Times are really changing for the best for Nigerian writers, if you ask me? Why did I decide to pick on them as my subject this week, you’d ask? I decided to do this for many reasons. In my undergraduate days, I used to visit the ancient city of Ibadan since it was the hub of literary activities. In fact, as students, we were compelled by our lecturers to attend literary and creative writing workshops in Ibadan.
One fateful weekend, we travelled to Ibadan to see the Heritage Research Library in Adeyipo village. When the trip was announced we were excited, a pack of adventurous students that we were. We were equally thrilled by the thought of meeting Niyi Osundare, Adebayo Faleti and Akinwunmi Isola. These were names we met only on the pages of poetry and drama texts. We were eager to see them in flesh and blood.
When we arrived the village, what we saw surprised us. We had to sleep on mats laid on cemented floors. You can imagine how cold it was that night in the little village of Adeyipo, yet we endured it all, including the Tiun Tiun (a kind of insect) bites. We could not complain about our plights since nobody was ready to listen to us. Afterall, we were the one in search of knowledge. We were just another Dr. Faustus in that eponymous play of Christopher Marlowe. Yet, we were encouraged by our lecturer, who was with us. He admonished that lying on bare cemented floor was therapeutic for the body, particularly, the back side.
In the morning, we could not wait for the programme to begin as we eagerly awaited the arrival of Osundare and others. While the traditional dancers were performing, I noticed an unceremonious entrance of a group of people. I looked closely at each of them and suddenly noticed a man in a pair of glasses clad in a top made of the traditional Adire fabric. “I know this man,” I thought to myself. “Yes, the face looks very familiar. It looks like one I’ve seen on the paperback of a book. Yes, it’s Niyi Osundare, the famous poet,” I said to my classmate who hitherto was engrossed with the performance going on on the makeshift stage.
My classmate and I were utterly amazed by the Osundare’s humble disposition. We were expecting to see him chauffeur-driven in a luxury car. Alas, we were wrong! The pen profession was not just lucrative enough for its practitioners to afford such luxury. Combining it with a teaching job was even worse at the time. Akinwunmi Isola was not different either he was equally dressed in a flowing Agbada made of a simple batik.
But these were people we admired, we desired very much to be like. They were role models for us. We simply loved to be like the Soyinkas, Achebes, Amadis, Ngugis, Osundares, Iyayis of this world. We fell in love with them through their writings. We encountered them on the pages of their novels, poetry and plays. We respect their intellectual prowess and usage of words but when the reality of how poorly paid they were dawned on us; we gave our wish to be like them a second thought. Haba, I hear you say? That was just the simple truth. At the time, it was as if the name writer was synonymous with poverty, wretchedness but their names are well known in the continent some the world over. The trade was not profitable, yet, they derived joy from it, otherwise, I don’t think they would still be writing till date.
It did not come to me as a surprise therefore when someone accused Harry Garuba of escaping from the hard economic realities of Nigeria at a reading held in his honour sometime ago at Glendora on Awolowo Road, Ikoyi. It was just right for Garuba, if you ask me, to jump at the teaching appointment he was offered in South Africa. Molara Ogundipe-Lesile, Niyi Osundare even Wole Soyinka are examples for others to follow since they are better appreciated abroad than at home. Many more writers and university teachers are looking for more of this kind of opportunities to teach abroad. I was delighted to see Remi Raji looking fresh and well dressed at the reading. Very unfortunate, the better times for Nigerian writers abound abroad and not at home since they are still very much the unsung heroes.