Have you met Sylvanus Omoniyi? He is, among many things, a writer, broadcaster and trouble-maker. I cornered him the other day and we had a chat. Some chat. Grab a sack of pop corn.
Hard Voices: This interview was delayed for several days because I was mourning the defeat of Hillary Clinton. What came into your mind when I asked to postpone the interview because of what happened in America?
Sylvanus: I think you are just wasting your time because you will gain nothing from that mourning. And to me, either the victory of Donald Trump or the defeat of Hillary Clinton has nothing to offer Nigerians. Most of you are just having sleepless nights over things that don’t concern you. I want to ask you, has America’s election reduced the price of rice in the Nigerian market? Has it reduced the price of condom? Has it even brought food to your table? Please, continue to mourn o.
Hard Voices: Well, whether we like it or not, the world economy is so poorly aligned that if American economy coughs it trembles. Again, we poor countries have usually looked up to America for assistance, acceptance, patronage and refuge, even. And Trump, a mad man is now in charge of nuclear weapons capable of annihilating the whole world. Maybe this last one should worry you.
Sylvanus: I’m not worried a bit. We’ll all die eventually. And something must kill a man. Not everyone will die a natural death, but no one prays to have a painful ending.
Hard Voices: What is it that particularly worries you? Something that keeps you awake at night?
Sylvanus: I have many of them: some unfulfilled dreams. They are numerous. I’m someone who likes a simple life. And to some extent, I’m materialistic. I have had a lot of failures in the past. And sometimes I’m afraid of the future. I’m sometimes worried about my incapability to help a lot of people. These and many other things make me worry.
Hard Voices: Talking about helping people, the other day you posted on Facebook asking for people’s account numbers. I didn’t think you were serious (and I still don’t think otherwise) but many in your timeline took it seriously, typing their account numbers. I laughed when someone typed his BVN as well. Did anyone get anything from that?
Sylvanus: Yes. I had thought people won’t take it seriously as well. I thought people won’t respond to it until I got about five hundred inbox messages of bank account details. I became worried because I’m not rich yet. At the end I was able to send N500 each to 50 people. It is a little sum, but I believe we should do whatever we want to do, no matter how small. That’s part of my contribution to humanity.
Hard Voices: 500 naira is a lot of money. Did you say you got 500 account numbers? Wow! Now what does this say about the Nigerian situation?
Sylvanus: It shows that many people need help but most are afraid to come out and say it. There are times I feel this way too. You know, you can’t just predict people’s reactions. You don’t know who is able to help you and who is unable. So, you try to hold onto your dignity. That’s why most people are always afraid to talk about their problems. So, once in a while, I think we should all think of how we can be a source of comfort to people without them asking.
Hard Voices: This preacher side of you is one that people are not familiar with. Some people think you are controversial. You agree with that. Some think you are an attention seeker. I don’t think you agree with this.
Sylvanus: I don’t think I’m controversial. I just like to speak from my heart. I speak as it comes to me. I like freedom of expression. On attention, I won’t deny it. I’m a great attention seeker. I like it when people turn their heads to my direction. It excites me. You see, everyone loves attention. That’s why you see so many people on social media. They can’t deny it. As long as you have a social media account, you are an attention seeker. We all have something that makes us happy. Anyone who does not love attention should deactivate their social media account and go back to the village.
Hard Voices: Haha. I see. And now that you have mentioned village perhaps you should tell us what village you are from, give us a little background on you.
Sylvanus: I’m from Alla, Isin Local Government in Kwara State. I attended a nursery school in the city. I can’t even remember the name of the school. Then I attended St. Benedict’s R.C.M Primary School, Idi-Ogun Adedire, Ife South, Osun State; Ansarul Islam LGEA School, Kuntu, Ilorin; Government High School; Kwara State Polytechnic, and Nesburg School of Business and Management, South Africa.
Hard Voices: Now let’s come home. Let’s talk about literature. Let’s start with reading. What are you reading right now?
Sylvanus: At the moment, I’m not reading anything.
Hard Voices: As you are a writer I find that curious. Why are you not reading anything at the moment? Is there any problem?
Sylvanus: No problem. I have many work to submit. I’m writing for bloggers and I have some books to edit. They have to be delivered at the speculated time.
Hard Voices: You write for a living?
Sylvanus: Yes. And I do other things as well. I’m also into broadcasting.
Hard Voices: Want to talk about it?
Sylvanus: I won’t talk much about the writing. I do ghostwriting and write for bloggers. I won’t talk about it for privacy reasons. On the broadcasting, I was a freelance broadcaster with Midland FM. Later, I joined Cruise FM, an online radio station that is still spreading its tentacles.
Hard Voices: Are these radio stations in Nigeria?
Sylvanus: Yes. They are in Nigeria.
Hard Voices: I ask because there are times I get the impression that you are in South Africa.
