Some months ago, I was approached by the Daily Trust Foundation to be part of an intensive workshop that would cover a trio of some things I hold dear: Writing, Editing, and Publishing of books. Of course I said yes, and I proceeded with the foundation’s Programme Director, Prof. Theophilus Abbah to discuss what would become the main topic I would handle. We eventually settled on something along the lines of ‘How to tell if you have a story worth telling’, and I set out to create the module. As straightforward and self-explanatory as the topic sounds, it was not going to be linear. In fact, it would be anything but linear.
Before I proceed, though, a small flashback to a conversation with Malam Mannir Dan-Ali, my former boss, who first pitched the workshop to me, his rationale being that journalists do not write nearly as much as they should, which is ironic when you consider that our job entails a lot of writing. Now, Malam Mannir was not talking about reports, feature stories, or interviews. He was talking about books. Biographies, memoirs, as well as specialised-interest and expertise-driven works of writing that would shed light on sectors, situations, issues, people, and more. He was absolutely right, of course, that Nigerian journalists barely write. And we should, with the plethora of materials that abound any which way you turn your head.
Now back to the workshop, the laudable initiative from the Daily Trust Foundation made possible by funding provided by the MacArthur Foundation, a panel I moderated kicked things off. It was about another major issue in publishing, that of the digital/hard copy dichotomy of sorts. It was a robust and enlightening session, especially for me, as I was in the company of seasoned professionals like Mrs. Eugenia Abu (who forever looks like she’s 40, by the way), Malam Ishaq Ajibola, Prof. Usman Bukar, and Mr. Othuke Ominiabohs (publisher of new-ish hotshot company Masobe Books). Each panellist, in discussing the topic, shared personal and professional viewpoints that were as diverse as they were compelling. The contributions were so rich and engaging that the time for the next item was eaten into.
After that, it was my solo session on figuring out if one had a book worth writing. Now, as much as it sounds like a cure-all, I did not approach it that way. I simply broke down processes that worked for me in the past, and how to jumpstart your book from idea to finished work. The questions that followed showed how important the topic was, and I genuinely had a strong sense that the point of it all was being well-received by the participants. Speaking of whom, they cut across gender, age, professional levels and sectors, and more, a wide array of interesting individuals with unique backgrounds and personal experiences. It was all quite exciting. That observation also underscores what a massive trove of knowledge, information, and experience is currently residing in the heads of the people concerned, instead of out there for the world to see and utilise.
Not just for journalists, us Nigerians cannot afford to not write or even shirk from telling our own stories. Major issues like #BringBackOurGirls, #SecureNigeria, #NotTooYoungToRun, #EndSARS and more, which have been etched into the contemporary zeitgeist, have had many books written on them by non-Nigerians, some of them who did excellent work, and some who put out lacklustre offerings. And that is just one danger of letting others tell our stories, when we are more than capable to tell them by ourselves. We know the nuances, we know our own idiosyncrasies, and we certainly know our own delicate sensitivities, all within a context that no outsider can dictate to or tell us.
In fields like history, arts, culture, politics, governance, military, education, health, tech, business and many others, we have a massive number of experts whose work transcends the national stage to a global one. Any single one of the accomplished individuals, age be damned, can pen insightful books loaded with knowledge that cannot be found elsewhere, as it is peculiar to the author’s own experiences against the backdrop of his or her life and professional career.
I remember a recent conversation I had with a Nigerian VIP (VVIP, to be honest) I admire so much, and whose name I will not mention, wherein I asked him when we should hope to read his memoirs, even if a first volume. He smiled and said ‘Abdulkareem, Nigerians do not read that much, If I write, who would pick it up and read it?’ I proceeded to tell him what I have always held, almost as a maxim, that Nigerian public officials, especially the elected, are our own rock starts, our own ‘royal family’ if you will. I also added some data I have about sales growths in bookstores nationwide, and I like to think he agreed, even if silently, to pen the book. Maybe I will reveal who he is when the book does come out.
I am currently putting finishing touches on a novel, titled ‘The Herdsboy’. A work of Africanfuturism (one word, no capital in the middle), it is set in afar-flung Nigerian/African future. But before that, a biography on a late, great Nigerian who died far too young is being finessed for a possible November release. All this is while yet another book, following the murderous exploits of a group of bandits camped somewhere between Abuja and Kaduna. As regards telling my own stories, my only enemy is time, and even then, I have managed to pen down stuff substantially. I think it is because I have reconciled with the urgency and importance of telling our own stories by ourselves.
(Concluded next week)