THE TEACHER IS A WRITER AND SUCH OTHER (S)CRAPS: AN INTERVIEW WITH AÔNDO-AVER EMMANUEL AJIO by Su’eddie Vershima Agema

Can we meet you?

AjioYes. I am Aôndo-Aver Emmanuel Ajio, from Mbakyan, Njiriv in Gwer East Local Government of Benue State. I have a B. A. English and M.A. Literature from Benue State University Makurdi. I am a staff of Regina Pacis College Garki 2 Abuja where I teach English Language and Literature-In-English. I like reading and I like writing.

 

Do you have a writing routine?

Well, I will say no. No because I don’t have a regimented pattern or routine that I strictly follow in my writing. I write when the ideas crop up in my mind; then I tell myself, I have to write. And that explains why I also do not have a particular place that I stay to write. It could be anywhere: in my bed at odd times of the night, in the class while teaching, while I am driving, or anywhere engaged in any activity. Normally, I would excuse myself and at least scribble down something, lest I forget. Then later, I will sit down to develop it. So, in essence I don’t have a routine that I follow religiously to write.

What are the restrictions to your writing?

One basic restriction to my writing is how to write what. You see sometimes the ideas are in your head but you spend time thinking about how best to put them down to convey the exact message you want to pass across. You see, in the music world it is different. Sometimes the songwriter is different from the singer. But here it is not so. So at times this is a challenge, but I already I have overcome that. Secondly, like I said earlier, I write anywhere and anytime the idea strikes. This is not an easy thing to do. There are times you are in midst of people or in the middle of something, in fact at the very peak of it; you cannot excuse yourself for whatever reason. And some ideas come to you and they leave forever, if you don’t put the down. It has happened to me several times.Aondo-aver Ajio

Another restriction is the lack of encouragement from the public and the government. This one is not peculiar to me but it affects me as a writer. We don’t have a reading public; those who read these days are either teachers/lecturers and students. The percentage is very low on those who are outside this community. This does not encourage you as a writer. When you write people should read it because it gives you some form of joy. On the other hand, the government does not also encourage the literary art the same way it does other forms of art like music, craft and the performing arts. Apart from the fact that Literature is a subject in schools, it doesn’t get the king of backing its counterparts get. Of course as a writer you don’t sit and wait for anyone to push you before you write or develop your art, but we are still members of the larger society today.

Lastly, the cost of publishing in Nigeria today is a big restriction. A small piece of work goes for hundreds of thousands of Naira before it sees the light of day. This however is not to say that I will stop writing.

 

You are a teacher, how does this affect your writing?

The legendary literary icon late Chinua Achebe once said that the writer is a teacher. He said this because when you write you teach the world. But I would like to re-coin it this way: the teacher is a writer. You know looking at writing literarily I would say that teachers are writers. This is because as a teacher you are always writing your lesson plans, notes or you are copying something on the white board for your students. For lecturers in higher institutions, you are writing articles, seminar papers or books. And I write articles and papers too. So the job of a teacher involves serious writing all the time.

Therefore, I would say that teaching has had a serious impact on my writing. You know as a teacher, you are there to impart knowledge; to guide and to direct; in fact to mould the character of your students to become successful people in life. And if you look at it critically, that is exactly what the writer does too: you impart knowledge through your writing; you guide and direct your readers through your writing; you create awareness and enlighten people through your writing; and you also try to lead your readers towards the path of discretion in order to correct societal ills.

Has your profession as a Literature teacher influenced your writing in a any way?

Yes, it has. As a teacher of Literature I am always surrounded by books and other instructional materials that help me in my teaching. So this has seriously oiled my zeal for writing. One, when I read books by great writers, I wish I could be like them one day. And I cannot achieve this if I am not writing. So it has been great impetus towards my writing career. Also, I said earlier, the teacher is a writer, and as a teacher of Literature, I don’t want   to limit my teaching only in the class alone. I wish to teach the outside world too to correct certain ills, and I cannot do that in the classroom. Writers write because the society is not perfect and we try to point out the imperfections and perhaps proffer solutions to them.

What inspired you to write The Scraps?

THE SCRAPSThe Scraps is used symbolically to mean the anomalies and the problems that stare us in the face everyday. I stated in the preface to The Scraps my aim of writing the book. The Scraps is written to bring to the reader’s attention the existence of some scrap that needs regard. Don’t say the scrap is too insignificant so you will not attend to it. It may grow bigger than you can ever imagine. Don’t say the scrap is too big.

 

What would you say is the general thrust of the book?

The general thrust of the book is to bring to society’s attention certain problems that have been ignored for long but which are eating away at our human dignity and prestige.

 

Is there a central thread that ties the stories together?

