2012, 23rd February: The readings commenced at 16:30 hours with a word of prayer. Su’eddie Vershima Agema led the opening proceedings as the people present introduced themselves. The lead anchor for the day, Edentu Oroso, later came in and took over. The high table was set and the readings started in earnest.
Amedu Francis, Anzege Yua Simon and Hon. Tartule Tijah took the appetiser reading with a short story by Amedu and poems by the latter two. The readings were well appreciated with crisp critiques from writers present. At that time, Su’eddie read a citation in honour of the guest reader, Chuma Nwokolo Jnr who took the encomiums seated due to fatigue from his journey from the West. After the citation, Chuma read ‘This land is mine’ a poem which he confessed had been inspired by his last visit to Benue. It was time for the main reading from The Ghost of Sani Abacha, Chuma’s latest work of short stories. He read ‘Marital Accounts,’ a story about a certain woman whose husband accidentally comes across her bank statement. He is shocked to find out that she is really as rich as the statement proclaims. She is angry that he meddles in her mail but calmly uses wisdom to get the statement making a mental note to ensure that he never sees anything of such again. The story is deep and not full of Chuma’s trademark humour. After the reading, the audience clapped enthusiastically. For everything that the story was or was not, Chuma had brought life to it through his story telling ability helped by a booming voice and commanding presence that held audiences captive. The floor was open for questions and comments.
Maria Ajima, award winning writer, congratulated Chuma on the title especially as it had already started eliciting hostility in certain quarters of the country. She asked if Chuma would consider changing the title. She continued that as a married woman, she knew that women would get more money if they were open with their accounts to their husbands. She ended her comment by asking the guest reader, Chuma, if he was anti-feminist. The poet, Moses Tsenôngu commenting on the title of the book said that writers were not confined by history. ‘As critics and readers, we follow the writer to see what he means. Nothing more.’
Chuma answered the first responses saying that Abacha was representative of all autocracies and dictatorships: ‘We have dictatorships from our families to our jobs and everywhere.’ He continued that even in England, there was dictatorship shown in the proposal of a gift made by the Prime Minister to buy a yacht for the Queen of England. This was not withstanding that she is the richest women in England. So, these are the various dictators, most of whose stories or representative he tried to capture in the book. At this point, Chuma called people’s attention to ask questions on the poem too.
Dr. Andrew Aba queried Chuma’s reading style asking why he changed words from the poems and short stories as he read on the spot: ‘Does this mean the poem [or short story] is still in progress?’ Chuma replied that he tried to measure the audience he was reading to and quickly introduce words that would be easily accessible to them in place of any hard or difficult one. Dr. Aba chewing on this, observed that such substitutions would bring make the poem lose effect particularly musicality.
Joshua Agbo commented on the stylistic beauty of ‘This Land is Mine.’ He asked Chuma if Nigeria (Africa) today was the same as the one he left years ago. Differently, he continued that if the title of Chuma’s book was raising controversy, then it was all good as that only shows creativity.
Chuma commented that he had never really stayed from Nigeria for long, always coming back to the country after a few visits out. He continued on the issue of writing and Nigeria that ‘As a writer, you write for truth. If you don’t, what is the use? I have never been utopian about Nigeria but I am idealist about how good it is and I continuously fight for this good.’
Amedu Francis, a student of Law at the state university, asked the relevance of the story Chuma had read to the general theme of the book noting its title. Chuma replied that the book was majorly written for entertainment and not as a political pamphlet. Furthermore, he said that all dictators were like Pharaohs.
Dr. Aba said most stories should be titled ‘Ghost of Sani Abacha.’ Hon. Tartule Tijah said the story can be an influence of Sani Abacha.
Chuma said that the country (Nigeria) was suffering from thirty years of dictatorship, and a continued aftermath. He pushed that on his way from the West, he had nearly been crushed by a police truck speeding. Two miles on, they got someone. He had stopped but on finding out the police weren’t to blame, he continued the country. ‘Nigeria is suffering from Post Autocratic Stress Syndrome (PASS). The whole country is like a giant psychiatric joint where the whole citizens are patients of PASS.’
This land is particular first, then expanded to ours because we must love individually first before we can love generally. There are lots of diverse experiences in even the same places – many Lagoses.
Sam Ogabidu, Chairman of the association added at this point that writers shouldn’t limit themselves. ‘The world,’ he said, ‘is a material that should be explored more and more from all fronts.’
Dr. Gajir, a guest asked the guest writer who he believed the true dictator in ‘Marital Accounts’ is. There was laughter at this. Chuma left the answer to the audience who pushed it to the individual reader.
Joshua Agbo said that feminism can’t thrive in Africa because it is an alien concept that does not rhyme with the African society. Chuma said that the name of the movement ‘feminism’ should be taken out because what was done in Africa was far different from that practiced in the West: ‘The experience is different and unique in Africa.’ Sam took the time to share with the audience something he had watched on Kenyan TV, the case of a society where men are battered by women. What does one say in such a situation? Maria Ajima in concluding on this topic noted that there is a new trend in Nigeria where women are bread winners, taking care of men and the family without qualms. She called on the men to throw away pride and simply enjoy life. In a different vein, she asked Chuma how writers can make it in Nigeria.
Chuma answered that writing is a ministry and whether one makes it or not, one just has to continue. He came to promote a readers’ club too. The aim was to create a whole new readership in the country. To do that, he was recruiting – something in the light of the Pacesetters light of the past. These writers would be paid. He was looking at books in the genre of thriller, romance, adventure and the like. The max number of pages would be one hundred and twenty with the cost of each at two hundred and fifty naira.
The final question for the evening came from Amedu Francis who asked Chuma which vocation held primacy in his life: writing or law. Chuma answered that the both of them had always been moving together and he would continue as such.
Ajima took the vote of thanks appreciating Chuma for accepting Benue as a literary centre of excellence among others. Ken Nwobosi said the closing prayers at 18:55.
By Su’eddie Vershima Agema