In November 2002, we were getting set to launch The Sun Newspapers into an already saturated newspaper market. But we decided to do things differently, believing that was the way to box our way into the hearts of readers.
One of the strategies we employed was to recruit a large number of fresh graduates across the disciplines, whom we would train, and grow into the image of journalists we wanted.
As founding editor of the paper, the lot fell on me to screen over 1,000 applications, shortlist about 100, whom we then invited for a written test.
It was also my duty to mark the scripts, and select the best 20 for employment. I painstakingly did so.
One of those who scaled the hurdles was a certain Juliana Francis. She wrote with a literary flourish, which gave an assurance that she could be trained to become an outstanding journalist.
We took them through series of seminars and workshops, teaching the rudiments of journalism like what news is, how to spot and report news, how to write the story etc.
I remember the first day I deployed that army of rookie journalists onto the field, the reports they turned in, in all the rawness, and how I rewrote each script, making them publishable. I then gave them back their script, along with the reworked ones, so they could compare and contrast.
We did that for a couple of months, till the reporters came into their own, and I didn’t need to supervise them directly again. I handed them to the desk editors. I am glad that her desk editor, Dipo Kehinde, is here today, and another colleague, Christopher Oji, as well as Chioma Igbokwe.
Of course, some of the trainees were outstanding, some others very good, others average, while about two or three could not measure up, and dropped out of the scheme.
Having established herself as a budding journalist, I deployed Juliana Francis to the Crime Desk, and kept an eye on her performance. Within a year, a crack reporter and writer was born. And part of the evidence is this book, We are Priceless, which is being presented today.
Racy. Pulsating. That is how I can describe the book. It held me spellbound as I read it, and I could barely drop it to do other things till I got to the last page. I kept telling myself; en hen, Juliana yi ti ya nkan o. Juliana has gone haywire with her pen.
This is a great advocacy book in the war against child trafficking and some other anti-social acts in the country. The book should be adopted as resource material by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), and other relevant security agencies. And if it ends in the school curriculum as a recommended text for secondary schools, it would also be a great idea.
The story of five girls who staged a daring escape from Good Time Hotel, where they had had terrible times as sex slaves, is excellently interwoven with the stories of dysfunctional families, which often leads to crimes and other anti-social acts. There are also stories of major traffickers in children, both within and outside the country, and parents who abuse their girl child, and how they turn them to monsters, as exemplified by Senator David Philips, and his daughter, Roseanne. And the lesson was vividly told at the end: crime does not pay, as all the malefactors paid for it.
As the book highlights the evils of whoredom and child trafficking, it also traces the source majorly to dysfunctional families, poverty, lack of care for children, the get rich quick syndrome, and other ills.
The book also positively portrays some of our security agencies, especially NAPTIP, and some good police officers, showing that not all of them have a price. Some others are diligent, and have the courage of their conviction.
I spoke earlier of the literary flair displayed by the author in her test essay, which earned her a job as a journalist. This was in bold relief in this book. Listen to the following:
“It was a noisy night.: crickets chirped, and frogs croaked like confused choristers. Raucous music blared furiously from the hotel. The sound of water rushing from the canal near the dumpsite provided a calming undercurrent to the night.” Chapter One, Page 3.
How more picturesque can language be? The author sure has the power.
Listen to another one, on Page 11 of the book: “The houses appeared tired and leaned drunkenly against one another. Only a few houses looked decent in the community, and Good Time Hotel was one of them.”
This adroit use of the literary term called personification shows Juliana as having already known more than her former teachers. Lol.
And hear this oxymoron on Page 19: “The bad times they had endured at Good Time Hotel could make anyone think of only herself.”
Bad times at Good Time Hotel. What an irony.
One more example. On Page 47: “The woman’s grey hair was plaited with rubber threads, and she tied an Ankara wrapper over a Buba which, over the years, had drank too much water with soap.” Hahahaha. We hear of drunken people. But here, it is a dress that had drunk too much water.
Please read this book, and enter a world of crisp writing, suspense and literary allusions.
The core message of the book is on Page 98. The girls who escaped from where they had been turned to sex slaves had naturally become cynical and sceptical about life. They felt unloved, both by God and men.
A caring and concerned NAPTIP officer told them: “You’re priceless. You are all priceless. Didn’t you know that? You are beautiful and a bright future awaits you. But you need to first love yourself and allow people around you to begin to love you. We all need love in our lives.”
That is what I consider the core of the book. The germane point. When there’s love in our hearts, we won’t maltreat or ill-treat another human being, made in the image of God.
Is this a perfect book? Almost. Well written, well edited, except for a few tiny errors. Page 28: “Moses picked a black and white stripped tie…” You say striped, not stripped.
Page 32: “He was going to the public tap to fetch water when he saw her, clad in a navy blue knee knee-length gown.” The word knee is repeated twice.
But generally, it is a well edited and proofread book. However, I wonder why the word priceless is rendered as two words in the cover title. Deliberate, because of aesthetics? It baffles me.
As I said earlier, this book should find its way into the school curriculum. It’s worth its weight in gold, and I recommend it to all and sundry.