’d say ah wait a minute we cook the rice where’s the meat this this is the way we related and then one saw this just degenerated a separation which grew wider and wider and wider a gulf of hostility in which people would tell their children don’t go and play over there although there was always a little bit of that there non-christians don’t go and play with them the others will say watch these christians and so on but just on that very trivial level in which even people with that notion we rebuke there’ll be other muslims who rebuke the extreme uh muslims also correctives from the christian side it was not hostile it certainly did not result in you know homicidal tendencies and then gradually we watched this degenerate until uh you’d find attacks let us say on christians during their couples christie marching down the streets and so on then as the political divide is stiffened and militant is you know islam began to overtake the world you can date that from any time you want but i know that the the development of real violent religionism was not detached completely from what was happening in other parts of the world the period of ayatollah fell that he had the power life and death of anybody especially writers that kind of thing becomes infectious becomes infectious people become surrogate ayatollahs in their little religious bonds and then with the evolution of al-qaeda training outside became commonplace and the culture of impunity became rampant in other words you could be you could have your head cut up your throat cut simply because you are suspected to have insulted islam one way or the other we had numerous cases like that in even muslim

areas you have this sapongari for pagans like myself you know in sabangari you can do what you want it’s recognized as a place of strangers and strangers are welcome even in solidly muslim areas then the division got wider and wider is the reason that the division got wider the division between christians is there a reason for that politics mostly and also mimicry you know everybody likes to mimic power wherever it’s being exercised elsewhere becomes a question of wait a minute why are they killing people over there are we not killing people here i mean this is crude i’m afraid it’s as good as that that sense of you must dominate the other side you must show that your religion you know has authority over every other kind of religion and that if you did not and then the interpretation of scriptures to conform with your lust for power over others very selective you know you must do this you must do that you must treat the other the other side like eternal enemies instead of leaving the other side to be dealt with by your god when you all get to the other side you wanted to administer that punishment very crude form of power mentality unfortunately my power a sense of care for domination rules much of human relations you know i don’t know how that started maybe anthropologists can tell us but i find that that sense of power is inculcated in most human beings all right so then impurity people could riot cut throats destroy even invade the capital destroy kill and go away not one single prosecution not one single a school teacher who’s invigilating a class in religious knowledge that is religion or i mean study of our religions can be and was not just once set upon by her pupils you know this particular incident very gruesome and she just said you’re cheating looking into your scriptures bring that over here and she puts it aside and they run home and say she’s insulted the courage in the meantime the others started beating her stripping her put a tie over her neck she runs into the principal’s house for uh for protection pushes her out this woman is dismembered openly we do not hear of any punishment being admitted i don’t know how many cases i could cite i just don’t know how many so it society became deteriorated into uh into one of arbitrary death arbitrary lynching on religious grounds real or imagined offenses but the government refused to take you know to take action to show that only one law applies to the entire nation now this is where boko haramism began it didn’t begin when a governor in a secular state declared his state a theocratic state in the midst of a multiple religious religious society yes these were defining moments but boko haramism that culture of impunity on religious grounds where for instance a legislator a legislator in fact he began with as a governor could indulge in transborder pedophilia be a member of a law-making assembly little after he left office in as a governor declare a fatwa you know a call to murder a killing fatwa without consequences then himself be guilty of importing underrated girls from another country a muslim country egypt i have enough to say i can do what i want because my religion permits it the point is the constitution and the law do not permit it and it gets away with it and you have numerous cases like that so the mentality of a section of the country was guided towards a kind of supremacy over the rest and so when the the politicians built on this used these brainwashed and nigeria and of course this became connected with international fundamentalism militant

