• Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Women should support women to build a better society – Onyegikei, Nigerian author

Women should support women to build a better society – Onyegikei, Nigerian author

Isioma Onyegikei is a Nigerian author with Aegis as her debut novel. Aegis is a book that is based on the lives of five women who are friends and face different challenges in a contemporary Nigerian society. Through the stories of these women, readers are given insights of many gendered experiences of Nigerian women and their struggles to overcome them. In this interview with Ifeoma Okeke-Korieocha, Onyegikei speaks on what inspired her to write this women-focused book and speaks on why more women should be seen supporting one other.

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What inspired you to write the book ‘Aegis’?

The inspiration to write about Aegis came from the need to tell original Nigerian stories and one that focuses on social causes. Since I was eight years old, I wanted to write a book and I used to write a lot of stories back in primary school and secondary school that related to societal happenings, I remember writing an essay on the ‘African child’ when I was nine years old and that impressed my proprietress a lot, so I knew my art eventually had to be one in line with society and since I grew up to become an advocate for a lot of social causes, I saw my book as an avenue to tell these stories of every day Nigerians and bring awareness to them.

What informed the name of the book ‘Aegis’, did it emanate from the storyline?

Aegis means support or protection. Funny thing is Aegis was not the original title, but that is the life of a writer. Your final book form is not usually the first draft or even the fifth draft lol. I consulted an editor who saw my first draft and critiqued the writing, story coordination and the title. By the time we were done, I had to go back to the drawing board and found a befitting title. Seeing as the women in my story were able to conquer their challenges through the support of sisterhood, I settled on aegis as the right title.

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The book mirrors various gendered experiences of Nigerian women. Why did you choose to tell these stories through your book? Was there any personal experience or experiences of people close to you that spurred you to write the book? Kindly share with us?

As stated earlier, I see my art as an avenue to bring awareness to social causes and Nigeria is depot for a lot of social causes, especially with ones that affect women be it women’s health, inheritance rights, marital abuse, sexual violence or just casual misogyny seeping through everyday interactions with people. Some of these are personal experiences, some are what I have seen others experience and I chose to write about them in a way that if ten women pick up my book, ten of them are able to relate to a character or a scene in the book. To me, that is how you bring the consciousness of these issues to people.

In the book, Eloho’s mother-daughter’s enmity affected her marriage, which her husband used as a weapon over her. In today’s society, how do you think a parent-daughter relationship can affect the child’s outlook in life?

I am a big believer of family being the most important foundation anyone can have and the experience we have growing up can affect and influence the type of adults we become. A lot of times, people think money is the reason a woman would stay back in an abusive relationship but in the case of Eloho, she was the wealthier partner yet she kept going back because of the void created by her turbulent relationship with her mother. For a lot of people, they do not know better and often times, they bear the shame and keep up appearances for societal validation because that validation is not at home, which is why Eloho’s character was very important for me to add, because just maybe someone who needs that encouragement will read my book and see that while it is perfectly okay to feel the way they feel, self-preservation is always going to be better and you cannot have the life you truly desire staying in a place that no longer serves you, a place that destroys your soul and kills your body. Also, society will always be fine because nobody really cares at the end of the day. And for parents, it is important to constantly pour love into your children, and let your home be the safest place for them to return to regardless of what the world throws at them. That is the only way you can raise confident and independent children who grow up into confident and independent adults.

The rate of divorce in Nigeria keeps increasing. What in your own judgement are the major reasons for divorce in Nigeria today?

Well, I am not married and so I may not be the best to talk on divorce but from my understanding, I think a divorce happens like a breakup; essentially two people who are no longer compatible especially when there has been growing resentment from one party. I do not think that a divorce is a bad thing, it will always be better to walk away and give a shot at life again than staying while you keep losing yourself. That said, love is a very beautiful thing and something that everyone who desires it should experience, if it is important to you, you will make it work and that entails treating your partner with utmost respect and protecting them from things that could potentially cause resentment and destroy your union. Things like being selfish, unkind, deceitful and lacking values.

