Akande’s Wedlock of Art seminar presentation and book launch

Lola Akande

Barely a year after her first novel, What It Takes, was released, University of Lagos don, Dr. Lola Akande of Department of English, has launched her latest work entitled, Where Are You From? The launch was held during Faculty of Arts Seminar Presentation that had as theme ‘Ethnicity and the National Question: Content and Style in Where Are You From?’

It was supposed to be the launch of Akande’s novel before the university community, but it took a seminar twist instead. Typical of a university community, some pointedly took Akande to task on the propriety of it. They wondered why a writer should also be criticising his or her own work instead of allowing the necessary distance between the writer and the critic to intervene so as to avoid the incestuous relationship such co-joining of roles could bring to birth on a work.

Yet others said the title of the work sounds too prosaic and urged the author to change it to something more alluring and fanciful. Others took a swipe at the Nigerian university community generally, particularly based on Akande’s first novel, What It Tales, why it is that rather than the Gown (university) leading the Town (society) to the promise land, vices in society have permeated the university system so massively that it has succumbed to and even appropriated them to itself? With the result, it was puzzled that the dross of Town has overwhelmed the gold that Gown ought to produce and society has remained rudderless.

It was a fiery inter-change reminiscent of a robust academic setting. And the woman at the heart of it all took it in her strides, as she responded to the queries thrown at her with aplomb. She said rather than being prosaic, the title hits at the heart of the Nigerian problem, as there was no escaping its in-your-face incongruity of it.

At the end, Akande read excerpts from Where Are You From? to the thrilling admiration of the gathering of students, professors and journalists. What she read captured the heart of her novel, how the politics of tribe mar the prospect of an otherwise promising young Nigerian chances of having the good life in her own country. In a sense, Akande argued that her novel is a call to action to remove such barriers from the path of her young people. Failing which, she implied, the country would be lost forever, as no sense of nationalism and patriotism could ever be expected from the youth, whose psyche would have been damaged.

At the core of the novel are questions of “Citizenship, indigenization, inter-ethnic marriages and youthful exuberance,” Akande argued. “Where Are You From? interrogates the true meaning of federalism and highlights the frustration and disappointment young Nigerians face in their quest to succeed in a country with ethnic differences.

“We seem to be having a big problem in our hands in this country. Everybody is faced with the question of where we come from. How you are treated or mistreated in this country depends on where you come or fail to come from. I am concerned because it is getting worse and the dangers are frightening, especially among young people.”

“So, this is a novel, a work of fiction through which I aim to make my contribution. I’m not saying that I’m able to solve the whole problem, but I believe that talking about it is part of the solution. So, let’s begin to talk about ethnicity and ask ourselves whether this is the kind of country we want to leave for our children.”

On the issue of ethnicity, the author argued, “There’s nothing wrong with ethnicity, depending on how we use it. The problem with ethnicity is that we use it wrongly. As a Yoruba woman, I married an Igbo man and I lived in Kano and I don’t see anything wrong with these tribes.”

Based on the life of a newly graduated Nigerian student, who after her Youth Service year, finds it difficulty to find a job and fit into society properly, Akande said she had Nigeria’s young adults in mind while writing the novel, as divisions in the country based on tribal cleavages seem to be widening with each passing year.

“I had students in mind while writing, which is why the language is simple and the plot linear.”

She also commented on the style and diction she deployed, stressing, “I want the children to read the book and know what we are doing. So that they will not grow up to become like us in terms of how we view ethnicity.

“The trajectory of the protagonist, Anjola’s life is that she is unable to define her belongingness. Young, innocent, idealistic and naive, Anjola embarks on the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme with the confidence of getting a job immediately after the programme. She goes to Kaduna, based on assurances by a Kaduna-based lover, but ethnic challenges frustrate her effort to get a job. Unknowing to her, her struggles have just begun.”

And this sadly, is the case of most Nigerians.

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