The central thread that ties the stories together is the fact that they all ‘scraps’. There is no story you will read and not find one form of scrap or the other in it. All the stories are centred on ordinary people in the society and their quest for survival in a world where nature and society have not been fair to man.

 

Which story would you say is your best in the collection?

I like all the stories because they are all good in their own rights. I wouldn’t even dare to say that the only one that has an autobiographical leaning is my best. Each time I open the collection to read the stories, any one I read gives me some form of gratification. So it is really difficult to pick out one and say this is my best above others.

 

What was the writing experience like?

Well, I have described my experience of writing these stories as being on a journey. A journey that took me to a battle field where the faltering body and the obsequious soul clashed. Sometimes the reverse was the case. What I am saying is that it was not an easy thing to do, maybe because I was writing for the first time. The Scraps is a trophy from that battle that was fought, lost and won. But I thank God that I could overcome the huddles and today I am a published author.

 

Writing is usually one thing, publishing another. What was the publishing experience like for you?

That is one big problem. Having to spend a lot of money to get the work published was a herculean task. I have to say here that the publishing of The Scraps delayed all this while because of the cost that was involved. And when I finally made up my mind for it I had to forgo every other thing to get the book out. Over here these days you have to pay publishers to publish your work. I think you can hardly find publishers these days who are willing to get your work out and market it to pay you loyalties. So you have to pay for everything and it’s not easy. But I encourage people to write especially the would-be authors because they can always get around it.

 

What do you hope to achieve with this book?

Like I always say, writers write because the society is not perfect; and it is the imperfections in the society, the imbalance in human life and affairs that we try to point out and call attention to, so that they could be corrected or fixed. My book is not an exception; I want people to look around them and they will see scraps everywhere. They could be in the form of problems, ills, anomalies, and issues that if left unattended to may falter and fester like a wound leading to so much loss. But if attended to may save society so much loss. So by drawing attention to these things I wish people could have a rethink and change of heart and attitude, and begin to change the world by their thoughts and actions.  

Secondly, I hope to expose the culture of my people to the outside world. Although this aspect of culture is not in every story, nevertheless, it is in some which are based on the culture of the Tiv people. This is one thing I encourage young writers to do, our culture is very important so let us always portray it in our writing.

Besides, The Scraps is a very good companion in terms of entertainment, and this is one big function of Literature. I have started getting feedback from my readers who call in to say how funny this story is or how relaxing that one is, and that is good.

 

Do you have role models?

Yes. Sure I do. I enjoy reading books by prolific writers who are all out for the cause of their people, come what may. So I cherish their writing, their skill and their zeal. It gives me so much encouragement.

I would say that I enjoy reading Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe and Ayi Kwei Armah. Particularly, I admire Ngugi so much because of his Pan-Africanist stance on issues of the continent and his style of writing. I wish I could be like him in spite of the many sacrifices he is making for being the kind of writer he is and the challenges that come his way everyday, as if being a writer is a crime.

 

Can you comment on the general state of Literature in the country?

Literature has found its proper place in the world of art in Nigeria. The art is growing very fast, and it is a Literature that is responsive to the problems and aspirations of the people for whom and about whom it exists. More writers are emerging with works which are not just crab but works to reckon with even on international spheres. You see people writing about issues that have continue to bug this nation on a daily basis. Even the older ones are not just lying down. Take the case of Achebe whose latest book came out a few months before his death. So it is very encouraging and I urge more people to write because there are so many things to write about you cannot even exhaust them. Talk about democracy and politics, insecurity in the land, high cost of living, culture, corruption, general dissatisfaction with happenings around, and so on. Let us do for our country Nigeria what Shakespeare did for England; what Tolstoy did for Russia; what Ngugi did for Kenya; what Armah did for Ghana; ours in this generation would be the continuation of what Soyinka and Achebe have done for Nigeria. This is by writing because books do not just educate people but they liberate the people, and the liberation of the people begins with the liberation of the mind. There has to be a conscious re-awakening of the mind; a well informed enlightenment; and a complete self-evaluation by the people.  This is the education the writer seeks and pursues. Education that encompasses the people’s knowledge about their rights; their realization of their past mistakes; and the strong will to correct those mistakes as well as right wrongs which combine forces to reduce them to mere passive entities or appendages to powers that be, in their own land. This is not proper you know.

 

Are we expecting anything from you soon?

Sure. I cannot say how soon, but I am already working on other texts which by the grace of God would be out sooner than later.

 

Where do you see yourself as a writer in the nearest future?

Well, I see myself as a writer who has paid his dues. By this I mean coming out with more books that would register my voice to the many problems and debates about the African question. Africa is a continent that is plagued by a myriad of problems and they cannot be solved by one person or in one day. So, my quest for a better society through my writing will contribute to all of these.

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