Chimamanda once referred to journalism as a sacred and beautiful art. Hmmm. And journalism is my root and, indeed, I went to the university to, among other excuses, prepare myself for a career in journalism. But I was derailed, lured by the gratification of fiction, the passion of critical theories and the necessity of political activism. But now, I am coming home, to my root, and I have decided to start with my favourite, interviews (I love reading literary interviews and since they are rare I will do them if just to read them)! And my favourite blogger Walter Uchenna Ude! Walter is a writer, author of The Event, contributor in A Handful of Dust anthology; he is a Farafina Workshop alumnus, blogger and founder of mymindsnaps.com. We talked about everything, he dared me to fire and I fired and we roll(w)ed.
Hard Voices: You are in Lagos, and I am in Enugu and we are having this interview. We don’t see each other, we can’t hear each other. Heck, we haven’t even met before. What does this say about this age?
Walter: That we’re an entire world from the same local government area.
Hard Voices: Now, you identify as feminist. You are a man, is this normal (in Nigeria, at least)?
Walter: Yes. It is normal for men to be feminists. What’s abnormal is when they’re not.
Hard Voices: If you use the word abnormal for men who don’t identify as feminists what do you say to women who don’t? And there are many of them, even vocal about not being feminists.
Walter: I wasn’t referring to men. I was referring to humanity. It is abnormal for any person, man or woman, to not see that the world is closer to being a better place when we discard any cultural or societal constraints that keep any minority perpetually below their contemporaries.
Hard Voices: Let’s bring this humanity closer, to Nigeria. What are the major inhibiting factors against gender equality here?
Walter: Tradition and religion are the chief, most pervasive influences we have on gender equality in Nigeria. The rich white male is often touted as the ultimate patriarchy, but whoever says that obviously hasn’t met the real African man. There is no Nigerian with more masculine privilege than the man who sees himself as the “real African man”, a tag that is perpetuated by the traditional African subservience of women. The Nigerian culture, as diverse as it is, follows one commonality, that of the man being the head and the woman being the body whose eternal obligation is to support the head. And till date, it doesn’t matter that that there are glaring monumental achievements of women in the globe, in Nigeria, the perception that the woman’s birthright is not as second fiddle to man is still largely unappreciated.
Religion is the other cornerstone of the Nigerian society. And with bible verses that constantly place women (wives) as subservient to men (husbands) in mental and biological capacities, between religion and tradition, it is no wonder the concept of a winning woman remains a daunting task.
Hard Voices: One of such Bible verses, and perhaps the most popular, is that wives should submit to their husbands in return the husband must love his wife as Jesus Christ loves the church (enough to die for her). I don’t think many Nigerian men are prepared to die for their wives. If the emphasis is only on the submission part, then perhaps the Bible is being misinterpreted or incompletely read, knowing that the Bible, like most religious books, is highly allegorical, everyone can derive his or her own meaning. So perhaps it still boils down to our orientation as a people?
Walter: And what forms part of that orientation if not the institutions that influences the people? I have heard it said in an LGBT discourse that no one is born a homophobe, that homophobia comes as a result of the society’s conditioning. And that is true for this as well. A man doesn’t come into this world believing he is superior to the woman, until he begins to get brought up by a family that puts his sisters in the kitchen while he stays in the parlour waiting for dinner. No woman comes into this world believing she is put here to serve the man, until she begins to get brought up with the understanding passed down by parenting and her environment that her greatest achievement is to find a husband to whom she will do her utmost best to please. These are conditioning by societal influences. And because the human nature is intrinsically flawed, without any direction, we tend to exacerbate these influences to suit us.
So yes, the man who comes against the idea that all genders are equal has been failed by both his environment and himself.
Hard Voices: Now that you have mentioned LGBT, and knowing you are a gay rights activist and a vocal one at that, I will like to ask you this: Gay union is illegal in Nigeria but like most Nigerian laws it is not vigorously implemented if implemented at all, is that any sort of consolation to the LGBT community, and what do you think is the future of homosexuality in Nigeria in, say, 2030.
