By Chinelo Obogo
United States-born author, Linda Anukwuem, has said her book, Who’s Who in Diaspora: The Nigerian Story, was conceived to honour Nigerians in the Diaspora who are making significant impact in their respective fields. The woman, who hails from Imo State, describes in this interview how amazed she was at the fact that so many Nigerians in the Diaspora are breaking boundaries and thriving in their respective fields. She, however, expressed disappointment that many of them do not have confidence in the country and have opted not to return.
Speaking on the bias she faced not just as a female author but as a youth leader in the US, she said she draws inspiration from the likes of Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who despite the opposition from the former President of the United States, Donald Trump, emerged the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation.
What were the criteria for choosing the subjects for the second edition of your book, Who’s Who in Diaspora: The Nigerian Story?
The research that I had to undertake was very gruesome. But that is what I had to do. It was not just a feature; it was a dialogue. When someone is nominated, it is up to the recipient to respond if they want to send in their profile. We sent out nomination letters based on our research. And, we get to decide whom to nominate by paying very close attention to the traditional and social media, and getting to know who is making a difference and contributing meaningfully to the society. We cannot do this by ourselves. So oftentimes we dialogue with the professional associations like the Association of Nigerian Physicians in America. Through them, we were able to get other healthcare professionals that were in Canada. It was all through networking. The ones in New York and Atlanta were very instrumental. Right before COVID-19, I had travelled to Atlanta to talk about it. And they were able to nominate people. It was the Atlanta chapter that linked me up with the national president for the healthcare association.
You earlier published the first edition in 2020. Has it been financially rewarding?
I will say that with the first one, we were able to break even. The first publishing company that we used didn’t do distribution. But this one that we are using which is based in Atlanta would do distribution. And they are also trying to ensure that it is going to be available worldwide such that everyone can get it. It would be made available on Amazon and different outlets so that it doesn’t matter where you are, you can order it, and it would be delivered to you.
Did you interact personally with those you profiled?
I have met some of them. But I those I have met personally are not up to 80 per cent. We communicate through email or phone.
So how did you get to verify their claims to ensure that they are not exaggerating or telling outright lies?
Most of the nominations were personally vetted by me. I did a lot of research to authenticate their claims. Like I mentioned earlier, I collaborated with some associations to be able to get access to some of the nominees. And the association helped me a great deal because the profiles I got came through them. We also put a disclaimer in the book because we know that many people would use the book as a resource. However, we did a thorough research and a lot of the associations that provided us with the contacts of our nominees and helped in the vetting process by giving us accurate information. Even the consular was heavily involved in the process. So, I can say that we ensured that we did a thorough background check to ensure that the information contained in the book is as accurate as possible. For instance, in the case of professors, they are usually listed on the school’s website and it makes the job easier.
What are some of the lessons that you have learned along the way?
The biggest lesson I have learned is that you can’t do anything by yourself. The correct way to achieve faster results is through collaboration. And that is what I did with different associations. I collaborated with whoever can help bring credibility. Another issue I faced is the issue of deadlines. I started sending out the nominations around January. And people started sending their profiles in around May/June/July. It was close to the time when the book was supposed to go into editing and the design was being made. Many of them didn’t send it on time and it made things difficult.
How were you able to raise funds?
The funds for the first book came out of my pocket. And the money was used in the editing and design layout of the book. I was able to use the funds I got from the sales of the first one for the second one.
How does this one stand out, and what extra effort did you put into it?
First, it is not focused on the elite as most books of this nature are, even though all of them are professionals. The second point is that no industry is left behind; every industry was adequately covered. Creators were also given an opportunity to be recognised.
Did you set out to use a woman-owned publishing company or was it a coincidence?
No, I didn’t. It just happened and the experience has been very good so far. I was also comfortable with the first publisher who was a male; it is just that there was no distribution package for that, unlike this one. I really like the current one as well. I had to read up on her and saw that she started up as a ghost writer and a lot of the books that she has helped manage has been successful, I don’t know if it is because she is based in Atlanta and Chicago and she was able to tap into Hollywood.
How were you able to get the chairman of the African Development Bank to write the foreword to your book?
I’ve never met Akinwunmi Adesina in person. But I was able to get his contact and wrote him a letter. He graciously responded. For the first edition, it was Onyeka Onwenu that did the foreword. I had a scheduled call with her. And she talked so much that when I hung up, I was determined not to give up because her message was very encouraging. I appreciate Nigerians who take time to really want to inspire and talk and push you to keep going. For me, I would have wanted years ago to see something like this, about people who look like me, and how they were able to achieve their goals. This is the same thing that I did with this book. Through this book, I have been able to empower and bring to more limelight, young people who are doing amazing things.
There had been times that I was discouraged and felt like giving up when it looked like things were not working. But then, I encourage myself and keep pushing. I decide not to give up, especially when I encounter very seasoned professionals who do not give me a hard time before they send their profile. One of those is the amazing Dr. Ben Omalu. All I did was that I went to his website, got his mail and sent him a nomination letter. Everything is all about how you present yourself. I sent him a very professional email and he responded within 24 hours with his profile. I was in bed tired when I saw his email come through and I was so excited. Things like that keep me going and help me to set up the standard on not just the calibre of people to interview.
Have you had to deal with gender stereotypes in writing?
I have faced such challenges. But they were not necessarily during the course of writing my book. I have experienced gender bias in my consulting work in the oil and gas industry. I am an executive consultant for a consortium and I am responsible for coordinating the relationship between major and minor contractors and advisors. I negotiate agreements and liaise with the local, state and national government officials in the United States. The most memorable experience for me was in 2019. I came to Nigeria on behalf of a client and I had to attend an NNPC meeting for a project. Between my client’s staff who were mostly male and the people from NNPC who were part of that meeting, they saw me and they all felt I was the secretary who was there to take notes. I didn’t let it bother me because you don’t let such things show in front of them, that you are bothered. I faced similar bias while working with the Mayor’s office. There was the particular year I served as the chair for the City of Houston’s Mayor’s International Trade and Development Council for Africa (MITDC-Africa) as well as the Arts, Culture and Community Relations Committee. People kept asking if I was the chair of the council because I was young and a female in a council dominated by men.
Why do you think some Nigerians don’t return home very often?
It is because of some of what they read in the news about Nigeria. An example was when there was a report that former President Trump said Nigeria was a shit hole. When that report went viral, some Nigerians I met used that as a reason for not wanting to return home. And I am referring to those who were born in Nigeria and migrated to the US. I have met Nigerians who have not returned home in the past 10 to 30 years and who have no desire to do so. I keep telling them that they can’t be in the US and know what is happening in Nigeria.
What is your advice to younger people who want to be authors like you?
They need to dream big and be consistent in working hard. Over a period of time, there would be people placed strategically to provide that one vessel that you need to break through. Don’t belittle yourself. And when you get to a point that you think that the world is against you, take it with grace. I watched how Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala carried herself with confidence even when Trump was working hard to ensure that she did not emerge as the Director General of the World Trade Organisation. Not everyone would have behaved like that. And despite his opposition, she never spoke against him to the media. It was an inspiring moment for me to see a Nigerian in the Diaspora occupy such a position.