October 1st 2010 will be the 50th anniversary of Nigerian independence from the British empire. Senator Adamu Aliero, has reportedly announced that the Nigerian Government is planning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence in a grand style. A new literary project, however, is set to mark the 50th anniversary in a different way – by imagining Lagos in the year 2060, 100 years from independence.
Lagos is a megacity with a population of around 13.5 million residents, making it the 5th most populous city in the world. One of these residents is Fred Nwonwu. “Writing fiction of any kind in Nigeria,” says Fred, “is more of a passion than an economic pursuit. Most writers here do it more for the love of the craft than the financial gain. Perhaps that is why there seem to be a multitude of gifted writers here.” Fred is a participant in Lagos: 2060, chosen based on a sample of his writing. For the project, Nigerian fiction writers imagine what the city of Lagos could be like 100 years from independence in the year 2060 and turn their ideas into an anthology of short science fiction stories, complete with illustrations. Fred says, “Lagos 2060, aside from granting some of us the opportunity to get published and recognition, also gives us the opportunity to explore the corners of our creativity.” The Lagos: 2060 project engages the participant writers in a series of three workshops. The aim of the workshops is “to stimulate creative minds to exceed themselves in fiction writing.” They are not to tell the writers what to write and how, but to provide an environment and creative stimulus to help them develop their own ideas and to turn them into compelling fictional stories on the theme of Lagos in the year 2060.
Below is an Al Jazeera report from February 2009 on positive changes and hopes for the future of the city of Lagos under the leadership of Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola:
The question ‘what do you think the future will look like?’ has been asked by millions of people around the world, says Fred, adding that “sci-fi is basically attempts by writers to answer that question.” The project is run by Dream Arts and Design Agency (DADA), in collaboration with the Nigerian Center for Excellence in Film and Media Studies, and Studio 1.5. DADA is a creative consultancy with interests in architecture, design, film and publishing. DADA Books, their publishing imprint, will be releasing an anthology of short science fiction stories resulting from the project, complete with illustrations. “Nothing beats telling your own story,” says Arigbabu, “if you don't, others will tell it as they see it. For all those who bellyached over the way Nigerians were portrayed in the (South African) science fiction movie - District 9, Salvation has come!” At the time of writing, DADA is in talks with international distributors for the anthology. The partnership of organizations are providing guidance for the writers through the project. “At the first workshop, we got to discuss Lagos and our visions for the future,” tells Fred, “The participants were mainly writers and architects who all share an interest in futuristic fiction. The conveners hoped to draw from the skills of the creative writers and the architects in creating a scenario of what Lagos will look like in 50 years, seen from different minds and ideas.”
The way Ayodele Arigbabu tells it, the writers will be starting from a relative tabula rasa, meaning they can take whatever liberties they like because they are not bogged down by any existing models, and could very well create their own models for science fiction writing. “Lagos lends itself to experimentation and improvisation,” says Arigbabu, “we will draw from the chaotic freedom the city offers to the best of our abilities.” Although Nigeria is an oil-rich country, successive governments have been unable to establish basic infrastructure and services such as drinking water, roads, electricity and security to meet the needs of the growing population. Urban growth in Lagos has been examined in a recent Harvard study led by architect and designer, Rem Koolhaas. The runaway urban growth of Lagos, Koolhaas says, is developing at a rate exceeding attempts of urban planners to adequately describe it let alone plan for its future. This growth and the ways people have adapted to it was also the topic of recent BBC series Welcome to Lagos (reviewed here on guardian.co.uk). Due to the ways the people of Lagos are adapting to the rapid growth of the city, Koolhaas has dubbed Lagos the city of the future. According to Myne Whitman, the edge science fiction has over most other genres is that at the core of most of the stories is an idea. “I think it is very important,” says Whitman, “that as we mark a half centenary, we also look ahead to the future and more than that, incubate ideas to move the country forward.” Fred is excited about the ideas coming out of Lagos: 2060 so far. “I don’t know, perhaps it had something to do with the recent upsurge in development here,” he says, “or the fact that everyone there is a youth, but most of the ideas participants mooted were more about a positive future.”
In the video below, Rem Koolhaas talks about Lagos with supporting visuals:
The question ‘what do you think the future will look like?’ has been asked by millions of people the world, says Fred, adding that “sci-fi is basically attempts by writers to answer that question.” The project is run by Dream Arts and Design Agency (DADA), in collaboration with the Nigerian Center for Excellence in Film and Media Studies, and Studio 1.5. DADA is a creative consultancy with interests in architecture, design, film and publishing. DADA Books, their publishing imprint, will be releasing an anthology of short science fiction stories resulting from the project, complete with illustrations. At the time of writing, DADA is in talks with international distribution partners for the anthology. The partnership of organizations are providing guidance for the writers through the project. “At the first workshop, we got to discuss Lagos and our visions for the future,” tells Fred, “The participants were mainly writers and architects who all share an interest in futuristic fiction. The conveners hoped to draw from the skills of the creative writers and the architects in creating a scenario of what Lagos will look like in 50 years, seen from different minds and ideas.”
