It was a watershed day in the Igbo community of New England as the umbrella organization of all Igbo in New England commissioned a new secretariat, the first of its kind in the history of the organization. Speaking at the ceremony, the President of the organization, Dr. Ejike Eze, on behalf of the members of the executive council to thanked the Igbo Community for coming out in large numbers to celebrate the grand opening of the Igbo Secretariat in Boston. He noted that March 2, 2014 will go down in history as the day the Igbo community took another giant step forward.
Trying to Filch the Blessings of the Idol Rich
By Janet Maslin
Okey Ndibe’s razor-sharp “Foreign Gods, Inc.” steps into the story of a Nigerian-born New Yorker called Ike, just as everything in his life has begun to go horribly wrong. The only thing worse than Ike’s present situation is the plan he makes to remedy it.
Ike, whose name is correctly pronounced EE-kay, has an Amherst degree cum laude in economics. But his accent has kept him from finding a job. So he works as a cabby, with customers who call him “Eekay,” which means “buttocks” in Igbo. He has made a bad marriage to a woman who walked off with his savings, and debts now overwhelm him. The only thing he has of value is something of age-old mystical significance that is not exactly in his possession. And, intellect notwithstanding, he gets the bright idea of acquiring and selling it from a trendy article in New York magazine.
A friend sends Ike the article about an art gallery called Foreign Gods Inc., which gives this book its terrifically apt title. Only in mimicking a slick American idiom does Mr. Ndibe falter, and that’s probably to his credit. (From the fake New York magazine: “ ‘A summons to heaven doesn’t come easy or cheap,” says a gallery patron, referring to the place’s most expensive upper floor.”) But the gist of the piece is that a dealer named Mark Gruels traffics in deities from faraway places, which mean nothing but money to either him or his customers. As the book begins, Ike arrives at the gallery to see a tanned woman holding a squat statue to her breast, leaving Foreign Gods and getting into her BMW.
Ike is desperate enough to believe that Gruels will pay big money for Ngene, the powerful war god that presided over the Nigerian region where he was raised. Mr. Ndibe has his own memories of war to draw upon: He grew up in the midst of the Biafran war and was a Nigerian journalist and academic before coming to the United States, as a protégé of Chinua Achebe. He has had a distinguished teaching career and is the author of one earlier novel, “Arrows of Rain” (2000). But “Foreign Gods, Inc.,” which arrives early in January, will still have the impact of an astute and gripping new novelist’s powerful debut.
Not far into the book, Ike is on his way back to Nigeria with only one plan in mind: to steal what he thinks is an inanimate object and bring it back to New York. That scheme alone is evidence of how far he has strayed from his roots, and how much of a re-education awaits him.
At first, he is simply struck by the physical changes to his native land: Where did all those zinc-roofed concrete buildings with satellite dishes come from? But then the sense memories of the place begin to seduce him, and he falls into a swoon of reminiscence that would be enchanting, if it were not constantly interrupted by the harsh realities of his relatives and former neighbors.
Ngene the war god plays some mysterious role in all of this. Much of the village’s hardship dates back to the disruptive visit of a British missionary who was determined to teach the superiority of Christianity to Nigerian pagans. Even this takes the form of materialism, as the increasingly mad Englishman, Stanton, insists that his God is more powerful because he owns everything, while the Nigerian gods possess nothing. Nothing but the hearts and minds of their followers.
Stanton is gone, but in his wake he left bitter divisiveness and a terrible conflation of religion and greed. So Ike returns to find that his mother, who for years has had Ike’s sister bombard him with plaintive, begging letters (“Mama wonders if you want us to eat sand”), has fallen under the spell of a pastor who sees religious commitment in terms of dollar signs.
The influence of America is everywhere, and so are its own foreign gods: Ike finds impoverished Nigerian kids watching old reruns of Michael Jordan playing basketball, talking about what they would do if they were as rich and widely worshiped as he once was. They’d buy houses. Cars. Shirts with brand names on them. And pizza, even though not one of these kids has ever tasted it. They’ve just seen people eat it on American TV, and the people look happy after they do.
Ike’s journey through his past is so richly evocative that he and the reader may almost forget what he went home to do. But by the time he turns his attention to Ngene, whose high priest is Ike’s uncle, it’s clear that Ngene is more than just a wooden artifact. The past has proved, to anyone who would take heed, that Ngene is powerful, indestructible, vengeful and not easily subject to the whims of others. So a great deal more than art dealing is at stake as Ike enacts the final stage of his crazy, misbegotten plan.