Walter: Lol. I like the naiveté in that line: ‘like most Nigerian laws it is not vigorously implemented if implemented at all…’. I like that people think that because they’re not hearing reports of gay people being taken to court, then that must mean that they’re doing all right.
Before this law was passed, I don’t believe there was any gay Nigerian who wanted to get married in this country. How could they? This society is already conditioned, by virtue of tradition and religion, to only recognize man-woman marriages. If (and that’s a big IF) any same sex couples wedded, they can’t have believed in the authenticity of their unions, because then they’d be fully aware of the invalidity of their marriage.
This obvious fact alone renders the purpose of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act null. It had no real purpose, no basis for existing. But it had lots of side effects, majorly the ‘sanctioned’ persecution of LGBT Nigerians.
LGBT Nigerians have always been hounded by the general public, through blackmail and extortion hinged mainly on exposure to their families. But the law was interpreted as an endorsement to flagrantly persecute them, seen as approval from the government to hunt them. Even the police appear to have imbibed it as part of their job description to go out there and hunt gay people.
But the law doesn’t say you’re guilty for being gay. It says you stand to be charged with guilt for wedding someone of your own sex. And yet, it breeds the environment where gay people are automatically guilty for being gay.
So you tell me, is that any consolation for the LGBT community?
As for the future of the Nigerian gay clime, I’m an optimist. And I believe all minorities will get their chance at equality in this country, no matter how hard Nigeria fights. Mankind is progressive that way.Hard Voices: I bet you Walter most people out there don’t know the basics of that law. Thank you for that classification, gay marriage and not gay intercourse is prohibited in Nigeria. Now, let’s look at the USA for example, so many states had banned gay unions until the supreme court stepped into it just last year and nullified them. Left for the people and politicians gay people won’t have total freedom in America. On the future of gay unions here, can gay activism turn to the judiciary? That’s the last hope of the common man, remember.
Walter: Yes, at some point it will turn to judiciary but it wouldn’t be for marriage. Marriage is a very long road we still have to travel but surely organisations and activists will soon start turning to judiciary as a way of enhancing and improving legal protection for LGBT persons in Nigeria.
But the question has always been, how does this translate to the reality of a common gay person on the street? It might not but it’ll help enhance governmental protection. Even in the West, attitude is still bad in certain areas toward LGBT persons. You can’t compare laws and attitude, but both are important and an average LGBT individual in Nigeria will rather want an environment that people’s attitude are human instead of one with good laws but has ugly human attitudes towards the LGBT.
Hard Voices: So for the LGBT community in Nigeria, the environment is as important as the law. OK. Let’s shift a little from your activism and talk literature. Writing a novel (and any book) can be daunting. Most of us writers have tried or are trying to write one. Walter, you have not only finished but published yours, how does it feel?
Walter: Great. Really great. There’s a sort of gratification that comes from not only seeing your work in fine print and bound by glossy pages, but to also hear people talk about reading it. To be read is any writer’s dream.
Hard Voices: Any difference between Walter that is a writer from Walter the author? (that is, aside from your larger bank balance).
Walter: Lmao. Ask me again in a few more years. I don’t think I can gauge any difference in the two. Not even difference in bank balance.
Hard Voices: Walter, are you trying to hide something? I promise, I won’t pinch you for a loan (yet).
Hard Voices: How do you market your book? Most authors go from city to city, giving readings. Do you do that? If no, why?
Walter: Well I was published under Farafina with my first story that’s part of an anthology. They’re handling the marketing for that. I’m however gearing myself to be fully involved in that of my first novel. I’m basically a babe in this aspect of publishing. Still feeling out the ropes.
Hard Voices: Tell us a little about your books especially where we can find them. I have, for instance, seen The Event in Amazon and eBay.
Walter: A Handful of Dust is a collection of short stories submitted for publication by my fellow attendees of the Farafina Creative Writing Workshop in 2013. It’s available on Konga and any bookshop. At least I know it’s in bookshops in Lagos. The Event however is primarily in e-copies online. Like you rightly pointed out, Amazon, eBay and Okadabooks. The hard copy release is pending.
Hard Voices: Still on your writing, looking at your blog, Walter, I have always envied you. You have twenty to thirty really good writers writing for your blog. Now Walter, tell us the whole truth (nothing but the truth; hide nothing) how do you attract these talents? Where did you bury the charm?
