I heard of ?On Black Sisters??Street?? by Chika Unigwe years ago but only got round to reading it a couple of months ago. I was smitten and wondered what had taken me so long. I wrote a review and it was published in the Daily Times Nigeria.

I was determined to get to know Chika better; I followed her on Twitter and danced the azonto when she followed me back. I also sent her a friend request on Facebook and got this message: ?Sorry, but this person has reached the limit of maximum friends, but you are now subscribed to their public updates.?

I had to content myself with being one of her 1,114 subscribers while envying her 5,226 friends. It was like watching TV through the window; still, it was better than nothing.

I had heard of Noo Saro-Wiwa through a friend while he read her book, ?Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria?. He kept posting tantalising teasers by way of excerpts from the book on Facebook and Twitter, praising her ?muscular literary skills? while bemoaning her ?biting condescension? of all things Nigerian.

I knew of her father, Ken Saro-Wiwa. He was an author, television producer, environmental activist, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award and the Goldman Environmental Prize. In 1995, he was, rather sadly and unfortunately, executed by the military government headed by General Sani Abacha.

So you can imagine my great joy and jubilation when I heard that both Chika and Noo would be reading from their books and discussing contemporary African literature at ‘Nigeria Now’ in London. This was my chance to meet these stars in person and I wasn?t passing it up for anything. And so I went.

?Nigeria Now?, billed for the 4th of July, 2012, was one of several events in Africa Utopia, a month-long festival of music, theatre, film, literature, dance, fashion, talks and debates programmed by Southbank Centre in conjunction with renowned Senegalese singer and human-rights campaigner Baaba Maal, as part of Southbank Centre?s Festival of the World with MasterCard.

The session was compered by Nigerian-born, Onyekachi Wambu, a journalist, editor, television producer and editor of the leading Black newspaper, The Voice, at the end of the 1980s.

Noo read a hilarious piece from her travels in Abuja where she responded to a lonely hearts ad in the paper for a sugar mummy. The audience cracked up as she read, especially when she did a poor imitation of a Nigerian accent;

The next guy I rang ?? a twenty-three-year-old self-described ?worker??called Dan ??was less romantic. This time I pretended to be a fifty-three-year-old divorcee looking for my first ever toy boy.

?You?re fifty-three? ?Wow,? he stammered nervously. But it took him less than a second to digest the information and shift into an aggressive, transactional frame of mind. ?You have to satisfy me,? he demanded. ?I don?t care if you are fifty-three years old, we have to be together.?

?What are you looking for in a sugar mummy??

?I need assistance from people like you, you understand? I want to further my studies.’

?I?ve never done this sort of thing before. How much money would you expect me to give you??

?I won?t ask you. Give me what you have?I want to further my studies?I need cash. If you are rich, I will satisfy you.?


I put the phone down. His enthusiasm was overwhelming.

Chika read from different sections of her recently published ?Night Dancer?.

F is for father. To say F properly, the lower lip has to come between the upper teeth and the lower teeth. Not imprisoned but lightly trapped and then instantly released as if it were being teased by a lover. F was her father. Should she call him Father? Or Papa? Or Daddy? Madam Gold had said the right word would come to her, there was no need to get herself worked up worrying which was best. When she had asked Obi over the phone, he?d told her she was just being silly, worrying over such a small thing.

?Are there big things I should worry about, then?? she had asked. Should she worry about whether he would accept her? Love her? Want her?

?A parent?s love is a given,? Obi had said. ?No need to worry about that either.?

F is father. A father who loved you just because. Even if you had been absent from his life since you were a baby.

A common theme which runs through both books is that of Nigeria?s fervent religiosity. Wambu picked up on this and asked the authors what they thought was the reason for this. Noo, who admitted to not being religious, said she found herself cowering and defenceless when a cousin challenged her about the Scriptures. She said if you live in a society where you have very little control of your life, art and religion are often outlets as you can exercise some measure of control over those. She also stated that the proliferation of churches, both charlatan and genuine, and the way they are run as businesses are an indication of the strong entrepreneurial bent of a people who have few other avenues to express these skills. Chika said that the Nigerian culture lends itself to religion, making an easy transition from the traditional practices to modern-day Pentecostalism.

Referring to Nigeria as ?a joyless dystopia?,? Wambu asked how they account for the paradoxical frustration and happiness in Nigeria. Chika said that Nigerians tend to always find ways to get around their frustrations, while Noo felt that happiness is having realistic expectations not based on material things–a people can be suffering and still be happy.

I loved the literary atmosphere; the people I met were all down-to-earth and friendly. I got a glimpse into the authors’ heads as to what they were thinking when they wrote their books. All in all, it was an enlightening and enchanting evening.

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