Several times I have had cause to question myself on the reason why I write (and indeed, worry) about my country, Nigeria, or why I feel like contributing to several issues relating to the country on websites, blog-sites, and what not. I do not consider myself extraordinary or different to most of my fellowmen or women or fellow citizens, or an intelligentsia or a philosopher. In fact, I am very much unknown and rather anonymous amongst Nigeria’s estimated 140 million citizens. And honestly, I’d like to keep it that way. I don’t want to engage in popularity contests with anybody.
I share the belief that writing in itself is a sane activity with Solomon Sydelle of Nigerian Curiosity, and I tend to believe that writing about Nigeria’s ills, e.g. corruption, mismanagement, bad governance, so-called Nigerians In Diaspora, patriotism, democracy, rule of law, etc, is perhaps much more insane, and probably even dangerous. However, I am not an investigative journalist who does exposes (expositions) on government corruptions and misdemeanours. My writings are mostly analytical or critical evaluation of issues and events. I sometimes even give advice to our leaders on how to be better leaders.
To ask why we write is also to ask why we read. The pragmatic answer is “to find proof” — to find proof of like-minded thinkers, to find support or criticism for our own arguments, to discover that we are not alone in our thinking, our assumptions and problems. The transcendental answer is “to educate” — to inspire our own thinking, to see new realities, to uplift ourselves through another writer’s use of language. And the middle road: “Because there is a need.”
Because of my life experiences I sense that “reality,” “truth,” and “knowledge” are socially constructed and reflect power structures. At the same time I retain a humanist belief in an individual’s abilities to seek out particular truths.
According to literature, there are three words that can be invoked to illuminate the urge that compels me to write. The first word is respons(e)/ibility. One of the essential conditions to maintain such communication is to feel responsible to respond, hence the word respons(e)/ibility. I feel responsible to respond to utterances, speaking(s), writing(s) and action(s) by other participants. The need of a meaningful communication asks from me, not only to listen and read, but also to speak and write.
The second word is translation, understood both as “rendering” and “movement.” Each time I write, I find myself translating (rendering, moving to and fro) some one else’s ideas, concepts, thoughts, and images (the already written, read and seen) into my ideas and images. Writing is teaching, reading an education. The best writers are not those who have to prove a point (how good of a writer he or she is), but rather those who can enlighten a reader. The best writers are those who see beyond themselves, see beyond their success, and can perceive the success of their readers. No writing should be done for the pure satisfaction of the author (although this should not discredit writing); writing should always be done for the satisfaction of a nebulous audience – whoever the author decides it should be. And it should be written to bring out the best in — to educate — that audience, to inspire them to think, to change, and to write. If the world writes, and if the world reads, maybe we can make better use of the Information Age after all.
The third word is reflexive. Metaphorically it means to be able to carry a mirror that would make the bearer aware of the world behind him/her, the cultural and cognitive topography of one’s location, which on the one hand helps one to say what she/he want to say but simultaneously limits what can be said. It also means that one is always interrogating his/her own project. This interrogation of what one has written and is in the process of writing doesn’t have to be outside the writing. The writing, the text, has to make the reader conscious of this reflexive, the sideways, glance by foregrounding it. Preference, then, should be for writing that reflects the anxiety, the tension and the unsettledness of writing.
I expend my energy in the hope that Nigerian leaders, political and military elites and power-holders will read some of these writings and hopefully examine their conscience, change their ways and re-commit themselves to improving and governing Nigeria the right, humane and considerate way to improve the living standards of their people. I also tend to think that I am expending too much of my energy and taxing my brains even though there is little or no guarantee of success and despite the fact that greater minds have tried and failed.
I even wondered whether Nigeria should be considered a planet of its own due to its unique complexities and the fact that unlike most of Africa, Nigeria (and Nigerians) simply makes no sense most of the time.
I find it very difficult to answer all these questions I put to myself. Sometimes I feel like giving up, after all, what have I really done to improve Nigeria, or get other people to improve Nigeria, in real terms. Have I fought for Nigeria? Have I represented Nigeria at international events to promote the country? Have I contributed to policies which will enhance development or progress? Apart from writing articles pointing out our ills and defects, do I always propose useful and practical alternatives? But then again, what chance have I been given, or have I created, to change things? Am I in a position to change things in my country, where some cliques’ grip on power is absolute, and they don’t want anybody coming in and “rocking the boat”, so to speak? Am I bashing my head against a brick wall all the time or speaking to deaf, unconcerned and irresponsible ears? Am I the only one who is right and sanctimonious in their opinion of our leaders or of the country? And who says I am even right? These are the same questions I ask of other, hundreds of brilliant writers and analysts in our newspapers, internet websites, blogs, magazines, journals, etc.