Throughout “Foreign Gods, Inc.,” Ike’s hard-won urban Americanness, the kind that allowed him to drive a New York taxi, slowly evaporates. It is replaced by a more primal, physical life, as he becomes more attuned to sounds and smells, especially to the stinks of suffering, failure and fear.
Mr. Ndibe invests his story with enough dark comedy to make Ngene an odoriferous presence in his own right, and certainly not the kind of polite exotic rarity that art collectors are used to. At one point, the novel compares him to the demonic Baal, and Ngene shows many signs of wishing to live up to that reputation. In Mr. Ndibe’s agile hands, he’s both a source of satire and an embodiment of pure terror.
(CNN) — Nelson Mandela, the revered statesman who emerged from prison after 27 years to lead South Africa out of decades of apartheid, has died, South African President Jacob Zuma announced late Thursday.
Mandela was 95.
“He is now resting. He is now at peace,” Zuma said. “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.”
“What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human,” the president said in his late-night address. “We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.”
Mandela will have a state funeral. Zuma ordered all flags in the nation to be flown at half-staff from Friday through that funeral.
Mandela, a former president, battled health issues in recent months, including a recurring lung infection that led to numerous hospitalizations.
With advancing age and bouts of illness, Mandela retreated to a quiet life at his boyhood home in the nation’s Eastern Cape Province, where he said he was most at peace. He was later moved to his home in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton, where he died.
Despite rare public appearances, he held a special place in the consciousness of the nation and the world.
A hero to blacks and whites
In a nation healing from the scars of apartheid, Mandela became a moral compass.
His defiance of white minority rule and incarceration for fighting against segregation focused the world’s attention on apartheid, the legalized racial segregation enforced by the South African government until 1994.
In his lifetime, he was a man of complexities. He went from a militant freedom fighter, to a prisoner, to a unifying figure, to an elder statesman.
Years after his 1999 retirement from the presidency, Mandela was considered the ideal head of state. He became a yardstick for African leaders, who consistently fell short when measured against him.
Warm, lanky and charismatic in his silk, earth-toned dashikis, he was quick to admit to his shortcomings, endearing him further in a culture in which leaders rarely do.
His steely gaze disarmed opponents. So did his flashy smile.
Former South African President F.W. de Klerk, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993 for transitioning the nation from a system of racial segregation, described their first meeting.
“I had read, of course, everything I could read about him beforehand. I was well-briefed,” he said last year.
“I was impressed, however, by how tall he was. By the ramrod straightness of his stature, and realized that this is a very special man. He had an aura around him. He’s truly a very dignified and a very admirable person.”
For many South Africans, he was simply Madiba, his traditional clan name. Others affectionately called him Tata, the Xhosa word for father.
A nation on edge
Mandela last appeared in public during the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa. His absences from the limelight and frequent hospitalizations left the nation on edge, prompting Zuma to reassure citizens every time he fell sick.
“Mandela is woven into the fabric of the country and the world,” said Ayo Johnson, director of Viewpoint Africa, which sells content about the continent to media outlets.
When he was around, South Africans had faith that their leaders would live up to the nation’s ideals, according to Johnson.
“He was a father figure, elder statesman and global ambassador,” Johnson said. “He was the guarantee, almost like an insurance policy, that South Africa’s young democracy and its leaders will pursue the nation’s best interests.”
There are telling nuggets of Mandela’s character in the many autobiographies about him.
An unmovable stubbornness. A quick, easy smile. An even quicker frown when accosted with a discussion he wanted no part of.
Despite chronic political violence in the years preceding the vote that put him in office in 1994, South Africa avoided a full-fledged civil war in its transition from apartheid to multiparty democracy. The peace was due in large part to the leadership and vision of Mandela and de Klerk.
“We were expected by the world to self-destruct in the bloodiest civil war along racial grounds,” Mandela said during a 2004 celebration to mark a decade of democracy in South Africa.
“Not only did we avert such racial conflagration, we created amongst ourselves one of the most exemplary and progressive nonracial and nonsexist democratic orders in the contemporary world.”
Mandela represented a new breed of African liberation leaders, breaking from others of his era such as Robert Mugabe by serving one term.
In neighboring Zimbabwe, Mugabe has been president since 1987. A lot of African leaders overstayed their welcomes and remained in office for years, sometimes decades, making Mandela an anomaly.
But he was not always popular in world capitals.
Until 2008, the United States had placed him and other members of the African National Congress on its terror list because of their militant fight against the apartheid regime.
