Friday, December 4, 2009

On the Sickbed of National Falsehoods

By

Obododimma Oha

The many headaches of a nation can roast a healthy kidney; can knock out a good heart. A nation that glorifies falsehood is already a sickbed and no one can rule her unless they are already sick.

One can recite a litany of falsehoods:

The falsehood of stopping corruption when indeed it is being encouraged;

The falsehood of running a democracy when elections are almost always considered unnecessary;

The falsehood of having a National Assembly which meet few times with few individuals that have few ideas to debate;

The falsehood of being a nation that is not qualified even to be a country;

This falsehood and that falsehood and those falsehoods waiting to gain national acceptance.

It’s a horror film worse than a vampire story.

While the president is still on his sickbed praying for recovery, they have already buried him at home. It should be possible to think someone to death. Why look for coherence in a discourse of discords? Another sick fellow is in a hurry to tell the story of a national sickness from their own sickbed.

You see, my friend, the casket maker is praying for someone to die, for the market to be good. The doctor prays that patients may consult; after all, it was a serpent that turned to healing staff in the desert. The patient in a hospital ward is praying for recovery. And God almighty is wondering which prayer deserves to be answered first.

Tell me which is better: a sick president or a sick nation?

Which dies first: a sick president or a sick nation?

That big sepulcher called the State House is Frankensteined for widowhood. Sometimes when I look at its dome, I see a thousand burials cast their votes.

I think Nigeria needs more mortuaries and more cemeteries. The available ones are already test cases in Crowd Phenomenon.

Sick nation is attitude.

Sick nation mocks itself.

Sick nation consumes itself.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Poetricks

Good poets don’t read others; they read only themselves. Their own works are always the best. Their own works deserve the prize; those of others deserve just a mention, otherwise the trash can. Praise the work of another poet and you lose your poetricks!

Good poets think their importance first, work their importance first, lest they become the least. Does it matter if a poet wants to remain the only champion in a village of jealous voices?

Good poets have the best language already; others are learners. Others have to be taken by the hand and led through some darkness of an inexpressible idea.

Good poets are gadflies; others houseflies already part of the rot.

Poets are saints, others devils or stupid fellows or both.

Poets know everything already; you fault them because you don’t know.

Because I am not a good poet, my noise is less onomatopoeic than yours!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

An Apology to My Students

By

Obododimma Oha

I have been on strike for quite sometime now and a number of things have suffered: the lectures, the experiments, the class seminars, etc. You have also suffered emotionally especially because you were about to commence your examinations when I suddenly put down my red pen and banged on the table and said, “Damn it, I’m going on strike!” And I went on strike. You were surprised, but humbly believed that I must have done it for your own good and that it would be over soon. You put down your pens too, just after writing your matriculation numbers on the answer booklets. Our conversation was thus interrupted, and I am sure that surprised you too, for you know me for hating the interruption of conversations, especially “academic” conversations. I am sure you have not forgotten my long lectures on how learning and all knowledge work have to be a continuous and coherent thing. I need to apologize to you for this behavior of mine that is neither in tandem with my character, nor with learnedness. I need to apologize to you also for the more painful interruption of our highly valued, examination-type of conversation. You know me for having special regard for evaluations, which I always insist are experiments that must be allowed to produce reliable results, results that should be used in making the learning process better and better. With my absence from the classroom for weeks now, you must have started searching for the meaning of all my theories and philosophies about the non-negotiable necessity for creating a healthy society through the production and transmission of knowledge.

I do not want to defend my action in rendering this apology, for that would greatly undermine my purpose here. Moreover, you are already familiar with the powerful and convincing argument I offered when I commenced the strike – the fact that Government has to touch up my salary and also provide facilities for a more effective and result-oriented university education in Nigeria. I would, however, like you to take this whole painful episode as part of the learning, for indeed, our nation is a school where we all can learn some very crucial life skills. Nigeria is both the school and the challenging subject to be studied. In that regard too, the Government of your country is already a case study. Your politicians are case studies on democracy and its hijack. I, too, should be considered a case study on knowledge production and its contradictions, especially given the litany of strikes that characterize my professional life in Nigeria. So, I would like you not to be idle but to see yourselves as being on a serious fieldwork.

