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INTERVIEW: What my new book “Naija No Dey Carry Last” is about — Pius Adesanmi

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INTERVIEW: What my new book “Naija No Dey Carry Last” is about — Pius Adesanmi

NEWISSUES, Abuja

Recently, PREMIUM TIMES Books and Parrésia Publishers Ltd., released Pius Adesanmi’s highly anticipated Naija No Dey Carry Last, which gathers some of his most important reflections on Nigeria in the past decades, which had been published in PREMIUM TIMES, Sahara Reporters, Nigerian Village Square, and a few other media platforms. These inspiring, even if deliberately incisive, nuggets of satire have been described as a “treasure of pleasures”, and a “freewheeling anarchic wit of blending cultural infusions and the Nigerian street language,” which wittily takes on the Nigerian – and eventually African – reality in lacerating sweeps of humour, aimed at the regenerative possibilities of society.

Described as the “Nigerian God of Satire”, Mr. Adesanmi, a professor of English and African Studies, has taught in some of the most distinguished academies in Africa and North America, including Pennsylvania State University, and presently Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada in the past two decades.

He sees the social media – which he adopts a lot in disseminating much of his written messages – as one of the crucial sites of cultural interactions and meaning-making in this century, and possibly beyond. And, in which he has quite a humongous following.

In this interview, Mr. Adesanmi speaks to PREMIUM TIMES about his art, craft, relationship with the Nigerian project and political space, and generally why he feels Naija No Dey Ever Carry Last.

PREMIUM TIMES: Your book, Naija No Dey Carry Last, has just come out through a publishing collaboration between PREMIUM TIMES Books and Parresia. Would this be the first book that essentially speaks to society, its political and social circumstances, being a collection of already published writings on news platforms like PREMIUM TIMES, Sahara Reporters, and the Nigerian Village Square?

Pius Adesanmi: I assume that you are referring to the Nigerian society? If that’s the case, yes, this will be my first attempt to speak to an audience that is almost exclusively Nigerian in a book format. As you know, my career in satire constitutes a significant aspect of the body of work that has led to my being constantly referenced as an African public intellectual – the continent being the subject of my essayistic reflections and engagements. I have been privileged to be able to build an audience way beyond Nigeria as evidenced in the constant solicitations, which take me across the continent. But, for this book, we decided to zoom in on selections from my satirical musings on Nigeria since about 2008. However, beyond the Nigerian subject matter, the style of delivery of many of the essays, the technique, and the transnational deployment of humour recommend the book to an African and, indeed, a global readership. If you are interested in satire as a genre and the craft it demands, you should read the book.

PREMIUM TIMES: Then there is the peculiarity of that colloquial title, taken from the nuances of Nigerian or ‘Naija speak’; what informs this as a mode of carrying important messages on societal building?

I’ve been told that I owe the people of Warri a certain percentage of my royalties from the book for taking Warri-Speak and Nigerianising it without permission for, as we all know, only waffi no dey carry last in Nigeria. I will say that for colloquialisms and what you call the “nuances of Naija-Speak” as my principal mode of delivery goes back to the keen sense of responsibility that came with the knowledge that I had gained a national audience for what I had to say.

Pius Adesanmi: The entire book is indeed Naija-Speak, to repeat your Orwellian phrasing. In fact, I’ve been told that I owe the people of Warri a certain percentage of my royalties from the book for taking Warri-Speak and Nigerianising it without permission for, as we all know, only waffi no dey carry last in Nigeria. I will say that for colloquialisms and what you call the “nuances of Naija-Speak” as my principal mode of delivery goes back to the keen sense of responsibility that came with the knowledge that I had gained a national audience for what I had to say. It took less than a year for my column in Sahara Reporters to gain national attention back in 2008. Sowore started receiving all kinds of solicitations to syndicate the column and I started receiving all kinds of solicitations from Nigeria and beyond. When Dele Olojede and Amma Ogan started NEXT Newspapers, I was one of the first columnists they recruited. They wanted my Sahara Reporters style but wanted exclusivity, not syndication. Throughout the life of NEXT, it meant writing two separate columns on two separate national issues per week: one for Sahara Reporters, the other for NEXT. That combo translated to a considerable extension of my readership and followership in Nigeria. Along came PREMIUM TIMES and Nigerian Village Square. Today, every piece I write is taken up and circulated widely with or without permission by online media, blogs, and even regular media. Don’t forget that I’m a proud member of PREMIUM TIMES’ editorial board.