Walter: Lmao. First of all, twenty to thirty? That’s an exaggeration joor. And I think the charm lies in my dogged pursuit of people with write-ups that appeal to me. Some friends call me a story whore, a deserved nickname, I think, because when I’m on the social media, I’m constantly staying tuned to what looks good for my blog. And it’s fortunate that there are those who don’t want a one-off relationship with the blog, and soon return with material that’s consistent.
Hard Voices: Actually, Walter, thirty is no exaggeration. In fact, forty is closer to the mark. I am tempted to do a head count and it will be a lineup of the Who is who in literary blogging. But let’s leave literature (we’ll return to it later); let’s talk your views. You have been vocal about not wanting to get married. A couple of weeks back, you said on live radio that children are selfish creatures. How long have you nursed this twin views and how did you come about them? Is there a background story?
Walter: Lol. It’s funny how some people, after hearing me opine these views at any point in time, believe that there’s something deeper going, something else driving my decisions. Maybe there is. Maybe with the passage of years and after further introspection, I’ll speak about them.
But right now, my determination of my future is simply hinged on my personality. I am the kind of person that’s happiest with me being unhampered by people for too long a period of time. I love people. I enjoy my friends. I have had some relationships that I thoroughly enjoyed. But at the end of the day, I’d always want to escape. And you don’t get the luxury of that escape when you’re a husband. Certainly not when you’re a father. Life has a way of running away from you when people take over it permanently. You become less selfish, more considerate of these people. You alter your existence to accommodate them, and it isn’t even at your pace or your choice. These are changes you make to be a good husband and a good father. I don’t think that I can make these compromises, so why not eschew all the ways I could end up being a bad husband and horrible parent, and simply focus on being a good person.
Hard Voices: In essence Walter, you are saying that been a good man supersedes for you being a good spouse and parent. But don’t you think that good couples and good parents have a big role in making good children which ultimately means a better world?
Walter: I didn’t say that being a good man supersedes for me than being a good spouse and parent. That would imply that I believe I have the capacity of being the later. I don’t. So I’m sticking with who I believe I can be: a good person. This does not in any way mean I do not take into consideration all the ways good people come together to raise families. I know a lot of friends, married friends with families, who, to the best of my knowledge, are determined to get it right with their kids.
Hard Voices: How can you reconcile this with your affection for Genevieve? Are you saying if Genevieve, a whole Genevieve, suddenly appears in your apartment and asks you to marry her, you will speak this grammar to her?
Walter: Oh. Hell. NO! I will gladly become the ‘your wish is my command’ kinda hubby should Genevieve ask. Are you kidding me? Grammar is for lesser mortals, not her.
Hard Voices: Haha. Really there are some people the laws of grammar don’t apply to but Genevieve is a long shot. Under normal circumstances, how can you convince your family, most especially your parents (Walter you are Igbo and we know Igbo parents too well) about these rare ideas of yours? Are you going to keep them in the dark and play hide and seek?
Walter: No. I’ve already spoken to my father about this. He’s aware I have no interest in getting married. He’s checked with me on two separate occasions since we talked about it, to know if my resolve is still up. And every time, I told him nothing had changed. He’s an Igbo parent and he received the news well. I haven’t talked to my mother about it though, but I will. My brothers thankfully love me and respect my decisions. And that’s it, these are all the people that count. This is all the family I need to understand.
Hard Voices: Should we prepare for world war three when you tell mama?
Walter: Nah. My mother is a great woman with a huge capacity for understanding. That’s why I went to my father first. I thought the war was going to happen with him.
Hard Voices: Chai. Now, some writers and ‘activists’ have fought dirty this year, on Facebook. You have always been neutral, what will make this change? What will someone do to you that you just can’t take and will grab your armour?
Walter: I genuinely laughed at this question. I haven’t always been neutral. I have battle scars from past skirmishes. I have one or two friendships that were strained because of hard-headed clashes. I got older. And less inclined to engage when I realized that when people don’t respond to gentle prodding, they certainly won’t learn from heavy thwacks. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get riled by opinions I consider ignorant. I simply learned to use sarcasm instead of vitriol as a way to express my displeasure.
