• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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A mirror to Africa?


Phillip Isakpa

Lets face it, I don’t tweet, I don’t twitter. I am not on Facebook or You-tube. I do not even have my own website. The nearest I have to a blog is this column. To my surprise, I was told the other day that if you googled my name with the word images attached to it, there were a number of photos of myself. I knew articles of mine, including a long obituary I did of Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, were accessible on the Internet, but photos! I duly explored, and found, along with some rather gruesome shots, one of yours truly singing my Oyinbo, wey you dey go? number with Tunde Kuboye and his musicians at the Nimbus Gallery in South-West Ikoyi in 2002, now all of seven years ago.That was a pleasant surprise, especially as it accompanied a long forgotten memoir called The Glory of Nimbus, a celebration of my two years adventure of living in Lagos with which I began the century. It is actually still available on the Nimbus website of the incomparable cultural entrepreneur Chike Nwagbogu, who, having been cruelly expelled from Nimbus, set up in the Bogobiri Guest House on the other side of Maitama Sule Street. This has become a legend in its own right, while Chike himself also operates from what one might call a new cultural environment (a house round the corner in Raymond Njoku Street) called Nimbus 2, as a way of keeping the intoxicating idea of Nimbus alive. The architecture of the place has been developed in a piecemeal organic fashion from the former Tangier, the Moroccan restaurant, built in a mosaic-strewn orientalist style, and upstairs Chike’s brother Azu, presiding genius of the African Arts Foundation has a gallery/apartment which also serves as a poetry-reading venue. Amazing Lagos, its recollections, its vibrations!To return to the idea of a column as a blog, my own cannot compete with the Thursday Postcard of the much-missed Tajudeen Abdul Raheem, whose tragic passing I have already noted in this column. Taju’s writing was natural advocacy, flowing easily each week.

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I am, as I confessed recently, more of a congenital diarist, rather than a willing pontificator, although by dint of experience of writing editorials over the years, the right trigger can still start a flow of words, still my stock in trade. Diary writing requires a combination of self-effacement and pro-active networking, while a column provides nutrition to the ego.It is easy, however, to morph from column to blog to discursive diary, which is what I suspect happens to me. All of these writings, I hope, in all humility, have their uses as a mirror for Africa to see a little bit of what it looks like from without. With this in mind, very occasionally, I may still make this column into diary of activities in London. Although my life here is a series of concentric circles, many seem to converge on Nigeria.

Recently I have been to hear Lagos State’s accomplished Attorney-General Olasupo Shasore talking to a London business audience on the subject of Lagos as a hub for arbitration in West Africa, and also to the Nigerian High Commission for the launch of a glossy magazine with the sensible title Invest in Nigeria. Since I made a contribution to the publication myself I risk conflict of interest here, but I must record that it was very well attended on a muggy summer evening.It is Michela Wrong’s new book on corruption in Kenya (it has actually been out four months but I only just caught up with it at the African Business Group of the African studies of the School of Oriental and African Studies) is what has most commanded my attention. Titled Its Our Turn to Eat, and sub-titled The Story of a Kenyan Whistle Blower, and is a highly personalised account of the rise and engineered fall of John Githongo, billed at the time as anti-corruption czar. Kenya’s failed anti-corruption drive is an object lesson of how vested interests can block reform.

It ends with the drama of Kenya’s catastrophic election of December 2007. Although I have left myself with no space to give the book the review it deserves, I must at least point to the West African analogies. For the eating in the title, in West Africa the word is chop (as in monkey work baboon chop), and the parallels with the rise and fall of Nuhu Ribadu in Nigeria are bound to be drawn. Let me also mention here of her symbolic use of the shopping plaza (in this case Westgate’s Nakumatt in Nairobi), beloved of the middle classes as the place where her doubts about whether what Githongo was trying to do had any long term effect. If this was the way the crème de la crème in Kibaki’s Kenya shopped surely the rest of the nation must inevitably be swept along?