14 April 2012
Journalist Chido Onumah’s book, Time to Reclaim Nigeria, will be hitting the shelves this weekend. In this interview the widely travelled journalist, who has worked in Nigeria, Ghana, the US, Canada and India talks about his collection of articles spanning a decade. Enjoy!
Your book Time to Reclaim Nigeria will be available from this weekend. What should readers expect?
It’s a collection of essays I have written in the last ten years plus, some of them published in Nigerian newspapers and newspapers in Europe and North America. The articles represent current happenings in the country and so I thought it would be necessary to put my thoughts together and present them to the public [in a book form] just to help advance the national debate, whether on the call for a sovereign national conference or the issue of true federalism and the active participation of Nigerians in the political process.
At what point did it occur to you to compile all these articles into a book form?
Well, the idea has always been there and December last year marked 20 years since I have been writing opinion essays and articles. I actually started writing for the Punch during my NYSC even before I became a fully fledged journalist. That was about 21 years ago. I think some five, ten years down the road, the idea of putting these together came to me and I remember in 1998/99 I put together a collection of my articles from the previous ten years, but for some logistic reasons we couldn’t publish it. So it’s been something I have had in mind over the years. When I decided to do this late last year, I had about three volumes of articles I had written. A lot of them were things that happened during the June 12 crisis, the era of the anti-SAP riots, the era of the fuel subsidy crisis during the Babangida era and so on. I thought some of those things are so far back a lot of people might not relate to them so I decided to put together the ones that are more recent between 2001 and 2011.
You were away from Nigeria for some 15 years, don’t you feel there is a disconnect between your notions of things and the realities on ground?
I have been in and out. I have been following events. During the dictatorship I spent some time outside but since 2005 I have been in and out of the country and by 2006, I was practically living here because I was working with the EFCC. I don’t think there has been any gap in terms of my following developments in the country and understanding what the issues are and also participating. Even when I was outside the country I was very active in the pro-democracy movements. Even though I wasn’t in the hierarchy of the NADECO, we were running a lot of pro-democracy work.
What role did you play exactly in that struggle?
Well, I worked with Radio Kudirat to a great extent in terms of providing ideas and materials that were used. We worked at the level of the West African Human Rights Committee. I was coordinating the programmes from Accra, Ghana. We also worked at the centre for democracy and development that was established by Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who is the current governor of Ekiti State.
Did your being away from Nigeria helped in shaping your perspective on things?
No, my perspective about the country and what ought to be was shaped way back during my formative years here as a student. I was very active in the students union; I was the vice president (special duties) of NANS [National Association of Nigerian Students] in 1989. I have always been active in the political process and being outside the country did not in any way lessen that or blur it.
The scope of your articles is wide, ranging from the political to the social; how expansive would you say your scope is?
My interest has always been in politics. My background is politics, philosophy and journalism. So, if I do touch on economic issues, these are issues that basically border on the politics of the country. More than anything else, the focus has been social, the relationship has been between the state and the people, how have the citizens fared in relating to the powers that be, so essentially, it’s politics.
But in between you can find personal reflections. I did a piece when I turned 40, about Nigeria and what it meant to me turning 40. There are a couple of articles based on personalities, like I did a piece on Kudirat Abiola because in 1999, the Kudirat Abiola foundation had given me an award. I have also lived in places like the US, Canada and so on. I have also tried to bring my experiences living in these places. But basically, the focus has been on the governance of Nigeria, or rather, the mis-governance of Nigeria, the personalities that have ruled this country, what they have done, what they have not done and how their decisions have ruined this country.
In your book you talked about homosexuality and homophobia in several articles. How serious an issue do you think it is?
On a personal level I don’t think it’s an issue what any serious attention because giving where we are as a people . . .
But you wrote several articles about the subject?
I did because the government was trying to make it an issue and my position was that there are more pressing problems we need to face squarely and leave things that are not essential to the lives of the people. We are in the 21st century, 50 years after independence; we are still struggling with electricity and other basic necessities of life. We have several universities in this country yet none of them in the top 1, 500 universities in the world. We can’t leave all this things and start bothering about how people live their lives in their bedroom. Look at how quickly that bill [on homosexuality] went through the National Assembly and we have bills like the Petroleum Industry Bill and the Freedom of Information, things that will improve the lives of people in this country are not taken seriously.
Your book has been patriotically titled Time to Reclaim Nigeria. What informed this choice of a title?
The book came about within the context of the occupy Nigeria movement that started late last year and for me it’s more or less a culmination of the struggles we’ve had on what needs to be done as far as Nigeria is concerned. The title was a result of deep reflection and as far as I am concerned, this country has ground to a halt. There is no governance going on, there is no patriotic zeal, even those who govern us do not believe in the country they are ruling. The book is saying, if we don’t do something about it, this country is going to collapse on our heads. This is a year into the Jonathan administration and all you hear is talk about 2015. One year down the road, nothing has been done and people are talking about 2015.
You have joined a long list of journalist who have drawn from their experience to write a book. How much of a change do you think you can make with this effort?
I am not just limiting this to my social, political or journalistic experience. It goes beyond that. I am also doing this as an extension of my political struggle. So for, me, this book is like a manual for political action. It’s not just so it can be kept on the shelf.
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