So I don’t believe there’s anything any opposing opinion holder will do to shake me off my sangfroid. But frankly, I can’t say this in all certainty. I’m passionate about my ideals, and there isn’t always a guarantee of proper behaviour when passion is involved.
Hard Voices: Still on social media fights, last month, Elnathan John and Binyavanga were embroiled in a twitter row. I don’t want to gossip about them, honestly, but I wish to discuss two issues that bother me. One, Binyavanga accused Elnathan of rising to fame via controversy. I am not saying that I agree with him but there are people who actually rose to limelight on the backbone of controversies. Do you think this route is still open in Literature Nigeria?
Walter: Well there’s a common saying that goes that there’s no bad publicity, or something like that. And this aphorism has been finessed by this age of the social media. You get people tweeting controversial stuff or getting embroiled in twitter fights, and their followers are increasing. When you express startling opinions, whether good or bad, whether you mean them or just an attention-seeker, you always get people’s attention. And if you’re people-savvy, you can keep their attention and harness it into a rise in your celebrity. We’re in a very fickle age, and anything can get you famous, from things as serious as controversial ideals to those as immaterial as risqué photos.
So yes, I do believe a writer who knows the craft of people in addition to his writing craft can harness it all to go up the rungs of celebrity. Just to be clear, I’m not saying this in relation to the Elnathan John/Binyavanga Wainaina conflict. I don’t know enough about Elnathan to say he achieved all he accomplished through anything other than hard work and talent.
Hard Voices: Do you think that these fights are good for African literature, seeing that Elnathan challenged Binyavanga to a writing contest. A cheap shot I think but is there a hidden treasure in this for our art? Is this a challenge you can accept?
Walter: No. I don’t write to prove anything to anyone. And I don’t see the treasure for literature in conflicts driven by vindictiveness. No good can come from such. But that’s just the way I feel.
Hard Voices: Earlier, you referred to your novel The Event as your first novel. I take it as you are working on something right now. Do you want to discuss it?
Walter: Not really, no. But I am, yes.
Hard Voices: What is Walter reading right new.
Walter: Daniel Siva’s A Death in Vienna.
Hard Voices: What three books will you take with you if you were to be exiled to, say Mars?
Walter: Three books I’ll take with me if I’m exiled… Any three of the Harry Potter books. JK Rawlings delights me with her writing so rich with humour.
Hard Voices: Thank you Walter, I appreciate the patience and energy you poured into this conversation, honestly I would have loved us to talk and talk till one of us is carried to his funeral but I have to stop somewhere. God bless you. Your last word, I would like it to be on politics. What words do you have for Nigerians who are enduring one of the worst governments on earth right now? People are losing their jobs, the cost of living is skyrocketing, security nearly nonexistent, the naira, crashing, and the government seems helpless. Which way for Nigeria and Nigerians, Walter?
Walter: The issue with Nigeria is, when this question of a way forward arises, this question of what do we do, people want you to start dissecting politics, finding who is to blame, saying it’s APC, it’s PDP, it’s Buhari, it’s this, it’s that. But that is not the way forward. And that’s the problem with Nigerians. Nigerians excel at ascribing faults. We want to sit down all day and dissect issues and cast blames, and nothing gets done.
The way forward is first, we need to take responsibility. There’s a quote by JFK which goes thus: Think not what your government can do for you, rather think what you can do for your government. That’s where we need to start from. We need to become creative. Nigerians generally have a mentality of collecting, of seeking. We want people to give us money, jobs. We want people to give us things. We blame a lot. We are not industrious enough.
There is no need to spend too much time blaming, and dissecting, trying to find out what is wrong. We know what is wrong. This system that has failed us, we’re all responsible for it, one way or the other. We need to take responsibility. We as a people have caused this. The onus is on us.
Then we need to ponder: what can I do for the country? What value can I add to the system?
It is values – these creative values – that improve the economy.
We need to come together creatively. Become innovative. Proffer intelligent solutions as a way forward. Either we going to sit and bemoan our hardships and blame the higher-ups who we see as oppressors. Or we are going to get up and do something.
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