This is a continuation of a series of personal observations about my native country on its golden jubilee. For items 1-16, please see part 1. For items 17-32, see part 2. In this final installment I include a few observations I’ve culled from my father’s memoir of his life in Nigeria and abroad “Seeing the World in Black & White.” (SWBW) (AWP, 2006)¹

33. Modern Nigerian literature, ever vibrant, is certainly on the up. Young as it is Nigeria has already had an early generation of great writers, household names such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, not to mention the likes of Cyprian Ekwensi, Amos Tutuola, Christopher Okigbo, Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, and even the prolific pulp novelist Dan Fulani. It’s almost too much to ask for more, but as it happens, we have much, much more with new generations exploding on to the scene, including poets Chris Abani, Uche Nduka, Olu Oguibe and lesser known contemporaries such as Chinweizu. But the real earthquake manifests in novel form, with the emergence of the likes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Helen Oyeyemi, Sefi Atta, and Nnedi Okorafor. I can’t pass without a word for the recently deceased poet and playwright Esiaba Irobi. One of the neat aspects of these 21st century blossoms is that so many of them are young women.

34. The Gates Foundation should look into hot pepper soup. Once you get the taste of Nigerian peppers, you’re not so intimidated by spicy food from elsewhere. And when it comes to kicking the ever-loving arse of Plasmodium Falciparum, the malaria parasite (see item #6), and to breaking the fever more quickly than the chloroquine treatment would do on its own, I swear by my mother’s accelerant, involving her scorching pepper soup, eaten with a blanket over the head, so that eyes, skin pores and nose are all flushing out a goodly quantity of fluid. Sweating out the fever can be a brutal regime, but it is effective. I’ll have to remember to have my mother send her recipe to The Gates Foundation, admirably intent on eliminating the disease.

35. The wildlife only gets smaller. Nigeria’s national symbol, the elephant, has become a rarity. The country used to be home to animals from aardvarks and antelopes to zebras and zebu (OK there are plenty of zebu remaining, as they’re raised for meat), hippos, mongooses, giraffes, many clades of great ape and big cat. The Igbo proverb “odum na egbu agu” meant “the lion kills the leopard”, and suggests the sorts of encounters on which a native hunter might have spied from a safe distance. These days most large wildlife is endangered, and the growth of all manner of bootleg industries has unfortunately included proceeds from poaching. What’s left of abundant fauna are mostly bush rats and bats and birds, the remaining primates mostly bushbabies (the size of domestic cats) and the remaining wild cats mostly civets. The wildlife is shrinking not only in numbers, but in size of individual. That’s the sad cost of explosive human population growth and expansion of settlements.

36. No-frills table (and ground) games are the acme of entertainment. Long weekends at boarding school, and the occasional afternoon stretches between classes and evening study. And of course the long vacation (June through August) and Christmas holidays at home. Between playing football and telling long tales (“knack tori“) we had no end of accessible games to keep us busy, and even as a grown up, sometimes playing Quake 3 Arena, billiards or air hockey for downtime, I’ve missed the spartan genre of my schoolboy games.

Okwe is one that’s made the mainstream. Okwe and Nchorokoto are among its Igbo names; it’s Ayo in Yoruba, and, as I’ve recently learned, Warri in many other parts of the world. It’s the one with 12 chambers, starting with 4 pieces each (usually dried tree seeds), and the game proceeds a bit like backgammon. All you really need are 48 small, hard objects and you can dig 12 holes in the sand. From this simple game many Nigerian cultures have drawn extravagant cosmological insights.

Whot would also be familiar to many abroad. It’s a card game similar to, but a bit more varied than Uno. If you don’t have an actual Whot deck you can improvise from common 52-deck cards.

There was always plenty of construction at our school, sites where you could find long, wicked nails lying about. Get one of those and draw a circle in clayey or loamy ground, maybe a meter across. From a standing position you flick the nail downward, knife-thrower style, and embed the nail in the ground within the circle, divide the circle in a straight line through the nail’s hole, and claim the bigger half with your initials. Then it’s your opponent’s turn to aim for your territory. Repeat until someone’s remaining territory is smaller than the nail in all dimensions, and that person loses the game.

Table soccer (no, we didn’t call it table football), tropical style involves bottle caps, enough beer and soda caps for two teams a small button for the ball, two small cardboard or paper cube quarters for the goal, and a bic pen cover for the boots. Each player would push the long, thin end of the pen cover down on the bottle cap to propel it at the button, hopefully towards the goal. Missing the button and hitting another player was a foul (“bullying”), and the resulting free kicks often occasioned the greatest ingenuity in scoring. Foosball and subbuteo have never really done it for me the same way.

Grab five flat, round seeds or stones each and sit a few yards apart on a smooth wood or cement floor. Play skittles by sliding an eleventh seed at the other player’s pile, table hockey style.