“Though, we got to talk about tsunamis, nuclear storms and other effects of a post apocalyptic earth,” says Fred, “most ideas focussed on an attainment of good governance and the development of an ultra modern city with futuristic technology and folding bridges.” To many people around the world, futuristic technology and ultra modern cities is probably not what comes to mind when they think of Nigeria. While there are big problems of poverty in Nigeria, and in the city of Lagos, there are also skyscrapers and huge infrastructure projects. One very ambitious urban renewal project is Eko Atlantic City, designed with the aim of creating a thriving twenty-first century city in West Africa, starting with the reclamation of around nine square kilometers of development land from the sea adjacent to Lagos. According to the Eko Atlantic website, “Eko Atlantic will draw wide-scale residential, commercial, financial and tourist development to ease the burden on exhausted infrastructure and overpopulation in adjacent Victoria Island, now the commercial centre of Lagos.” Construction is already underway on an ocean wall which has been dubbed the Great Wall of Lagos and is growing at 7-8 meters a day. This seawall is being built by dumping large quantities of granite into the sea. Large quantities of sand are being dredged and pumped into the bay formed between the seawall and the shoreline of Lagos’s Victoria Island. The amount of sand needed to fill in this area is comparable to the amount used for Dubai’s Palm Island super-development. The construction of the seawall features in the video below:
The following video provides an overview of the Eko Atlantic project:
Below is a detailed CNN report on Eko Atlantic:
Ayodele Arigbabu wants to inject life into the relatively stagnant field of science fiction in Nigeria with Lagos: 2060. This is a goal that Myne Whitman is also enthusiastic about. “It is important to hear several stories about a people and a place,” says Whitman, “Chimamanda Adichie spoke about the danger of a single story and it's many ramifications. Different stories enable us to have a fuller view of a subject, a more rounded and realistic perspective that not only benefits others but ourselves too as we become more aware of our society. In Africa especially, I believe that writing in diverse genres is very necessary for this very reason.” DADA's Ayedole Arigbabu also advocates the benefits science fiction can provide. “Science Fiction,” says Arigbabu, “unhinges the creative mind and allows the writer to imagine ordinarily 'unthinkable' scenarios. In the socio-political context, our development as a people has been stifled by a lack of imagination, we remain bogged down in the present, enslaved to our past, we do not project into the future.” According to DADA, “Lagos needs development. It can’t cope with the number of people it has now and it’s going to increase with about 21 people an hour for the next 9 years so we are talking about 25/ 26 million people in 9 years. That’s an extra 9 million people that we are trying to cater for.” DADAs architectural and design interests are about trying to bridge the current situation in Nigeria with what it could possibly be in the future. The Lagos: 2060 project is also about imagining hypothetical future scenarios and the impacts they could have on people’s lives. “I think Lagos 2060 is unique,” says Fred “not just because it is a first of its kind for the genre, but it is an opportunity for young writers to project their creativity into the future and create landscapes that portray the future they see.”
Ayodele Arigbabu says that he is very excited about the prospect of short films coming out of Lagos: 2060. Nigeria is reportedly the third largest film production market in the world, after the US and India. Film and literature critic Sukhev Sandhu, in the UK’s Telegraph, recently listed Lagos as among the several most important flashpoints worldwide for filmmaking. Following the worldwide success of District 9, African science fiction storytelling may be in for an upsurge. According to Nigerian filmmaker Tchidi Chikere, who has written, produced and directed over 50 films, “Science fiction films from the West are failures here. Even Star Wars! Africans are bothered about food, roads, electricity, water wars, famine, etc, not spacecrafts and spaceships. Only stories that explore these everyday realities are considered relevant to us for now.” Award-winning Nigerian science fiction/fantasy writer, Nnedi Okorafor, on the other hand believes that Africans are ready for science fiction and that it can be relevant to them. In a guest post for the Nebula Awards blog, Nnedi Okorafor, wrote “there IS a handful of African science fiction out there. There are novels, short stories, and a film or two. This handful is tiny but it exists.” Fred is confident that African writers can write relevant science fiction and that this is not mutually exclusive with contemporary concerns or traditional beliefs. According to Fred, “genres like Sci-Fi and fantasy, they come easier to us (Africans) than most people think. Though most of us live in cities, we still maintain strong links with our tradition which provides us with unending materials for our work. For me, it is usually very easy to recall tales my grandfather told me about the exploits of some of my ancestors or incorporate the common cultural beliefs that most animals are affiliated to individuals into my stories.”
Some major African literary awards specifically exclude science fiction writing from consideration. The Penguin Prize for African Writing rules state: “Submissions in the children’s literature, science fiction or fantasy genres will not be considered.” Other prizes have been established to promote ‘less reputable’ types of writing in Africa, like the Baobab Prize aimed at target audiences of 8-11 year olds and 12-15 year olds. According to a statement on the Baobab Prize’s Facebook profile, “The Baobab Prize believes that ten years from now bookstores all over the world will be stocking African children’s books.” “In writing,” says Fred, “I try to preserve some aspects of my fast disappearing culture and create heroes that Africans can readily identify with. I use names that people can relate to and even though the stories are set in a fictional place, I try as much as possible to make the experience as real as possible.”
“The future is already here,” says Ayodele Arigbabu, “Nigerian authors have already taken over the globe and Lagos is one of the most exciting cities in the world of fiction right now.” Nigerian writers have been making their mark around the world in literary circles and amongst readers, and Nigerian filmmakers have been making their mark across Africa. Chimamanda Adichie was the top-selling author at the 2009 Sydney Writer’s Festival. So far this year, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka was not only a hit at the Jaipur Literary Festival in India, but has also negotiated in talks between the Nigerian Government and rebels operating in the Niger Delta region, and led a march on Nigeria’s capital Abuja. In Myne Whitman’s words, “Nigeria is a fast developing country and as is said, the only constant is change.” Nigerian writers are right in the midst of this constant change and have the capacity to make significant impacts with their stories. Arigbabu says that Lagos is one of the most exciting cities in the world and that “given the rapid rate of urbanization in Africa, the shift in the economic center from the west and the reality that globalization has become...it is too early to say what people outside Lagos can learn from Lagos: 2060, however, I do know that they should be paying some serious attention!”
The Lagos: 2060 anthology is set to be published later in the year. Specific details of when and how you can get it will be inserted here when they become available.
For short fiction from Nigeria, you can visit www.naijastories.com.