Olukorede Yishau, an Associate Editor with The Nation newspaper, has just released a novel titled ‘In the Name of Our Father’. In this interview journalists in Lagos, Yishau, who was NMMA Columnist of the Year (2015), NMMA Entertainment Reporter of the Year (2015), NMMA Capital Market Reporter of the Year (2013) and NMMA Aviation Industry Reporter of the Year (2003), sheds light on this novel, which many have described as awesome. Peter Uzoho was there
Can you describe the writing process of In The Name of our Father?
I wrote this novel some 16 years ago. At that time I was a young reporter with The Source magazine published by Comfort Obi and edited by Maik Nwosu, author of ‘A Gecko’s Farewell’, ‘Alpha Song’ and ‘Invisible Chapters’. I think the principal script took me less than two months of almost every day writing to complete. I was 24 at the time and less distracted. I wrote in long hand and still have the raw scripts. But in the 16 years before it was published, so many people read through. The first person if I can remember was my colleague in The Source, Edward Dibiana, who made useful suggestions and commended it. But somehow I was not still comfortable. After leaving The Source for Tell following my winning NMMA Aviation Reporter of the Year and being a runner-up in the Banking and Finance category in 2003, I got Mr. Kayode Adelekan, a type-setter in TELL to type it out for me. After typing it out, I just left it and did nothing to it.
After joining The Nation, I got colleagues and friends, such as Seun Akioye, Ayodeji Olaosun and our Deputy Sunday Editor Olayinka Oyegbile to go through. They all felt it was fantastic and some also made suggestions, which I incorporated.
I initially wrote it as chapters one to 20 or thereabouts. I later changed and used heading to reflect what a particular chapter is all about. I also rewrote the introduction. I felt the first one was not strong enough. I needed something to attract attention and from reactions so far I think I got it.
I finally gave it to a celebrated and decorated book editor, poet and novelist, Toni Kan, to edit for me. It stayed with him for months and when I eventually got it back, I was pleased with the outcome and I am grateful to him till date.
Chinua Achebe wrote in his ‘The Novelist as a Teacher’, that stories are not innocent.
The question is why did you write In The Name of our Father?
I agree absolutely with Chinua Achebe that stories are not innocent. My debut In The Name of our Father is certainly not innocent. It is meant to shake tables. I am a Christian, not by birth but by conviction. I wrote the book to examine the relationship between the pulpit and power. It was also written as a way of preserving our recent past with the military. So many people are messing up Christianity and mixing it with fetish tendencies and our people are still falling for it. Even people in power fall for this. They are blinded by ambition and they seek solutions anywhere, including in the hands of fake pastors like Pastor T.C. Jeremiah. They don’t bother checking the background of the people they are seeking miracles from. They want these smart fools to give what they do not have. The desperation of people like General Sani Idoti is good business for the Prophet T.C. Jeremiahs of this world.
The novel seems to take on some big wigs in the society. Given that you’re a journalist, and the fact that novels are expected to pay some fidelity to truth, how much of In The Name of our Father should be taken as truth or revelation?
It is a skillful blend of facts and fiction in such a way that you get confused about the meeting point between the two. I really cannot say what percentage of the book is a revelation, but what I do know is that under the last military administration, there were so many revelations that were difficult to cross-check. I made use of such information in this book. Some of the people who have read it felt I should have included that it was completely a work of fiction. But I really don’t see any need for that. Professor Kole Omotosho even used real names in ‘Just Before Dawn’. The prison experiences, for instance, were created from interviews from detainees. I only just added some salt and pepper for it to be sweet. I am sure ex-NBA President Olisa Agbakoba can relate with the story of Uche Koba, one of the characters in the book. I won’t reveal others but I am sure people can easily relate with it. My colleague and author of ‘I Served’, Joe Agbro Jr, screamed in the newsroom after reading it to a point. ‘This is faction,’ he screamed. He came to shake me after reading the last line. Hon. Wale Oshun, who was a detainee of the Abacha regime, said the book made him reflect on the evil of that regime. He described the book as fantastic.
On social media, it is constantly asserted that religion is the bane of Nigeria; that if Nigeria had spent more of her energy on education, infrastructure, etc., instead of pedalling religion, we might have been better. What is your opinion about this?
I certainly believe if we concentrate more of our energy on education and infrastructure, we will go farther than we are. There is absolutely no doubt that religion is important but we have left what God expects us to do to Him to resolve for us. We are like a people preparing for an exam and refuse to read, yet expect to come out in flying colours because we have prayed. Like the Bible admonishes, we must give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Too much valuable time is wasted urging God to do what He has given us the ability to do.
What is your opinion of African literature? Does it exist? How would you define it?
For me, literature is literature. But for categorisation, we can permit terms such as British literature, European literature, African literature and so on. Our writings are defined by our experiences, so if I am African, you will feel Africa in my writing, but it does not make it inferior to American literature. We can just define African literature as one written by an African, especially on African themes.
What is your take on the Nigerian publishing landscape?
The publishing landscape in Nigeria is coming back alive; thanks to the small presses. The big presses are only interested in textbooks because they want to recoup their investment. The small presses are also interested in recouping their investment but they are giving room for new voices to be heard as far as novel writing, poetry and so on are concerned. I believe better days are ahead.
Who are your literary influences?
My literary influences are legion. From classics by Theodore Dostoevsky, who I was introduced to by Chim Newton, the author of ‘Under the Cherry Tree’ and other books, to the writings of Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri, John Grisham, Helon Habila, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Toni Kan and many more, I have read them all. And I am sure they have all influenced me one way or the other.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on another novel tentatively titled ‘Dairies from the Underground’. Like my debut, it is also political in nature. Justus Omoeko, the journalist in In the Name of Our Father, features in it briefly too. But it is about three political figures who found themselves in jail. It is about 40 per cent complete and I hope to get it published next year.
Any personal comments, last words, anecdotes about writing?
‘In the Name of our Father’ was not the first script I wrote. I started trying out my hand on writing a novel back in secondary school at the Ansar-Ud-Deen Grammar School, Isaga-Orile near Abeokuta. I also wrote another in my days at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism. But, the first one I felt good about was supervised and edited by Chim Newton, who titled it ‘Perilous Fears’. His publishing firm, KEB Publishers, was supposed to publish it in 2001 or thereabouts, but some financial constraints stopped it. It remains unpublished till today. It is a smaller book and I am not really keen on publishing it again.
I want the public to take the message of ‘In the Name of Our Father’ to heart and let us change our-do-or-die attitude to religion. We must play our part and let God play His. We should not leave everything to Him. For me, writing is like a woman, very jealous. It is also like a baby, thus time-consuming. So, every writer must be grateful to their loved ones for sharing them with the jealous being called creative writing.