Rolihlahla Mandela started his journey in the tiny village of Mvezo, in the hills of the Eastern Cape, where he was born on July 18, 1918. His teacher later named him Nelson as part of a custom to give all schoolchildren Christian names.
His father died when he was 9, and the local tribal chief took him in and educated him.
Mandela attended school in rural Qunu, where he retreated in 2011 before returning to Johannesburg and later Pretoria to be near medical facilities.
He briefly attended University College of Fort Hare but was expelled after taking part in a protest with Oliver Tambo, with whom he later operated the nation’s first black law firm.
In subsequent years, he completed a bachelor’s degree through correspondence courses and studied law at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, but left without graduating in 1948.
Four years before he left the university, he helped form the youth league of the African National Congress, hoping to transform the organization into a more radical movement. He was dissatisfied with the ANC and its old-guard politics.
And so began Mandela’s civil disobedience and lifelong commitment to breaking the shackles of segregation in South Africa.
In 1956, Mandela and dozens of other political activists were charged with high treason for activities against the government. His trial lasted five years, but he was ultimately acquitted.
Meanwhile, the fight for equality got bloodier.
Four years after his treason charges, police shot 69 unarmed black protesters in Sharpeville township as they demonstrated outside a station. The Sharpeville Massacre was condemned worldwide, and it spurred Mandela to take a more militant tone in the fight against apartheid.
The South African government outlawed the ANC after the massacre, and an angry Mandela went underground to form a new military wing of the organization.
“There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and nonviolence against a government whose reply is only savage attacks on an unarmed and defenseless people,” Mandela said during his time on the run.
During that period, he left South Africa and secretly traveled under a fake name. The press nicknamed him “the Black Pimpernel” because of his police evasion tactics.
The African National Congress heeded calls for stronger action against the apartheid regime, and Mandela helped launch an armed wing to attack government symbols, including post offices and offices.
The armed struggle was a defense mechanism against government violence, he said.
“My people, Africans, are turning to deliberate acts of violence and of force against the government, in order to persuade the government, in the only language which this government shows by its own behavior that it understands,” Mandela said during a hearing in 1962.
“If there is no dawning of sanity on the part of the government — ultimately, the dispute between the government and my people will finish up by being settled in violence and by force. ”
The campaign of violence against the state resulted in civilian casualties.
In 1962, Mandela secretly received military training in Morocco and Ethiopia. When he returned home later that year, he was arrested and charged with illegal exit of the country and incitement to strike.
Mandela represented himself at the trial and was briefly imprisoned before being returned to court. In 1964, after the famous Rivonia trial, he was sentenced to life in prison for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.
At the trial, instead of testifying, he opted to give a speech that was more than four hours long, and ended with a defiant statement.
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination,” he said. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
His next stop was the Robben Island prison, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in detention. He described his early days there as harsh.
“There was a lot of physical abuse, and many of my colleagues went through that humiliation,” he said.
One of those colleagues was Khehla Shubane, 57, who was imprisoned in Robben Island during Mandela’s last years there. Though they were in different sections of the prison, he said, Mandela was a towering figure.
“He demanded better rights for us all in prison. The right to get more letters, get newspapers, listen to the radio, better food, right to study,” Shubane said. “It may not sound like much to the outside world, but when you are in prison, that’s all you have.”
And Mandela’s khaki prison pants, he said, were always crisp and ironed.
“Most of us chaps were lazy, we would hang our clothes out to dry and wear them with creases. We were in a prison, we didn’t care. But Mandela, every time I saw him, he looked sharp.”
After 18 years, he was transferred to other prisons, where he experienced better conditions until he was freed in 1990.
Months before his release, he obtained a bachelor’s in law in absentia from the University of South Africa.
Calls for release
His freedom followed years of an international outcry led by Winnie Mandela, a social worker whom he married in 1958, three months after divorcing his first wife.
Mandela was banned from reading newspapers, but his wife provided a link to the outside world.
She told him of the growing calls for his release and updated him on the fight against apartheid.
World pressure mounted to free Mandela with the imposition of political, economic and sporting sanctions, and the white minority government became more isolated.
In 1988 at age 70, Mandela was hospitalized with tuberculosis, a disease whose effects plagued him until the day he died. He recovered and was sent to a minimum security prison farm, where he was given his own quarters and could receive additional visitors.
Among them, in an unprecedented meeting, was South Africa’s president, P.W. Botha.
Change was in the air.