and killing fundamentalism these al majeri were being sent to somalia to be trained by us al-shabab some of them went to afghanistan for trading some went to mauritania the country became divided and this is when they grew bold enough that this is extremists to actually call themselves an act to dismiss any other the structure of knowledge structure of human relationships community etc which did not conform to theirs but we now have a situation which is uh which is a critical change because those who were trained to commit mayhem eventually turned against their mentors as you had the one sharia state after another she had nine sharia states all together with this unwashed army which was prepared to do anything at the bidding of their masters as they went for training they became more and more radicalized and then they came home and were telling their mentors you are not sharia enough you deserve to die this is when the killing what people what people call indiscriminated killing began but it is not indiscriminate it’s that they now saw even their mentors as sinners worse than the non-fundamentalists that is the situation we’re in today law had broken down law was disdained if a legislator can say i’m not bound by your laws i can kill i can rape i can do what and he’s sitting and earning a salary in the very house making the laws which he then says do not apply to me of course his followers take the example from him and then say we’ll go even further and get to the point where it’s not just here you’re going to schools and you’re cutting the throats of teachers you’re cutting the throats of parents who dare send their children to school you know i say ah wait a minute what about those screws don’t let just kill them let’s abduct them and go and sell them as slaves that is what is happening today boko haramism did not begin 10 years ago goes back 15 many people are not not even aware of the fact when it began on a small scale and police stations were taken over and they were named afghanistan and they were named iraq and so on the army moved in managed to destroy it and destroy them it began all the way back we’re ripping the the seeds of wrath which have been laid by the the mentors the seekers after power you’ve been speaking out for half a century about the political ills and wrongs as you’re doing now do you see any successes what are the successes you see in the campaigns you’ve been involved with over those decades well i don’t know that one can even talk about success the important thing is to curb to curb it to make it uh to make the phenomenon manageable manageable not to we should never have allowed it to reach the level it has now it’s a level of defiance of content for the rest of society you saw that that uh mr the latest uh leader of boko haram boasting about abducting children saying we’re going to sell them as wives and concubines we should never have arrived at this point we had a head of state for instance when the first governor declared his state a theocratic state that was an opportunity missed in fact i hold such people responsible for failing to say to them listen this is a people some people don’t like to hear secular state so let’s say multi-religious state but that one thing binds everybody and that’s the constitution those are the protocols by which we’ve all agreed to live together and either you accept that or you’re treated as a pariah of state instead that particular head of state he was so busy determined very determined desperate to earn a third unconstitutional third term in office so he began to woo those sharia states the governors over there so they can back a change in constitution that is the reality which many people are running away from that neglect deliberate neglect encouragement of impunity

for small selfish political ends it is what made this boko haram you know balloon this menace belonged to us to condition that we are now asking for international help oh i hope we are because we cannot handle it alone anymore is this something you’re going to be writing about writing about uh at this point you know when things reach a certain point it’s same stage where your daughters are being abducted you just have to concentrate on a means of getting them back and seeing that those who dared to inflict this anomaly on the state are caught and punished then simultaneously however you start planning for the future the rehabilitation not merely of the of the brainwashed you know hundreds and thousands working out educational systems which will ensure that they never again get their minds uh poisoned uh you should start planning what you do for these girls after they’ve been being rescued because they’re going through a trauma at the moment which is unimaginable and which we know will affect them for the rest of their lives so those are the priorities right now literally might get around to writing about it i’m not sure whether it’s time yet for questions um yes okay we’re going to have we’re going to open up the floor and there’s a microphone that’s going to be going around so if you raise your hands if you have a particular question for professor clerinka and perhaps say who you are this one there hello um good evening my name is michael irena um i’m studying um phd in creative writing i just wanted to ask you a question about myth in contemporary african writing do you think oral tradition is being used by contemporary african authors enough to retain um oral tradition african tradition there’s no question at all in my mind of the natural cohabitation of oral literature and literature written literature first of all in many cases the oral gets transcribed and at that point what does it become then technology radio video etc has ensured that this line of creativity is preserved and preserved the closest form that you can have next to performance of oral literature whether the epics or jala for instance in europe by the poetry which is used in a contemporary way during political upheaval as you know very well the oral tradition comes into play from the traditional artists very effectively perhaps even more so than the written form good evening my name is sekina and i’m a master student at the lse um thank you so much for providing a very rich historical context of boko haram um and um my question is what do you think people who are young like me um and in the in the diaspora what do you think we can do i mean how do we get our voices heard um how angry really should we be about this and really how how can we make a change in our you know countries well if you listen to the criticism criticisms for instance of the president of nigeria in terms of acting very late very not sufficiently with sufficient resolve they can achieve results uh i think that the diaspora can assist in the sort of demonstrations we’ve been seeing all over the world in making nigerians themselves understand that this is not just a nigerian problem that this is uh that a crime against humanity has been committed and it becomes

