Mr. Franklin Ekeocha is the author of War Without Bloodshed, Father Church: A Living Sacrifice, among other books, who resigned from different jobs to take up writing as a profession. In this interview with PAUL OKAH, he speaks on declining reading culture in Nigeria, societal ills, attitude of publishers to authors, even as he hopes for a better Nigeria.
What should people know about you?
Well, Franklin Ekeocha is the second child of retired civil servants from Ngor-Okpala LGA of Imo state. I was born in Surulere Lagos and attended Annimasheun Primary School, Ijesha Tedo. However, factors surrounding the death of my immediate younger sister, in the wake of the crisis that ensued from the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, led to my concluding my primary education at Jabi Primary School in Abuja. I attended Gwarinpa Secondary School in Life Camp, Abuja, where I was made the Time Keeper and Mail Prefect, a member of the Debating Club and Press Club. I also represented the school in Mathematics, English and Science competitions such as: Cowbell Mathematics Competition, ANCOPS Essay Competition, Olympiad competition etc. I later attended the University of Abuja.
When did you start writing?
I started writing in secondary school. I started with short essays and stories. After my Junior Secondary School examination, I was enrolled for the Science classes because I was about the best in Mathematics. I was not comfortable with the course though, so I opted for the Social Sciences in the university. I helped to produce WHATZ UP magazine in 2005, which published my first article “Youths that would rule the world.” Later, I was made Production Editor of the magazine and that was the kick for me to start writing.
What influences your writing style?
My writing style was influenced by the joy I felt after reading books written by great writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hadley Chase, John Gresham, Chinua Achebe and many others. The love for writing, passion and drive for positive change influence my style of writing. I lost my immediate younger sister to societal ill and that is what I am writing to cure.
Can you narrate the plot of some of your published books?
War Without Bloodshed might sound ironical, even paradoxical, to many. How can there be war without bloodletting? But this book says it is possible. Problems that inhibit progress in the society can be vitiated without sacrificing humans. This is the point. It is an invaluable platform for discussing the fundamental predicaments of Nigeria. Injustice and nil regard for human life sway and swagger in Nigeria, yet, this book says all can be resolved without blood forming a lake, river, or an ocean. On the other hand, Father Church: A Living Sacrifice x-rays the life of a Reverend father. It is a biography to celebrate the humble, honest and philanthropic life of the Reverend father. His message on love, marriage, hard work, discipline, etc, was captured. My yet to be published book, Vale of Tears, is a story that highlights the life of seven school students, who, in their desire to make money, involved themselves in negative vices such as drugs, kidnapping and prostitution. I called them the BIG SEVEN. It is a lesson to parents to monitor their children and be sure of their activities. Today, youth that are supposed to be in school are interested in quick money. Vale of Tears is a non-fiction and a must read for every student.
Are you discouraged by the poor reading culture in Nigeria?
No, I am not discouraged by the poor reading culture in Nigeria because I am optimistic that things will get better. Nigerian’s very low interest in reading encourages me to think of ways to present my books. So, I make them simple and straightforward. I will, however, admit that it is worrisome to find this ill attitude amongst people that desire development. No country can develop without education, but, unfortunately, we make education unattractive. Many Nigerians are interested in things that do not add genuine impact in their lives and society. Individuals, companies and government establishments are quick to sponsor programs with entertainment and porn than education. A winner of Big Brother Nigeria will win well over N45 million, a brand new Innoson jeep and flat, while winner of national reading competition manages to go home with one million naira only. Today, we have lots of programs on television and social media, which are engaging the Nigerian population and making reading to be difficult. There are televisions in every home and students from junior secondary schools have mobile phones, which their parents bought to distract them from reading. Many lazy people even opt for reading online as we promote frivolity, instead of joining resources and platform to celebrate authors. How many Nigerian authors are celebrated and live a decent life? We can take count of hundreds of actors, comedians, models, footballers and musicians that are celebrated and financed to extreme wealth, while authors are neglected. Nigerians must wake up, if we are interested in sustaining this country as authors need to be celebrated and provided with support.
Is social media a curse or blessing to Nigerian writers?
Social media means different things to many people. I made it my wings to fly around the world. I must, however, admit that not all that is sold is patronised. Even then, I am glad that my books are sold on social media because majority of those who appreciate my works are those I connected with on the social media. A prophet is never popular amongst his contemporaries so, I exploit the opportunity to make new acquaintances, who support me. Social media have been a blessing to me because of the untapped opportunities therein and I am a member of more than 90 writers’ group on social media. Therefore, I am not just an author but a veritable celebrity. In the next ten years, I see myself on Mount Everest; the mountain of writers! I foresee, for me, laurels and prizes, probably a global voice as regards literature, politics and international mishaps.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
My favourite authors include Cyprian Ekwensi, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Donald Trump, John Gresham, Robert Kiyosaki, Ben Carson, William Shakespeare and many others. They have masterpieces. I was successful as a science student but not contented. I needed happiness, and because I spend much time writing, I was convinced it was the life I wanted. Of course, we have writers who never published any work. Aspiring writers should not regard writing as smooth ride, but as a profession for serious and disciplined people. If they are not disciplined, humble and honest, then they will crash. They should make sacrifices. It yields no reward to be a writer without publishing. There are millions of good writers who have died without publishing a single book and many manuscripts or typed scripts, but unable to publish. Years back, I sold my belongings, risked my comfort and outings with friends to publish my book. Today, I am exhilarated when I get reviews, interviews and calls of commendations for my published book. They should give their scripts out for re-writing, proper editing and publishing.