I know I have failed you in a number of ways and must take responsibility for your inclination to look for heroes among politicians, armed robbers, kidnappers, and other groups that do dark things. I know that I always told you how hardworking my own teachers were, how they loved their profession, and how people knew and respected them for the quality of their minds, their preferences, and actions. I am not quite sure that I have fared well enough to make you want to become a teacher like me. Is it my new-found interest in “pastoring” a church or” imam-ing” a mosque instead of giving good attention to my lectures and supervising your projects properly? Is it my new-found desire for flashy cars, which I change like Christmas dress in order to show other lecturers that I am in a different class? Is it the less attention I now pay to books? Is it my gradual transformation to a businessman? Is it the tendency to begin to check my lectures and other academic inputs in terms of Naira and Kobo? Is it the casual way I do my job, going into the class to teach unprepared and without updating the ideas that I present to you? Is it my inability to challenge you intellectually to make you have respect for learning? Is it my preference to belong to various committees and devote more time to meetings than to academic activities?

I have always told you that we do not just teach what is in the books but that it is through our lives that we teach, or that it is our lives that (we) teach. How true, though ironical! I am asking the Government to provide physical facilities that would make my work really begin to work – and that is quite rational and legitimate – but I have also performed the act of contrition as recommended by my confessor and have realized that I also need mental and behavioural facilities to demonstrate fairness to you as my students, to your poor parents who are also victims of bad governance, and to God who is actually my employer.

I know that in our country in these strange times, we seem to lack the capacity to say “sorry” when we err. I want to depart from that arrogant posture and tell you sincerely that I have erred in my tactics. I wish to let you know that I will soon call off this painful strike, as a sign that I care for you and that, even though my request that Government should see education as a priority is legitimate, I am also concerned about my own image as a teacher. I am concerned about how my life and conduct as a teacher would help you to learn to have respect for learnedness and interest in the future of our society. May you continue in the love and pursuit of wisdom.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Malcolm without an X

(an inverted performance in Njakiriology)

By

Obododimma Oha

As children growing up in a society torn between a fairly familiar African world and a strange but alluring western world packaged and circulated through films, my friends and I had a little problem in deciding who would become our heroes. We needed heroes very badly. The heroes of the African world were not particularly attractive. There was Lance Spearman of Drum magazine. Lance was doing heroic things, fighting with criminals and surviving miraculously, and so had the right credentials. One could remake oneself in his image and command respect as the invincible. But his skin was same as ours – familiarly black! He also wore a hat that was unique, same as James Bond. But local chiefs also wore that hat! So, that uniqueness suffered. The environment in which he operated was also familiar: same bushes we knew; same quaint parks; same houses… How could anything familiar produce sound heroism?

One needed a rare, foreign hero, operating in a foreign location. And we found these heroes in the films we watched, films that we literalized and located in everyday experience. There was James Bond. Oh, James, always taking risks, chasing criminals, outgunning them, and having free sex with ladies he has rescued or has converted through his chivalry. So, someone among us went for a James Bond identity. He took the name and patented it, which means that no other boy would answer it. Once a hero’s name was taken, it was taken. There was only one special guy at a time; others had to migrate to other celebrated identities, or keep searching. We took all kinds of names, some derived from these film heroes, some made-up. But those taken from known film heroes had greater impact and respect, as the original attributes of the film heroes could be copied to the adopters. An invented identity raised a difficulty for its bearer who had to work hard to define the fictive heroes’ attributes, uniqueness, and framework of respect.

My elder brother liked Westerns, mainly because of the gunfights. He had been shopping for a name for a while and was lucky one day when the Federal Ministry of Information came to our community to show a film at the primary school playground. The jeep carrying the ministry staff came early enough and drove through the town playing some ikwokrikwo music, their megaphones blaring loud and bringing a sense of some-real-thing’s-gonna-happen into the little community. The announcement that there would be a free film show at the primary school playground was such exciting news. People hurried the rest of the day’s activities, to make sure they got to the venue early and secured good viewing positions.

That evening, my elder brother got a name: Captain Idea Murphy. He said that was what the best gunfighter in the film was called. Years later when I became familiar with the name Eddie Murphy, I started suspecting that my elder brother probably refurbished the name, changing “Eddie” to “Idea” and also adding “Captain” so as to underline some commanding aura in answering the name. A captain was in charge and there were never two captains in one boat.