the total responsibility of the entire global community but with special emphasis on africans in the diaspora whimsically but not entirely whimsically i believe we’re moving to a situation where see there’s a kind there’s a culture of aggression confidence arrogant arrogant aggression going on and i think maybe it’s about time we began thinking of creating forces which will assist which will go to the rescue of societies which find themselves in this kind of condition you hear of a black widows maybe it’s time we have some brown widows who actually take it on themselves to match the culture of self-defense by whatever means by whatever means because this uh this attitude of sometimes supineness not actually supineness but just the inability to respond in kind or proactively to what we’re witnessing today i think we might get to a stage where freedom squads freedom teams take on their own defense and are assisted you know in the kind of expertise needed to respond to what we’re undergoing today on the african continent so it’s both a kind of um it’s political response that is necessary a sense of global solidarity you know which takes forms as i said like demonstration etc the readiness to to embark aggressively on a counter-indoctrination approach and finally we may even reach the point where we actually train people to respond to those who feel that they have a divine right to mess up our lives mutalatory is my name my first point i think one of the anomaly in in nigeria i’m a gambian by the way it’s the constitution that makes distinction between indigenes and citizens a nigerian citizen can be a foreigner so to speak if he’s not an engineer of a particular state you know and i think that’s kind of saw the seed for uh disunity uh this ethnic uh i mean tension in uh in nigeria and uh the second question is how does evolution cadet look like do you have a set routine i mean four you say that so yeah for an 80 year old man i think you look very good i just missed one critical word i think it was routine like i mean yeah in the morning what you do up tonight well i got mixed up because i thought you were talking about indigenes and citizens the next the next moment is what you see first of all i think we need a constitution which if you really want to be one nation then without losing your culture without losing i’m talking about indigenes now without losing their culture without uh trying to create a kind of uh synthetic national culture identifying yourself being proud of what you are as an indigene um you should also have as an indigent of a natural international space or as a crossover you know you want to nationalize become a citizen obviously culturally yes one can lay emphasis on indigenes but as a citizen i think cultural culture becomes um a little bit problematic to insert

in a constitution so once you are uh born in a place or you migrate you want to settle that you become a citizen and once you’ve nationalized and you should be treated as such there’s also the problem of multiple uh citizenship internal internal in which for instance you find some states you say you are foreigners in this state therefore you cannot hold a job you cannot enjoy the scholarship in a state even if your parents have been living there have worked there contributed pay tax and so for me this is pernicious anyone who has settled somewhere who has who’s paying tax in that piece of real estate is entitled to the full citizen right of the totality that’s what i thought you were actually on the track towards now routine i have known i’ve known because it’s constantly been disrupted my best late plans always go awry sooner or later something crops up as everybody knows and the next set of flying southwards i’ll fly northwards so i’ve given up i’m at the mercy of everybody here because i was expected somewhere else and here i am sitting here you’re all guilty good evening sir my name is takum bakuki um this is such a honor and pleasure to be in your present tonight i just wanted to ask you um reading your autobiography okay it’s so richly vivid and there’s a particular scene that actually stayed in my head um when you were describing your auntie when she visited you and her love for muay moy moi moi leeway and how you described the fact that she actually loved to eat the pads are wrapped in the leaves they actually made me go back to think about how i eat my moy and like the next time i was eating one i actually tried to imagine that thing and to me i just wanted to know when you were writing me were you back at home and i mean because obviously you were writing about your very early formative years and i can barely remember my teenage years let alone the first 11 years of my life so it just just really struck me you know the descriptions that you have in your book and i just wanted to kind of get your thought process behind that thank you well that’s where the writing about k becomes very interesting because when i when my uncle died and i said okay i’ll wait until you know i refocus my mind and imagination and recollection that took a while and actually i wrote the first because i wanted to write it now since i wasn’t writing about adult life the politics of the period in an analytical way i i felt that the only approach i can have is to is to try to re-enter with vivid internal uh recollection from the point of view of a child what that period really meant to me and when i began uh i i was able to write the first three chapters and then i lost it the it just disappeared the mood which i felt had i was re-seeing reviewing uh things with the eyes uh which i had at the time and it just disappeared and i didn’t go back to it for about um for about three years yeah or three years i couldn’t go back and then one day something an image a passage this piece of music i can’t remember what now but something just triggered off that period and oriented it and virtually wrote the whole thing all over again and the interesting thing was that i decided to start all over again and when i by accident or the other when i compared the first three chapters i’d written with the new ones had written it was almost word for word i thought as a writer obviously an interested writer it’s uh it it’s quite a miracle of recollection it is almost word for word that you have a photographic memory yes i do have that as well i do have that photographic actually i i was astonished about two-thirds way through my life i was discovered i was astonished to discover that not all people

