150 naira Gospel…

I arranged my bags on my lap and opened my handbag to bring out the exact fare for the trip. As a veteran of public transport in Lagos, it is rare for me to be without naira notes of all denominations, I even have 16 naira in coins somewhere – thanks to Shoprite. One of the most shocking experiences of my entire life was watching a woman hand the Keke driver a 1000 naira note for a 70 naira journey at Asaba.

The man didn’t cuss her Papa or call her Mama an ashewo/ashawo, he didn’t even call her an ashewo or at least call her useless. He didn’t say anything at all. He opened the compartment that had change and counted out 930 naira and gave it to her. I am still convinced they were pranking me that day.

Anyway, I was waiting for the conductor to collect the money so I could transfer my headphones from my neck to my head and settle into the book I was about to start. The woman next to me pointed at my money and I happily gave it to her so I could start reading my book for this weekend.

The Great Ex-cape by Phoebe Macintosh begins with a freelance journalist who gets the chance to go on a TV game show called One Big Question, which is very similar to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. She gets to the last stage with 50,000 £ and the question is about Dinosaurs which is an extremely lucky coincidence as her boyfriend is a professor of Paleontology like Ross in Friends. The show is aired live.

The TV host calls the boyfriend on Live TV and the first voice he hears is Rosie’s who starts by saying she has a big question. He immediately assumes that she is calling to ask him to move in with her – or even marry, he shuts down the idea before he even lets her tell him why she’s calling.

She manages to ask the question, “which dinosaur had 15 horns” and he of course gives the right answer automatically. She goes on to win the prize money as the first chapter ends and I stopped to catch my breath as I tried to imagine how she might have felt being in the grip of strongly conflicting emotions.

The woman next to me tapped my shoulder and I turned to see her handing me back my money? My eyebrows rose instantly.
“Somebody paid for the whole bus,” she said.

I figured it was the same person who had taken the entire back seat, the woman who had settled there with her son was complaining when the conductor told her to leave the back seat as it had been ‘chartered’, she complained until someone pointed to the best seat in the bus for her and her son who she intended to ‘lap’. That seat was right beside me.

The conductor began to hand out tracts to everyone, from his expression it is obvious that the tracts were given to him by the person who paid for the whole bus. People were smiling as they collected, I was nearly shocked to see my right-hand lift to get one too.

As a rule, I don’t collect paper from people on the road or in malls or at work. Tracts, flyers, promotional offers on handbills, Adaeze no dey collect. If the majority of the population was like me, printers of handbills would find another hustle.

I collected one today and I’m not even thinking about the needless waste that is required for handbills that give minimal conversion, I’m not thinking about the earth we’re destroying, one plastic bag, one unrecycled paper at a time. I’m thinking instead of the person who used a little under 4k to bless strangers.

And the book? I’m not sure the rest of it can live up to the first chapter. And if you guessed that the Professor asked for half of the money, come and collect sweet.

One Comment

  1. For the first time in Nigeria, a group of writers and illustrators of children’s books came together to learn, fraternize and create fascinating stories for publication. Goethe institute Lagos brought them together for the Storymakers Workshop in 2019 and the reverbarations of the workshop echoes still.

    Why a workshop in children’s literature? even though the sector has witnessed significant growth in recent years, there is still an urgent need for capacity building and fostering links and collaborations which would lead to growth in the sector. The workshop achieved these aims in two exciting sessions which held in 2019 and 2020.

    Nigerian children have real barriers preventing them from experiencing and enjoying the magic and wonder of reading books crafted for children. In a depressed economy, parents would rather spend their lean resources on absolute necessities rather than whimsical purchases like children’s books.

    It can also be argued that parents are more likely to direct their children to paths that lead to their definition of success (graduate with a first-class degree and get a job with a multinational blue-chip company) and they cannot see how reading children’s books instead of academic texts all the time can help their children’s climb on the ladder of this success. Sadly, as the parents didn’t get to read children’s books themselves due to a dearth in children’s books at the time, they might not even be aware of the options available.

    One of the participants at the workshop Aduke Gomez makes a compelling argument for children’s books. “I think that children’s literature is one of the most important ways you can shape the thinking of a society and unfortunately in Nigeria, children’s literature is not as well developed as it could be. And if you have children who read, you will get adults who read and that is a great thing for a society to have.”

    The poor reading culture of Nigeria has been bemoaned by several individuals and organisations, with Nigeria getting low scores on any literacy index or assessment. However, this might be an unfair valuation as the typical Nigerian is a storyteller. We have an oral storytelling tradition that has spanned centuries, reading and finding stories are a recent invention to Nigerians. Sadly, even our oral storytelling traditions are waning.

    To address the dearth in children’s books and in an effort to revitalise the industry, Goethe institute Lagos announced a call for writers and illustrators of children’s books in early 2019 for a workshop to be tagged The Storymakers Project. Intending participants from across Nigeria submitted their application entries to the workshop and the final selection for six writers and six illustrators was done.

