‘Government yet to recognise and fund writers, fails to promote meritocracy over mediocrity’
Port Harcourt-based Chief Anthony Ndubuisi Abagha has written a number of books since retirement as classroom teacher. He mostly self-publishes his books and says though it gives instant fulfillment as a writer, it also has its drawbacks. Abagha argues for government’s intervention in the writing vocation so as to give writers more recognition and surmount many of the problems in the vocation. In this online interview with Enifome Ukodie, Abagha lays it all bare.
What new books/materials are you working on?
I am currently working on four new books. Fate has blessed me with this rather disconcerting pattern in the last 20 years of making multiple books each time the spirit of writing and publishing possesses me. The first in the list of my upcoming books is a play titled, The Amazons of A Fifth Estate. It is an exploratory work on our ubiquitous ‘praying and miracle ministries.’ In this play, I attempted to delineate and classify the activities of super spirit-filled group under a new estate of the realm, a fifth estate no less important than any of the four before it.
Today, many Excellencies and lawmakers kowtow to these lucky ladies in order to reap, mostly unverifiable blessings and fruits of miracles. The work hints on a new and emerging realm, ‘survivology’: The study of how to ‘Machiavelliously’ tide over hardship foisted on the citizenry by our eternally groping leadership. Already, the realm’s surfeit of lexicons are being churned out: ‘stomach infra-structure,’ ‘whistleblowing,’ ‘doctrine of necessity,’ ‘amnesty before conviction,’ all of them face-saving coinages that elicit in us a sense of deja vu, that remind us of ‘I’m stepping aside,’ of yesterday.
The second book is a fiction titled, Our Thieves Live Amongst Us. Here, I attempted to elicit a new and urgent realisation, that our corrupt men and women, our larcenous villains of different shades, are, after all, our neighbours, fellow Christian and Muslim worshipers, fellow colleagues in our places of work, our politicians and company chief executives, fellow traders, fellow students and fellow traditional rulers. All, humans! Not extraterrestrial beings from the outer space. This story was inspired over 20 years ago by the curious activities of a woman police Sergeant in our neighbourhood, whom I discovered was in charge of crime exhibits in her station. She did not only smoke marijuana kept in her custody, but also brings home a good quantity, which she sells to tipper drivers.
The third upcoming work is non-fiction; it’s a two-in-one piece titled Baptism: Sprinkle and Immersion- Breaking The Berlin Walls and Tithe or The Spirit of Giving? This is an ecumenical contribution to faith and religion. The book seeks to preach certitude, unity and filial energy to all Christian family. The fourth is titled Men Pushing Belly. It is a comical portrayal of the dangers inherent in indulgence and gluttony.
What has been the reception of your works so far?
So far so good, all my works have been well received. Primary school children love my children’s stories and the Ministries of Education in Rivers and Abia States received them well. Also, my Junior Secondary and Intermediate Class books have been well accepted in these two states. My adult works, all my volumes of poetry and fiction, are also well received. The Children of Oloibiri, my major fiction, is favoured for graduate and postgraduate research studies by universities in Nigeria.
My pidgin poetry volume, Mr. Ogbonge Polikitisan, is also favoured for African language studies and research by some universities. The Rainbow Book Club selected the book for the 2013 edition of World Poetry Day celebration. My two plays are also well received. The School Proprietor has been used by the General Studies Departments of about 10 tertiary institutions, most of them polytechnics. Rivers and Abia States adopted the same book for their Junior WAEC literature exams, despite its high diction. This may be due to the topical and contemporary issue of examination malpractices treated in the book.
Which genres are you most comfortable with as a writer?
All genres come to me as the same sweet game of words; the same hide and seek game of children in different forms. I strongly believe that creativity is a gift, a calling, if you like. Otherwise, what business do I, an engineer and environmentalist, have with literature? What business does the late Captain Elechi Amadi, a physicist and surveyor, have with literature? And the late Cyprian Ekwensi, a pharmacist, what business? I may not have written a super book, my magnum opus yet, but then the future is bright. God willing and sponsorship coming, one might yet come up with some ‘unputdownables!’ To God is the glory.
