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Nigerian writers talk about ‘creating’ amid coronavirus crisis

As the Coronavirus pandemic drives Nigerians indoors, Bookshelf talks to writers on what it’s like to create during this period. As of last Monday, Nigeria’s…

As the Coronavirus pandemic drives Nigerians indoors, Bookshelf talks to writers on what it’s like to create during this period.

As of last Monday, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos, and Ogun states were locked down as directed by President Muhammadu Buhari during his national broadcast on Sunday, March 29. Those exempted, however, include hospitals, healthcare related establishments, food processing, distribution and retail companies, petroleum distribution and retail entities, power generation, transmission and distribution companies and private security companies.

Forced to stay indoors, writers, known to cherish their solitude when at work, share different experiences on how they cope under the circumstances.

Unable to function

In Abuja, TJ Benson, writer and photographer, is known for his short story collection, ’We Won’t Fade into Darkness.’ Also, his debut novel, ‘The Madhouse,’ is set to be released in 2020 by Masobe Books. He was cooped up in his home when Bookshelf placed a phone call to him. Straight out of a live group meeting, he talked about how difficult it is for him to write anything at this time.

“First of all, I thought that this would give me more time to create and write, but it isn’t the case now,” Benson said. “When you write, you work with your mind space. When your mind is preoccupied with things you see in the news, you can’t walk out of it.

“Usually, when you write, you do it toward a future, an end, and completion. But things are so uncertain now, so how do you create for a future or an end when nobody knows when it will all end? For me, personally, it has been almost impossible to create or write.”

Blessing in disguise

A publisher and writer known for his poetry collection ‘The Anguish and Vigilance of Things,’ and novel ‘City of Memories,’ Richard Ali, unlike Benson, is able  to take advantage of the fourteen-day total lockdown in Abuja.

“A writer’s worst enemy is procrastination, but in this Covid-19 period we have no choice because there are no distractions,” Ali said. “Personally, I want to use this period to get some more mileage on my second novel which I have been working on for quite a while. So, I think this time presents some interesting opportunity for writers to pick one single project and work on it all through. We have all tried to stock our houses with food, and as long as there is electricity and the internet, then I don’t see why we cannot make progress in our writing. So, it’s a blessing in disguise.”


Although Jos is not on lockdown, schools have been shut down and some people work at home. Florence Oketona is one of them. Currently working on her second book, she found it challenging submitting her debut novel, ‘Ashes in the Times’ for the Nigerian Prize for Literature, popularly known as the NLNG Prize.

“I was under severe pressure because of the Coronavirus pandemic and paid more to send my book,” Oketona said. “That’s the only way the situation has affected me as a writer. Apart from that, it has given me room to work on my second novel.”

Will a writing prompt help?

Poet Olumide Olaniyan is author of a poetry collection, ‘Lucidity of Absurdity.’ Writing for him at the moment is a “big challenge” at this moment because his “mind is not at rest.”

He said: “I thought usually that we write best when we are under pressure, but I now realise it depends on the kind of pressure. When there is such a global challenge, it’s different.

“Someone advised that I give myself writing prompts. I wrote two articles before now, but I have been unable to for two weeks.”

Earlier in the week, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, disclosed that they are looking for about 6,000 people who had contacts with covid-19 patients in Lagos and Abuja.

The NCDC boss said so far, 2,000 people had been tested for coronavirus nationwide, a figure experts described as grossly inadequate compared to the country’s 200 million population.

As of March 30, there were 131 confirmed cases of covid-19 reported in Nigeria with two deaths, the centre said.