Ball-u was a favorite of mine. It’s basically football four-square, where you draw the big square, divide it in four, and have a player in each chamber, trying to score on one of the other three by kicking the ball past them out of the play area. Get scored on three times and you’re out. But the ball must touch the ground at least once on the way out, or it’s “way!”, instant elimination. Ditto if your hand touches the ground—”aka na ala“.

37. Nigerian Pidgin pwns. Pidgins and creoles are the legacy of colonies everywhere, but something about Nigerian Pidgin seems to travel very well. I’ve found myself many times having Pidgin conversations with folks I meet, and when I ask where they’re from, I hear “Accra,” “Moq’dishu” or even “Cape town”. Clearly part of this is the fact that Nigerians are everywhere (item #1) and so spread their brogue to the four corners, but I’ve also been told that Nigerian Pidgin tends to travel well, which is unsurprising considering that it’s a chameleon evolved from hundreds of indigenous languages. But don’t ask me. Ask this white boy from Colorado, speaking Pidgin and Hausa with aplomb. Somehow, that just seems proper.

38. There is something about masquerades… On one hand you know they’re basically local traditional society initiates in costume. On the other hand you sense viscerally that they’re so much more. Regardless of the relentless march of modernity, masquerades as an element of ancient culture that never really loosen their grip on the Nigerian imagination, nor on those from abroad who witness the phenomena in the fullness of their pomp. The importance of masquerades is made clear even in their frequent appearance in proverbs (item #13). The keynote proverb in SWBW is “You don’t watch a masquerade form a stationary position.”² The masquerades that featured at the World Festival of Arts and Culture, (FESTAC) in Lagos in 1977 exhibited amazing feats of dance and geometry that I’d be hard pressed to explain. Those you can see in most towns around holidays and other special occasions mostly just run around and charge at people in between their dances, and these days you’ll see them just as often wrestling and break-dancing. Acrobatics have always been part of the repertoire, and the ones in this video are probably candidate jet pilots or big air snowboarders. There are enough genera of masquerades to keep Linnaeus occupied, from the Yoruba Egungun to the Efik Ekpo, and long may these traditions continue. The video below is a succession of stills of Igbo masquerades.

39. Nollywood’s got some crazy talent, and a lot of plain old crazy. Some folks watching Nollywood films would maybe look askance at my claim that it’s got crazy talent. Most of the talent is in fact behind the camera. The ability of Nollywood directors and producers to churn out film after film (only Bollywood has greater output of the world’s film industries) in often very economically straitened conditions is nothing short of legendary. If you know the context of the making of these films, you start to recognize that they’re not bad for what goes into them. I’ve often wondered what some of these very clever and articulate entrepreneurs (as I gather from watching documentaries of Nollywood hustlers, which can be every bit as entertaining as the films) would do with a California-sized budget. As it is they collectively constitute the second largest employer in the country. All that said, watching Nollywood films, with their excess of color, shouting of every sentiment, and lurid plot lines, puts you into a technicolor version of the Nigerian Wonderland I’ve mentioned (item #32). In the best Rocky Horror style, Nollywood puts a lot of plain old crazy on the silver screen. If you’re up for a little taste, a good place to start is the worldwide hit comedy Osuofia in London.

40. Nothing matches the complexities of civil war. The cause and course of the Nigerian civil war (AKA the Biafran war) reflected all the inevitable morass from a country nation stitched so improbably together. After the first coup of largely southern officers, idealist but naive the lot of them, the north of the country wanted to secede from the benighted south. But then northern officers staged a counter-coup and then did little to stem a wave of reprisal killings against southern Nigerians. As my father explains in SWBW, “Yakubu Gowon, who had assumed office as head of state, tried to calm down [Northerners] with the famous observation that Northerners now had the reins of government back in their own hands, his own hands, so they would gain nothing by seceding!” The escalation from riots to war was swift, and the war was brutal, but to be fair, afterward, the victorious side at least gave lip service to soothing old wounds and encouraging unification. My father’s book shows how intricate were his own interactions with both sides, even in the direst of circumstances. I am even more struck when I peruse the comments on the “Tell Your Biafra Story” feature Adichie put up for her superlative novel of the Biafra war “Half of a Yellow Sun” . Americans soon after their own conflict knew this just as well. Civil war is painted all the innumerable colors of the world, and then tinted the hot red of hell.

41. They aren’t kidding when they talk about football as a unifying force. I’ve spoken plenty, including in the previous item, about the many tensions that have pulled at the entity of Nigeria, but the one time you can ensure the most togetherness is when the Green Eagles are playing. It’s not easy to support the Green Eagles, as football has become huge, global business, many of our most talented players have found fame and fortune in clubs abroad, and very often they pay attention to what side of their bread is buttered, so that they can be top superstars for Chelsea and Newcastle and Everton and look like near zeroes playing for the country. My favorite footballer of all, Jay-Jay Okocha is a legend for his scintillating performances for Nigeria as well as for his several European clubs. And when the heirs of Okocha’s generation take to the pitch somewhere, you can actually see ordinary citizens sporting the green white and green flag, which is a rarity at other times. Enjoy the following compilation of Okocha’s skills, though it focuses on his Bolton games rather than for Nigeria (and you might have to mute the music).

