Adi Wali, a journalist and creative writer, is the author of Our Stories (short stories), Stepping Up the Ladder (biography), Memories of Facts (fiction), Kolou My Country (fiction) and the latest novel, Tears of the Bereaved. Adi, who has written dozens of editorials and feature stories, had a nasty experience years ago when he was sanctioned by his community, Mbodo, for depicting characters they thought were too close to reality and disparaging. But he has since gotten rid of that, doing what he loves doing best. In this interview, the writer recalls his unforgettable encounters with Elechi Amadi, his kinsman, while inviting us to his literary odyssey.
You are an Aluu man from Ikwerre, like the legendary Elechi Amadi; how much of that influenced your literary excursion?
Yes. I’m of Ikwerre ethnic nationality. I come from Mbodo community of Aluu clan of Ikwerre LGA, Rivers State. I should say that it’s a coincidence of nature that the late Captain Elechi Amadi, the author of the famed trilogy — The Concubine, Great Pond and The Slave —come from the same Mbodo community; at a certain period when he was the arrowhead of the community chiefs and elders, I was at the helm of affairs of the mid-aged group called Mbodo Community Development Council. He was a great community personality and avowed traditionalist to the core. Captain Elechi Amadi had had domineering influence on my writing; I had the privilege of reaching him at will whenever the need arises. Prior to my foray into creative writing, he was an inspiring fan of my editorial page of the monthly magazine I edit, Rivers Informant, a monthly publication of the Rivers State Govt House Press Unit. He read a feature entitled “Sharia And Zamfara Economy” in one of national dailies, National Interest newspapers, now defunct, when the debate about Sharia law and practices in a secular nation-state like Nigeria was at its peak. Another was the editorial “Agboro As A Figure of Speech in Abia”, which was reacting to the ineptitude/unethical behaviour of the then Abia State Commissioner for Information and Strategy during Gov. Theodore Orji’s regime. I think those writings, among others, intrigued him so much that he dubbed them as masterpieces from an ingenious master craftsmanship; I felt so flattered but at this time challenged.
Precisely, he encouraged and urged me into literary writing. I think he was desirous of a successor not far from him! My first published work, Our Stories, a collection of short stories, had its part four; a kind of oral literature and Proverbs. He expressed his happiness but advised me to do a revised edition to do away with the section on proverbs and develop a new creative writing that would serve as African oral literature. “Proverbs are where African philosophy is domiciled,” he postulated. Based on that wise counsel, I’m rounding up a new novel, Oknazinkpa, otherwise represented in English language as “Thoughts of Conscience”, enriched with our indigenous values, mores… proverbs and fables.
You combine journalism with creative writing, how do they complement each other?
Journalism and creative writing are twin tools in reshaping the society to a better and healthy place for human habitation. Just like journalism stands out for entertainment, education, information and surveillance so it is with creative writing, which is sometimes inventive and prophetic; creative writers are purveyors of innovations; they see tomorrow and create inspiration for science and technology, and other fields of studies. It’s great having the skills for the two; it’s a rare gift. It’s like a prophetic flow that drips in torrents and departs spontaneously to resurface intermittently. Most times, you hardly have control of it; just be prepared at all times remains the watchword. They complement each other. Though journalism is non- pleasurable, because it’s time bound; one must be conscious to beat dateline, unlike creative writing that places one on pleasure cruise once you’re engulfed in its moment of quietness and meditation; you’re driven by unknown force to spew inert wisdom to the body of knowledge, that is, you spin words in eclectic styles!
Your first published work was a short story volume, Our Stories (2012). I am fascinated by the “Our” in that title. What makes it our stories?
