‘Nige­ri­ans Don’t Read, They Pre­fer It Vis­ual’

Dr. Stella Omonigho is a se­nior lec­turer in the Depart­ment of For­eign Lan­guages, Uni­ver­sity of Benin, Nige­ria. She is an ex­pert in Fran­co­phone African Lit­er­a­ture. In this in­ter­view with MICHAEL EGBEJULE, she talks about the girl child, pub­lish­ing in Niger

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - GUARDIAN ARTS -

IN the course of my study, I dis­cov­ered that in tra­di­tional Africa, women had power. Ac­cord­ing to the African cul­ture, women were ex­pected to be sub­mis­sive to their hus­bands. The men de­manded and got the de­sired re­spect from their women, but that did not make them slaves. The western world con­fused the re­spect African women gave their hus­bands and fa­thers to be some form of slav­ery. In the past also, women were be­lieved to have su­per­nat­u­ral pow­ers. In Benin King­dom, be­fore a king was crowned, there must be a word from a woman, who is called the Queen Mother. It is the same thing with the Yoruba cul­ture. In pre-colo­nial Africa, women sol­diers, known as Ama­zons, were usu­ally at the fore­front of the bat­tle. With this, you then imag­ine, at what point did the African women now be­come slaves that they had to be rel­e­gated to the back­ground? I dis­cov­ered it was ac­tu­ally the western world that brought the idea of women be­ing slaves. When they came to colonise Africa, they started treat­ing women as sex­ual ob­jects to sat­isfy their urges, and of course, African men were there watch­ing. Im­me­di­ately af­ter in­de­pen­dence, nat­u­rally, the African men con­tin­ued from where the western men stopped and started treat­ing women as sex­ual ob­jects and baby mak­ing ma­chine – that was where we missed it.

There was a time in Nige­ria when child mar­riage was ram­pant. Then, you’d see a girl child of 14 years, some 12 years, get­ting mar­ried and mak­ing ba­bies for men of 40 and 50 years, asa re­sult, the ed­u­ca­tion of this girl child is stopped – that was what prompted my first book, the story of an or­phan. I tried to write my story. I didn’t grow up with my par­ents. Though, my mum is still alive, my dad is late. I grew up with my grand­fa­ther, so, I was like an or­phan. My par­ents were far-away. There was no means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, as we have to­day, I found out that as the so­ci­ety de­manded, it was the duty of the girl child to do ev­ery­thing in the house. As I was go­ing to school in­no­cently, there was an old man in the neigh­bour­hood who had an eye on me and if not for God and civil­i­sa­tion, I would have fallen vic­tim of be­ing mar­ried to an old man and that would have ended my ed­u­ca­tion. The man was try­ing to use his in­flu­ence as a vil­lage chief to achieve his pur­pose, but I stood my ground to say no to child mar­riage.

I tried to show this in the book to make my read­ers un­der­stand that de­spite the hur­dles, if you put your fo­cus on where you are go­ing to and your mind is on it, you will get there – noth­ing good comes easy. Check the back­ground of peo­ple who are gen­uinely suc­cess­ful, you will dis­cover they have suf­fered in one way or the other. If you want to suc­ceed in life never de­pend on a man, have your ed­u­ca­tion first, ed­u­ca­tion is the ma­jor key to the suc­cess of the girl child.

It’s a hobby, I try to marry both, be­cause I have flair for women gen­er­ally. Cur­rently, I’m the vice pres­i­dent of Bap­tist women in Edo State. The best way to make your­self re­lieved of the in­ner pains you are hav­ing is to put it down. So, its a kind of hobby. When I sit down, or some­times when I lie down, my thought comes out as a book and that brings me to my sec­ond book, In the book, I tried to re­late how the African woman can change the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem in Africa. I want to let women know that they maybe women, but that has noth­ing to do with our in­tel­lect.

I feel we should not be talk­ing of self pub­li­ca­tion. We should have pub­lish­ing houses that are ready to col­lect manuscript as a way of en­cour­ag­ing writ­ers. But un­for­tu­nately, we don’t have that again in Nige­ria. Ev­ery­body is con­cerned about what he or she can get. Even the gov­ern­ment-owned pub­lish­ing houses want to be bribed. I had a very bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence and I don’t mind talk­ing about it. The manuscript of my sec­ond book was sent to a cer­tain pub­lish­ing house in Benin City. For over a month, I didn’t hear any­thing from them. I kept on call­ing. At the end, I was given the phone num­ber of the com­pany’s gen­eral man­ager, who then told me that it was not pos­si­ble for my work to be pub­lished till the next two years. That they were con­cerned about se­condary school text­books. I was to present the book at a sem­i­nar in Wash­ing­ton. The fol­low­ing day, I got a call from the gen­eral man­ager and at the end, he told me he wanted to con­fide in me that my book was sent to an­other pub­lish­ing house – it ought not to be so. How do we en­cour­age young writ­ers, the Nige­rian so­ci­ety does not en­cour­age good things and its so painful. I some­times won­der how Wole Soyinka made it in this kind of a coun­try. A pub­lish­ing house in the United States iden­ti­fied the work of Chi­ma­manda Adiche and di­rected her on how she should write, that’s why she is into fem­i­nism. Fem­i­nism is a western idea. It is not African. Why should they dic­tate what to write to you. It’s been dif­fi­cult, I have other manuscripts but I can­not use my mea­gre salary to fund it. feel noth­ing good can come out of young writ­ers.

Wole Soyinka, Ola Ro­timi and Chinua Achebe started from some­where and we should not for­get that in those days, the gov­ern­ment recog­nised tal­ent and try to build up th­ese tal­ents. Now all the gov­ern­ment is con­cerned about is pol­i­tics. I am not the only new writer in Nige­ria, we are so many but in the cur­ricu­lum of WAEC and oth­ers, they are still re­cy­cling th­ese old writ­ers and old books that were used in the 60s.

Yes, there is hope. I have a pol­icy, never you say no when you have not tried. Keep on try­ing and mak­ing ef­forts and be sure the girl child makes good ex­am­ple. Girl chil­dren who have now made it in life should speak. If you don’t tell your story, no­body will hear it and some­one else might tell it in a wrong way.

Omonigho

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