If all we write are just for publication, and probably putting our names on the “authors map”, or getting noticed, and our leaders do not bother to read them, and if they do, do not bother to examine their conscience or implement changes as a result, then all these writings are exercises in futility, aren’t they? Take for example, our former President Obasanjo, who publicly said he never reads newspapers; so how will he know the feelings of his people, their anger, their concerns, their needs, their sorrows, etc. (However, I will assume that some people in his office did this for him, or show important sections to him, because I really don’t expect Presidents to read every newspaper stories every day; they have too many things to do)
Some writers and authors have been arrested, detained, tortured, charged to court and imprisoned because of what they wrote. Some have even been murdered. This confirms that indeed some of these our leaders are getting wind of what we write; however, they are not taking it in good faith. And right too; if you are doing something bad and evil, you will never take any correction or advice in good faith, unless you really believe in God.
Every now and then, I decided to tackle the question again and again. Consequently, at this moment I believe that I write about Nigeria because I am Nigeria and Nigerian. I am one of the country’s eyes. I am one of the country’s mouths. I am Nigeria’s ears and most definitely I am her soul. I am Nigeria’s conscience also. I am her ambassador and everything I do both within and abroad will reflect either negatively or positively on Nigeria. Without me, my sight, my voice, my thoughts, there is no Nigeria. And if I am silent, then so is Nig
eria. This applies to many other really committed writers and publishers of Nigerian affairs too.
I and a lot of others write about Nigeria because we are probably insane in our passion for progress and the fulfilment of the most basic and the grandest Nigerian, nay, African dreams. For myself, I write for free, with no financial gains or political expectations and even if it might subject me to the abuses and persecution of those offended by my frank writings, or the way I see things. I do this because I am free and think progressively and know that freedom and progress are, ultimately, what Nigerians seek.
A cautionary tale: When I was in secondary school Form 4, I wrote a poem about Chief Awolowo. It was for a class assignment. Subject matter was civics and I’d just discovered Nigerian politics. Also, I was already pretentious and full of myself. This poem of mine so impressed the teacher that she asked me to read it aloud for the class. Maybe because everyone had applied themselves to the assignment with unexpected sincerity, I didn’t get slapped as hard as you might imagine with a know-it-all backlash. Most of the class even clapped. I thought, Hey, I should become a professional writer! People will think I’m Chinua Achebe and shower me with applause!
After class, this girl approached me. “So, your poem,” she said. “You’re good with words.”
“Thanks,” I said, with casual humility.
“Yeah, totally,” she continued. “But, you know, it didn’t move me.”
With that, she walked away (possibly in the general direction of a career as a lawyer or medical doctor). I stood there for a long time, with clammy hands, feeling the blood prickle my neck. I was crushed. She was, I knew, spot-on. Who gives a damn how well-constructed a piece of writing is, if it doesn’t make people feel anything?
But I never stopped writing, because obviously that would be a stupid move. The process of writing doesn’t cause me the agony it does many writers – you know the ones who wax rhapsodic about the torture of the blank page. I sit down to a blank page and see a page that needs to be filled or written on. Some days I write something decent. Some days I write crap. Whatever, it’s not like I won’t be back tomorrow.
One thing for sure is that through writing, I have made numerous friends all over the world. These friends, most of whom I have never seen, encourage me, criticize me, educate me, inspire me and invigorate me. Thus I know I am not bashing my head against a brick wall, nor writing nonsense all the time. And one day, I know I will get through to the thick heads of our leaders. There is a joy in writing, and I am getting it, even though it might be painful most times. Whenever I write about a particular issue that concerns me, I feel unburdened; a load off my shoulders and my mind free to write the next piece.
Nigeria belongs to me and writing is the vehicle I happily use to share her with other Nigerians and the world – joys, flaws, missed opportunities, corruption, sadness, poverty, insanity and all.
Many thanks to SOLOMON SYDELLE of NIGERIAN CURIOSITY for his blog article, “Why I Blog About Africa”, Wednesday 15 January 2009 which gave me the germ of the idea to write this article and for giving me permission and authority to use some of his own original ideas, thoughts and words. He is a great “blogger”.