Our Stories, though a collection of short stories in its class of satire used, describe greed, advocacy for peace and coexistence. It’s used to teach humanity that there’s more to African mores and storytelling. “Our” is a dictate for communalism; stories that reached out to wider human habitations, irrespective of dispositions and leanings, ethnic jingoism and gender ingenuity. All of us have one story or the other to tell! Like the question rightly probed, what made it “Our Stories” is because of the writings as they were touched the readers and humanity at large; Part 1: Tragedy of Land Dispute; Part 2: Ibeneme and the Spirits; Part 3. Smith Meets Eze Okogbule Amarachi.
This is one novel I enjoyed uncommon popularity as a thriller author, I would say! It’s on the reading list of JSS 1 and 2 of the Rivers State school system. I have had the opportunity of relieving the stories, especially part 2 that enjoys folkloric renditions. I have suffered persecution in the hands of my kins as I was accused of racial denigration of some people in my community; for three years, I was sanctioned, for part 1 entitled “Tragedy of Land Dispute” was misconstrued that I picked up a section of the community for ridicule, frowning that they were branded as slaves through the characters in the book, which, of truth, had no resemblance whatsoever. I feel that, despite the prodigy, Our Stories stands out as a choice African novel today in Nigerian universities’ department of English language and literature, as well as a GS course respectively. I do hope to look at the review of Our Stories someday in this newspaper.
You went on to write Memories of Facts, a novel (2015), what informed that book?
Memories of Facts is my third novel, a-190 page book. It made its debut appearance in 2015. It’s intended to give a voice to a section of the society that seemed suffocating in their own silence, probably because they found themselves in a regimented environment or because of the work they do! They are in the most noble profession; they’re in the academia; university lecturers, to be specific. I ventured into doing a conversational creative writing, a collection of their respective opinions and experiences in the growth efforts of their immediate environment; the strength of their principals, finances and funding of the institution and proffering solutions to fast-track to a world class RSUST that would be truly respected in character and in learning. I was satisfied with the result of the novel. It was widely accepted by the university, especially among the lecturers. I received accolades and goodwill messages from across the board for a job well done. What else do I ask for in my writing career if the masters in the game like lecturers up to the class of professors would applaud me?
You are also a biographer…
My first attempt in doing a biography in 2015, entitled Stepping Up The Ladder, was a masterpiece as amply described by Emeritus Prof Nimi Briggs, erstwhile Vice Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt in writing the foreword of the book. Stepping up the ladder stands out to encourage hard work; give honour to deserving achievers when they are still living, and our typical graveside eulogies where his or absence would invariably make none-sense of such praises! We cannot continue to live that way; there should be a change of attitude towards commitment and patriotism at every level. Stepping Up the Ladder acknowledged unequivocally the growth efforts of the Vice Chancellor of the then Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Nkpolu Oroworukwo, Port Harcourt, Professor Barineme Beke Fakae. It was never premeditated to song-praise for whatever pecuniary reasons. It would surprise the readers out there that I never had my educational pursuits in that institution; but, as a citizen of RIvers State, I felt I had a stake in what happens around, including the affairs of education which, to me, remained the bedrock of nation building, and, secondly, our image was also at stake wherever the discussions for quality citadel of learning was being canvassed across the country and beyond. The book also challenged managers across board to be excellence-conscious in managing and coordinating the affairs of trust.
Kolou My Country was published after Memories of Fact, with obvious political undercurrents. Is Kolou itself a microcosmic of the larger society? What inspired this work? Again, There is a happy ending in Kolou My Country with rays of hope for the citizenry. Why do characters in fiction lead better lives than in reality?
Kolou My Country is another trailblazer in a chequered journey in creative writing. Kolou My Country is certainly not the same thinking with There was a Country crafted by the master storyteller, late Prof. Chinua Achebe. It has its concept of sanitising the polity with decent ideologies for the general good of all. It does not contemplate the aftermath of civil strife or armed conflicts but rather of good governance and negative effects of corruption to the psyche of the citizens and the nation in general. Kolou My Country could serve as an ideal template for a better tomorrow! It created reawakening in the consciousness of the electorates to realise their mightiness of their power to effect the needed change and enthrone a government of their choice. I don’t know; some people who read novella shuddered that content therein seemed to define the Nigeria of today. I had no pre-knowledge of the incidents of the present but the inspiration came like a prophet the writers are; I poured them out lucidly without preemptive of the issuing situation in our country or elsewhere!