42. You might not believe in bush medicine, but you don’t want to fuck with it, either. Wandering the back roads, you often come across field after field of cassava, yam, corn or legumes. Even in such tropical abundance theft is hardly uncommon, and farmers sometimes talk to the neighborhood juju priest to conjure up a charm against bandits. I don’t really believe in any of that, but I must say I’m hardly up for messing with any of the elaborate charms I’ve seen positioned in trees overlooking farms. There is power to belief, even when it’s not your own, and that’s a power I’m not eager to gauge too intimately. As M.J. puts it, you just want to be sure that “all the gods are satisfied.”

43. There is nothing like the year round scent of trees. From the acrid signature of gmelina at the height of the dry season to the storms of perfume put out by “queen of the night” frangipane in rainy season, I have vivid memories of the moods of the year writ in the smell of the dominant trees. Sometimes the scent emanated most strongly from abundant fruit, as with the citrus and cashew trees (cashew nuts come from a small, largely poisonous pod on the end of a large, fleshy, delicious fruit), sometimes from the bark and leaves of the trees themselves. A few of these trees, such as the gmelina, were imports from early colonists, but most of them are indigenous, giving a rich range of notes in the ancient tropical olfactory stave.

44. Educational excellence is remarkably fragile. In SWBW my father writes: “I received the best education of my life [in Nigeria]…. If I have negotiated the intellectual scaffold competently enough to do acclaimed work as a chief scientist at [NASA] it is mainly because I received an excellent educational foundation in Nigeria at a time when the getting was good.” I got my own educational foundation in many areas such as science, maths, history and languages from my father, but the next most important source was secondary school and university in Nigeria. Some would say the system was already in decline by my time, due to the effects of the brain drain of the professional class, including educators. With emigration of the middle class came a drop in expectations of educational excellence, and the support to match, as grain of the model family. It’s an effect I got to watch first hand.

It felt as if I’d jumped four grade levels from the 5th grade talented and gifted program in Gainesville, Florida to first form of secondary school in Owerri and Okigwe. My mates had long since dispensed of arithmetic. We were learning logical and geometric proofs, algebra and number theory. We were expected to be able to reproduce maps of Nigeria, West Africa, Africa and the world from memory, as well as lines of history from a staggering array of eras and places. We were soon expected to recite Shakespeare fluently in class. Language requirements were less explicit, but many of my mates spoke several languages, so I applied myself to Latin, French, German and even a bit of Greek, besides the indigenous languages and Pidgin I was having to pick up at the time. At the end of fifth form the school certificate examinations were in theory equivalent to SAT or ACT exams, but the comparison is almost ludicrous, the former being so much more rigorous and difficult. I did well enough in these and the university entrance exams that I went to the legendary University of Nigeria at Nsukka, where I promptly found myself overwhelmed by the academic standard. After transferring to the US to complete my Engineering degree, I barely even had to study any more, because of how much learning had been annealed into my brain at Nsukka.

From what I understand, that prodigious expectation of learning is almost all gone. Nigerian schools and universities are a shadow of their former selves, and this is one of the great tragedies of the past 50 years.

45. It was a fascinating view of the Cold War, even at its tail end, from the 50 yard line. Britain’s colonies inevitably found themselves entangled in the two world wars, and the feeling was often “what on earth do we have to do with these white man feuds” (though the Nazi attitude towards Jesse Owens was somewhat instructive). Once Nigeria became independent, it also became determinedly nonaligned, refusing to favor either side of the Iron Curtain, and refusing even to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which carried a scent of continued colonialism. London, Washington DC and Moscow all saw the giant of Africa as a major prize, and poured on heavily with the propaganda. Any Saturday morning, relaxing in the college dorms you could find yourself accosted by Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Growth Club and the Communist Society. Having spent much of primary school in the US, my bias was definitely in this direction, but I still find a lot of distortion to attitudes, and history-making here, especially with regard to some of the atrocities of the West in the name of anti-Communism in Angola, Namibia, the Congo and elsewhere in Africa, across large swathes of Asia, and throughout Central and Latin America.

46. Petrol and other industrial minerals are cancer. I’ve touched on this a couple of times, largely with regard to environmental concerns, but it;s so much a part of Nigeria’s 50 years that it’s worth a final mention. Mineral so-called wealth was probably the worst thing to happen to Nigeria. But I’ll go further and say that large scale globalized economic production in general was the main culprit. Even cash crops such as groundnuts, rubber and cocoa meant neglect of diverse indigenous agriculture, and this vulnerability to the vagaries of international commodities pricing, and exposure to speculators. I am a fierce capitalist, as I think runs in the blood of Igbo people, but I’m just as fiercely a small-scale capitalist. I believe strongly that at too large a scale, there is too much room for distortion and manipulation in basic basic market forces, and the system dispenses of merit and moral suasion³. The very resources that were assumed in the 60s and 70s to be the inevitable making of Nigeria turned out to be its unmaking, as mismanagement and kleptocracy followed the stacks of cash.

