I have never been asked that question. Instead, I have been swamped with the second most important question: where do you get your inspiration?
Most writers answer the second question with a lie. It is usually a huge lie. A writer can say that the heavens open up when nobody is watching and arrows of words stream down into his head and join the veins until he lets them out by writing. Yeah, right. Tell it to the goats. Or the writer can say that his dead ancestors come out at night to leave synopsis of stories on his reading table. Hm! Because I am my grandfather, I do sympathize with writers with such disposition. Some other writers will attribute their inspiration to something in the physical realm that most people know but cannot really relate to – like Lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD, LSD-25, or acid.
I am not in the mood to lie so I will answer the first question. Ok, you got me. That was a lie on its own. I will take the first question because I am making myself available for a radio interview today. I am dreaming that I might be asked that most important question. To avoid being stumped, I want to practice.
Somewhere, sometime ago, I did say that I write “to change the minds of men and repaint the pictures of things.” I have said this to myself for as long as I have written that I have even forgotten who actually said it.
I love to see the shape of words on paper. I love paragraphs; those that smile, those that cry and those that are bored. I love them all. I love the transformation of the whistling noise around me into essays. I hear voices like many people. I gently guide my voices to ruled papers or white screens. And once they are implanted, they transform from ghosts to hunting tigresses.
I know what you are thinking now: Stop all these gibberish. Why do you write? I write because I think I have something to say, something unique – a thing nobody is saying and nobody will say if I do not say it. I write because some people gave me the audacity to do so by reading things I wrote. I write because I have the impulse which came before the audacity. I write because I have acquired a license to do so after the audacity sank in. I write because I will lose the license if I stop. I write because after years and years of doing so, I have allowed myself to be defined by my writing.
A writer who ceases to write does not become a retired writer. He becomes a non-writer. And once you have been a writer, nothing is as scary as suddenly becoming a non-writer. It is like losing the wings with which you fly. It is like suddenly discovering that you cannot speak any longer. A writer who stops writing loses a lot but the most important of which is his voice. I dread losing my voice.
Of course, as I grow older, as I shed my youthful spirit, I have discovered a much nobler reason why I write: for readers. This is not pandering to you. After all, you have read to this point with no such need. When award winners pick their statues and say “this is for the fans,” I used to think it was all bull crap. Now I know it is not.
I write because of my readers.
Thank you, readers.
Now, I will tell you nineteen things your favorite columnists will never tell you.
1.) They are not as cute as their pictures look. Some pictures are Photoshopped. Their teeth are not that white – the only exception being Hannatu Musawa. Some pictures were taken when they were teenagers (wink, wink), before the gray hair came out. I know some who are constantly pushing their publishers to replace their pictures with every new picture they acquire. I will never forget the shock I felt the day I met MEE, my MEE after years of seeing her picture in Quality magazine, Weekend Concord and Classique magazine.
2.) If they have to write a two-part series, they suck at summarization. If it’s up to a four-part series, the money was huge. If it’s up to 12-part series, they are applying for another job. (Sorry Reuben, I couldn’t help it.)
3.) They are not as tall as you imagined them to be. (I’m not mentioning names.) And as a matter of fact, they are not as short as they looked in those pictures. As an anonymous reader and commentator, it is very easy to haul abuses at them. But when you meet them in real life, you will feel sorry for them. You’ll find yourself smiling sheepishly as you shake their hands and wonder why you were so mean to them.
4.) Be mindful of the name they give their columns. If they call their column, “Excuse Me,” expect them to dance all over the pages. If they call it, “Correct Me If I’M Right,” chances are that they are messing with you. I swear.
5.) They are not as articulate as their writings. Oh, let me tell you, they all have first readers and second readers before their works go through editors. Some of them who use big grammar, when you hear them speak, they speak like Obi Okonkwo in No Longer at Ease- they use ‘is’ and ‘was’.
6.) You must know so many of your favorite columnists who sound angry in their columns. Don’t mind them. They are really pussycats. They cannot hurt a tsetse fly even if it lands on their scrotum- the women included. The worst culprits are those who look angry in their pictures. They are sissies from head to toe.