How can a work of fiction influence a dysfunctional society?
Actors in government hardly read books, especially good creative literature books. Any day we begin to take reading seriously, the needed changes in all spheres of society would come fast. Look at America, the literature was catapulted to the peak! Reading of the poetry was the icing on the cake of the presidential swearing-in ceremony of Joe Biden. The body of the poem was a prodigious message to nation building.
You have a new novel which, like Kolou.., uses literature as a pathway to Eldorado; were you aiming to consolidate the change narrative here?
My latest novel, Tears of the Bereaved, is a cry out to repudiating obnoxious practices that had retarded socio-economic, political and spiritual development, always hiding under the goss of tradition, gods and deities as excuses to unleash heinousness, which had continued to strangulate the talents and capabilities of the people, irrespective of sex to optimal growth to the advantage of the various communities. Tears of the Bereaved x-rays the reasons behind certain practices, and postulated that gods could not be blamed for some of the old ways of doing things, advocating that modernity could replace them while not undermining the deities. After all, they are always just and do not take sides with the wicked and savageries. The novel is on the side of moderated gender balance and appropriating rights to all sex notwithstanding.
There are cultural echoes, too, in the novel, regarding the god of harvest, Ali, and jurisprudence, what inspired this aspect of the work?
Cultural echoes appeared prominent in Tears of the Bereaved simply to consciously address the unethical attitudes of the mortals manipulating the airs of the gods and the respective deities to their selfish advantages! The trouble with us today is our deliberate refusal to acknowledge our culture and the efficacies of tradition to the contemporary milieu. Their rules and practices we often undermine, and misconstrue the standing of the gods and deities in their relationship with the mortals. Studies have proved the standouts these spiritual forces bring to direct the affairs of man to lead disciplined lives. Our gods and deities are unbiased personalities in their own right, and not malevolent principalities as the borrowed worship and ideologies, especially the Christendom, would want us to believe. My inspiration here lies on equality of human dignity, irrespective of gender. The woman personality, like her man counterpart, has a pride of place to the development of society; she does not deserve subjugation of whatever kind or colorations; not even by hidding under the guise of authority of the gods and ancestral dictates premeditated to reduce the dignity of the opposite sex. Ihugba, the wife of Ohnaka, the clan head, emerged surprisingly to become the star voice of the gods! She suddenly, unexpectedly, became the game changer the people of Amaede long yearned for. Tears of the Bereaved is on a voyage to reshape and ideally rejig the obsolete narrative of the age-long ethos to fit into the emerging new order, targeted at ushering in a new lease of life, socio-economic and spiritual development for the general good of the peoples of Amaede clan.
What should be the roles of writers in a society where lawlessness is rife?
To say the least, the writers, especially the literary segment of writing, has an undeniable role of restructuring society with the magic of pen and paper to a better place for the enjoyment of humanity. The worst thing the creative literati would do is to succumb to societal frustration, especially from those in authority; they’re never amenable to criticisms no matter how constructive. Read Kolou My Country. To go straight to your question: “What should be the roles of writers in a society where lawlessness is rife?” The answer is simple. Writers should keep writing, and writing aloud without fear or biased inclinations. As for whether we writers are doing enough, I would say uncompromisingly like the proverbial haired rodent that’s always working hard to make a home beneath the earth but the giddy woolen skin wouldn’t allow the lagoon of sweat suffocating his body to be noticed. Writers, though endangered species, are committedly whipping society into line through the emancipation of the various literary genres of literature navigating from prose to plays through poetry and science fiction etc.
Do you think our writers are doing enough?
We’ll never cease to keep writing to build our environment and keep it better and healthier than we met it. Cheers!