‘Nigerians don’t read, they prefer it visual’

Dr. Stella Omonigho is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Foreign Languages, University of Benin, Nigeria. She is an expert in Francophone African Literature Francophone African Drama as her specialization. In this interview with MICHAEL EGBEJULE, Omonigho talks about the girl child, and how they affect.

What prompted your interest in the girl child campaign?
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, Ada, 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.

How do you combine your academic commitment and your creative writing?
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, The Quest For Change. 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.

What are the challenges you face getting your works published?
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.

How much do you think Nigerians read creative works?
Nigerians don’t read. They prefer it visual. We are trying to encourage them. In the university for example, some departments try to adopt the creative writing instrument so students can read. On social media, sometimes we upload for people to go through. The urge to pick up a copy to read is a problem.

You are a scholar in French Language, why did you choose to write in English Language and not in French Language?
I write in both languages. All my works are translated into French. For example Ada and others are written in French and English and they are both in books and social media even in Canada.

How are your French works doing?
I have attended some conferences where the French version were used. Outside the country, people using it are people in African studies. People want names of authors they are used to. For example, if your book has not won an award or something for your work to be appreciated. People 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.

From your observation, is there any hope for the girl child?
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.

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