I didn’t have a name, so someone suggested Malcolm X. At first, I didn’t like the name, because it was very strange. I even thought it was incomplete. What was that X? None of my friends knew. They said that was what the fellow was called in the film. They said he was fearless and tried to challenge White people. How could a Black man have challenged White people? And in the Whiteman’s country for that matter! How could anyone in his right senses have challenged the White people who made the cars, the planes, and, as we were told by our teacher, had even gone outside this Earth and had come back alive! My friends said that made the name worth taking, the name of a fearless challenger. I was worried: didn’t that mean that I would be regarded as a trouble maker? Malcolm X? What was that X?

My elder brother, now Captain, said I should take it, after all I was a trouble maker, always challenging his authority. He said if I didn’t like the X, he could keep it for me. I could just be Malcolm. But one of my friends said the power of the name would be gone without its X. How could I be a hero without the X? So, I became Malcolm X, but with great concern for the stranded X.

Forty years later, I have found myself in the Whiteman’s country, enjoying his hospitality, his dollars, his well-kept environment, his Internet, in short his technology. I am glad that I looked at that X with great suspicion. How could I have managed if I lost all these opportunities and ended up with the kind of messy life that my not-so-lucky friends live back home now? Imagine being a classroom teacher in one primary school and riding a bicycle to school and praying for your salary to be increased! Imagine standing in front of those noisy children with a cane in your hand and your hungry stomach asking you to transfer aggression to those urchins! Imagine using the break period to do some okada runs to augment your salary! How could I have been a hero in such circumstances?

Certainly, I am a hero. I don't have to ballot-or-bullet back home to be one! Imagine the number of mails and phone calls I receive from home. Everyone at home thinks I am a millionaire and wants some dollars. They think dollars grow like grass over here! Maybe I am partly responsible for this, for I once announced in a mail that I am a big time professor over here, and that I direct several programmes. They really believed me! Or is it the popularity I have won as an Internet warrior and the courage I have shown in using abusive rhetoric, flogging this imagined adversary and clubbing that vulnerable debater? Boy, this Malcolm really has no X! They must think I am a very important person, for me to have the courage to write all those offensive posts. And there’s that stupid Obododimma, stupid to the bone! Local teacher! Sorry, local teacher-farmer, who measures the merit of intellectual arguments in terms of tubers of yam! He thinks he is more patriotic than I am, simply because he is unfortunately trapped in that kingdom-gone. Those guys back home must be dead dumb!

I am a Malcolm without an X and I am not going to fall for any local fool who wants to tag on to my name and steal my heroism.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Un/Translatables

by

Obododimma Oha

Translation is a journey from language to language. Or rather, a journey that language makes to language. Does language find language when it gets to language? Does language freely find language, or is it afraid to find it? Is it warned not to get too close to it, to finding language?

When language cannot find language when it gets to language, we say it is untranslatable. We often imagine that languages have limits where they stop and stare at other languages, stopping points supposedly manned by culture.

Translation rewords the world, reworlds the word.
Translation threatens worlds that wish to remain originary.
Translation could be radical, conspiratorial, mischievous, wanton.
Translation may be outrageous and too eager to expose.
Translation may leave behind, suppress, to impress.
Translation may strip bare and demystify.
Translation may distort.

Translation creates access and makes available. This seems too bad for the worship of Logos, at least in the province of the Revealed Message. Indeed, translation enacts the politics of otherness...

Translation can also prevent access, a step away from the untranslatable.
The "untranslatable" thus is not always that expression which cannot be "translated" but a preferred closure. The untranslatable reassures us that the boundaries are safely maintained, the power strong.

The untranslated is the poetry of limits, at limits.You cannot read it too confidently!

Translate it at your own risk.
Translate it and upset an order.
Translate it and let it translate you into a difference.
Translate it to let it.