When Botha’s successor, de Klerk, took over, he pledged to negotiate an end to apartheid.
Free at last
On February 11, 1990, Mandela walked out of prison to thunderous applause, his clenched right fist raised above his head.
Still as upright and proud, he would say, as the day he walked into prison nearly three decades earlier.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison,” he said at the time.
He reassured ANC supporters that his release was not part of a government deal and informed whites that he intended to work toward reconciliation.
Four years after his release, in South Africa’s first multiracial elections, he became the nation’s first black president.
“The day he was inducted as president, we stood on the terraces of the Union Building,” de Klerk remembered years later. “He took my hand and lifted it up. He put his arm around me, and we showed a unity that resounded through South Africa and the world.”
Broken marriage, then love
His union to Winnie Mandela, however, did not have such a happy ending. They officially divorced in 1996 after several years of separation.
For the two, it was a fiery love story, derailed by his ambition to end apartheid. During his time in prison, Mandela wrote his wife long letters, expressing his guilt at putting political activism before family. Before the separation, Winnie Mandela was implicated in violence, including a conviction for being an accessory to assault in the death of a teenage township activist.
Mandela found love again two years after the divorce.
On his 80th birthday, he married Graca Machel, the widow of former Mozambique president, Samora Machel.
Only three of Mandela’s children are still alive. He had 17 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren
South Africa’s fight for reconciliation was epitomized at the 1995 rugby World Cup Final in Johannesburg, when it played heavily favored New Zealand.
As the dominant sport of white Afrikaners, rugby was reviled by blacks in South Africa. They often cheered for rivals playing their national team.
Mandela’s deft use of the national team to heal South Africa was captured in director Clint Eastwood’s 2009 feature film “Invictus,” starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, the white South African captain of the rugby team.
Before the real-life game, Mandela walked onto the pitch, wearing a green-and-gold South African jersey bearing Pienaar’s number on the back.
“I will never forget the goosebumps that stood on my arms when he walked out onto the pitch before the game started,” said Rory Steyn, his bodyguard for most of his presidency.
“That crowd, which was almost exclusively white … started to chant his name. That one act of putting on a No. 6 jersey did more than any other statement in bringing white South Africans and Afrikaners on side with new South Africa.”
During his presidency, Mandela established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights abuses during apartheid. He also introduced housing, education and economic development initiatives designed to improve the living standards of the black majority.
A promise honored
In 1999, Mandela did not seek a second term as president, keeping his promise to serve only one term. Thabo Mbeki succeeded him in June of the same year.
After leaving the presidency, he retired from active politics, but remained in the public eye, championing causes such as human rights, world peace and the fight against AIDS.
It was a decision born of tragedy: His only surviving son, Makgatho Mandela, died of AIDS at age 55 in 2005. Another son, Madiba Thembekile, was killed in a car crash in 1969.
Mandela’s 90th birthday party in London’s Hyde Park was dedicated to HIV awareness and prevention, and was titled 46664, his prison number on Robben Island.
A resounding voice
Mandela continued to be a voice for developing nations.
He criticized U.S. President George W. Bush for launching the 2003 war against Iraq, and accused the United States of “wanting to plunge the world into a Holocaust.”
And as he was acclaimed as the force behind ending apartheid, he made it clear he was only one of many who helped transform South Africa into a democracy.
In 2004, a few weeks before he turned 86, he announced his retirement from public life to spend more time with his loved ones.
“Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” he said as he stepped away from his hectic schedule.
‘Like a boy of 15′
But there was a big treat in store for the avid sportsman.
When South Africa was awarded the 2010 football World Cup, Mandela said he felt “like a boy of 15.”
In July that year, Mandela beamed and waved at fans during the final of the tournament in Johannesburg’s Soccer City. It was his last public appearance.
“I would like to be remembered not as anyone unique or special, but as part of a great team in this country that has struggled for many years, for decades and even centuries,” he said. “The greatest glory of living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall.”
With him gone, South Africans are left to embody his promise and idealism.
On Sunday December 1, 2013, the Igbo Organization of New England (IONE) attained a major milestone in its existence with the adoption of a revamped constitution. This represents the first major revision of the IONE constitution since the organization came into existence eighteen years ago.
In the past several years, apparent ambiguity in several sections of the IONE constitution created opportunities for varied interpretations, controversy and abuse of the constitution, especially during election period. On numerous occasions, the organization has been sued to court, forcing us to waste thousands of dollars. The plaintiffs in these suits against IONE have always made reference to aspects of the constitution that they deem unfavorable to their cause. In the last election, the issue of proxy voting, historically interpreted with meticulous consistency by the organization as synonymous with absentee voting, was a major source of controversy. So also was the issue surrounding eligibility for voting.