47. English ain’t got naything to do with the Queen. I’m a reformed megalogrammarian,⁴ but much of my discarded prejudice came from Nigeria, where English has its unique flavor even among the best educated, and yet solecisms are used as brickbats in class warfare. I even had people using my Americanisms against me, but eventually I figured out the received standard, and H.G. Fowler became first my guide, and then a demon I had to exorcise later on in my rebellion against received prescriptive grammar. Even though this revolt came years later, while in the US, the seeds were planted in Nigeria, in the rich stew of idiolect and dialect that was always such a delight. As usual, many such supposed errors come from application of indigenous language idioms to English, and the glory of such dynamics is that they make you pause to appreciate and savor the basis of idioms in multiple languages. The common Nigerian usage “this food is sweeting me” (i.e. “this food is delicious”) recalls the subtleties of the Igbo equivalent “nri a na töö ütö” where “ütö” is a noun and verbal complement which can carry the literal sense of sweetness, but can also mean pleasure more generally. In Igbo verbs (in this case “töö“) and their complements (“ütö“) are so tightly bound to construct meaning that it’s not surprising that the complement gets “verbed” by an Igbo translating into English. English might have come from South Britain, leg of the throne of their kings and queens, but they chose to go colonizing and conquering others. As such “The Queen’s English” has become but one quaint dialect, and I do hope some intrepid linguist somewhere is keeping good, descriptive record of the rich Nigerian flavors.

Oh but one thing of special note. You might notice it from my own writing, but we kind of like it grand. Even when we end up trying to make 25 kobo change from a thousand naira bill. Observe the following gem straight from Nigeria’s House of Representatives. Now that’s what I call grammar!

48. Necessity is the mother of contravention. Nigerians have always been poised to participate smartly in markets, given the abundance of resources and the early legacy of excellent education and facilities. As these have crumbled, and corruption has become a commonplace, some Nigerians found the back roads to economic globalization. I first heard about “419” scams while in University. People would come back after summer vacation driving Benzes and Beemers and say that all they’d had to do was fax con letters to industrial giants in the US and UK, and quickly withdraw the funds once the idiots wired cash to their accounts. That was just one of the less elaborate capers I heard of. Others were traveling abroad on forged papers, buying cars with stolen ID, razing VINs and shipping the cars back to Nigeria, and then collecting insurance claims to boot. The famous ingenuity of the people, whether in keeping cars running that by any mechanical standard should long have been condemned, or constructing village cinema projectors from flashlights and radio parts, has evolved with the erosion of legitimate opportunity into a patent office worth of ingenious scams. I do not believe in economic aid, but it might just be that the most urgent incentive for the West’s interest in Nigeria’s recovery is not altruism, but plain old self-preservation.

49. The only way to party is TDB. Probably my fondest memories of Nigeria were the epic parties. Whether it was someone’s birthday, or some rich kid wanted some action, or, it must be said (especially in my latter days there), someone pulled off some successful scam, it rarely took much of an excuse for a big bubble. The host would send out elaborate, custom-crafted invitations, especially to ladies, and book the best DJ available. Obviously there was food and drink, but the point of the party was always the dance, and we’d jam quite literally till day break. A party was often considered a flop if it didn’t make it all the way till the rosy fingers of dawn. And then, shuffling home, maybe long distance by “leg-edez benz” if the venue was at a hotel well off campus, and you didn’t have a car, or a friend’s, to take you home, off you went back to the business of wangling an invitation to the next hot party.

50. Nigeria’s future is the world. I’ve tried to end each part with an observation on a grand scale. In the first part I don’t think I really measured it rightly, and left a bit too much taste of uncritical truism. I rightly, subtly and kindly got called on that in comments, but after struggling with the matter since then, I’ve decided that it’s not so bad a thing. What does a retrospective about your own roots ever do beside leave you with universal truisms? There is something about the human psyche that ensures that the most defining characteristic of home is its utter banality. I could drag out, for converse, the old fake orientalism “may you live in interesting times” Nigeria has been fifty years of interesting times, and it’s always pleasant to dwell on the vanilla bits.

