This is what happens when you have a showbiz impressario having such a heavy hand in the organisation of a supposed book campaign...
No one in attendance at the Eko Hotel on December 20 could have missed the fact that Ben Murray-Bruce of the Silverbird entertainment conglomerate was the main man in terms of the organisation and stage-managing of the two events attended by President Jonathan, especially the afternoon launch of his FaceBOOK, 'My Friends and I' inside the hotel's Expo Hall, an event attended by an estimated 5000 people and featuring some of Nigeria's biggest pop stars. There were a lot of good things about the event, and as an evening event in which writers finally had some voice highlighted, lots of bad things about the day too. Like 5000 people given goodie bags with random populist foreign books, while the homebased publishing industry flounders.
Lot's of shortcomings but let's just talk about two, especially two that irked me and a few other writers on the day. In a piece I wrote abou the afternoon event, I noted this:
"A singer who appeared to have been flown into Nigeria to sing the national anthem, not only could not get her pitch right, she got the words of the anthem wrong."
I was putting it mildly. The singer in question tried and failed at needless vocal dramatics, then she capped the slightly embarrassing performance by getting the lines of the National Anthem wrong! In front of the president! That was just the pits for me.
Who the hell was the singer, and what exactly qualified her for such a high profile gig? - were questions that tasked a number of us writers for sometime afterwards. Well, The Guardian LIFE section of today (an arts/entertainment/lifestyle section that today was turned into a social diary of Guardian CEO Maiden Ibru's birthday party) inadvertently provided the answer as to the singer's qualification at least. Shown with Ben Murray-Bruce and his wife is June Slaton (the-national-anthem-messing-up-singer). The caption helpfully tells us that she's "nee Murray-Bruce" (see picture above). So there you have it. Nepotism, anyone?
As it happens, June Slaton was far from the lowest point of the Bring Back The Book shin-dig, which was broadcast live, with an edited version repeated on many TV channels countless times since. The lowest point was when a certain young lady by the name of Nana Kusherki was called to speak as a representative of "Northern Youth". She took her time coming out. Oh, could we clap to encourage her, the comperes urged, she was a bit overwhelmed by it all, crap like that.
Eventually Nana appeared, all demure, dressed in the traditional style and wearing a Muslim headscarf. Like a product of some trado-Islamic orthodoxy. She started to speak and - what ? - out came a serious American accent. In the whole of the North, they couldn't find any representative youth but this privileged Americana? How does someone with a pronounced US twang represent grassroots Northern Nigerian youth? The pervasive American accent obsession in Nigeria really gets to me. Nearly all radio presenters speak American. Even Bring Back The Book, when the event went via satellite to President Jonathan's 'friends' way up North in Kaduna, the female with the microphone spoke American!
This is what Naomi Lucas said about Nana Kusherki in her 'Open Letter' to the President:
A young lady, Nana... spoke on behalf of the North. Though she made sense to some extent, I did notice one thing though: she spoke with a distinct American accent. My conclusion: she didn't school in Nigeria, so she probably wouldn't understand sitting at home for six months while the government and ASUU try to resolve their differences, outdated libraries still stocked with books my father read while he studied at the same university, disgruntled lecturers who take out their frustration on you, standing throughout a three-hour lecture with the lecturers using a public address system to harass your eardrums and reading from the same lesson note he's been using for the past eight years. She might identify with it, but it is only him that wears the shoes that knows where it pinches.
Very well observed. But I will say the American accent was the least of Nana Kusherki's sins, for as soon as she got to the podium, her headscarf started to slip, revealing weave-on hair extensions. My writer friend, who knows herself, said straight away, that this lady is a fraud. She doesn't 'cover' normally. "Ah-ah, you have come again, how can you be so sure?" I chided. My friend maintained that she knows a lot of Northern ladies who 'cover' and the headscarves don't slip off alarmingly as is the case with this broad; and besides, ladies who cover don't wear weave-on 'cause, who are they showing it to? The head's supposed to be hidden.
As to what she said, Nana Kusherki was massively unsuited. She had been brought on to give a "comment" or ask the president a "question". Instead she launched into a lecture that was more like Northern Nigeria for Primary School pupils, reinforcing so many stereotypes of the North in what she chose to highlight. It was a dreadful performance, only salvaged by a passable few affirmative things she said towards the end.
Nana Kusherki rejoined her friends in the audience, all fashionable young ladies with hair extensions to their shoulders. Not a headscarf in sight. And true to my friend's words, by the time Ms Kusherki was leaving the hall, her headscarf had slipped off altogether, and she wasn't self-conscious enough to lift it back in place. The matter bugged us. Why will this lady just put on the 'habit' of the North like a costume to come and role-play at Bring Back The Book? Who wrote her appalling speech and who put her up to the dress rehearsal? If she was a modern Northern lady in the contemporary style, isn't it more empowering, more honest for her to come as herself, rather than pretend? The matter left a sour taste in my mouth whenever I remembered Bring Back The Book.
Well, today's papers provided another helpful clue, and incontrovertible proof that Nana Kusherki was a pretender at Bring Back The Book. On two separate pages of today's ThisDay STYLE, the fashionable young lady is featured. And guess what? Nana Kusherki is a red-carpet loving, contemporary trend-setting babe! Nuff said.
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