Aoiri Obaigbo is the author of The Wretched Billionaire. The book interrogates the operations of multinational companies in Nigeria and other third world countries where they blatantly shirk their corporate social responsibilities. Obaigbo who was head of media for Shell in Warri for many years is also a journalist. In this encounter with Edozie Udeze he says he used story-telling technique to encourage the young to be good readers and writers.
WHILE he worked with Shell Oil Company in Warri, Delta State Aoiri Obaigbo, a journalist and writer took his time to look into so many problem areas of some multinational in Nigeria. As an author he wrote a book that exposed a lot of ill feelings of this company. His book made a lot of waves when it was published especially as it had to do with his daughter who lost her life during this period.
He said in this encounter that: “As soon as the lock down was in place, I dusted up my #Aospheric project and started editing the first episode for my YouTube channel.
Before ‘Coro’, as we call it in Ogun, I was planning a documentary on the beautiful museum at Pan African University. I was also working on my fourth novel, and distributing the second edition of The Wretched Billionaire through Nipost and my dispatch rider.
The pandemic arrested my nightly muse on the novel which had gone over 50 thousand words. That may be because my daughter was in the UK when the lock down was announced. She managed to get back in time and went into a quarantine situation. My flow also went on quarantine.
Of course, Nipost was grounded and the streets were policed. ‘Coro’ stopped the distribution of The Wretched Billionaire.
#Aospheric became a front burner item after that tremulous moment with my daughter. I was in an emotional freeze until she was certified good to go home.
I had been working on how to get the youths to read African novels by making videos of my works, printing the text on screen, voicing it and using relatable memes to start a trend. I had done a short take and originally planned to shoot my footages by myself, banking on my Mark 3.
In response to #AloneTogether initiative, many photography communities opened up their image rights and creative collaboration got a boost. I plunged right in, using footages from Pixabay, Pixels and Videvo. Dareful offered brilliant visuals, all for free.
The reaction of senior secondary school youths and undergraduates spurred me on. They liked the whole idea and considered the production ‘cool.’ If you work closely with 16 to 26 age bracket, you’ll know that’s a huge endorsement.
First of all, it was in a Shell Nigeria swimming pool that my daughter, Aidevo Ifetiti Merci drowned at age nine. I wrote to Osagie Okunbor, Managing Director of Shell Petroleum, who was Human Resources director when the child drowned, for a memorial project.
Shell Nigeria wrote me a cold blooded legalese claiming that Shell will not honour my little girl because Shell Nigeria was only a tenant of the estate. Yet Aidevo died in their Freeman House clinic and was a learning point in their safety meetings. They also proceeded to secure the pool after Aidevo’s ascent.
I decided to publish The Wretched Billionaire in memory of my beloved. Her favourite songs, I quoted in her memorial page from The Colours of the Wind.
“How high does the sycamore grow?
If you cut it down, then you’ll never know.
So, it’s her tombstone with a difference. I mean the novel, The Wretched Billionaire.
Of course, peculiar situations call for untrodden paths. We are in a digital age, with smart phones, Xbox and an array of films calling to the youths. Reading, especially, reading of African Literature has taken a back seat. Outside the recommended syllabus, most have no interest, no curiosity.
I needed to go to their universe to woo them in their new platforms. I committed to making oral my text, like the master storytellers of Benin City whose voices still ring in my childhood memories. Voices under the moonlight carrying my mind to exotic locations and talking animals. Who can forget the tortoise?
Nobody cares for the moon anymore, except those who plan to fly there with Tesla and Richard Branson. So I needed to offer more than my voice. They are a generation used to impactful cinematography. Nothing less will do. I also needed to address the decay of spellings and the second language speaker’s issues with homophones like ‘allowed’ and ‘aloud’, ‘maid and made.’ I had to sync my voice with on screen text of the novel.
I pulled out their favourite memes and made fresh use of them. Luckily, thanks to a boss like Bisi Daniel, I had learnt to produce respectable video to the oil and gas industry standard. So a convergence of skills from journalism, the literary space, photography, filming, captioning and media made #Aospheric possible.
Covid19 has clearly changed the world as we know it. Online publishing is the inescapable future of writing. The African stories are sadly excluded from the trend. The West is imposing alienating expectations on African Literature. The successes of Achebe, Soyinka and Okigbo have called for a straining that makes a novel conceived in Nigeria indistinguishable from one written by Europeans. Soon, our literature will be as colonised as our dress sense. The texture and nuances of African conversation are being coloured black.
During my creative writers’ workshop organised by Chimamanda, one of my younger mates referred to my dialogue as poetry of the sickening type. Ironically, I was reading from a work that made BBC World Service shortlist.
I was quiet because I knew it was a generational dissonance. Many of these guys don’t even speak their native tongues, so they mistake the imagery of our mother tongue with Shakespearean affectation. All I could see was African Literature standing naked in the rain in the near future, paled like an albino who is desperate to look white. Someone needs to remind the future how our ancestors used their linguistic resources in the past.
Fortunately, for now, social media offers a little democracy. I feel like a traffic warden, doing his token best in a congested terrain.
Am I talking from experience? To respond, I’ll like to point out that all the big masquerades who baked the civil war became political gods and billionaires. What value did they create for Nigeria? Indeed, the wealth of the nation accounts for their scandalous flamboyance in face of progressive poverty. Like my friend, Emeka Uzoatu wrote in Vision Impossible, the vision of a fulfilled nation is nigh impossible. That’s what? It’s wretchedness. Wretchedness is becoming a way of life here. Folks want to be billionaires without providing solutions to any of our social and economic challenges.
I’m not writing primarily because of money. Someone needs to tell our stories. I can afford to be that someone. I have a place to hide my head and Night is coming as I take the curves towards 60, so I’ve got to leave a legacy and teach as many as possible this new way of projecting oral African literature. It’s why I’m the African visual storyteller.
Read the original article on The Nation