7.) Even though they grumble about corruption in Nigeria, they too are under pressure to build four homes like every politician – one in Abuja, one in Lagos, one in their state capital and one in their village. The only difference is that while politicians loot the treasury to accomplish their mission, I see these columnists buying lottery tickets. Poor souls!
8.) Calling their work a masterpiece doesn’t always make their heads swell. In fact, the baby egomanias amongst them think you are mocking their works by overusing that word. This is how they categorize works: ‘so-so’ is for works that anyone can write. ‘Great’ is for works that you cannot write. ‘Masterpiece’ is for works that even the gods cannot write. The public intellectuals do not mind. In fact, they demand that you call all their works masterpieces.
9.) If they title all their columns, How To Do This, How To Do That, watch very well, they will soon run out of things they know how to do.
10.) If you want to make their heads to swell, don’t tell them you would have given them your sister if she wasn’t married. Most of them cannot perform. I hope you know what I mean. And don’t tell her you would have married her, she’s only interested in marrying an oil tycoon. If you want their heads to swell up, just tell them, “Thank you for your service.” The day I heard a reader say it to a colleague, I wondered why nobody had ever said that to me.
11.) Oh, don’t think they do not read your comments. They do. Some even enter your comments in their diaries- one told me to write this as an incentive for you to use your real name. Go figure! Some encourage their friends to come and defend them on the comment page. They are that vain- including those who swear that they never read comments.
12.) And please, please, please, don’t ever ask them for money. Forget that you see their pictures in the newspapers and all over the web. Many of them have no shishi, no penny. Those who get paid get peanuts. And I know some columnists who are essentially paying newspapers to carry their columns. They are just as broke as Majek Fashek. They have no money and no influence. Don’t even ask them to help you publish your article on their platform. Some have never seen the inside of their media house.
13.) This one is very important: don’t assume that the person whose picture you are looking at wrote that article you are reading. Some are written by their wives, some by their husbands and some by their girlfriends. Yeah. I’m not allowed to talk about the columns that spokespersons of politicians and newsmakers write. That’s beyond the scope of this piece.
14.) Whatever you do, don’t ask them to open the trunk of their cars. If you do, you will lose the hope that if, somehow, you hand the country over to your favorite columnists they will fix it. The junk in their car trunk will tell you they are as disorganized as the secretary to the federal government.
15.) If you really disagree with them and want to give them a piece of your mind, don’t just call them a fool, an idiot, stupid, anti-Christ, ugly, atheist, sadist and gay. Don’t abuse their mother and father. Don’t ask them to hug the transformer. They have immunity from those common expressions. You see, in school, they were taught to run away from clichés. Always find a creative way to hit back at them. For example, call them ‘dancing and farting nincompoops’. It will make them smile because most of them cannot dance. I know. I’ve seen them make a mess of themselves in the name of dancing. Also, they want to know that you really put an effort in your insult. That’s how you gain their respect.
16.) Sometimes, they have nothing to write about. But they won’t tell you or spare you their nonsense. (wink, wink) Lets face it, all they write every year is just recycling of the same things they have been writing for years. Most of them are just like Cool and Gang, old musicians playing the same old hits they had decades ago. For instance, tell me, have you read anything new from Levi Obijiofor in the last ten years? Exactly my point! If commentary is football most of them would have been retired. They wouldn’t be wearing the national jersey the way they currently do with arthritis of the brain and all what.
17.) But to really get on their skins, stop reading and stop commenting and watch them go back to driving taxis and bathing corpse. If you’re going to be that mean, be ready to have your name mentioned in their suicide notes. (Deri & Wahala, please take note.)
18.) Despite what I said in 16, the best amongst them know more than they tell you. Just the way you use less than 11% of what you know, they tell less than 11% of what they know. Sometimes it is because they are involved. At other times it is because their hands are tied. I’m not allowed to say more than this.
19.) If they agree with you all the time, they must be mumu. If you agree with them all the time, you must be mumu.
Ok, I could go up to twenty but that should do. You don’t expect me to reveal all the secrets of our trade. Do you? I don’t want to be kicked out of our National Association of Professional Armchair Critics(NAPAC). So, please, fill in the gap.
And as always, please correct me if I’m right.
Happy New Year.