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If you aren’t a famous political bigwig in the country and eminent royal fathers are just offering you an open door in their palaces, something must have given rise to the plenty hurrahs. In just few months, Otunba Segun Adebiyi has been received by several Yoruba royal fathers, including the Alaafin of Oyo. It wasn’t because of his job as a banker in Switzerland; it was because of his sensational juvenilia, Oba Adeleke Alaso Eye, which has since been approved by the Federal Ministry of Education for use in Nigerian school curricula. The writer spoke to Saturday Sun on his sudden rise to fame.
When did it occur to you that you were cut out to be writer and how did you develop the talent?
The ability to write came from my curiosity to learn new things, acquiring knowledge, trying to find out why things were the way they were. In the process, I developed the interest for reading and writing. As a schoolboy, I was relatively in the frontline of many academic activities back then. Now, I still would not call myself a writer in that sense, though I could be on the right path.
What triggered the idea for Oba Adeleke…?
There are two major reasons that motivated my writing the book, the first being promoting and raising public awareness and appreciating our indigenous languages and protecting them, as well as our culture and tradition from disintegration as a result of cultural pollution. One major problem we have in Nigeria today is bad governance, despite the knowledge and skills we acquire on a daily basis. Study has shown that Nigerians are some of the most educated people in the world.
Apart from Egypt, early African civilization started among the peoples of Nigeria, including the Benin Empire, Oyo Empire, Nri Kingdom, Kanem-Bornu Kingdom and, in recent history, the Sokoto Caliphate, Jaja of Opobo, and the rest of them. You now wonder how the cause of these deficits came about in our system, given our track record of institutional capacity building and knowledge acquisition. Poverty cannot be why we have an alarming corruption rate in Nigeria, because, if you go to many African, Latin American and South East Asian nations, one would begin to appreciate good governance in the midst of a pronounced poverty that exists there. The second reason I wrote the book is to promote and raise public awareness about culture of reading. We have to, again, cultivate the culture of reading into our daily lives, and children are the most affected in this regard.
Can you lead us into your fictional enterprise?
The book is an educative prose short story that propagates value versus materialism for children between 10 and 13 years. Above all, it focuses on our children growing up not only to be useful to themselves but also to contribute to their immediate environment and the society at large –and the only way to do this is by identifying with their culture, ethics and value, as modern education alone does not amount to leadership or followership of integrity as we witness in our nation today. The book primarily teaches honesty, truthfulness and humility among both children and adults. We have to enjoin children as stakeholders in the campaign against corruption and they have to be taught to have a good sense of direction and thorough understanding about value and; through my book, much about value can be learned. I intend using the book to sensitize, educate and enlighten our children who are the future leaders on the need to shun materialistic approach to life and the belief that amassing wealth at all costs is the only way to sustainability and happiness.
You have suddenly become the toast of eminent Yoruba royal fathers…
Yes, since its publication, the book has been endorsed in several quarters unexpectedly by many stakeholders, including school teachers, book critics and scholars. What’s more, the Oodua Progressive Congress founder and President, Dr. Frederick Fasheun, has also applauded the book. Several Yoruba traditional leaders like the Alaafin of Oyo, HRM Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi; the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo; the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Babatunde Akiolu; Akran of Badagry, Aholu-Menu-Toyi 1; the Olofin of Ado-odo, Oba Lateef Adeniran Akanni; the Olu of Imashay, Oba Gbadebo Oni; the Onilogbo of Ilogbo, Oba Olufemi Samuel Ojugbele; the Ologba of Ogbaland, Oba Sanni Arolagbade Ashade; among other royal fathers, have all fallen in love with the conceptual motives behind the book.
Also, the book has got enlisted into the National Library of Nigeria archive. It also was recently approved and included in the school syllabus by the Federal Ministry of Education, Abuja, for academic use of primary 4 pupils in all Nigerian schools following the review and recommendation by the Nigerian Educational and Research Development Council (NERDC), Abuja. The acceptance has really been very overwhelming.
You are also involved with an NGO, Plight Africa Foundation. What’s your interest in establishing the foundation?
The interest was informed by my passion to be a sort of blessing to the people around me –call it social responsibility, which, in the natural sense, we all need to be part of, depending at what scale, that is, giving back to the society. So, in my own little way, I decided to participate in the area of education by founding Plight Africa Foundation, where we target remote demographic areas where children do not have access to basis education by setting a small library for them, why lobbying the local governments in such areas to establish a primary school in such places. From our villages’ tours and experience, some children as old as 16 years have never set their eyes on a pen or a book before, so also are some adults! So, just as several research indicators have shown that children and women are the most affected in the human development index (and most of these people are found in the rural areas), we are glad that we could help prepare the minds of those people to a formal education. Our focus also is to encourage parents to send their children to school, as education is gateway to poverty eradication and through education already impoverished children may escape generational transfer of poverty.
You have been in Switzerland for a while now. How is literature faring and do you have plans to re-publish Oba Adeleke and other books of yours over there?
Literature in Switzerland is about the best you can find around the world. The people are so informed and very enlightened that they read so much. When you walk into any bookshop and see a huge crowd, one may be forced to assume that people are out there to grab some sort of product for gratis or probably a lottery jackpot. The queue to grab one book or another is just very amazing. This fact is known to so many good authors. As a result, they mostly seek for publishers to have their works make their way to Swiss book shelves not only because of the financial or publicity footnote but partly to gain access to those who will appreciate their works and also express explicit criticism.
Furthermore, the linguistic skill of an average Swiss is above average and the country has a rich literacy tradition, which could be traced to its four national languages: German (73 per cent, central, northern and eastern Switzerland), French (21per cent, western Switzerland), and Italian (5 per cent). The fourth official language, Romansh, is spoken by a minority of less than 1 per cent of the population, but has, nevertheless, a tradition of more than 2000 years in southeastern Switzerland and, apart from that, English is widely spoken throughout the country. By and large, every citizen speaks a minimum of three languages. One could, then, equate this multilingual skill as one of the catalysts for measuring the enormous acceptance of literature there.
On whether we plan to re-publish the book in Switzerland, yes, we have such idea on the pipeline. In fact, the biggest bookstore there is a major sponsor of Plight Africa Foundation, supporting us with book donations and other educational materials. But the focus now is Nigeria. We have an extremely bad reading culture in the country. Today, every child wants to play video game, watch English Premier League, Cartoon or just hang around. There is nothing wrong is all these, but what are the eventual mental benefit for children?
What are you working on next?
Well, my next book project may be on the vocabulary usage of words in Yoruba language for children and other Yoruba language learners –simple words such as Microwaves, Fan, Internet, E-mail, Google, Lubricator, Telescope, Parachute, Satellite, Surgeon, Opener, Navigation-system, Incubator, Refrigerator, Programming, Toaster, Table, Camera, DVD Player, Computer, Cursor, Mouse, Office-stapler, Library, Airport, Seaport, Governor, Petrol, Kerosene, Museum, among others, which would be pragmatically used in unadulterated Yoruba language, because, as it is now, there are difficulties for the children using those words in Yoruba, partly because their Yoruba equivalents are not yet in existence. We may translate these words to other Nigerian languages if the demands arise and if we are able to mitigate with experts in those other Nigerian languages, who could synergize with us at seeing this achieved. The linguistic use of our local language has been so much abused that we no longer see anything wrong in combining or borrowing foreign language while communicating in our local languages which, on the contrary, while speaking foreign languages is never acceptable.