In particular, the main consequence of my first item: that Nigerians are everywhere is that our future is everywhere. Nigerians in diaspora carry their identity of origin very boldly, and there is every sign that this identity will persist across the generations. The high educational and professional achievements of Nigerians abroad ensures a flourishing of the very human resources lost in the brain drain. There are sometimes hard words between Nigerians at home and abroad with one side saying “you’re running away from the task of rebuilding” and the other saying “we have nothing but my merit, and merit has long ceased to be relevant in accomplishing anything in Nigeria.” Both sides will have to work together, in the next generation, if not this one, and I fully expect that Nigeria will take its place among the “tiger” nations of the world, and that I’ll live to see the beginnings of the renaissance. If the first 50 years of Nigeria have been on an unfortunate downward slope, we can still be grateful for the leverage we have for the next 50. Taking Archimedes at his word, we’ve long enough levers, dispersed as we are to the four corners, and we have a fulcrum centered around 9°N latitude and 7°E longitude. We’re properly equipped to move the world.

See also: 50 Observations on 50 years of Nigeria, part 1

and: 50 Observations on 50 years of Nigeria, part 2


¹ It’s taken me some time to come entirely to peace with my father’s two memoirs. He is more to the left politically than I am, far more Afrocentric and traditional of mores. He’s also quite emphatic by nature, all of which manifests in the book. But I realize that what also manifests is his authentic voice telling the story of a ranging, energetic, fascinating life, accompanied by a fair amount of trenchant observations.

² As my father goes on to say, “In order to enjoy and learn from the spectacle most effectively you must adopt a roving perspective. Life is a masquerade…”

³ It’s a point I develop in the context of a poem and the onset of the present economic collapse in “Only one poem for the implosion of Capital.”

⁴ For my rant against megalogrammarians, see “Tongue of Warcraft, Part Two—Politics of Language.”

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UCHE OGBUJI is a founding editor of the TNB Poetry section. He is also co-creator and co-host of the Poetry Voice podcast. His short collection of poems Ndewo, Colorado (Aldrich Press, 2013) is a winner of the 2014 Colorado Book Awards. To expand a bit, Uche Ogbuji was born in Calabar, Nigeria. He lived, among other places, in Egypt and England before settling near Boulder, Colorado where he lives with his wife and four children. Uche is a computer engineer (trained in Nigeria and the USA) and entrepreneur whose abiding passion is poetry. His poems, fusing Igbo culture, European Classicism, U.S. Mountain West setting, and Hip-Hop influences, have appeared widely. Uche also snowboards, coaches and plays soccer, and trains in American Kenpo. You can catch more of the prolifically fraying strands of his life on his home page, or, heck, even on Twitter.

38 responses to “50 Observations on 50 years of Nigeria, part 3”

  1. This is the first I’ve ever heard of “Nollywood.” I see from Wikipedia that it’s only behind Bollywood in terms of pure volume.

    Also, you should include a video of JayJay Okocha because I’m assuming that not many people reading this will be aware of his ridiculous awesomeness. Man, I love that guy.

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      Good call. The main problem is that it’s hard to find one good YouTube clip of Okocha. Each one seems to pick a different set of episodes, and few have a good mix of club and country games. I just ended up picking one, and put it in the post in place of the “Ghana Go Hear Wein” vid.

  2. Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this series. I think there may be more packed into these three posts than in the average university textbook. Not only did you provide us with this thorough introduction to Nigeria, but you did so in a way that combines the historical, the cultural, the poetic and particularly the personal, making it all much more meaningful to read. As you put beautifully, “What does a retrospective about your own roots ever do beside leave you with universal truisms?”

    On this installment, I was interested by the literature scene since I’ve read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the New Yorker, but now will have to seek out the other writers you mention. Also, I liked the section on games, as that aspect of any culture is always fascinating to me for some reason. Meanwhile, from the first post, I’m still trying to get my hands on some fufu. Will let you know what I’m able to come up with.

    Thanks again for this, Uche.

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      Thanks you so much for your kind words. This started out as a lark and really took on a life of its own, and it became really fun to reminisce, to ponder, to assess my feelings about various aspects of Nigeria, to organize, and to figure out what to discard (I know it must seem as if I refused to discard anything, but I did end up trimming a lot as it is).

      As for literature, the best place to go after Adichie depends on your preferences. In terms of the modern, vérité literary vein Achebe and Ekwensi stand out. Oyeyemi may suite those with a taste for magical realism. Okorafor is brilliant fantasy/science fiction set in Africa-like locales. Look out for my interview with her, coming within a week. And oops! I misspelled Sefi Atta. I’ll fix that now.

      As for the fufu, my wife and I had one of our best expatriate Nigerian restaurant experiences in Marseilles. Not only was the food delish, but the our interaction with the single waitress had all the feel of a Nigerian roadside “mama put” (she was actually younger than we were). I’m pretty sure she was also at least involved in the cooking, and the food was clearly made with loving hands. Anyway that’s to inspire you to seek out fufu in France. Dijon is not quite Marseilles, but if you ever venture even as far south as Lyon, I suspect you could find a treat.