In the book, Amaka desperately needed to have a child of her own and so would go to any length just to carry her own child. Would you also say Amaka’s case is the same with many Nigerian women today and several others struggling to keep their marriages?

Yes, and this is due to the pressure put on women by society. Take Oyin for example, she is a very successful woman who creates a huge impact in her society but the concern of the people around her is the fact that she is unmarried. Eloho is married with children but the pressure on her is to make her marriage work against all odds, for Amaka, she is successful and married but not having children puts her under pressure because according to societal standards, she is not woman enough. The life of the Nigerian woman is one of pressure – you need to be married at a certain age; you need to have given birth nine months after marriage; you need to give birth to sons and on it goes. Society needs to be kinder to women, society is you and I, we need to allow women to live without having a pot of coal over their head at every point.

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Why should an average woman read the book ‘Aegis’ and who is your target audience?

My book is for adults but yes, anyone old enough can read my book. The average woman should read my book because it resonates and also, the women in my book conquered their challenges, so someone in a similar position can learn from these women. Aegis is not just entertaining, it is very educational and I did a lot of research writing this book.

Your book seems to be focused on sisterhood, can you speak more on that?

I am a big believer in having your tribe of women who support you and that you support too. I am a big beneficiary of having a community and as a woman, my biggest support has come from fellow women. I do think that this is something that every woman should be intentional about, all those narratives of women hating each other and female friendships being fake are so high-school haha, trust me you need women as your friends as a woman. The women in my book consistently supported each other, helped each other through their challenges and helped other women in their larger communities.

Do you have a favourite character or scene in the book?

Not exactly, I like all my characters, they served different purposes in the story but for the purpose of this question, I will mention my top three characters if I were just a reader and not the writer. I like Oyin a lot because she is my protagonist and through her, I introduced every other character in my book. She is also an independent thinking person, has her naughty side, successful, kind and firm. Oyin is the woman you want to be as you grow older. I like Eloho too, her character gave me the avenue to incorporate my “Warri side” and it was so much fun writing in pidgin and using places I grew up in to tell a story. I like Jessica, she is carefree and lives life on her own terms.

My favourite scene in the book has to be the part where Osawaru came to Oyin’s office for help and asked Oyin why she started SISTEM (her NGO) and she gave her reasons for that with the quote – “Yes. So I thought of our relationship in the broader sense of other women. There are radical women and there are calmer women, there are quirky women and there are conventional women. There are sagacious women and there are women we think are not so clever, there are liberal women and there are conservative women. There are tomboys and girly girls and all types of women you can think of who make up this puzzle. And everyone of us is important, we do not even have to like each other all the time or at all but SISTEM teaches that to fight against the system called patriarchy, we all have to take the right of another woman as if it were our own right put on the line. Because what you turn your eye from today when it’s on your neighbour’s door may appear on your doorstep tomorrow.”

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I remember when I was done typing this and I screamed “Yes! Go Oyin!” because truly this is exactly how I see being a woman and why it is important for us as women to not look away from injustice simply because it does not affect us…yet.

Being a self-published author, what were some of the challenges you encountered writing this book and how did you overcome them? Any last words?

I started writing my book in 2017 and I only published it in 2020. The major issue I had was not having the money to publish the book or a traditional publisher to publish it for me but I was determined to finish my work and publish it, even if it meant it being an ebook. By the time I was done writing, I received some money from friends, personal money that came from work and then because I already got people on twitter involved in the process of choosing my book cover, three months to my desired publish date which coincidentally was my birthday, I set up a paystack store for pre-order of the book, with this I had enough money to pay my editor, the printing company and designer. I remember crying so much the day my first batch was sent to me, it was truly a dream come through for me and that single act of publishing Aegis at the time I did changed a lot of things in my life that I am forever grateful for.

My last word will be know what you do, do what you know and know people who know what you do not know. Learn, create, and collaborate in a nutshell!