have photographic memories i couldn’t believe it i i thought it was everybody was like me but i do have a photographic that’s why i hate cameras hi my name is madani wanyaki i am a kenyan and i work mainly in human rights um i’m just curious you talked about what it felt like belonging to an artistic community at a given point in time before the civil war and you we all know about your engagement with sort of the you put the political i have also some hearing problems am i talking too quietly or okay you talked about what it felt like belonging to an artistic community especially before the civil war and i guess we all know you’ve been involved in a political community since um i’m just wondering if you could share your reflections on the relationship and overlaps or distances between those two things an artistic as opposed to an activist or political community that’s one um and then second thinking of sort of the new wave of african writing that’s come up and all the young fabulous voices and not just from nigeria but across the continent if you follow that work and their trajectory what are your reflections given your generation on what you think the themes they’re engaging with and their own engagement with their own societies and state at this point in time the relationship between the artistic community and and the more political activists communities sometimes they overlap sometimes they don’t and i’m just wondering your thoughts on that for your generation and then your reflections on that looking at the next generation or the current generation of young african writers well the artistic community in any society is never static very fluid always changing not drastically but you’re bound together in any case by one common cause and that creativity an artistic community which is which is uh which never fights within itself will be a very boring artistic community i think we spark up one another and the sparks sometimes become embers if one is not careful but it’s always manageable because there is a common goal now politically for instance you can never have everybody with the same ideology in society there are those who whom you might call artists of the establishment but at the same time they are creative geniuses you know one level or the other and i think almost not the main thing is not to try and create and and and establish a sort of unicellular thinking artistic community as variety as much variety is possible what keeps it alive and so it’s not surprising that when you have to confront the political community when you feel very committed towards confronting a political community you find others who defend what you are trying to destroy or who are just comfortable with it who feel why rock the boat our mission is to be creative to write poetry and so on and of course you’re right and there’s no reason why the two cannot grab it it’s when members of an artistic community arrange themselves against what you consider progressive to the extent that they become activists on behalf of the enemy that’s when the problem begins disputations for me these are normal disagreements even over the means to to obtaining change to transforming society all this for me are quite normal but sometimes from time to time we find those who actively take the side of the establishment the political system and re the reactionary establishment then there is trouble the community disintegrates very quickly and there’s no point trying to keep it up um my name is chibundu thank you for your work sir your talk sir i’m going to ask you about your afro i

i don’t know if you are aware but there’s a band called showing us fro and just in general you your person in itself is iconic every roadside painter in lagos has a portrait of your face to advertise their skill and i wonder how you interact with this iconography of your person well it’s a new sense sometimes you know quite frankly it’s a new sense because you like your anonymity as much as possible you know that some is already lost because you’re which you might call a public figure but to carry literally this burden on your head it’s a level of masochism which i didn’t think i was capable of and of course it’s also a danger because during the season of sunni abacha for instance i couldn’t comfortably never could relax outside in the public place uh sitting in cafes and so on and so forth i was i had i think a total of uh i think i had more hats than the average woman and they’re the ones i really see carrying boxes pill boxes with their hats you know each hat constitutes a luggage by itself you know and i didn’t think that men had so many hats but i had lots of head covers including the raster you try and picture me in a raster during that period and then i could relax outside um i i think i should hold a patent to it you know it might remind me more money than royalties from books you know i think about that there’s one at the back there thank you for uh your presence sir it’s an honor to be speaking with you and everyone um i want to say that um you provided a very rich um deep insight of what is happening back in nigeria um as someone that spent 20 years of my life growing in that part of the country i mean i identified with everything you had you you said uh my question is um do you have anything planned um you know to make sure the nigerian government um sees this initiative and now that the eyes of the world is on nigeria and i mean planned like how you went with jp clark and chino achieved to do rambarak’s um on behalf of mama back then and also a second question is um what’s key advice will you give to someone who is a writer and is writing on basically historical fiction thank you um let me take the second one first right prepare to collect your rejection slips lock them up in a drawer and continue to write and send out your manuscripts test them out on the literary pages of newspapers literary magazines and so on don’t wait until you created the master the definitive work before you try to see them see your works in one form or the other in the public domain then also don’t feel and now i’m talking personally by the way i work don’t feel frustrated or constrained by the fact that if that is the case that you cannot sit from 8 a.m in the morning to 2 p.m in the afternoon or 8 p.m at night feeling that unless you work in a continuous and broken fashion you will never be a writer sorry you have to snatch whatever moments you have very often and just put things together right when inspiration comes right when you feel compelled to finish what you have begun but don’t uh don’t force it at the same time don’t force it those are the only advices i can give you now the other one you thinking of the time when chinua period when we could

