Olukorede Yishau is an award-winning and versatile editor with 23 years of experience. He is a good talent manager and proven newsroom manager. His versatility has seen him winning the prestigious Nigeria Media Merit Award (NMMA) in varying categories four times and being finalist several other times in beats such as political reporting and business.
In 2015, he won the NMMA as Columnist of the year, just a little over a year after his debut as a columnist. At the tail end of the first term of President Obama, Olukorede was inducted into the U.S. Department of International States Visitors Leadership Programme (IVLP) and was invited by the Washington Foreign Press Centre to report the election that saw Obama being reelected. The programme saw him reporting from Wisconsin, Washington DC, Chicago, Milwaukee and Janesville among others. The experience gave him insights into the U.S. local and national politics. Part of the experience makes some chapters of his first work of non-fiction titled United Countries of America and Other Travel Tales.
He has reported from different parts of the globe such as Singapore, China, South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Ghana, and the United States. Aside Journalism, he is also a creative writer. He is the author of the critically-acclaimed novel—In The Name Of Our Father. This work has been the subject of graduate and postgraduate theses and earned a nomination for The Nigeria Prize for Literature.
Yishau’s collection of short stories, Vaults of Secrets, was published in the last quarter of 2020 in Nigeria and August 2022 in the UK. He is putting finishing touches to his third book of fiction. He is also working on a collection of epistolary essays.
He writes a column Above Whispers every Friday in The Nation, one of Nigeria’s leading newspapers, whose US Bureau Chief he is. He has worked with The Source, Tell and The Nation.
Mahmoodah: Good day, Sir. I appreciate that you have granted me this interview. Congratulations on the recent publication of your first non-fiction book, United Countries of America and Other Travel Tales. Tell us something about you that we have not heard before.
Yishau: I have been working on another novel since 2018. It has gone through about five rewrites and edits. It started first as a third person narration all through. I gave it to a two-time Booker Prize finalist and based on his feedback, I returned to it again in 2019 and rewrote it in first person from two different narrators. Later, it was reworked to a mixture of first person narration and third person but not in the same way it was used in In The Name of Our Father. After that, I have been adjusting some details in this text that is an exploration of the concept of the end. Generally, the end is supposed to be the closure of something but in this work, there is more after the end. The end here is the beginning of woes, the beginning of tears, the beginning of sorrow, the beginning of recalling the past and ultimately the beginning of finding peace and starting all over again.
I don’t know when it will be published because I want it to be the best it can be and I have kept passing it around for feedback. Professors have read it. Fellow writers have read it. Editors have read and given feedback and the general opinion seems to be that I’m onto something great and should not give up on it.
Mahmoodah: You have been an Associate Editor with ‘The Nation’ for over a decade now and you have received awards on this note, including being named Columnist of the Year at the prestigious Nigeria Media Merit Awards (NMMA) in 2015. You are doing an excellent job as a reporter. I would love to know how you were able to complete three lovely books—In The Name Of Our Father, Vaults of Secret and United Countries of America and Other Travel Tales—amidst your busy schedule. What advice would you give to someone who wants to merge an active professional life, with writing on the side?
Yishau: When you value something or someone, no matter how busy you are, you will always create time for that person or something. That is true for creative writing. When you love it, not even your busy schedule or active professional life can stop you from creating time for it, even if it means not sleeping enough or sneaking out of office during scarce free periods. So, if you really love writing, your active professional life is not an excuse for you not to write. A man in love will always steal out time for the object of his love and a woman in love will do the same. You can’t love writing and not create time for it.
Mahmoodah: How has your environment and work experience influenced your writing, bearing in mind that one of the characters in “ln The Name Of Our Father”—Justus Omoeko—is a reporter like you?
Yishau: You can feel my work experience as a journalist in In The Name of Our Father. Justus Omoeko’s story is like a clever rendition of the experience of senior colleagues such as Kunle Ajibade. Ajibade, one of the founders of The News magazine, was jailed for life by the Abacha regime and his experience is documented in a memoir titled Jailed for Life. There are readers who felt I was narrating an experience personal to me but no, I only recreated what people like Ajibade went through.
