Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo currently and comfortably plays in the septuagenarian club – but not even that or any other thing has stopped her from doing what she loves so much – teaching and writing. In fact, as you read this, the proud mother of three who is happily married to Prof. Chris Ezeigbo, just hit the shelves again with some new books, and which I must confess is actually the thrust of this interview as well as what it takes to write well.
One of Nigeria’s best as far as writing is concerned, Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo, a multiple award-winning writer has indeed enriched and ennobled our lives with some of her critically-acclaimed works like Rhythms of Life, The Last of the Strong Ones, Rituals and Departures, House of Symbols, Children of the Eagle, My Cousin Sammy, Heart Songs, Waiting for Dawn, Roses and Bullets, etc.
Good-hearted and kind-natured, the highly accomplished woman bagged her BA and MA in English from the University of Lagos, and her PhD from the University of Ibadan.
Still engrossed and engaged in those two things that give her so much joy – writing and teaching – Prof, like some of her students affectionately address her, found time, amid her busy schedule, to respond to questions posed to her by YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE. By the way, she summed up our questions as ‘good… perceptive and original…’ Excerpts…
Congratulations on your new book, Women & Leadership in Igboland. What exactly is the thrust of the book?
The book, entitled Women and Leadership in Igboland: Omoku, Ime Chi and Omugwo Institutions, is a monograph – a short book that discusses a subject in detail. In this case, the subject is women and leadership. The book examines women’s leadership roles in three spheres of influence under women’s control and argues that there were a variety of leadership opportunities open to Igbo women in the past – some of them still exist today and will continue to exist in the years to come – through which they exerted and can still exert their influence to ensure the well-being of their families and communities. The book concludes that, like their foremothers, women of today have a right to hold leadership positions, not only in the home but also in the workplace and public space.
How long did it take you to write it and what were some of the challenges you encountered in the course of putting it together?
Writing the book took only a few months. What took me a long time was doing the research. I started researching the lives of women in traditional society just before I wrote my first novel, The Last of the Strong Ones in 1996. While doing research for the novel, I discovered that there was a great deal of information about women of the past that no one was paying attention to. I made up my mind to meet the oldest women in my community and interview them so that their wealth of knowledge would be preserved in both my creative writing and scholarly work. So, in the first decade of the 21st century, I embarked on this research, interviewing elderly women in their eighties and nineties in my community and other communities outside my town, Uga. Many of the women I interviewed are dead now. I was amazed at what I discovered – the life of purpose, independence and responsibility these amazing women lived which impacted on their families and communities. After my research, I presented my findings at the 4th Annual International Igbo Conference at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, in January, 2015. Subsequently, I expanded and deepened the research article and published it in April 2021 as a monograph.
Why should anyone buy and read this book?
The book documents some of our cultural traditions that died with the onset of colonialism and Christianity for the purpose of societal redirection and cultural reorientation. The book creates awareness of women’s abilities and capabilities both in traditional and modern societies. The book advocates gender equity and harmonious relationships between men and women. It empowers women with the knowledge that they can achieve their aims and aspirations in every area of their lives. The book should be read by both men and women to foster solidarity among them in order to join forces to build viable homes and communities as well as a peaceful nation. The book is a must-read for people engaged in gender and women’s study, and those who wish to know about women’s institutions in Igboland.
Why has the marginalisation and subjugation of women remained despite all the talk and criticism of that?
Change, as you know, does not always come easy. Many people resist change even when it is positive. But change is inevitable. You must have heard the saying that “Habits die hard.” One can say further that “Traditions or cultures die hard.” Yet we say that culture is dynamic. The truth is that culture is not static; it changes with time. There were things in our culture practised by our ancestors which we do not observe or practise today. A good illustration is the killing of twins in Igboland; no one does that now. Indeed, women suffered and still suffer forms of marginalisation and subjugation, but things are changing. The condition of women is changing and, whether we like it or not, it will continue to change. Education is the key. We must educate our women and empower them to achieve economic independence as well as self-actualisation in other areas, including political, legal and religious freedom.
How can a woman stand out in any field she’s into? And also not be intimidated by the menfolk, especially in their areas of interest and specialisation.
Hard work, determination and self-confidence pay! Parents, especially mothers, must raise their daughters properly by inculcating in them the virtues of hard work and equip them with the best education available. When a woman is educated in the best tradition and works hard and is confident in herself, she will stand out in any field. She will maximize her abilities and strengths in any profession in which she finds herself – business, medicine, law, engineering, teaching, media, banking, politics etc. Such a woman can never be intimidated.
Some people also say that women are their greatest enemies. Do you agree with that?
No, I have never believed in such platitudes. Some of the best people I knew when I was growing up were women. My mother had the best of friends among women and they impacted her life. I too have had great women friends who have made a difference in my life and whose lives I have touched positively. No one is perfect – neither men nor women. There are bad men just as there are bad women who delight in hurting or damaging others. There are bad women who have even destroyed other women, just as there are many more who have encouraged and empowered many women. The same is the case with men. I often wonder why people say women are their greatest enemies, but no one says men are their greatest enemies! But we know that more men have destroyed other men than the number of women who have destroyed other women. So, let us forget such clichés and focus on how, as women and as men, we can build one another up and support one another.
You are among the women that a lot of people look up to. Who are the people that you look up to?