attempt collectively to influence the decisions or the policies of government yes those times possible i would have loved to see writers for instance the young writers because the baton has been passed on to them i would like to see them coming together to attempt to influence a situation like this we our commitment was not uh was not a structured thing we responded to critical moments such as the life of people like watson at the hands of the military at the time i would like to see the young generation of writers taking the initiative and saying no we cannot stomach this anymore and we’re going to come out using whatever legitimate means we can to try and influence policy i think by now we should stop looking in this direction for um for leadership i think by now you should produce your own leaders thank you um hello sir my name is adi awokoya and i’m an aspiring writer my simple question is what gave you the inspiration to translate fagona’s forest of a thousand demons into english um i’ve always loved the first of all the use of language of uh diophago the europa novelist is asking about this we don’t know and also the the wildness of his imagination so from school i’d always said one of these days i would translate fagor and when i came back from studying abroad and you know just side by side with writing my own i began to uh to translate it would be to fulfill this ambition is the wrong word just this desire this passionate desire to to make the works more accessible to other people by the time i finished the first novel first of a thousand demons i realized that was the end of my mission because that man’s yoruba is just so tough finding equivalence in english for his yoruba it just took too much out of me i said i will never write my own work if i continue translating this man so i put that particular uh plan of action aside but since then thank goodness i’ve been able to find time to translate two more i think yes i believe so yeah i think i didn’t need translated others but was just wanting to get that work out that’s that’s the main thing do you can i ask you do you have plans for what you’re going to do next what your next book is going to be yes as a matter of fact i’m engaged in some uh work at the moment not entirely not fiction but i never talk about what i’m working on i thought i thought you’d say that there’s a couple of questions at the back um okay um my name is lupman sanusi from bubbles fm um i’d like to take us back to the political scenario in nigeria as you’ve mentioned earlier on that there are various levels of impunity in nigeria including self-denial the case of the first lady comes to mind she doesn’t even believe that these girls have been abducted and then she called a meeting and even have the um representative of these demonstrators um arrested right so the question is i don’t know when the office of the first lady was established in the first place in nigeria that it became so powerful that they can stop anybody in their track including overriding the decision of a sitting governor what is your take on that proof you’re trying to draw me you know nigeria is a land of wonders

it’s a land of many many firsts and uh i’m as mystified as you are mystified this level of impunity is one i’ve commented on and whatever it is you think of it believe me i share your thoughts three questions there can we can we keep the questions quite short so that we can get more in uh good evening professor marsha inca i just want to uh thank you for what you’ve shared with us tonight my name is akira itaday i want to ask what your experience was working with professor akimi akume inshallah in the translation of iraqi to europa because many people will have loved to read many of the great works in europe but he did this work with you and i want to see what what was your experience of doing that linking it with what you said about working on fragments work thank you um no i never worked with arkansas on the translation i know work inshallah i know his works you know he’s also a playwright and he’s written some poetry as well in europa and uh my instinct was to leave the work entirely to him and to intervene only if he asks me any question and it’s interesting that when he was asked the question what was it like translating such a play as death in the king’s horseman this critical interest a little interest i think and he said it was no sweat at all he said what he did was to translate back into europa a work which i had thought in yoruba and i think that’s a remarkable comment for any translator to make he said as far as he was concerned this was a europa play and that so all he did was just bring it back to the language in which i thought it out so i think that’s the answer that’s a question can we take a couple at the same time and then perhaps we can get professor schoenker to answer good evening sir um happy birthday in advance my name is peter dovan i live underside in uk um i’ve got two questions quick questions for you so um the first one is in today’s world of technology in today’s world of facebook twitter how best do you think we can preserve the african industry i’m losing you i’m losing you okay my question is in today’s world of technology um and you know the generational trend in events around us how best do you think we can preserve the african history which you’ve actually mentioned today about its richness how best do you think we can preserve it for the coming generation and to educate other ethnicities around the world about how rich the african culture is and secondly um someone mentioned about your afro i remember your picture in your book trials of brother gerald it hasn’t changed um it’s still it’s still it was dark in the picture of um trouser brother jerobo it’s a big gray now which is understandable but um um what led to this identity you’ve created for yourself over the years what what what what have you done or what motivated you to keep this identity over god knows how many years now thank you over the last bit that last the last few words last over over over over 20 years 30 50 years now can we have the question next to you first perhaps is that me good evening sir um my name is um evangelist alex and um the question i want to ask is um obviously you’re a great writer around the world and um you’ve got a lot of readers and audiences but i wanna i wanna i wanna know how you actually felt when you first had your first publishing deal because i’m a man that’s been writing for a long time and um i sent my manuscripts out to publishers and um i haven’t seem to have got anywhere but i’m not giving up but but when i when i look at when i