Friday, July 3, 2009

On Being Married to a Man Who Is Married to Books

By

Obododimma Oha

I have heard it said that an intellectual is a polygamist, for s/he may not just be wedded to a human being whose needs and desires must be given some consideration, but also be similarly attached to books, to academic activities, to the endless pursuit of knowledge. These two commitments do not always submit to each other peacefully and may become the cause of serious agony for the married intellectual. As it is for men who are academics, so it is for their female counterparts. Perhaps, viewed from the perspective of women who are academics, the conflicting demands are more intense in their own case than in the case of men who are academics. In spite of the changes brought into the family by gender sensitization in modern life, women still have to make the home, catering for their husbands and children. And this does not excuse them from living up to the demands of their jobs: as academics they still have to carry out research, read books, teach students, supervise projects, publish articles or books, and engage in other professional activities. Indeed, as Virginia Woolf writes in A Room of One’s Own the woman as a (literary artist) needs a space of her own, economic freedom, and freedom to use her mind, in order to function productively and meaningfully. It is certainly not an easy thing for her to have a “room of her own” in the space of her husband when she functions as a scholar. As a male scholar, I imagine, therefore, that it is not very easy for my female colleagues.

As a male scholar married to a woman and to my books, what does my “polygamy” orchestrate for me in my family life? Am I not like the man invited by his chi and his father-in-law to work on their farms on the same day at the same time? If I ignore my father-in-law and decide to work on my chi’s farm, my father-in-law would be mad with me and withdraw his daughter (at least, as culturally permitted in the Igbo society in which I was born and raised). If I ignore my chi and decide to work on my father-in-law’s farm, my chi would also be mad with me and take my life. So, my tragedy is located somewhere between the possible loss of a wife and the loss of my life. And, being a faithful husband (oh yes I am!) I don’t want to lose my wife I swear, neither do I want to lose my life and leave her a widow!

It is 2.00 am and I am in my study, working at the computer again, fighting back the hands of sleep that have been trying to shut my eyes for me. I have to finish reading an article sent to me for assessment and feed in my report on the e-page of an electronic journal. Deadlines are deadlines, especially for electronic gatekeepers. Moreover, I have to prove to the editor of the journal that scholars based in Africa are not as “dead” as the world is made to believe. So, I am here, not really in my study anymore, but in cyberspace, mutually hallucinating with other cyborgs (thanks to Mel Gibson for that idea). I don’t know whether I am asleep or awake again, just as I can’t say whether I am really Here or There, whether I am real or unreal! Well, in my nowhereness, I see her on the screen of my laptop, first as a pop-up, then as an emoticon. She is snoring and her snores are angry words. A software now, she jumps out of the screen and gets installed on my mind the real computer. I am browsing my mind now, my laptop has vanished and my mind is saying to me …

Are you real? Are you really here? Are you really unreal? OK, she is your art now, she that you cannot browse. She is the message now the medium , she that cannot give you a deadline. Are you not just another brand of falsehood? Sometimes when she needs your attention, you have a book in your hand or you are sitting before a computer, and you must chase that idea through the paragraphs and pages of some fields of thought. Sometimes she is kept waiting in the bedroom, and you are trying to finish writing that article to beat a deadline. Sometimes the food kept for you on the dining table – because you could not join the family at mealtime – gets cold and you have to eat it quietly like a dog, afraid to complain, so as not to start a war. After all, if you didn’t want it cold, you should have come to eat it warm!

Books and books and books everywhere. Books on the shelves. Books on the floor. Books on the table. Books in cartons. Books sitting on books. Books inside books, to mark where you have to return to, after angrily going to find out what she wants you to come and see. Books in the study. Books in the bedroom. Books and books and more books arriving. You cannot provide more money for weekend shopping, for you say the pay is low, the tax is high, and you have children’s fees to pay soon, but you can’t remove your eyes from books. You buy more and more books and smuggle them into the house! Sometimes you claim you got the books for free, even before she accuses you with her eyes. You keep buying books, sometimes three or four copies of the same book. Some copies for yourself; some copies for your students to borrow and disfigure through photocopying or sheer carelessness.

This conference and that seminar and those workshops … where you shop for ideas on how to stay away from her! Absentee husband, you nickname is Professor Awayness, for you are busy providing awareness away from her and the children. Sometimes a week. Sometimes two weeks. And when you are returning from this one, you are leaving for that one. Sometimes you trans-conference or trans-seminar, after all, what’s the point coming home to say you are leaving soon?

