14 November 2013

A STROLL WITH TADE IPADEOLA (For Day Of the Imprisoned Writer)

“The writer’s curse is that even in solitude, no matter its duration, he never grows lonely or bored.” ~Criss Jami

Some writers don’t just write stories to tickle fancies. They use their pens as megaphones to speak against powers that try to deny people the basic human right of freedom of expression, and often these writers are persecuted, imprisoned, and even killed. That is why since 1981 PEN International has dedicated November 15th to draw attention to persecuted writers around the world.

My guest on the stroll today is a poet, lawyer, and the president of PEN Nigeria. He’s also the winner of the prestigious NLNG Prize for Literature (2013)—one of the biggest literature prizes in Africa—for his book the Sahara Testaments; which has attracted a lot of positive reviews from around the world.

He told me about some imprisoned writers around the world and how we can help them; the secret writing process behind the Sahara Testaments; the various projects PEN Nigeria is involved in; and so much more.

Here’s what we discussed;

Ebenezar: Hello Mr Tade, thanks for having this stroll with me.

Tade: Great talking with you Ebenezar

Ebenezar: First of all, I want to say congratulations on winning the 2013 NLNG Prize for Literature, It was well deserved. The Sahara Testaments is your 3rd volume of poetry, so when did you start writing?

Tade: Thank you very much. I began writing The Sahara Testaments in 2009. I published some of it in newspapers from time to time. I finished the writing in 2012.

Ebenezar: The NLNG Prize is not your first award, you also won the Delphie laurel in 2009 in far away South Korea. Talking about Awards and prizes, recently Etisalat launched a flash fiction competition that generated a lot of reaction on social media because of the way it was organized. Many people called it a 'Popularity Contest' and felt it was an embarrassment to writing. What do you think about this competition? And do we need more competitions and prizes for young writers?

Tade: We need more literary competitions, more support structures for writing. We need writer residency structures. None exists in any of our universities and that is a shame. What we don't need are popularity contests. If a prize sponsor or organizer really desires to support literature, then proper judges should be sought and remunerated for work done on entries specifically prioritizing literary merit above crowd-sourced endorsement.

Ebenezar: In recent years many Nigerian writers both home and abroad have been
winning competitions around the world. Is this a sign that this emerging generation of Nigerian writers will be able to equal the feats of Late Prof. Chinua Achebe, Prof. Wole Soyinka, and the likes?

Tade: Nigeria is a large country and if we are doing the correct things then our young people should be bringing their stories to the world proportionately. Unfortunately, educational institutions in Nigeria have declined drastically from the standards they had in the '60s and '70s. It will be a miracle if this generation has an answer to J.P Clark or Wole Soyinka. We ought to be doing better than that generation of writers but where are the critics? Where are the schools?

Tade, Prof. Soyinka and others pose for the camera at a Literary event
Ebenezar: Let's talk about the Sahara Testaments now, it's a great collection addressing so many issues in the society today. It's made up of 1000 quatrians? I mean, I know how difficult it is to write just one quatrian. So how did you do it?

Tade: Frankly, now that I've written The Sahara Testaments, I don't know how I did it. I'm not likely to attempt anything like that again. I had to leave many things so I can attend to this one book. I wrote, on the average, a quatrain a day, over a period of four years. My editors trimmed it all down to what you have now. Benson Eluma and Biyi Olusolape took about 6 months editing the work to give it a better shape and coherence. Writing it had a tinge of near masochism.

Ebenezar: Okay, today is 'Day of the Imprisoned Writer' founded by PEN International and the aim is to increase the public's awareness of persecuted writers. What can we all do to help persecuted writers in Africa, and the world at large?

Tade: PEN works to create awareness of the conditions under which writers labour. We name writers under incarceration in specific countries. So we inform the world that Ethiopia is still keeping Eskinder Nega in prison custody for no just cause, that Mexico is still the most dangerous country in the world to be a writer, that Nigerian authorities still demand that journalists reveal their sources and that the Freedom of Information Law lacks teeth, that Kazakhstan still won't disclose where the writer Aron Atabek is being held in October of 2013 an unacceptable situation under international law, that journalists are still under censorship in Russia and China especially today. PEN creates awareness that much human progress rests on freedom of thought and expression.

(image credit: PEN)
Ebenezar: As President of PEN Nigeria, what projects are you and your organization working on to foster reading and writing in Nigeria?

Tade: We are currently setting up PEN Centre in Nigerian universities, this creates early consciousness in prospective writers of the power of writing. We are involved in setting up access centers for literature and also we are administering a prize for online published works together with Saraba Magazine.

Ebenezar: Writing as an art can be a very 'imprisoning' career, in the sense that you write and read to yourself most of the time, and it takes a while sometimes before you get heard. So what advice do you have for young writers about this solitary process?

Tade: Never be in a hurry if you want to be a writer. The wrong idea that writing makes you a superstar somehow doesn't help. Writing is, as you have said, a very lonely exercise. Some writers don't get any recognition until they are dead and gone.

Ebenezar: Apart from writing you're also a Lawyer, and I'm sure your practicing. Knowing how demanding law can be, how do you balance the two? Do you write poems during recess in a court case or...? (hehe)

Tade: Over the years I have narrowed my area of interest to Intellectual Property law and some real estate law. This is how I cope.

Ebenezar: Finally, when should we expect your next collection?

Tade: I hope to have a book ready for 2016. I'm working at it. Wish me luck!

Ebenezar: (hehe) Of course! Goodluck sir. Thank you so much for speaking with me Mr. Tade, God bless you.

Tade: Thank you too Ebenezar.

For more from Tade(@tadepen), you can find him on facebook at Tade Ipadeola

The pen will always be mightier that the sword, that is why no matter how much principalities try to persecute writers, the word will always get out. It’s wrong to arrest bloggers, writers, animators, etc, who are speaking against oppression! Freedom of speech is a fundamental right and no one should be denied of it.

Governments—whether you’re practicing democracy or communism—should make sure nobody is denied of their basic human right of freedom of speech. I call on writers to pick up their pens and speak for their fellow imprisoned writers around the world. May the souls of all writers who have died in course of fighting against repression rest in peace.

Till my next stroll; Jesus Loves You

Ebenezar Wikina(@EbenezarWikina)

All Rights Reserved

A Stroll with Kukogho Iruesiri Samson
A Stroll with Merit Gogo-fynface
A Stroll with the CNN Freedom Project
A Stroll with the International Slavery Museum


  1. an interesting sytroll this is.From confined writers to the oft confined process of writing, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. BEAUTIFUL!! Thanks for sharing!!