That is an interesting question and, as I think of it, ideas come to my mind. When I was growing up, I looked up to my mother and father who taught me most of what I know and took great care of me and gave me a sound education, which is why I am who I am today. I also looked up to some of my teachers, especially in secondary school. They were white missionaries from Britain and a few Nigerian female teachers at the then Archdeacon Crowther Memorial Girls’ School, Elelenwa, near Port Harcourt. Now, at my age, there are few people I can say I look up to. Most of my friends or associates now are either younger than me or people of my age group or generation. Consequently, these days I operate with the hope and trust that people I encounter or meet, especially our political leaders, would do their best for our people and make us, the older citizens, enjoy whatever is left of our lives without being anxious about the fate of our children and grandchildren and the teeming population of Nigerian youths who are the future of this country. I tell you, if it is well with the youths, then it will be well with the country.
In your field, what would you say got you where you are currently?
I am blessed to have been taught by some of the best teachers in my field at the University of Lagos and University of Ibadan, including Professors Biodun Adetugbo, John Pepper Clark, Oladele Taiwo, F.B.O. Akporobaro, Robert Wren and Ebun Clark (Unilag) and Professors Dan Izevbaye, Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi, Isidore Okpewho and Samuel Asein (Ibadan). There were also great scholars in my field in other universities in Nigeria whose ideas in their books and scholarly articles shaped my own ideas and increased my knowledge. And mid-way in my career, I won many fellowship awards and grants in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Germany that brought me in close contact with distinguished academics and intellectuals in these countries who influenced my academic life positively. They are too numerous to be mentioned here. The close interactions with local and international scholars as well as the access I had in some of the best libraries in local and overseas universities prepared me for a successful career in my field of Literary Studies.
What got you interested in writing?
I started reading voraciously when I was in secondary school. This exposed me to books from inside and outside Nigeria. We had a very good library in my school and the Eastern Nigerian Government led by the legendary leader, Dr. Michael Okpara, established libraries in all the cities and also had mobile libraries that took books to students in secondary schools in the region. The huge vans came to my school fortnightly and we borrowed and returned books easily. It was a great experience. There is no doubt that readers are good writers and writers are good readers. It was easy for me to transit from reading to writing, especially as I have the talent; and, even now, I still read a lot.
What must one do to write well?
To write well, you need to read and read and read, just as I described in my previous response. The more you read, the better you write. Besides, reading helps you to increase your vocabulary and acquire more knowledge which will help you in your writing. This means that you must be proficient in the language or medium of expression you use – this translates to English language which most writers in Nigeria use.
To have a taste of success as a writer, what must one do?
You must edit yourself as you write and must not be in a hurry to publish your work. You need to write and then rewrite, going through your work to make it better before sending it out to an editor or agent or publisher. You need to hon your style and improve your skills. Good writing entails hard work and patience. Success will definitely come your way if you do these things.
What is the costliest mistake that any writer can make?
You will be making a mistake writing in a language you are not competent in. You must master your medium of expression. You must not be in a rush to publish your work when it is not yet ready or in a good shape. That is the problem with self-publishing. Self-publishing will ruin your chances of becoming a successful writer if you have a poor manuscript which you rush to publish. There are people who have self-published many badly written and badly edited books which have made no impact. Nobody wants to read a badly written book full of blemishes. Proper editing is crucial to your success as a writer.
What do you like most about being a writer?
I like being able to write a good story which my readers enjoy, and the ability to create credible and well-developed characters that drive the plot, action and narration in the work of art. In addition, I like the attention I receive from my readers who have enjoyed my books, the recognition and financial reward, especially when you win a prize and the opportunity you get to travel for readings and to participate in literary festivals. The opportunities to travel, made possible by my writing, are wonderful.
What don’t you like about writing?
Nothing! I like everything about writing, even the hard work and the periods spent in isolation to write.
What is the greatest thing that writing has done for you?
Writing has brought me recognition as well as the opportunity to travel to many countries in Africa, Europe, Asia and North America. I love travelling and meeting people.
What would you have wanted writing to do for you that it hasn’t done yet?
I can’t think of anything I would have wanted writing to do for me that it hasn’t done! Writing has brought me joy, self-fulfilment and financial rewards. I have won awards/prizes (I am referring here to both my literary and academic awards and prizes) inside and outside Nigeria.
What was the title of your first story ever?
The title of my first story is “The Call of Death” which was published in January 1972 by Spear Magazine owned by Daily Times newspaper during my first year as an undergraduate student of University of Lagos. I was paid ten pounds for the story – my first earning from my creative work. You can imagine how excited and delighted I was.
Which of your books don’t you like and why?
None! I like all my books. They are like my children.
Which of your books gives you the greatest joy and why?
This is not an easy question for me. As I said, I like all my books and they explore different themes and depict different periods of my community’s experiences and Nigeria’s history. However, I have a soft spot for my second novel, House of Symbols which portrays the life and experiences of Eaglewoman who is modelled on my wonderful, beautiful, enterprising and loving mother, Christiana Ukadinma Adimora. The novel fictionalizes aspects of her life.
Many people read your books and also have you as their favourite author. Who are the authors you love reading their books and why?
Another difficult question! I have read very many authors from across the world and some of these authors I read in translation. I have thoroughly enjoyed their books and learnt so much from them. So, it is difficult to mention all the authors I love reading their books. But I will mention just a few from Africa and from other parts of the world. I said just a few, for I have read thousands of books. I love reading these writers because they are good and their stories enlarge and enrich my experience of life and deepen my knowledge of human nature. Their styles are also very original. The writers include Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Femi Osofisan, Tanure Ojaide, Buchi Emecheta, Chimamanda Adichie, Chika Unigwe, Onyeka Nwelue, Odili Ujubuonu, Helon Habila, Yaa Gyasi, Bessie Head, J.M. Coetzee, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Nawal El Saadawi (Africa). From outside Africa, I love to read the books by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Pablo Neruda, Orhan Pamuk, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Margaret Atwood and many more.