    Goethe institutes around the world have been invested in helping create a decolonized non-racial world. Efforts like Latitude online magazine provide platforms for discourse about colonial power relations in former colonies of world powers. Beyond discussions, Goethe has set up programs like the DRIN project by which Goethe institute Finland is improving representation in children’s books to reflect the racial diversities in Europe.

    The Storymakers Project of Goethe Lagos aims to solve the problem of scarcity of affordable children books while ensuring that Nigerian children will see themselves and their environment reflected in the books, their social and cultural realities would find appearance on the pages of the books. The first phase of the program was the training workshop where writers and illustrators of children’s books would receive training and support to create their works for the market.

    The workshop was intended to harness and develop existing talent in Nigeria for the creation of homegrown children’s literature. In the words of one of the facilitators Abdulkareem Baba Aminu, “the project would help expand the horizon of people who are interested in writing and illustrating children books.”

    The workshop was headlined by a celebrated writer and illustrator of over sixty children’s books, Ute Krause. The choice of Ute Krause was not only about teaching the techniques of the craft to the participants, Ute spent part of her growing up years in Nigeria and her knowledge of the geography and cultures of the country were essential for the project.

    The twelve chosen participants were –
    Illustrators: Baba Aminu Mustafa, Edwin Irabor, Folashade Adeshida, Francis Umendu Odupute, Olanrewaju Gafar, Henry Ezeokeke. Writers: Aduke Gomez, Bukola Ayinde, Funmi Ilori, Hadiza Muhammad, Sope Martins, Ugochinyelu Anidi.

    The selected participants converged at a location in Lagos on the 17th of May 2019 to begin the workshop facilitated by Ute Krause and Nigerian journalist, illustrator and cartoonist Abdulkareem Baba Aminu. The participants were split into six teams comprising a writer and an illustrator who were to work together to produce a book that would be offered for sale later.

    Henry Okeke one of the illustrators gave high praise of the session, in his words “I gained much from Ute Krause’s wealth of experience acquired over the years writing and illustrating children’s books. She said a writer should sometimes think like a film maker or cinematographer by understanding good visual storytelling in terms of camera angles. She stressed the importance of keeping a children’s picture book simple.” His foray into children’s books was inspired by the children’s books he read while growing up. Like many digital artists today, his interest in art and subsequently his journey into illustration were fashioned from his love for cartoons as a child.

    For Hadiza Muhammad on the other hand, providing today’s children with an outlet away from screens of all kinds is a compelling reason for an emphasis on children’s books by publishers and it is an inspiration for her work. “I discovered my love for reading folktales to children when I volunteered with American corner Abuja. There are fewer folktales available for children, kids growing up now don’t get to hear or folktales, I want to them to find delight in reading books and folktales are a good entry point.

    The story she created for the workshop was designed to appeal to Nigerian children regardless of their background, her story aims to teach children kindness and offer children a view of a reality that might be different from theirs. “It’s about a single dad family, kindness and keeping promises. It will make them stretch their imagination and that’s a good thing.” She said.

    The workshop offered creative exercises to teach the participants how to combat writer’s block by drawing inspiration from their environment, their lives and even their pasts. Daily morning exercises were also recommended to keep their creative juices flowing. By creating the stories during the short timeframe of the workshop, the participants stepped away from the familiar and learned to work under time constraints.

    Exploring fresh perspectives and unleashing the creativity of the participants was a recurring theme at the workshop, the participants learned and relearned techniques to ensure that the works produced after the workshop would stand out from the meagre available options in the children’s books market. The workshop presented a unique opportunity for writers and illustrators to be in the same room while collaborating on a project and it gave them a fresh understanding of how their different aspects melded together to form a whole and offered a perspective in real-time on how the ‘other side’ worked.

    The managing editor of Farafina books Enajite Efemuaye visited the workshop and answered the participants’ questions on the business of publishing as well as offered insights on getting their works profitable. There was a follow-up workshop in March 2020 with Abdulkareem Aminu as the sole facilitator as Covid-19 restrictions prevented Ute Krause from attending the second session.

    The camaraderie of the workshop lingers even now. For some of the participants, it was a huge thrill to be in the same space with other co-creators of children’s books with personal and creative bonds having been formed since then. Ugochinyelu Anidi was elated to be in the same space with other creators of children’s literature in Nigeria as she didn’t know anyone in that sector in Nigeria before the workshop. She has gone on to form creative partnerships with some other participants at the workshop.

    The six stories created at the workshop offer diverse and unique takes on life in Nigeria. From the adventures of a missing pet to the retelling of perhaps the most popular fairy tale in Nigeria, the stories – words and pictures, created at the workshop are geared to entertain, engage and spark up the imagination of Nigerian children.

    By finding themselves reflected in the stories, the children who would make the progression to writing would find it easier to put themselves and their realities on the page. Most of all, these children – the readers and the writers, will grow up to contribute to the wall of stories arising from Nigeria. With their diverse stories, they’ll weave an entrancing tapestry of life in Nigeria for display to the world and themselves and they will not be defined as ‘other’ by people who know nothing about them.


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