Monday, December 17, 2012

My ‘Odyssey’ as a Nigerian Writer

In my 22 years as a writer, I have faced a lot of daunting challenges ranging from self-doubt, fear, rejection of manuscript, lack of financial reward and poor reading culture in Nigeria.

I started writing commentaries in 1990 during the military regime. It was an era when there was a lot of media censorship with some print and electronic media proscribed for publishing news which the military considered inimical to its interest. News on democracy, human rights and development were highly censored. I recall that some of my critical articles were not published by government owned media then. Even the versions published by private media were sometimes watered down in order not to offend the military rulers.  OGBC 2 FM Mailbag 2084, a radio programme to which I regularly contribute between 1991 and 1993, had to be rested by the station management after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.  In essence, just like media houses did, I nursed a palpable fear in those military years. The return to civil rule changed all of that. More so with the coming into force the Freedom of Information Act in 2011.

My self-doubt was as a result of many years of failure of O’ Level English language. I consistently had P. 8 (ordinary pass) in the subject from 1985 when I first graduated from Secondary School up until 1990 when I eventually had A 3. It was very traumatic for me. However, I have largely overcome that challenge as I read about great writers and draw inspiration from them.

In 2010, as a way of marking my 20th anniversary of commentary writing as well as commemorate Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee, I decided to publish a book of essays. I worked on the manuscript and thereafter started looking for publishers. One notable Nigerian publisher scorned my manuscript being a compilation of commentaries. She said it will not sell as she’s even having difficulty marketing creative works in her stable. Not even my offer of paying for the publication dissuaded her. Another publisher asked me for 75 per cent advanced payment on the agreed cost of publication.   This I could not afford. I was later introduced to Joe Tolalu Associates in Lagos who gave me favourable terms of payment. After the publication of the book “Nigeria, My Nigeria: Perspectives from 1990 – 2010” I have had to market the book myself as a marketing deal struck with a book seller was not profitable as I would like. I am happy to say that the book has been well received and I am in the process of printing a second edition as more people demand for copies.

Commentary writing either as a freelance or columnist has not been financially rewarding in Nigeria. Many newspapers in a bid to cut cost and because of the thought that they are doing the writer a favour do not pay for published articles.  In my 22 years of writing, it is only The Guardian who in 1996 paid me a total sum of N400 for the three of my articles published in that year. The newspaper paid N100 for two opinion pieces published on week days and N200 for the one published on Sunday. When I got the money I used it to buy belt at Oshodi market. It is therefore passion that has sustained my writing.

Poor reading culture among Nigerians has also been a disincentive to Nigerian writers. It is the joy of a writer to be read. Greater joy comes when there are feedbacks. It is very discouraging when sometimes my family and friends see me as wasting my time writing. While many say they don’t have time to spare to read hard stuffs like commentaries, others believe it will change nothing. However, I have psyched myself up to believe in my passion and continue to write for the betterment of Nigeria. 

N.B: This piece was written on demand by Bisi Daniels, Nigerian prolific novelist and journalist and was first published in his Writers World column in Thisday newspaper of Saturday, December 15, 2012.