Connecting with the Nigerian public through writing is more difficult than ruling Nigeria. When you rule Nigeria, your only problem is that you are the enemy of every other ethnicity except yours and you are an infidel or an unbeliever to at least one of the two major religions in the country.

Then there is the added audience created by the kind of lectures I have been delivering in Nigeria in the last couple of years. Pastor Tunde Bakare has been very instrumental to my public lectures and platforms in Nigeria, starting with when he invited me to deliver the Save Nigeria Group Lecture back in 2012. Thus far, I’ve done four big public lectures in Nigeria at Pastor Bakare’s instance. Then I did the Obafemi Awolowo lecture at the instance of his daughter, Chief Mrs Tokunbo Awolowo Dosunmu. And I also did my friend, Nasir El Rufai’s inauguration lecture. These heavily mediatised lectures also expanded the national audience I need to connect with.

Connecting with the Nigerian public through writing is more difficult than ruling Nigeria. When you rule Nigeria, your only problem is that you are the enemy of every other ethnicity except yours and you are an infidel or an unbeliever to at least one of the two major religions in the country. When you write, scores of millions of people are united, above differences of ethnicity and religion, by a pathological impatience with the written word. Once it does not connect with and speak to them in the verb and verve of the street, of the market, of the buka, of the beer parlour, of the night club; once it does not speak the language of everyday socialities they use on Danfo buses and during ministration at church or in the mosque, they lose interest and your writing is valueless, its purpose defeated.

There isn’t a single social stratum in Nigeria whose language and mores and attitudes I haven’t mastered… These are the multiple worlds and socialities I translate and carry across in my writing, deploying a language that would overcome the Nigerian’s pathological hatred of “dogon turenchi.”

Now, one gift that God has given me is the gift of the social chameleon. There isn’t a single social stratum in Nigeria whose language and mores and attitudes I haven’t mastered. Put me in the most rarefied Nigerian spaces of high culture in Lekki, Ikoyi, where they eat ten –course meals, drink French wine, eat oysters, listen to Beethoven and Mozart and speak a Britico accent that would make the Queen of England jealous, I am at completely at home. Transfer me to Okokomaiko or Mushin and dump me among area boys drinking paraga while listening to Obesere and Pasuma, I am completely at home. These are the multiple worlds and socialities I translate and carry across in my writing, deploying a language that would overcome the Nigerian’s pathological hatred of “dogon turenchi.”

PREMIUM TIMES: How do you conceive of the Nigerian project and how much we have progressed towards a nation in Nigeria? Would you consider the country as still merely a “geographical expression” or are there indices showing we are gradually moving towards becoming a “cultural expression” as a people?

Pius Adesanmi: If you have been following my thought and critical interventions on the Nigerian project, you’d know that I am by definition a pan-Nigerian humanist. My project, essentially, has been to think through and see beyond our differences. Part of the problem is that that the intellectuals whose duty it is to interpret Nigeria for the Nigerian, to provide clarity and vision and direction, to sell this dysfunctional, fundamentally unjust and unfair, and monumentally corrupt contraption to the Nigerian has not extended that duty beyond repeating platitudes such as we are greater than our differences; united we stand, divided we fall; what unites us is greater than what divides us, etc. How do you sell platitudes of unity to a people whose entire experience of nationhood in the last fifty years is reducible to seeing monumental rewards for those who invest in our differences and hatred? Nigeria is not shaped to reward the believer in pan-Nigeria. She is shaped to reward the profiteer from difference and hatred. Mention one economically or politically successful Nigerian who isn’t a direct or indirect beneficiary of our ethnic, religious, and other differences, our pathological hatred of one another on the basis of real and imagined fault lines?

…understanding the story of humanism in your Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani or Ogoni history and culture is the road to the pan-Nigerian humanism I envision. Go back to your folk tales and listen attentively to what happened to the tortoise whenever he undermined the dignity of his own people or of neighbouring peoples. The fundamental humanism in our ancestral stories is what we have not been able to properly integrate into the modern project Nigeria. Once we do that, nobody will be scared of genuine fiscal and political Federalism.

