The New Gong
Publishers of New Writing and Images

A dangerous gulf has opened up in Nigerian letters. The sheer number of Nigerian writers
who have now fled into exile – or is it expatriation? – is matched only by those who happily
found themselves born and brought up in foreign climes, the Nigerian malaise having
lasted long enough now to be entering its second and even third generation. It’s not like
the old days when Nigerian writers lived in Nigeria and were published by the likes of the
African Writers’ Series, itself a colonial hangover whose demise has proved its
antecedents. These days, it seems, the bulk of Nigerian literature is being written,
published, reviewed, sold and taught abroad, with only the fact of Nigeria as a magical
realist backdrop to give these offerings a spurious authenticity. The matter is made worse
by the cynical claims on dusk jackets that the writer sometimes lives in Nigeria or – even
more ambitiously - divides their time between here and there, ‘here’ being a quick visit to
the Garden City for British Council-organised readings before hurrying back to the safety
of ‘there’.

Back at the ranch, meanwhile, the reason for the exodus in the first place, which is our
chronic inability to take ourselves seriously as we open our ynash to the white man,
continues to ensure that local equals parochial in an age which makes nonsense of
borders. A recent book by Longman Nigeria Ltd., whose decline began the moment their
foreign colonial parent was eased out (also in the name of authenticity), might as well
have been produced by a roadside printer without the faintest clue as to how a book
should be put together. Unfortunately, the Longman effort, which was carried out on
behalf of a legislator who latterly became a prominent official of the Association of
Nigerian Authors, was quickly superseded by an anthology from the Lagos chapter of that
same ANA. One might have hoped that ANA would have known better, being a collection
of writers, but apparently not. Any nonsense would do given that this was Nigeria and not
London or America.

The relative worth of the products in strictly literary terms need not delay us here. We are
not critics, merely producers, and have no intention of diverting attention from what is
clearly an unhealthy state of affairs. Our point is simply that no national literature can long
thrive in an alien clime. Moreover, the communications revolution has now made it
possible to operate internationally out of Nigeria. Local has been abolished, in other
words, except in the minds of those whose agenda is extra-literary. This was the raison d’
être for The New Gong Publishers as it prepares to launch its next two titles, and which
now informs the launch of The New Gong Magazine to complement it. Our spirit-guide in
the enterprise is Fela Kuti. Almost ten years after his death, the Afrobeat musician looms
even larger than when Dulue Mbachu recorded him at the Afrika Shrine and, later, Akin
Adesokan jisted with him in a police cell. As I write, Obasanjo’s paddy-paddy government
that was the result of an army arrangeement is bringing sorrow, tears and blood to a
hapless citizenry that is, at long last, beginning to realise that it is free to determine its
own destiny - if only it will seize it. Hostage-taking in the Niger Delta is only the half of it.
The cracks in what the Kaiama Declaration referred to as ‘the fraudulent contraption
called Nigeria’ are widening each day that passes, as the ongoing farce known as the
Third Term Agenda daily demonstrates. Our duty as writers is to bear witness to the
unfolding tragedy that contains the seeds of its own creative regeneration, a difficult
proposition from the perspective of, say, Harvard, even if it really is the best university in
the world.

We hope, at any rate, to use this medium to encourage debate, argument, bad temper –
even abuse. To that end, we would like to begin with this vexed issue of exile/expatriation
and invite responses because the suspicion that those who have fled abroad have
shirked their responsibility as writers is hardly helped by their agitation to be considered
for the only Nigerian literary prize that comes in the currency they consciously elected to
put their trust in. And why, come to that, do they never write about their adopted
homeland? Perhaps it is because they would then have to pay closer attention to the
known laws of the universe where beer parlour tables don’t turn into goats in order to
ensure that the hapless inhabitants of magical realism continue to remain the objects of
charity, dependent on the goodwill of Irish rock musicians. Magical realism exists, to be
sure, but it is to be found less in African beer parlours than in the sight of President
Obasanjo giving a ready ear to U2’s Bono even as the Paris Club, eager to lift the
continent out of a poverty that is anything but magical realist, insists that Nigeria pays
$12bn to be forgiven for debts that never left its shores, as they themselves well know.
Fela, whom Obasanjo once described as a madman even as he ordered unknown
soldiers to burn down his house, must be shaking his head in ganja heaven. Welcome to
The New Gong Magazine!

- Adewale Maja-Pearce