By Mazi Nwonwu
I was perhaps eight or nine years old when my father told us the story of his encounter with a mythical being. What people in my part of Enugu State, Nigeria, call Oku Ikpa. The word Oku Ikpa translates loosely as ‘wild fire’ and the creature would correlate somewhat with the phoenix of European mythology. I don’t know why, but that story, told to me when we lived in the northern city of Kaduna — thousands of miles away from the place of incidence and on an afternoon of telling ghost stories — stuck with me.
I don’t know if my father’s encounter was true or if he was just making things up, but I don’t need to close my eyes to see him bowed before that ball of fire on a lonely hill road, emptying his pockets to find something that would appease it, his RoadMaster motorcycle forgotten where it lay. Perhaps I was fascinated by the mystery: What exactly is the Oku Ikpa? Where does it go to when day breaks? Why, when a hunter once fired at it (as the stories say), did pieces of broken clay and calabash cutlery appear at the spot he shot?
I am not sure these questions led me to science fiction, horror and fantasy, but I recall thinking that many of the supposedly strange stories I read from JRR Tolkien, Anne Rice, Stephen King or Philip Jose Farmer didn’t appear at all otherworldly. I soon recognised that a copious amount of material for fantasy and science fiction existed around me. It was then that the urge to take a pen and put to paper stories about the fabled dwarfs who are supposed to grant wealth, or about Ananmuo where spirits travel from when they come to rule the night. I yearned to weave fables set in unfamiliar and unheard of scenes and to have an Emeka walk across the Martian pole. These yearnings, in time, became too great to bear.
I think it was in early 2010 that I came across a call for entries for a science fiction writing workshop in Lagos. I was elated, for at that time I had already written some fantasy and science fiction shorts and was itching to get some training to help me with my writing. I can’t recall what story I sent in as an entry, but I was over the moon when I got an email informing me I had qualified for the workshop. That workshop birthed what is Nigeria’s first science fiction anthology, Lagos 2060, edited by Ayo Arigbabu.
Lagos 2060 was supposed to be Africa’s first science fiction anthology but it lost that pride of place to Ivor Hartmann’s AfroSF because of publication delays. For it, I submitted a story titled ‘Annihilation’ that imagined what Lagos would be like 50 years into the future. Written in 2010, it was my second attempt at writing science fiction and, until last year, my longest short story.
Science fiction is still very new in Nigeria, but while we could barely find 10 people to contribute to the anthology in 2010, there are now hundreds of writers who will readily try their hand at the genre. Just as I did, more writers are recognising that we have a copious amount of material for speculative fiction here in Nigeria. That means we need platforms where these stories can be anchored. To help this along, Chinelo Onwualu and I present Omenana, a bimonthly speculative fiction e-publication.