look at someone like you it motivates me so i just want to know because i know one day i’m going to get a publishing deal myself and and secondly i can’t keep these questions in my head can we just allow professor to answer those because we have to wind up in a second and secondly the question i want to ask um doctor we will take the questions we have already and we’ll leave that one to later okay please you you can’t you can ask too many questions i’ll forget the first ones by the by the time let me just let me deal with let me do it once i remember uh history how do we teach others how do we spread the word shall we say the the history of and the culture presumably african uh heritage etc all first of all history also can be transmitted through fiction as you know using the material of history in theater in film especially in film and by film i’m not talking about that one two three four five that nine letter word which i find very difficult to utter it begins with n you know but real serious imaginative films which utilizes material and through paintings plastic arts you can study a lot of history through the sculptures of of any people the paintings so through their artistic work their music encouraging all of that now how do i how do you preserve the character of brother jiro brother geru is constantly uh evolving brother gerald of the 60s it’s not that europe today brother gero today has private jets it doesn’t travel like the rest of you the rest of us no no no that has built universities clogs up the expressway between ibadan and uh something every friday and every religious day you know reduces everything to a crawl has runs businesses all over the place uh is received like royalty in some other countries where i mean brother gero i think is has an empire in london empire london and occasionally brother gero gets jailed thank goodness so he’s become part and parcel of life then the third question that the first one a gentleman asked what is it now you see that’s what kind of asks too many questions at a time technology and technology preserving i forgot what was the first question they gave good oh yeah remind us to remind us after this event we just take two more because you speak with finishing time the question i want to ask is is because like as an evangelist i’m a man that’s um written loads of manuscripts and i send my work to and i send my work to um various publishers but um i don’t seem to be getting anywhere so the question i wanted to ask you was as um as the great writer that you are with audiences around the world and readers i wanted to know how you felt or how did you get your first publishing deal okay the second the second question i wanted to ask sir i think that’s enough shall we should we deal with that one thank you let me let me deal with that one let me deal with that one the reaction my response to holding the first published book in my hand was like the taste of a wine you never encountered before it’s as rich as that it’s just something marvelous in holding your no matter how it was a slim volume but that somebody had taken it on presented it between book covers and taking the trouble to actually launch it you know invite people to come and share

that particular moment marvelous women now script i said earlier you must be prepared to collect your rejection slips there’s no other way than to uh to feel committed that despite setbacks you want to continue to express that there’s something inside you that you want to express obviously it can be discouraging that you get your rejection slip especially if it’s followed by another some people solve it by by self-publishing but then you have to have some money in your pocket because they charge you for it um there’s just no other way if it’s a play you can gather some friends around and read the manuscript read the text and just listening to it in fact this applies not just to place it applies even to prose or poetry and just hearing it and watching people’s reaction it can teach you quite a lot because writing is not a finished business ever it’s a continuing process and just participating in something you believe in for me is already half fulfillment the remaining half comes as i said before when you get that sip of wine which is equivalent to a new publication in your hand after a while of course you can get blase but that first publication believe you me it’s purity unfortunately we have no more time so thank you all for your questions i’m sorry we didn’t manage to get in all the others but professor schoenker has other things to do unfortunately so thank you very much you