The revised constitution addresses all the thorny areas of the constitution, including proxy voting (this has been expressly eliminated) eligibility to vote, membership dues, methods of voting, and the selection of the Board of Directors amongst others. The tightening of the letters of the constitution offers greater protection to IONE and its officers, and provides the much needed transparency to our process.
On behalf of the executive council, I would like to extend a great deal of gratitude to the members of the constitution review committee comprising: Dr. Amos Nwosu, Atty. Jay Odunukwe, Atty. Ken Onyema, Mr. MacPhilip Kamalu, and Mr. Ignatius Nwachukwu. These men worked tirelessly under a very tight deadline to complete the review of the constitution. The committee will continue to work on the By-Laws of the organization, which will, among other things, outline an excellent benefit package for the members of the Igbo Organization of New England. Such package will provide additional social support to IONE members, and highlight the relevance of IONE to the community at large.
I would also like to extend my gratitude to all the members of IONE who contributed to the debate on various sections of the constitution and who tarried far into the night in order to see that this milestone is reached.
My gratitude goes to the IONE Founder, Prof. NT Izuchi, and the past presidents of IONE namely: Ben Azotam, Godson Anosike, Richard Obilor, and Chike Odunukwe for participating in the process.
Special commendation goes to the hardworking executive council of IONE for continuing to find creative ways of moving Ndiigbo forward. Your hard work is not going unnoticed and I am proud to be a part of this great team.
The adoption of this constitution this year positions us well to close out the court case, reconstitute the Board of Directors and stay on target for accomplishing our 2014 objectives.
God bless you.
God bless Ndiigbo.
Dr. Ejike Eze
President, Igbo Organization of New England
The following flyer contains burial arrangements for the Late Jennifer Ofurum.
Arrangements are in final stages for the launching of the University of Massachusetts African Language through the University College in Boston. A critical component of this program will be the teaching of Igbo. Starting from the spring of 2014, the program will enable the University offer Igbo language classes in collaboration with the Igbo Organization of New England, the Umuada Igbo of Massachusetts and other community organizations. Students who successfully complete the Igbo courses will receive college-level credits at any of the University of Massachusetts campuses. Such credits will also be transferable to other Universities, subject to the academic regulations of such Universities.
Speaking with the coordinator of the program, Professor Chukwuma Azuonye, the President of the Igbo Organization of New England, Dr. Ejike Eze, noted that the advancement of Igbo language and culture was a strategic focus for his administration, and therefore, that he will do everything he could to promote the program. On his part, Azuonye who is Professor of African and African Diaspora Literatures, and Director of the African Language Program, Africana Studies Department of University of Massachusetts, stated that for the program to be successful, there needs to be active and continued participation of the community.
The town-and-gown initiative is already receiving unprecedented support from notable members of the Igbo community in New England. The entire members of the Igbo Organization of New England Executive Council have pledged their support for the program.
On Tuesday October 29, 2013 at approximately 2AM, the Igbo Community in Boston was thrown into mourning following the death of Mrs. Jennifer Ofurum at a Boston hospital. Until her death at the young age of 37, Jennifer was the wife of Mr. Aham Ofurum, the outgoing President of Owerre Association of Boston. The couple has three children.
Speaking with the President of Igbo Organization of New England during the latter’s condolence visit shortly after Jennifer’s death was announced, Mr. Aham Ofurum described his late wife as a wonderful person who loved her Nigerian people. “She was every bit one of us and she loved our people”, Mr. Ofurum said.
Even though Jennifer was not born Nigerian, she embraced the people and culture of Nigeria wholeheartedly following her marriage to Mr. Ofurum. Her participation in traditional dances and other Igbo cultural activities remains a talking point.
The Igbo Organization of New England stands resolutely with the Ofurum family during this difficult time. The participation of all Igbo people in New England in according Jennifer a befitting burial is expected.
Burial arrangements are as follows:
Friday November 1, First Committee of Friends meeting, People’s Club Hall, 38 Winthrop St, Hyde Park
Friday November 15th – Viewing at Wing Fong Funeral Home, 13 Gerrard Street, Boston, 4-8PM
Friday November 15th – Wake Keeping at Stetson Hall, 6 South Main Street, Randolph from 8PM-1AM
Saturday November 16th, Funeral Service and Burial.