Sylvanus: No. I’m still in Nigeria.
Hard Voices: But you might want to talk about writing in general. As a creative writer what genre are you most into and why?
Sylvanus: Just like you said, as a creative writer, I write anything that comes to my mind. I write as it comes to me.
Hard Voices: I doubt if I can remember reading a short story you wrote.
Sylvanus: The fact is that I’m not a serious writer. I doubt if I can remember writing a short story myself. I’m more of a socialite than a writer. I just write for fun. I think there was a time I wrote a short story titled ‘The Californian Dream’. I don’t even know where it is now.
Hard Voices: You once said in Nigeria, any idiot can get an award. Will you say you don’t believe in awards? What awards most define your annoyance against awards in Nigeria?
Sylvanus: Nigeria is a jungle. We all know that. Except we don’t want to be honest. We reward mediocrity and ignore excellence. Anyone can get an award in Nigeria as long as they have money. We pander to nonsense in this country. The people that are stealing our billions and spoiling our country are the ones we deify. We worship money but we will always deny it. Let me stop here because I’m beginning to get angry.
And concerning the ones that define my annoyance: I have seen useless Nigerian politicians being honoured with awards. The latest one that sparked my outrage is the one of Chidinma Okeke. Tell me, in all honesty, what has Chidinma done to deserve an award? Because of cucumber?
Hard Voices: Who gave Chidinma an award?
Sylvanus: They just made the announcement. They are to give her on December 18, 2016. The organisers of Miss Diva Awards. You can read their nonsense here. I have nothing against Chidinma but I think the organisers of this award are stupid.
Hard Voices: Perhaps, but they are no more stupid than Nigerians who are practically shaming Chidinma towards suicide.
Let’s bring this award issue to literature. Some awards can be crazy; didn’t the Nobel people of Sweden give the Nobel Prize for Literature to a musician? But without awards, how can we judge literary excellence? With sales figures or critical acclaim? What makes a good book for you?
Sylvanus: No one is telling her to commit suicide. Anyone who chooses to commit suicide is a coward. A coward who is afraid to fight and win.
Giving a Nobel Prize for Literature to a musician is ignorance. They should call it another name. We can judge literary excellence with sales and critical acclaim, not by online votes or anything else. To me, a good book is the one that comes from the heart of the writer and which is free of grammatical blunders and typographical errors.
Hard Voices: How do you tell a book that comes out from the heart of the writer?
Sylvanus: There is always a kind of resonance that follows. You will feel it with your heart.
Hard Voices: What do you think of Nigerian literature?
Sylvanus: We are improving. There are great writers in Nigeria. I’m proud of Nigerian writers.
Hard Voices: Great writers but what about the readership, have we done enough as readers to encourage Nigerian writers?
Sylvanus: Not at all. Nigerians don’t read. We don’t have the time. We are always busy making money. And I don’t blame us. The government of Nigeria doesn’t care about anyone, so you are on your own.
Hard Voices: How will you rate Buhari After nearly two years in office?
Sylvanus: Buhari is a failure.
Hard Voices: What do you make of the education system in Nigeria? The other day, you were ranting about Covenant University. Few days back it was the turn of Nsukka.
Sylvanus: Education in Nigeria is a hogwash. You are expected to cram things and pour it on paper for some old lecturers who know nothing. The system is like a prison yard. They frustrate your life with everything. You struggle for everything. They believe you must suffer to succeed. For me, I don’t think it is necessary. It is idiotic to say people must suffer before they succeed. And we have been brought up with this mentality. That is why we sweat for almost everything in Nigeria.
And besides, I don’t think people should be defined by their grades. The educational system in Nigeria is fucked up. There are times the schools choose a course for you. You put in for one course and they give you another. How do they expect you to pass without cheating? I don’t blame people who cheat during examinations in schools. I don’t blame them at all because everyone wants to succeed. Nigeria has a long way to go. I hope the day will come in Nigeria when people will go to school and study based on their ability.
Hard Voices: Religion is one aspect I find your views quite entertaining. Describe your relationship with God.
Sylvanus: There are times I believe in God and there are times I don’t believe in Him. I think God is a confusionist! And those who belong to a religion don’t know what they are doing. They are the confused.
Hard Voices: What informed this belief? Are there background tales?
Sylvanus: When you look at the sufferings in the world, you will ask yourself whether God really cares. The truth is that there are times that God will leave you to sort yourself out. These days, I seem to believe more in myself than in any God.
Sylvanus: Yes. That’s true. About Olufunke, she can never be wrong in my eyes.God knows I love her. If I come back to this world one thousand times, I will still love her as much. Olufunke is real. I’m naturally drawn to real people.
Hard Voices: If you have the power to resurrect someone from the death, who would that be?
Sylvanus: That would be my grandmother.
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