What is the significance of your book, The Children of Oloibiri?
The Children of Oloibiri is the story of corruption, back-scratching, back-sliding and wanton self-destruction; a tale of sleaze and virtual disorder at the organisational level. The book doubles as a case study of a nation and her organisations. It has since been adopted as a research material by some Nigerian universities. This highly filmable book was inspired, while I was teaching at Kolo Community Secondary School in Ogbia Local Council Area in present Bayelsa State, in 1985. Later, my contact with the national fertilizer company of Nigeria, from 1989 to 1992, sustained the inspiration to fruition. The major significance of the book lies in the attempt to link these two inspirational locations together.
What are the concerns in your non-fiction works?
I have written three non-fiction works so far. The first one is a readership booklet. It contains tips on how to rekindle interest in books. It also contains Abraham Lincoln’s famous Letter To My Son’s Teacher’ as an additional motivation. The booklet is given out to schools and the general public for free. My second non-fiction work is a reading workbook that enables students to properly analyse what is being read for maximum understanding and re-calling when the need arises. My third non-fiction is Nigeria’s Ambushing Scenarios: One More Agenda. It is a compilation of my columns published by some national newspapers, mostly the defunct Sunrays.
Centrally, the work represents my unsolicited contributions to Justice Karibi Whyte-led Constitutional Conference. For civil service reforms and solutions to its ubiquitous corrupt and fraudulent practices, the book presents ‘compulsory A4 formula.’ Under this formula, our individual pride and or sense of achievement should be based on merit. And half of the break-periods for civil servants and indeed all manner of workers should be used for reading specially selected corruption-based books, especially literary books. This is to keep the corruption monster in constant and impactful check. Books like No Longer At Ease by the late Professor Chinua Achebe, The Man Died by Professor Wole Soyinka and The Mayor Of Caster Bridge by Thomas Hardy are recommended among others.
It is my strong belief that civil service promotion interviews/questions that are partly based on these corruption-themed books shall serve two major purposes: one, massage the intellectual ego of the workers, making them feel the all-important sense of accomplishment and legacy. Two, keep them constantly abreast of the issues of corruption in all its shades and the concomitant ugly consequences. This is a cure-all prescription if properly administered.
You are mostly self-published. Is this format profitable? If not, what are the constraints?
I have no alternative. Most of us unsung writers have no alternative to self-publishing. Bread and butter publishing gives self-publishing authors instant hope. Writing is gradually becoming one major way of self-employment, a small-scale enterprise. When you self-publish, you realise a quick and concrete evidence of your creative and intellectual effort. The constraints are many, however: lack of funds, narrow market, obscurity, piracy and dearth of readership.
A self-published author may stay in obscurity for too long and miss some of the major gains of writing, which are popularity and attainment of celebrity status, endorsement and huge sums that come with it, literary awards are few and the self-published author may not have the power and influence to win. Funds to hire qualified and professional editors are lacking and for the same reason of paucity of funds, he cannot confront piracy. A self-publisher may not come out with a first class work, being ‘jack’ of all the book publication processes. But the question is, can he/she help it?
What is the biggest problem with writing in Nigeria?
They are many and range from lack of funds, lack of recognition, dearth of readership, piracy and plagiarism, government-disinterest in merit, intellectual property and inability to protect it. Solution: Government should make it clear to all, by its body language that it prefers meritocracy to mediocrity. Writers should be accorded recognition, as and when due, to help ward-off pirates. Even established publishers have their works ‘more beautifully’ packaged (pirated) abroad and imported into the country. Funds should be provided for committed writers and also a return to reading campaign should be encouraged. Electronic media and audio video explosion should equally be re-visited.