And your way of thinking! Haven’t you been hardened by all those crazy ideas and tortured language that communicates them? So, what do we have here: a human who can really sleep when he is asleep, play when it is playtime, and do stupid things when fun demands it, without caring so much about what this or that theory says? You are discussing a point with her. Just a little argument and you take off as if you are in one of those crazy listserv debates, quoting this book and that book you have read. You see; that’s a symptom of the illness that I mentioned earlier! Can you similarly quote her, your wife? No, not all! Has she got quotable ideas? It is books that tell you what to do. It is books that are right enough to decide a little exchange between a husband and a wife!

Yes, she needs a husband, not necessarily an academic hero. But you think that being an academic hero counts much in satisfying those needs of hers. And that’s one problem: who determines her needs: you, your books, or she? She wants you to include her in your scheme of things, if not the main programme of your life. And you are uncomfortable about this, very. You think your academic life and pursuit could be hindered, if not ruined, by your focus on a human wife or family. Didn’t you even once whisper to yourself: a writer married is a writer marred? Another idea you picked from those crazy associates of yours, those apostles of aloneness!

And now you have discovered another opportunity for keeping her lonely (or another opportunity has discovered you the ready tool!): the Internet, with all those blogs you must update, those emails you must read and respond to, those chats (sometimes three or four going on simultaneously), those skirmishes on listservs you must engage in, those downloads and uploads that increase the weight of your mental luggage. So, has she not suddenly become a widow, an “Internet widow,” as Clifford Stoll calls it in Silicon Snake Oil?

At the mention of the word “widow”, I wake up and I am right on my feet. My wife opens the door of my study and walks in, fear written on her face.
“Why were you screaming?”
“Screaming? Did I scream?”
“Of course, you did! I came to find out what was wrong. And don’t you think it’s time for you to come to the bedroom and lie down?”
And, suddenly, there’s an electricity outage. 4.00 am. Indeed, it is time to go to bed.

Friday, June 12, 2009

On Being Too Igbo

By

Obododimma Oha

Egbe bere
Ugo bere
Nke si ibe ya ebela
Nku kwaa ya!


-- Igbo proverb

My performance of my Igboness, as in my possessing and announcing a name that is proudly and loudly Igbo, my mode of dressing, my attempt at using some Igbo configurations in public discourse, my claim to some knowledge of my Igbo culture and attempt to use such knowledge in my academic life, all seem to annoy the Nigerian ethnic Other sometimes, and even some Igbo people for whom denial of ethnic selfhood is a better means of presenting the self before the Other. One finds traces of such annoyance in their comments that refer to my “unduly” performed Igboness. Is he the only Igbo person around? He wants to be more Igbo than every other Igbo person! He is an Okonkwo! Or even in the way I am hailed when I appear in Igbo traditional attire: “Onye Igbo!” Igwe!” “Okoro!” But when I accept assimilation by putting on the traditional attire of the ethnic Other and speaking the language of the ethnic Other, I do not attract any attention and do not receive any hailing! And I begin to wonder: how much Igboness is enough? How much Igboness is tolerable? Can one be too Igbo? Do I have to apologize to other people for my being Igbo and wanting to show that I treasure my Igboness? Do I have to deny my ethnic self in order to make other non-Igbo people happy? Does my being Igbo prevent the Other from achieving a fuller, different ethnicity? Why is my Igboness considered offensive, to the extent that the Other wants it erased or silenced?

I am indeed puzzled when I am told that I am too Igbo, or that I want to be more Igbo than other Igbo people. So, if there are other Igbo people who want to deny their Igboness, or want to opt out of the Igbo nation, I should also deny my Igboness, or perform a perfunctory Igboness, in order to be approved by the Other? How can the ethnic Other now have the measuring rod for determining moderate Igboness and excessive Igboness?

When I am hailed as “Onye Igbo!” because I have manifested my Igboness, I am being told that my Igboness is a liability. I am being told that my Igboness is a deviation from the norm that is the cultural identity of the Other. I am being made to feel ashamed of being Igbo (which is why perhaps some Igbo people think that they are being praised and considered desirable when they are told, “Oh, you don’t look Igbo,” or “You don’t behave like Igbo people”). And I wonder, how can my celebration of my identity in speech and appearance be such a problem for the Other, while the Other’s celebration of his or her identity is not?

