‘My Novel Meant to Shake Ta­bles’

Oluko­rede Yishau, an As­so­ciate Ed­i­tor with The Na­tion news­pa­per, has just re­leased a novel ti­tled ‘In the Name of Our Fa­ther’. In this in­ter­view jour­nal­ists in La­gos, Yishau, who was NMMA Colum­nist of the Year (2015), NMMA En­ter­tain­ment Reporter of the Ye

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Can you de­scribe the writ­ing process of In The Name of our Fa­ther.

I wrote this novel some 16 years ago. At that time I was a young reporter with The Source mag­a­zine pub­lished by Com­fort Obi and edited by Maik Nwosu, au­thor of ‘A Gecko's Farewell’, ‘Al­pha Song’ and ‘In­vis­i­ble Chap­ters’. I think the prin­ci­pal script took me less than two months of al­most ev­ery day writ­ing to com­plete. I was 24 at the time and less dis­tracted. I wrote in long hand and still have the raw scripts. But in the 16 years be­fore it was pub­lished, so many peo­ple read through. The first per­son if I can re­mem­ber was my col­league in The Source, Ed­ward Dib­iana, who made use­ful sug­ges­tions and com­mended it. But some­how I was not still com­fort­able. Af­ter leav­ing The Source for Tell fol­low­ing my win­ning NMMA Avi­a­tion Reporter of the Year and be­ing a run­ner-up in the Bank­ing and Fi­nance cat­e­gory in 2003, I got Mr. Kay­ode Adelekan, a type-set­ter in TELL to type it out for me. Af­ter typ­ing it out, I just left it and did noth­ing to it.

Af­ter join­ing The Na­tion, I got col­leagues and friends, such as Seun Akioye, Ay­o­deji Olao­sun and our Deputy Sun­day Ed­i­tor Olayinka Oyeg­bile to go through. They all felt it was fan­tas­tic and some also made sug­ges­tions, which I in­cor­po­rated.

I ini­tially wrote it as chap­ters one to 20 or there­abouts. I later changed and used head­ing to re­flect what a par­tic­u­lar chap­ter is all about. I also rewrote the in­tro­duc­tion. I felt the first one was not strong enough. I needed some­thing to at­tract at­ten­tion and from re­ac­tions so far I think I got it.

I fi­nally gave it to a cel­e­brated and dec­o­rated book ed­i­tor, poet and nov­el­ist, Toni Kan, to edit for me. It stayed with him for months and when I even­tu­ally got it back, I was pleased with the out­come and I am grate­ful to him till date.

Chinua Achebe wrote in his ‘The Nov­el­ist as a Teacher’, that sto­ries are not in­no­cent. The ques­tion is why did you write In The Name of our Fa­ther?

I agree ab­so­lutely with Chinua Achebe that sto­ries are not in­no­cent. My de­but In The Name of our Fa­ther is cer­tainly not in­no­cent. It is meant to shake ta­bles. I am a Chris­tian, not by birth but by con­vic­tion. I wrote the book to ex­am­ine the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the pul­pit and power. It was also writ­ten as a way of pre­serv­ing our re­cent past with the mil­i­tary. So many peo­ple are mess­ing up Chris­tian­ity and mix­ing it with fetish ten­den­cies and our peo­ple are still fall­ing for it. Even peo­ple in power fall for this. They are blinded by am­bi­tion and they seek solutions any­where, in­clud­ing in the hands of fake pas­tors like Pas­tor T.C. Jeremiah. They don’t bother check­ing the back­ground of the peo­ple they are seek­ing mir­a­cles from. They want these smart fools to give what they do not have. The des­per­a­tion of peo­ple like Gen­eral Sani Idoti is good busi­ness for the Prophet T.C. Jeremi­ahs of this world.

The novel seems to take on some big wigs in the so­ci­ety. Given that you're a jour­nal­ist, and the fact that nov­els are ex­pected to pay some fi­delity to truth, how much of In The Name of our Fa­ther should be taken as truth or rev­e­la­tion?

It is a skill­ful blend of facts and fic­tion in such a way that you get con­fused about the meet­ing point be­tween the two. I re­ally can­not say what per­cent­age of the book is a rev­e­la­tion, but what I do know is that un­der the last mil­i­tary ad­min­is­tra­tion, there were so many rev­e­la­tions that were dif­fi­cult to cross-check. I made use of such in­for­ma­tion in this book. Some of the peo­ple who have read it felt I should have in­cluded that it was com­pletely a work of fic­tion. But I re­ally don't see any need for that. Pro­fes­sor Kole Omo­to­sho even used real names in ‘Just Be­fore Dawn’. The prison ex­pe­ri­ences, for in­stance, were cre­ated from interviews from de­tainees. I only just added some salt and pep­per for it to be sweet. I am sure ex-NBA Pres­i­dent Olisa Ag­bakoba can re­late with the story of Uche Koba, one of the char­ac­ters in the book. I won’t reveal oth­ers but I am sure peo­ple can eas­ily re­late with it. My col­league and au­thor of ‘I Served’, Joe Ag­bro Jr, screamed in the news­room af­ter read­ing it to a point. ‘This is fac­tion,’ he screamed. He came to shake me af­ter read­ing the last line. Hon. Wale Oshun, who was a de­tainee of the Abacha regime, said the book made him re­flect on the evil of that regime. He de­scribed the book as fan­tas­tic.

