Adaobi Whyte is a renowned fashion designer, horticulturist, critic/social crusader, mother, politician and author, privileged with only the basic primary education but has over the years developed her knowledge by reading and seeking experience in many other areas of life. In this interview with Mary Ekah, she talks about the inspiration behind her latest book, her passion and aspirations even at the ripe age of 80
What is your latest book all about?
The book is titled, ‘How Africans Vandalise Africa (Focusing Nigeria). It is a book that exposes and laments the destiny, slave mentality and wickedness of the black man; the indigenous slave trade to the cross Atlantic Slave Trade, importation of artificial Christianity and Islam into Africa. Religious exploitation, commercialisation, fanaticism and hypocrisy, colonisation, independence and how Africans have engaged in vandalism and destruction of the continent since independence. They have enthroned themselves as slave masters, dictators and sit-tight-leaders, creating obstacles to the development of the rich continent.
What informed your decision to write a book of this nature?
As I grew up, I watched the Nigeria environment and the Africa environment as a whole and I got so sad because of the happenings around, especially at the way the rich treat the poor. Our leaders establish themselves as slave masters, treating indigenes as slaves; Nigerians are suffering, Africans are suffering. When I take a look at Nigeria and Africa and how the religious and political leaders have destroyed the African continent and the Nigerian nation, this makes me so sad and at the same time propels the urge in me to document everything that I see in my environment.
How old are you ma?
I am 80 years old.
At what age did you start writing?
I started writing from my youth but not on a serious note. What really attracted me was the prickling to know about those things around my environment. There were two cases: The case of divorce and the case of widowhood. So those things I saw as a teenager, that is our tradition on widowhood and our tradition on divorce, made me so keen on knowing what happens concerning those things and other things in my environment, and so I started being inquisitive and wanted to know a lot of things. From that point I continued with that zeal; it was actually in the 80s when I started taking notes of things and jotting them down; but because of my poor educational background – I had only primary school education – I was shy, not wanting people to know my educational background. So I shied away from people and so missed the opportunities I would have gotten. But, inwardly, I really wanted to read and write. So it was through the habit of constant reading that I really improved myself. But even after improving on myself, I didn’t have confidence in myself until one day, I read in the newspapers that one American self-educated women was attending the meeting of Nigerian authors in the house of late Bola Ige, and I said to myself ‘so self-educated women are recognised’. And that was about the time that I started picking up the courage in myself. But, then, being self-educated without teachers to examine my English, made me doubt my ability to write. I wasn’t sure if the English I was writing made sense but I just continued reading and writing, just like a hobby and that was how I took it up and today I have authored eight books including: Abuse of the Nigerian Child; Plight of the Nigerian Woman; Dr. Peter Otunuya Odili: Threading the Path of Destiny and Ndoni Kingdom; Peaceful Co-existence and then my latest addition, How Africans Vandalise Africa (Focusing Nigeria), which was recently launched, amongst others story books. And with these, I have been able to prove that determination is the key to success.
What really bothered me at first was the plight of Nigerian women and the abuse of the Nigerian child and that was what my first two books, published in 2002, were focused on. At that same time too, I started documenting my lamentations about Africa and Nigeria environment; but as I was writing, I didn’t know how to break the books into chapters. So I wrote the book and took it to Sun Rays Newspapers in Port Harcourt to the person who was in charge of publishing then. He went through my book and then said: “Adaobi, you didn’t break your book into chapters”. I was like, so I have not yet started; so I took my manuscript home. I started all over again – brought out books from my bookshelves and started to see how I can break my book into chapters and that was how I continued to write and learn till today.
You said you were privileged only with a basic primary education and yet you speak and write so well. What stopped you from furthering your education?
What happened was that my parents lived in the village, while an aunt took me to Plateau State at the age of 11, so by the time I finished standard six, I didn’t see who to sponsor me to read further.
Who is your target for this particular book?
The main target could have been the leaders so that when they read, they would change and stop stealing our money, but will they read or even listen? And when I look at the massive circulation of churches and mosques in Nigeria, I wonder if our leaders are listening to the word of God at all and if they are not touched by the word from God and change, will a mere book change them? Now if I say my book is targeted at the masses; what can the masses do? The masses are helpless. Our leaders are oppressing the citizens so much that they cannot talk. I am particular about the suffering of the masses, the suffering of Nigerians and the suffering of Africans and those who are concerned about all of these are my target. Some of our leaders are so wicked. If they are not wicked, how can one man be stealing billions when the poor man down the street cannot have N18, 000 as a monthly salary? Talk about remuneration package. Why should we have the remuneration package in our 1999 Constitution (as amended)? Is that not the origin of corruption? They call it corruption; I call it stealing because corruption is a more refined word. Let’s call it by its proper name; its proper name is stealing! If our political leaders had not squandered our money the way they have done, we would not have gone into this state of poverty. Many Nigerians today cannot afford to feed their families and then these our so-called politicians are coming to tell us grammars that are annoying. The Central Bank will come and tell us about policy, the Ministry of Finance will come and tell us about policy. Do we have policy in Nigeria? Is it the policy that encourage stealing?