  3. Uche Ogbuji says:

    This video used to be in item #41, but David Wills inspired me to use another video in the main post, so I’ll relegate to this comment occasion to post one of my favorite Nigeria fan songs. It’s from two African Cup of Nations ago when Ghana finally qualified and were heralded to sweep all aside, given their home advantage. Pa J’s riposte was “Ghana Go Hear Wein”, which is Pidgin for “Ghana’s going to get their arses kicked,” to the tune of Snoop Dogg and Pharrell (derivative, yes, but fan songs are ever so). It’s almost all in Pidgin, which is something to which any Nigerian can relate.

  4. Wonderful meditation, Uche. I always learn so much when I read your work. Also, I love the video of the whiteboy speaking Pidgin English. There’s that one moment where he’s saying so many things I can’t quite understand, then out of the fray I hear quite clearly, “Alhambra, California.” That was pretty hilarious.

    Be well, my friend.

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      Thanks. I love that vid. It’s actually not as much of an incredible sight as the guy’s companions make out in the video. There are a fair number of white and very light-skinned mixed kids in Nigeria, and clearly if they are there at the right time, they pick up the languages as anyone else does. But as you say, it is fun to watch, and I love the fact that he has roots in Colorado. That so fits my image of Coloradans, with the sense of exploration and the adaptability.

  5. Irene Zion says:


    I also had never before heard of “Nollywood.”
    It’s quite humbling to read your pieces about Nigeria, since I am so ignorant of things Nigerian.
    Fascinating piece, especially all three pieces together.
    Good job!

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      Thanks, Irene. I bet you have a Nollywood video store within a 25 mile radius of your house, unless you live in the absolute sticks. Again Nigerians are everywhere, and they’re always seeking out those crazy films. You wouldn’t know though, because they don’t all have big yellow signs saying “NOCKBUSTER” or something like that 🙂 I’ve often said that Nollywood now is about where Bollywood was 20 years ago. Camp and cheesy films, but boundless energy and the sort of invention that Hollywood abandoned decades ago. I expect them to go “up the value chain” as it were in a timescale not unlike Bollywood’s, because the global market is well established.

  6. Simon Smithson says:

    How much fun are ground games! We cracked out four-square in a friend’s backyard a little while back – we marked out squares on his tiling with flour, and proceeded to play for about four hours straight.

    To join the chorus, great work with this series, Uche! I had no idea there was so much I didn’t know. I think my favourite line is: “42. You might not believe in bush medicine, but you don’t want to fuck with it, either. ”

    That could be because of the cassava reference, however. There’s a Jamaican restaurant over here – Yeah Maan – that does cassava fries. And I could eat those things until I exploded. They’re one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted in my life.

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      I know, right?! Footy four square is the bomb! Here in the US, it’s always a game played by hand with a bouncy gym ball, and I think it’s just not the same thing. I’ve tried to get my kids into the footy version, but there is no competing with recess. Oh well. Next time I see you we’ll have to grab a few recruits and play.

      I must admit that as someone whose surname reflects the glory of yam, I have a bias against cassava. As the economic distortions I mentioned in #46 proceeded people started cultivating more and more cassava rather than yam in Igbo land, because even though it has much lower nutritional value, it is also much easier to raise and suits half-arsed agriculture. Cassava is used to make garri, which is now one of the most common types of meal for use in fufu (as you can expect, I much prefer pounded yam).

      Anyway, if you haven’t had either, cassava fries are pretty nice (though harder to prepare), but you really must try pounded yam, roasted yam with palm oil stew or yam fries some day. I need to figure out where all my friends can get some proper Nigerian cuisine 🙂

  7. […] and: 50 Observations on 50 years of Nigeria, part 3 […]

  8. jmblaine says:

    Bootleg Bat Burgers
    how much would they be?
    bat gristle
    roasted zebu

    a whole another
    world here

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      I’ve never eaten bat, but I bet it tastes a bit like bush rat, which I have had a nibble at (way too gamy taste for even me). But “Bootleg Bat Burgers” just cries out for a chain franchise. Right now the big fast food joint in Nigeria is Mr. Biggs. If BBB took of it could be on some McDs vs Burger King shit!

      Roasted Zebu, though, is some delicious, delicious stuff. It’s called suya in its most popular form, coated with a secret peanut and super-spicy powder and toasted kebab style. Yum yum yum! And WICKED hot! 🙂

  9. Zara Potts says:

    I have loved this series. As Nat says above – the way you have given us the poetic, politic and personal has kept me riveted.
    The colours and textures and smells and sounds you have used in your portrait of your homeland are stunning. I feel like you have introduced me to a new friend. A new friend who I want to meet again.
    Thank you so much for these pieces.
    (And for the concept of arse water)

    Oh, and how great is Patrick Obahiagbon? The culpability!

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      Thanks, Zara. This was such a pleasure to put together. As for the Ft. Hon. Patrick. Somewhere there is an English teacher pondering in his grave that the gag gift of the dictionary with all the definitions transposed was perhaps not such a great idea.