This explains why my own political work and social crusade as a pan-Nigerian public intellectual is about trying to overcome the platitudes and simplisms of unity. I have to go beyond stating the obvious to sell merits of pan-Nigeria. Pan-Nigeria does not ask you to forget your ethnic, religious or other identities. It asks you to sacrifice nothing. In fact, pan-Nigeria cannot even exist as a philosophical concept without those differences. What I want you to know you cannot even be a good Nigerian if you are not a fantastic Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw, etc. So start by being very proud of your ethnic and cultural identity and specificity. Then, apply yourself to understanding the history and cultures of your ethnicity’s ancestors. You see, ethnic hatred in Nigeria is borne out of crass ignorance of the humanism and philosophical generosity of the ancestors of the federating ethnicities.

What Africa sees and resents unjustifiably is Nigeria and certain abstract qualities, which define us in relation to space, for instance. You enter a room and own the space. That’s Nigerian. Those are things we could forge into our collective self-imagining.

I have studied the cultures of Africa long enough to understand their deep humanism which should form the basis of an extension of the self into others, a projection into them to respect them in their own distinction and specificity. So, understanding the story of humanism in your Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani or Ogoni history and culture is the road to the pan-Nigerian humanism I envision. Go back to your folk tales and listen attentively to what happened to the tortoise whenever he undermined the dignity of his own people or of neighbouring peoples. The fundamental humanism in our ancestral stories is what we have not been able to properly integrate into the modern project Nigeria. Once we do that, nobody will be scared of genuine fiscal and political Federalism. Everybody will also remember that the Nigeria they don’t know that they have is what the rest of Africa sees even in their hostility to the Nigerian. When you travel across the continent, what fuels the giant resentment you encounter, all the demonisation you encounter, especially in places like Ghana and South Africa, is not your Yorubatude or Igbotude or Hausa-Fulanitude. What Africa sees and resents unjustifiably is Nigeria and certain abstract qualities, which define us in relation to space, for instance. You enter a room and own the space. That’s Nigerian. Those are things we could forge into our collective self-imagining.

PREMIUM TIMES: As a well-known public intellectual in Nigeria, and beyond, what informs your peculiar adoption of social media platforms to push through some of your social regenerative messages?

I am mindful of the fact that the bulk of my followership is thirty-years-old and below. I have a huge following among the millennial generation. This generation is not just on social media, they have turned it into a space of culture and meaning. To a great extent, social media is where the production of the social happens in Africa.

Pius Adesanmi: Although my readership in Nigeria and in the Nigerian diaspora is trans-generational – very often Nigerians my father’s age will call to tell me that they read me ardently – I am mindful of the fact that the bulk of my followership is thirty-years-old and below. I have a huge following among the millennial generation. This generation is not just on social media, they have turned it into a space of culture and meaning. To a great extent, social media is where the production of the social happens in Africa. The hope of Nigeria lies with this generation – if we get our acts right and make a case for a possible Nigeria. Do not forget that the Nigeria in which their formative years were shaped is one of the most unjust and unfair places on the face of the earth. And there is hardly anybody in the political space who has earned enough credibility to stand before these youths and sell patriotism and altruism to them. If you are privileged to have their attention, you must meet them where they are and where they listen: social media.

PREMIUM TIMES: How do you conceive of the role of the man of ideas, the intellectual in society?

The Nigerian likes the end product called modernity but hates the philosophy and intellectual labour which went into its making.

Pius Adesanmi: I have answered this question in so many interviews over the years that I fear I may have become repetitive. My friend, Rudolf Okonkwo of Sahara Reporters, has even mocked me once for always repeating a statement by Octavio Paz, a famous Mexican poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Paz had opined that thinking is the only responsibility that an intellectual owes his society. This would seem laughable in Nigeria where people have been “diseducated” to the point of seeing no connection between intellectual work and modernity. That is why the Nigerian always dismisses critical and philosophical work as “dogon turenchi”. If I had a kobo for every time an ignorant Nigerian has asked me to stop writing and “give us action”, I’d be richer than Dangote now. That is why I dwelt upon this subject during Nasir El Rufai’s inauguration lecture. I tried to let the Nigerian understand that the chaos and dysfunction and tragedy in which he lives and is so unhappy about in Nigeria are consequences of an unreflected and unphilosophised society. Nigeria is what and where she is today because she is unthought and unreflected upon.