Now how do you intend to take the message in your book to those that it really concerns?
The book has been launched and right now it is available in Port Harcourt and we are also trying to get bookshops to market the books for us in Lagos. I have been talking everywhere I go, from Port Harcourt where I reside to Lagos and all other places, calling on Nigerians to rise and rally round me; I need some volunteers to wake up and talk but everybody is afraid that the security agents will shoot them down. But Nigerians should know that there is a kind of life you live that even death would have been better off. And this is the kind of life that most Nigerians are living now. Look at the high cost of food items and other basic things of life. My question now is, who do we face? Most of our leaders are not ready to listen, otherwise the words from the Bible and Quran would have changed them. Now my fear is, will this book be stronger than the Bible and Quran which have been with us all our lives? Tell me. This is a very lamentable case and that is why I say that I am a woman of lamentations. I have been lamenting, my heart is weeping, I am crying for the black man. The black man has refused to learn. I am still lamenting and will keep lamenting until things are put in the proper shape in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
Before the white man came, they met us selling our brothers and castrating the strong slaves and turning them into eunuchs so that they can serve the rich all their lives. That was the state that the white man met the black man. And so the white man also follow suit and took a lot of Africans into slavery and even moved some of them to Europe. And now why should the black man not respect his fellow black man even when the white man slave masters have been sent packing? Why should our black leaders continue to treat the citizens as slaves?
You seem to have so much interest in the Nigerian politics. Have you had the opportunity to play active politics at any point in your life?
I have been involved in active politics at various times. In Lagos in the 90s I started politics under the tutelage of Dr. Olusola Saraki, the Senate president’s father, Bukola Saraki. I learned politics from him. Those were refined gentlemen. Those were men who were kind to the poor. After living in Lagos for over 30 years, I relocated to Port Harcourt, my capital city. It is in my state that I joined politics properly. It is my movement in the political system that really gave me courage to write this book because it is in this political system that I found that I was able to discover how politicians have been cheating on the citizens. I have worked in my area so much that I have earned so much respect and my people can trust me and I can sit in my house and mobilise the whole community. I’m on clutches but by the time it comes to mobilising, my clutches becomes a moving train. I am a community leader and I lead both men and women. In fact, I prefer working with the men because our women are very negative, they are more uniform conscious. I tried as much as I could to change our women from this uniform mentality but they did not change and so I followed the men. I work more with the men and that is why I am able to reach the stage I got to in politics today. I am so well respected and recognised in my place because of my activeness that I was given a chieftaincy tile, which no woman in my area has ever been given and up till date, no woman in my community has beaten that record. Today I am regarded as the mother of PDP. I have worked with virtually all the major political parties in Nigeria and that is why I can say categorically that political parties in Nigeria are not useful to the people. Political parties are like clubs from which the vandals that siphon our money come from.
You are 80 years old and still very strong and active. Where do you get the strength from?
The strength comes from God because I can’t even explain it myself. I have suffered from protracted illness for a while now. I have not been able to sit straight and write due to the pains on my back. So I wrote my last three books lying down on my bed. So only God can take the glory for giving me such courage because I am so surprised too of how I have been able to get such courage. Even how I’m able to get these ideas surprises me too.
Can you recall the primary school you attended?
I attended St. Theresa’s Girls Catholic School, Jos and that was in 1948 to 1953.
How did you cope with your activism and political career, being a mother and wife?
As a young wife and mother, I was not so active in community service and politics like I later became. This latter part of me had not developed at that time, maybe it was in the making but had not blown up. When it eventually blew up, my husband was supportive till the time he died and left me a widow. And being a widow I had the freedom to fly as high as I wanted to go. At a point I was made a chief, like I mentioned earlier. I was given the title, Ajuwa of Ndoni Kingdom, meaning the powerful one in the palace.
What word of advice do you have for Nigerians?
My people have a saying that: ‘You have case of murder and case of stealing. Case of Murder supersedes the case of stealing.’ Today we have many problems in Nigeria but the worst problem we have in Nigeria today is stealing in the high places. So my advice to Nigerians is to stop stealing and to also stop seeing their fellow men as slaves. If Nigerians will not stop stealing national funds which they call ‘national cake’, the national cake will collapse – they have cut the cake and it is almost finished.