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The Nigeria of Ben Okri

Sunday, 15 March, 2015

On 28 March, Nigeria will elect a president. The incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south of the country, is facing a strong challenge from Muhammadu Buhari, who is popular in the mainly Muslim north. John Hare was a district officer for both the colonial British and independent Nigerian governments and his essay, How Northern Nigeria’s Violent History Explains Boko Haram, is a poignant and troubling overview of nation’s past and present. Frankie Edozien, the director of Reporting Africa at New York University, looks at the pre-election landscape and concludes: Nigeria can beat Boko Haram with mercenaries but it won’t win the vote for Jonathan.

Jimi Agbaje

All this brings us to Ben Okri, the Nigerian poet and novelist, who was born on this day in 1959. He’s one of the country’s foremost writers and a key figure in what has been labeled African Traditional Religion realism. He won the Booker Prize in 1991 with The Famished Road, which is set against a background where two opposing political parties try to bribe or coerce people to vote for them. Despite Nigeria’s woes, Ben Okri believes.

The Awakening Age

O ye who travel the meridian line,
May the vision of a new world within you shine.

May eyes that have lived with poverty’s rage,
See through to the glory of the awakening age.

For we are all richly linked in hope,
Woven in history, like a mountain rope.

Together we can ascend to a new height,
Guided by our heart’s clearest light.

When perceptions are changed there’s much to gain,
A flowering of truth instead of pain.

There’s more to a people than their poverty;
There’s their work, wisdom, and creativity.

Along the line may our lives rhyme,
To make a loving harvest of space and time.

Ben Okri (1959 – )

Kate Henshaw


Filed in: Africa, Poetry • Tags: , , , ,

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