On so­cial me­dia, it is con­stantly as­serted that re­li­gion is the bane of Nige­ria; that if Nige­ria had spent more of her en­ergy on ed­u­ca­tion, in­fra­struc­ture, etc., in­stead of ped­alling re­li­gion, we might have been bet­ter. What is your opin­ion about this?

I cer­tainly be­lieve if we con­cen­trate more of our en­ergy on ed­u­ca­tion and in­fra­struc­ture, we will go farther than we are. There is ab­so­lutely no doubt that re­li­gion is im­por­tant but we have left what God ex­pects us to do to Him to re­solve for us. We are like a peo­ple pre­par­ing for an exam and refuse to read, yet ex­pect to come out in fly­ing colours be­cause we have prayed. Like the Bi­ble ad­mon­ishes, we must give to Cae­sar what is Cae­sar’s and to God what is God’s. Too much valu­able time is wasted urg­ing God to do what He has given us the abil­ity to do.

What is your opin­ion of African lit­er­a­ture? Does it ex­ist? How would you de­fine it?

For me, lit­er­a­ture is lit­er­a­ture. But for cat­e­gori­sa­tion, we can per­mit terms such as Bri­tish lit­er­a­ture, Euro­pean lit­er­a­ture, African lit­er­a­ture and so on. Our writ­ings are de­fined by our ex­pe­ri­ences, so if I am African, you will feel Africa in my writ­ing, but it does not make it in­fe­rior to Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture. We can just de­fine African lit­er­a­ture as one writ­ten by an African, es­pe­cially on African themes.

What is your take on the Nige­rian pub­lish­ing land­scape.

The pub­lish­ing land­scape in Nige­ria is com­ing back alive; thanks to the small presses. The big presses are only in­ter­ested in text­books be­cause they want to re­coup their in­vest­ment. The small presses are also in­ter­ested in re­coup­ing their in­vest­ment but they are giv­ing room for new voices to be heard as far as novel writ­ing, po­etry and so on are con­cerned. I be­lieve bet­ter days are ahead.

Who are your lit­er­ary in­flu­ences?

My lit­er­ary in­flu­ences are le­gion. From clas­sics by Theodore Dos­to­evsky, who I was in­tro­duced to by Chim Newton, the au­thor of ‘Un­der the Cherry Tree’ and other books, to the writ­ings of Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri, John Gr­isham, Helon Ha­bila, Chi­ma­manda Ngozi Adichie, Toni Kan and many more, I have read them all. And I am sure they have all in­flu­enced me one way or the other.

What are you cur­rently work­ing on? A new book etc.

I am cur­rently work­ing on an­other novel ten­ta­tively ti­tled ‘Dairies from the Un­der­ground’. Like my de­but, it is also po­lit­i­cal in na­ture. Jus­tus Omoeko, the jour­nal­ist in In the Name of Our Fa­ther, fea­tures in it briefly too. But it is about three po­lit­i­cal fig­ures who found them­selves in jail. It is about 40 per cent com­plete and I hope to get it pub­lished next year.

Any per­sonal com­ments, last words, anec­dotes about writ­ing?

‘In the Name of our Fa­ther’ was not the first script I wrote. I started try­ing out my hand on writ­ing a novel back in sec­ondary school at the An­sar-Ud-Deen Gram­mar School, Isaga-Orile near Abeokuta. I also wrote an­other in my days at the Nige­rian In­sti­tute of Jour­nal­ism. But, the first one I felt good about was su­per­vised and edited by Chim Newton, who ti­tled it ‘Per­ilous Fears’. His pub­lish­ing firm, KEB Pub­lish­ers, was sup­posed to pub­lish it in 2001 or there­abouts, but some fi­nan­cial con­straints stopped it. It re­mains un­pub­lished till to­day. It is a smaller book and I am not re­ally keen on pub­lish­ing it again.

I want the pub­lic to take the mes­sage of ‘In the Name of Our Fa­ther’ to heart and let us change our-do-or-die at­ti­tude to re­li­gion. We must play our part and let God play His. We should not leave ev­ery­thing to Him.

For me, writ­ing is like a woman, very jeal­ous. It is also like a baby, thus time-con­sum­ing. So, ev­ery writer must be grate­ful to their loved ones for shar­ing them with the jeal­ous be­ing called cre­ative writ­ing.

Yishau

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