Othuke Ominiabohs is the founder of Masobe Books. He is a writer, poet, playwright, dramatist and publisher. Among his published books include Odufa, A Conspiracy of Ravens and Aviara.
“As human beings, we are products of our environments, and this singularity colours our experiences and perceptions of life. I write, dredging from my very unique experiences, guided mostly by influences from the land of my birth, Aviara, Delta State, Nigeria and Africa,” he tells me in an interview.
“Humanity is being bludgeoned on all sides with every ill imaginable, but, when I narrow this chaos down to my environment, I am besieged with a thousand themes badgering for voice: corruption, disease, poor governance, insecurity, racism, illegal migration, terrorism, poor infrastructure, etcetera.
“So, I write that I may voice the pain of the silenced, of the ignored, of the voiceless; that I may record history for posterity’s sake. Maybe, one day, these words of mine would ignite the change that we’ve all been clamouring for, or maybe they will serve as a soothing balm to ease life’s transitions.”
1n 2014, his play, Odufa, was shortlisted for the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. “It is a poignant love story with themes centred around family, tribalism, betrayal, violence, etcetera. I was beyond excited when a version of it was shortlisted for the Wole Soyinka Prize for Drama (I had adapted the yet-to-be-published book into a play).”
Ironically, Odufa wasn’t the first book he wrote. It was just the first to get published. In 2014, he had landed a publishing deal with Kachifo Limited for the book that later became A Conspiracy of Ravens, his second novel (which was actually the second book he had ever written, and Odufa was the third). But that didn’t quite work out, hence his self-publishing journey with Odufa. “It was a book that resonated deeply within me. That was why, when it was time to choose the first work of mine to go out into the world, I chose Odufa. The book was also shortlisted for the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Prize and the Grand Prix of Literary Associations in Cameroun in 2016.
Kidney disease was the major inspiration for his new work, Aviara, having been diagnosed with end-stage renal failure in 2014, with both kidneys damaged. He recalls the harrowing experience, “It was one of the most challenging periods of my life. The following months after the diagnosis were filled with uncertainty and fear.
I didn’t know anyone who had survived the disease, neither could the doctors give me any assurances of survival. I was in a dark tunnel, and there was no light at the end, at least, none that I could foresee.”
With the new book, he wants to start a conversation about kidney disease. “I want more people to know about it and talk about it,” he says. Aviara is also the name of his hometown. “I chose this title, using my hometown, to serve as a metaphor to a larger society, a part representing the whole,” he adds.
He founded Masobe Books to seek out the best African writers on the continent, to publish and promote their works, as well as to protect them as a family. He adds, “So, with Masobe, think, excellence and family. At Masobe Books, we want to give you as many reasons to pick up a book, as we can think of, after all, that’s what our name, ‘Masobe’, means: Let us read.”
Though self-publishing is fraught with its own challenges, it may also be the only way for many writers to put themselves and their works out there, he hints. Again, there are few publishers who are merely looking for very specific content. However, the good news is, with access to the internet and social media, “anyone could make a success of self-publishing,” though writers need to be patient as they hone their craft, he cautions.
How does he intend to accomplish his dream of Nigerian children becoming writers as they grow up? He responds, “I simply mean that I wish for more channels of light to illuminate our world, to shine the light at the darkness and to mould/record our history. As to the matter of achieving this, I believe that, where there is a will, there is a way.”