      But to be fair, the blowhard who talks “grammar” which is in effect a lot of misused big words is a staple of Nigerian comedy. I just didn’t expect to see it in such a serious place as the House of Reps. I guess that guy is kinda like the Nigerian equivalent of a congressional clown such as Michelle Bachmann.

  10. Zara Potts says:

    It’s a different thing, but similar to the grand “Queen’s English’ way of speaking, that you mention – but I’ve always loved the very English names that the West Indian cricketers have.
    The Vivian’s, Courtney’s, Curtley’s, Winston’s and Sylvester’s. Lovely.

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      Yeah, we have a lot of that in Nigeria. On of the items I trimmed was about the power of names. Many of the first generation of independent Nigerians went by classic English names, often almost exclusively from the college of saints, whether Catholic or Protestant. My father’s name is Linus, my mother’s Margaret. Many of they in turn rebelled and went for indigenous names for their first children, though they often gave them English second names, for convenience while traveling.

      When we go English names, we seem to tend to root deeply in the ledger. You get a lot of Boniface, Ignatius, Pius, Elijah, Macauley, Ambrose, Agnes, Rosemary, Theodora, Eunice, Grace, Comfort, Joy, etc. And then there are the Mondays and Fridays and Sundays, which is probably understandable because naming by the native market day is a common custom that predated the British.

  11. Matt says:

    Uche, I’m genuinely sad to see this series come to an end. There’s such a wealth of knowledge here, far more than it seems I might discover down at the library.

    The nail-pitching game sounds like great fun. One of the memories that sticks with me most from childhood was making up various ground games at recess with whatever items we had on hand; then, over the course of a few more days, refining/expanding the rules. Good times!

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed creating it. I’ll see if I can top it after the next 50 years 😀

      And if we ever have TNBCon we absolutely have to set aside some time for no-frills table and ground games.

  12. M.J. Fievre says:

    Another very informative piece, Uche. So many aspects of Nigeria remind me of my homeland. The only way to party is TDB!!! This reminded me of my own teenage years–I guess I would fit right in, in Nigeria.

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      Absolutely! It’s the same thing I remark upon when I read your pieces. So many harmonic chords, despite the separation of the broad Atlantic. There is something about living in what can sometimes feel like the very heart of chaos that inspires you to wring every drop of vigor from life, and when it’s time to party, who wants to stop just because the clock says “2 a.m.”?

  13. D.R. Haney says:

    Like others above, I’d never heard of Nollywood. And it’s the second largest employer in the country. Wow. It is possible that I could find work in Nollywood?

    It’s painful for me to read about the depletion of large wildlife. I’m sure you must have caught the recent news stories about the tiger, which experts say will disappear in the wild in around twelve years. But the cougar was on the verge of extinction in America a few decades ago, only to stage an astonishing comeback, and jaguars have recently been spotted in the American southwest, which used to be part of their habitat, and they appear to be trickling back. So maybe…but probably not. (For the record, I do know that tigers are Asian, not African, despite their presence in old Hollywood movies set in Africa, but the recent reports about tigers have had me thinking a lot about them.)

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      In a perfect world we wouldn’t annihilate our most glorious neighbors, and you would have a plum job directing “The Babajide Chronicles, part 8.” I do think these are causes we can all get behind, worldwide.

      Actually, a thought just occurred to me. I should see if this “50 Observations” series would work as a Nollywood film. It would be a series of snippets, like the Creepshow movie or something, loosely tied together with some random glue. You do voice-over, right? 🙂

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Strangely, I didn’t even do the audiobook for Subversia. But that’s kind of a long story. And, yeah, we can talk about the 50 Observations adaptation, but I think I’m kind of over sequels.

        • Uche Ogbuji says:

          I suppose it’s probably pretty rare for authors to do their own audiobooks. I haven’t listened to a huge number of audiobooks, but one that jumps out to me is Douglas Adams doing The Hitchhiker’s Guide series. But I guess that’s because he did the old BBC Radio serials before it was clear the books would be such an enduring hit, and besides, they needed to get the author to be sure they got all the loony names right. These days that series would be done by David Attenborough or maybe Michael Caine if they wanted to give the universe a bit of a coxcomb twist.

          I do think authors should be allowed to do their own voiceovers. Not only does it reduce the need to pay someone else when authors need all they can get, but even if you don’t sound like Morgan Freeman describing black holes, there must be something to the loving touch of the creator (I always hear Zaphod Beeblebrox speaking a cockney accent in my head, anyway).

          Hmm, having said all that, I remember once getting for my birthday a CD of poets reading their own poetry. For the most part, they were dire. Oh well, who knows?

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Yet it was hearing Jack Kerouac read his work that made me solidly a Kerouac fan. (I know, I know; you don’t think much — if anything — of the beats, and I don’t either, for the most part, except for Kerouac — and even then I’m not much on his poetry.)