Apart from writing, do you have an alternative source of livelihood?
Writing is tasking and requires enormous concentration. The poor synergy of ideas and content depict the attitude of the writer to be able to organise creatively. I had to resign my position in establishments to tailor my source of livelihood around writing. I am the publisher of Our Magazine International, an online magazine with large followership. We also have plans to print our maiden edition soon. We wish to make the magazine one of the best in the world. We also want to delve into consultancy, printing, graphic design, photography, etc. I have been able to win the trust of people to get offers for our services from the impact of my books. Being a husband entails responsibilities in this epoch of economic challenges. So, as a newly married man I need more sagacity to navigate life and secure stable sources of livelihood. My social life is interesting for me considering that, as an author, I have won laurels. I have lots of friends who would cherish our time together. I am very sociable and value the reciprocity of respect that I bestow on my friends. This binds me to honour their invitations and meetings. This has helped me to realise that my writing needs more time, so I have a time table. Social life is the necessary distraction that has never taken me away from writing. I use it to generate inspiration and derive new ideas for my writing. I have been able to merge my social life with writing.
Have you faced any rejection by Nigerian publishers?
These are experiences I do not want to remember, so that it does not reaffirm the discouraging attitude of Nigerian publishers. They never seem ready for the serious business of publishing but only to promote selfish interests. My book, War Without Bloodshed was rejected by publishers, with the postulation that it did not meet their standard. I refused to be frustrated. This was what birthed the success of my books. Some of them later called to congratulate me on the publishing of the book they termed ‘not too good’ after reading the finished work and the publicity it generated. I don’t want to sound impolite, but what we have in Nigeria as publishers are printers looking for quick money. Most of them don’t understand what publishing is. This is because they don’t have professionals to handle the process of publishing; from editing to marketing. They print and then hand the copies over to the author to sell. The few who I supposedly take their job seriously are losing fervor; due to lack of qualified personnel to sustain the original standard.
Nigerian publishers have failed writers and must wake up to their responsibilities. They should stop discouraging upcoming writers. I am not happy with Nigerian publishers. This is the reason successful Nigerian authors like Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie and others published their books with foreign publishers. In an interview, Chimamanda said she has not made a kobo from her book in Nigeria but from her foreign publishers who pay her handsome royalties.
When publishers do a good work on the books they print, promote and market them, they make money for the author and themselves. This will empower writers and give people a better view. They should not be interested only in publishing books written by political leaders and textbooks where they can make quick money. Also, government is engrossed with the politics of self aggrandisement and pay lip service to reading. They don’t read themselves and cannot encourage others to read. You cannot give what you don’t have. Education is the key to the survival of any society and any country without good education is a dead one. What have we achieved since independence? The leaders send their children out to other countries to study because they know we don’t have quality education in Nigeria. To be honest with you, I am not proud of the Nigerian government. They have not shown seriousness to education; mediocrity is the order of the day in a country so blessed as ours. There is a need for a rethink, now!
Any low moments as a writer?
My major low moment was being turned down by publishers, when I thought my book was good enough for the Nobel Prize. My spirit collapsed. It was as if I had no place in the literary world. Another low moment was when all those that I expected to support my book presentation deserted me and left me with huge debts. Also, I am not satisfied or encouraged by sales of my e-books, so I cannot rely on it. If you must know, nothing sells more than the hard copies. In Nigeria, hard copies are still preferable. Nevertheless, I am working towards having my books in Nigerian schools. My literary agent has approached many educational institutions in the country for the approval of my two books and, hopefully, they will be used in schools very soon. I will be glad if stakeholders in the education sector can recommend my books to students. We can achieve this together.
Any elements of your field of study in your books and can you give insight into your unpublished books, if any?
I studied political science and appreciate the knowledge I acquired. In my book War Without Bloodshed, I adopted some knowledge of my study to expound my comparative analysis and expression of the challenges Nigeria is facing and how to resolve them. When I pointed out these salient issues in 2014, the then government said I was against them, but I have continued to say the same thing with belief that, someday, Nigeria will take its rightful position in the comity of nations. Father Church: A Living Sacrifice is a biography of a Rev. Father. There were no elements of my study in it.