In that lecture – which is available online – I tried to show that everything they go to admire in Dubai, London, and New York is a product of philosophy and thinking. The order, the beautiful structures, how society functions and works, etc. Everything they see in those places and call modern was first thought through in the works of the philosophers of the Enlightenment. The Nigerian likes the end product called modernity but hates the philosophy and intellectual labour which went into its making. Look at this irresponsible Senator called Godswill Akpabio who broke traffic rules and shamelessly ran abroad for treatment. Does he even know that what he went to enjoy there at the expense of the Nigerian people is a product of intellectual work. It is the duty of the intellectual to philosophise and imagine Nigeria. Present generations may despise him and call for action instead of “dogon turenchi”, the Nigerians of ten generations from now will absolve him.

PREMIUM TIMES: Your favorite writing mode appears to be through satire, do you consider Nigeria as one big joke that requires to be laughed into correction?

Nigeria is a joke with an unending capacity for self-regeneration as a joke. If you do not laugh at and about Nigeria while working for her renaissance, you will lose your sanity.

Pius Adesanmi: Obviously, on multiple levels, Nigeria is a joke with an unending capacity for self-regeneration as a joke. If you do not laugh at and about Nigeria while working for her renaissance, you will lose your sanity. Laughter heals. But laughter can also direct your attention to what is necessary; what needs to be done. Above all, as I stated in the “Preface” to Naija No Dey Carry Last, I write satire because it comes naturally to me. There are some things you were born to do. I was born to write satire.

PREMIUM TIMES: How do you assess the wave of change on which President Buhari rode into power, and do you regard him as a square peg in a square hole, considering that many Nigerians appear unsatisfied with the pace of the change he’s sought to be a vehicle of?

One must, of course, also warn President Buhari about the tragedy that is his political party, APC. It had no distinct ideology going into the elections, it has no distinct ideology going out of it. A party of change parades some of Nigeria’s most horrible governors.

Pius Adesanmi: I suppose you are asking me this question because you know that I am a supporter of President Buhari. I remain his supporter but I have been warning him in all my spheres of public expression that a lot is not going well. I am not of the school of supporters preaching patience and justifying his every action and using the Jonathan era as a yardstick to showcase Buhari’s achievements. Jonathan is a not a good yardstick. He shouldn’t even be a yardstick at all. We got to the very bottom of the pit of hell with him so there really is no way to be worse or not to be better than Jonathan no matter how insignificant your achievements are. If you continue to place Buhari beside Jonathan, he will always shine and blind you to a lot of things that could be better. Once you remove Jonathan from the picture, the slow pace of governance becomes clearer; the dangerous Dauracentrism of his appointments becomes starker; the initial attempts to deny election promises and disown documents becomes even more annoying; the incompetence of his media team becomes more galling. One must, of course, also warn President Buhari about the tragedy that is his political party, APC. It had no distinct ideology going into the elections, it has no distinct ideology going out of it. A party of change parades some of Nigeria’s most horrible governors. Luckily for APC, the only governor who is actually working and doing governance the way it ought to be done is from her stable. I am talking about Nasir El Rufai. I am not saying this because he is my friend but because there is at least a healthy national consensus over his performance thus far. But when you have only one Governor to show for your victory and the rest, such as the fellows in Kano and Adamawa, are jokes and disasters, then you need to stop talking about change until you know the meaning of change. To cap it all, the President’s party is fielding a crook like Abubakar Audu in Kogi! That is one poisonous dagger in the heart of change!

PREMIUM TIMES: You were one of those most vocal against the previous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, largely regarded as a profligate government, and the online push for the then General Buhari’s candidacy, why was that so?

What PDP is benefitting from, why someone like Olisa Metuh and social pollutants like Femi Fan-Kayode and Femi Aribisala can still foul up the national airwaves with their PDP/Jonathanian puerilities, is the fact that Nigerians are not used to a continuum of thought. Hence, the Nigerian does not think of the PDP as a 16-year decimation of the polity, with Jonathan just being the final undertaker.

Pius Adesanmi: My critique of Buhari and his party above should not make the reason why Goodluck Jonathan and his PDP needed to go any less obvious and pertinent. The way I see it, it will take ten very bad APCs to arrive at the satanic level of PDP. APC is rushing towards that scenario but she is not there yet. What PDP is benefitting from, why someone like Olisa Metuh and social pollutants like Femi Fan-Kayode and Femi Aribisala can still foul up the national airwaves with their PDP/Jonathanian puerilities, is the fact that Nigerians are not used to a continuum of thought. Hence, the Nigerian does not think of the PDP as a 16-year decimation of the polity, with Jonathan just being the final undertaker. Jonathan needed to go because he was the one who rendered pointless even the slightest necessity at pretext to integrity in our national life. He was the one who eventually turned us into a society of zero consequences for impunity and actions injurious to the body politic. How on earth could Abba Moro have walked free? Since Buhari was sworn in, are the goats still taking our yams and brandishing them publicly as was possible under Goodluck Jonathan or have they scurried under cover, forming illnesses in foreign hospitals and sending peace committees on soft landing errands? You be the judge.