          Have you ever heard Joyce read? I found a clip on YouTube, and a clip of Virginia Woolf as well. I’d post link if I weren’t persuaded that you’re already familiar with them.

          It really came down a time thing with my audiobook. I just didn’t think I could deliver a solid performance with two days in which to do it. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t do the audiobook until the day the option of another reader was put to me, and all things considered…

          But I would certainly make more of an effort — or in any case hope for a different schedule — next time around.

        • Uche Ogbuji says:

          Actually, I’m not fond of a lot of the work of the Beats, but I try not to be too doctrinaire about it (well, I should say I’ve tried very hard to suppress that impulse 😉 ). I do believe my first argument with Becky was on the topic, so maybe I painted myself there, but I suspect that was more a matter of Becky’s and my propensity to argue with each other. She did turn me on to some decent poems by Corso, so I counted it a gain. But yes, I’ll admit that Kerouac doesn’t do much for me, personally.

          I’m pretty sure I’ve heard both Joyce and Woolf read, but I can’t really remember what I thought about them.

          Anyway, for *sure* you’ll have to do the audiobooks for the “Failed Artist™ Series of Books for Children.” Start practicing your best Mr. Rogers voice now.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Oh, I’ve read them aloud already a few times, so I’m already practiced.

          Poetry-wise, I think Corso may have been the best of the Beats. The secret to appreciating Kerouac, I think, is the material. On the Road, while his most famous book, is definitely not his best.

          Here’s Virgina Woolf reading: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8czs8v6PuI

          And here’s Joyce: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzmZ1ZlJeFY

        • Uche Ogbuji says:

          Thanks. I’d heard the Joyce, but I think not the Woolf.

  14. Judy Prince says:

    No to cassava, yes to yams!!

    Uche, this was terrific: the gorjus, striding masqueraders (‘wife-beaters’ and grass tutus!) and their viewers: “You don’t watch a masquerade from a stationary position”; your wise historical perspective: “The very resources that were assumed in the 60s and 70s to be the inevitable making of Nigeria turned out to be its unmaking, as mismanagement and kleptocracy followed the stacks of cash”; your evoking the essence of nature: “From the acrid signature of gmelina at the height of the dry season to the storms of perfume put out by “queen of the night” frangipane in rainy season, I have vivid memories of the moods of the year writ in the smell of the dominant trees. Sometimes the scent emanated most strongly from abundant fruit, as with the citrus and cashew trees”; your fortunate Nigerian education that trumped the old colonial and USAmerican systems; and your flat-out flamboyant love of WORDS!

    I’m sending this post to son Christopher (African-American in his very heart and blood) who will love the humour, energy and history!

  15. […] country with a large diaspora whose children soak in language from all over the world. As a reader I find that a lot of this linguistic energy makes its way into Nigerian writing, and when the writing turns to the fantastical, the result can be magic upon magic. I found this to […]

  16. Joe Daly says:

    Another great cultural piece! Uche, this was illuminating, to say the least. I particularly enjoy the broadness of your perspective- sports, war, diet, commerce, etc. Great insight into the cultural mindset.

    Of course, I was a sucker for the football highlight reel. Thanks for that!

    I’m happy that you ended with a look towards the future. Especially with the phenomenon of the diaspora- it made me think of the Irish. There are more Irish citizens outside the borders of that country than within (I’m one), and for both good and bad, this has promoted a strange, commercial strain of Irish culture. It will be interesting to see how Nigeria’s plays out.

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      Ha! Now I feel bad for baiting you on West Ham (I’ll admit I had forgotten you were a Hammer, and my intent had ben to bait another commenter, but same diff), so hopefull I’ve made up a bit with the Okocha highlight reel. You should know that I hate Bolton, mostly because of Fat Sam Allardyce, and it pained me so much to have to cheer Okocha on wearing that shirt.

      Anyways, I actually mentioned the Irish returnee phenomenon in my first draft, because I think it’s so instructive. So many of those Irish emigrants left in dire poverty, from a place that at the time seemed to have no future, and then BAM! in the 1990s and 2000s. I ended up taking that mention out because right now Ireland seems to be on its way back to basket case status. Of course think most of the blame for that goes to the IMF, which is probably the first place I hope gets annihilated if aliens attack. Fucking IMF. But I did think it might sound the wrong tone. I do think Ireland will see its way out of the present crisis, and that it will continue to be a model for the Nigerian diaspora in latter-day nation-building.

      BTW, speaking of the Hammers, thank you lot so much for whipping Man U last night 4-0 in the Carling Cup. Victor Obinna (ahem, nice Igbo name 😉 ) tortured them, and though some people are saying “yeah, but that was the United second string”, when you looked at the lineup on paper, it was very strong one, so fair play to West Ham. I hope we meet (Arsenal) you in the final.

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