Being Igbo has not become pejorative (which the Other indirectly wants me to believe) and will never be. Pejorative Igboness (as being constructed through contemporary commercialized humour in Nigeria, through media hypes about what happens in the governance of Igbo states in the Igbo homeland, through Nollywood fictions about the cultism of Igbo businessmen, through insult on Igbo traditional religion, etc) will always be a continuation of war against the Igbo by other means.

Perhaps the presence of the ethnic me is enough to annoy, my presence instead of absence. Instead of self-with-the-other, it is self-without-the-other. Presence appears threatening, already always. Presence here and there. Presence in the same postcolonial nation-state. Presence even in cyberspace, which, in its illusion, promised an exile from contested physical spaces. It is as if the Self prevents the fullness of the Other. But the Igbo have a theory for it, a theory encapsulated in the proverb, “Mbe naabo zua ahia, uru anaghi adi ya” (When two tortoises do business with each other, none of them walks away with a profit). The Theory of “Tortoise to Tortoise,” as I would like to call it, asserts that one tortoise never likes the presence of another, so that tricks won’t fall in price.

Does the ethnic Other recognize me? Can the ethnic Other still accept to recognize me when I am present?

I am located at the margin of phonic error. I am the error. And also the imagined terror. The Other cannot articulate me and my Igbo name, or pretends not to be able to. Watch how the ethnic Other deliberately tries to make me appear strange and unwelcome. Decidedly, I am pronounced wrongly; pronounced wrong. Even if the Other knows how to pronounce my name right. Even if the Other can try. Even if. I am better distorted. I, the Igbo, a distortion.

This distortion is the Other’s horn of humour. The Other drinks me down, I the strange. There was once an Igbo man who did this and that and those. There was an Igbo woman who did this and that and those. There was an Igbo chicken that did this and that and those. And the audience laughs and laughs and laughs. It is a night of a thousand ethnic bites!

And beyond humour, I am considered a risk. And we know risks are very risky! Which is why people always try to deal with them before they can have a rest of mind.

Having a name whose sound disturbs is bad enough. Worse when one holds on to Igbo culture and values. A greater risk is the one that wants to promote some intellectual Igboness. Have the Igbo got any ideas? How can he talk about Igbo ideas? The gods and goddesses of the Other are very divine, very scientific, and have got all the answers to civilization. The gods and goddesses of the Other wear jeans and eat at McDonalds; Igbo gods and goddesses drink blood in groves and shrines at Okija. The gods and goddesses of the ethnic Other speak poststructuralist language and own the Web; mine are represented as blockheads. The shrines of the gods and goddesses of the Other are international tourist sites. Igbo shrines are only remembered in discourses about corruption and its link with the occult. Igbo gods and goddesses are terribly guilty of Igboness and must be violated, if they cannot be stripped of their Igbocentricity.

Being Igbo, bad enough.

Using one’s Igbo ideas, annoying.

Making one’s Igboness visible, unsettling.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

X-change

My wants want me
My needs need me

My wants tempting, armed with the best logic
My needs too arrogant, sometimes angry, too righteous
To be wrong

My wants eloquent – in that hot advert
Too much a doctrine to lose its truth
My wants too fashionable to be wrong:
Today a flowing gown to dazzle the town
Tomorrow a skirt, shy & brief
To know the frustrations of turbaned ideas

My want thinks japan & asian tigers, in shifting shapes
My need utters germany in forever-yours

Can I have a multitude of attitudes
In the tributaries of exchange
Desires craving, necessities frowning?
Could my needs also want?
Could my wants also need?

My want says:
Get hold of that prose, drug it
With the need to want

My need says:
Fry that poetry, spice it with mild strangeness
Inspiring history to hate itself


And the last breath says:
The want of needs, the need to want
Forever


-- Obododimma Oha

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Eight Principles of Pious Prodigality in African Studies

(1) Say something horrible about Africa.
(2) Dress up your tongue to mystify knowledge: speak a language that is not yours.
(3) Theory does: there are spices from Derrida to Bhabha.
(4) Don't smell native.
(5) Squander yourself in others like yourself.
(6) Insist on getting lost.
(7) Don't investigate; it is already in your head.
(8) Return to your father only when you find that you cannot swine your identity in spite of your stomach.


-- Obododimma Oha.