PREMIUM TIMES: Are you a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC)? Or you simply identify with possibilities in represents?

I am a pan-Nigerian humanist and I don’t need a party platform for my beliefs; yet there might be the inevitability of working with political actors if the need arises. But of course I did see APC as the most feasible instrument for bringing to an end sixteen years of PDP Satanism in Nigeria.

Pius Adesanmi: No, I am not a member of APC or any political party in Nigeria. My political engagements and interventions in project Nigeria are beyond party politics. I am a pan-Nigerian humanist and I don’t need a party platform for my beliefs; yet there might be the inevitability of working with political actors if the need arises. But of course I did see APC as the most feasible instrument for bringing to an end sixteen years of PDP Satanism in Nigeria, hence my support of some candidates running on her platform in the last election, starting with President Buhari. Of course, Nigeria being Nigeria, what was white today can become black tomorrow. Hence we see the same APC fielding Abubakar Audu in Kogi – which delegitimizes any criticism Lai Mohammed may offer of any PDP material in the future for you cannot offer worse than Abubakar Audu.

PREMIUM TIMES: Would you see Nigerian politics as having any ideological content for now, in relation to the prominent political parties and platforms?

But APC developed a ravenous appetite for swallowing every politically displaced leper from PDP and other parties. How can that party have any distinct ideology?

Pius Adesanmi: The answer should be obvious to you that there is zero ideological content in Nigerian politics. Not every struggle that one engages in is rewarded. Part of my initial hope was that a youth vanguard, a third force, – those insulted by the Reuben Abati as the collective children of anger – would in fact join flood the ranks of APC and do something like the Tea Party did to the Republican Party in the US. The Tea Party is really the ideological wing of the Republican Party but they cannot be ignored. I thought it might be possible for progressive youth to infuse APC with progressive social humanism and become a force that the recidivist moneybags in the party would not be able to ignore or resist. But APC developed a ravenous appetite for swallowing every politically displaced leper from PDP and other parties. How can that party have any distinct ideology? There is still the possibility of a progressive youth takeover if that demographic gets her act together. But even with all these setbacks, let’s not forget that our struggle produced Buhari and we have seen that goats have lost their appetite for yams since then. That is a beginning. Let us fight this integrity battle first.

PREMIUM TIMES: Do you see any crop of emerging leaders in the Nigerian political space – from the national to the state executives, legislatures, and the judiciary – that you feel are inspirational or who offer indications of being torchbearers for a new Nigeria?

Pius Adesanmi: Nigeria is blessed with so many leaders who are not out there. The structure of our politics prevents them from emerging and that is another layer of struggle. Don’t forget that Ogaga Ifowodo contested and lost in Delta but he is out there in Nigeria as a huge inspiration for our youth. Tunde Irukera tried to contest in Kogi state but was forced out. It is part of the tragedy of Nigeria that such a man lost to a crook like Abubakar Audu. There is Lola Shoneyin who is providing so much leadership and inspiration for our youth on the cultural front. We need to get all these people into the political space. Of course on social media, you have armies of emerging inspirational leaders. If I start to make a list here, I will offend too many of them left unmentioned so don’t let me even start.

Don’t get me started on Kogi state please! And we are now looking at a choice between the incumbent, Idris Wada, and Abubakar Audu which I have likened to a choice between Satan and Lucifer.

PREMIUM TIMES: You do not seem particularly happy with the way your home state, Kogi appears to be run and its present and anticipated leadership, as your writings regularly point out your sympathy – satirical, no doubt – for others States, which though being poorly run or served, could still not compare to the calamity of Kogi State.

Pius Adesanmi: Don’t get me started on Kogi state please! And we are now looking at a choice between the incumbent, Idris Wada, and Abubakar Audu which I have likened to a choice between Satan and Lucifer. We are starting to mobilize the youth for 2019. They need to take back that state from the vultures.

It is a book of personal essays, creative non-fiction, and cultural critique in which I try to understand Africa from the standpoint of someone who has been living in North America for nearly two decades and who has been crisscrossing the continent as a writer and scholar from that Western location.

Culled from Premium Times

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