Mahmoodah : In the Name of Our Father, your debut novel narrates the story of a Journalist, Justus Omoeko, who wrote a book—Angels Live in Heaven—to paint a picture of how religious leaders like Prophet T.C. Jeremiah AKA Alani, utilized his office to prey on and scam devouts. Scams taking place via religious umbrellas have become a very common occurrence around here. Could that be the reason why you inflected the same in your writing?
Yishau: The novel’s principal script was written in 2002, and was not published until 16 years later. At the time it was written, the scourge of people using God’s name to deceive others was not this serious but by the time the script became a book, it had reached epidemic proportion and now it looks like it is about to become a pandemic. Interestingly, the principal script and the resulting book has not much difference storyline wise and yet it looks like it is written today despite the huge difference between the time of rewriting and the time of publication.
Mahmoodah: You drew a very realistic connection by linking political and religious mishaps just as they happen. Some part of the story tries to convince me that it is intentional, that you were trying to indeed portray faction. Was my guess right?
Yishau: There is nothing about that novel that was an accident. It was planned to be a blend of fact and fiction. I wrote the beginning and the end first and filled the gap in between. It was planned to have a prologue, a story-within-a-story and some kind of epilogue, which is a continuation of the prologue. So, your guess was right and if you look at the names of the characters, you can almost pick them out. I am sure you know who General Sani Idoti is. Seidu Ilorin is AbdulKareem Adisa, for instance. I just used the name of his town as surname. General Iya Odogbolu is General Oladipo Diya. I made his hometown his surname and removed the first letter of his surname and turned it to his first name. Uche Koba is Olisa Agbakoba who truly went through some of the things recounted. Of course, I added some salt and pepper to it to exercise my creative license. And I am sure you can guess who the Prophet was modeled after. I also used a lot of information we heard as journalists but couldn’t confirm about the military regime. With fiction, I could use them and get away. The link between the political and the religious aspects of the text was based on the belief at the time that the head of the military junta was patronizing pastors and others to remain in power for life.
Mahmoodah: Your style of narration was vivid, using both first and third person narration in the book. The book had three parts. Each part of the book had topical words as its title, which foretold what the readers were about to see and added a stylish tinge of suspense to the story. What inspired this innovation?
Yishau: The use of topical words to represent chapters and give some idea of what the chapter is about was one of the changes I made years after the principal script was written. Originally, the novel had chapter one, two and so on. The idea must’ve been berthed after reading something with no traditional chaperisation model. I can’t really recollect now. If you see the last chapter, it is deliberately titled And It Becomes All Clear because that is where you will understand the link between the two stories. The novel is not one you will appreciate if you skip the first chapter titled In The Beginning. You need to read that part well to understand that what you will read next is a journalist rereading a manuscript that is about to become a book and is the cause of his current woe and the woes to come.
Mahmoodah: Many writers find it difficult to find the right publishers and editors for their manuscripts. Did you face the same situation?
Yishau: Publishing my first novel was a learning curve. It is for most writers. I can thus relate with the question. I will answer you this way: I always say something and it is the fact that publishing is a business while writing is an art. As a writer, you want to write what you’re passionate about but the publishers need to be convinced that what you have written will bring money. Publishing is not a charity. It doesn’t believe in art for art sake. It is art for money sake. If a publisher is not convinced your novel will bring money, it may not be published. Of course, there are instances where rejected manuscripts have ended up being published by indie publishers and they have gone to win Booker and other major prizes and subsequently make money.
Mahmoodah: In the latter part of the book, you painted the picture of how the rulers of the the military era had applied brute force and victimized their citizens over treason charges, especially journalists. One could see this in the cruelty meted out to Justus Omoeko by the Head of State, under the guise of treason. I have seen such vivid descriptions of situations where journalists have been tortured in Débò Awé’s (a Yorùbá literature writer) book, Kannakánná, in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and others. What inspired you to take on that line of narration?
Yishau: For me, my novel started with me wanting to write about a fake Prophet. I remember the first title was even The Prophet. I later felt the urge to link it with military dictatorship and using a journalist to wedge the two plots appeared to me the best. Along the line, I couldn’t escape vivid descriptions of torture and so on. The people went through hell under the military junta following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and the book gave me the opportunity to paint the picture and record it for posterity. It is a book meant to be studied in critical literature classes. Like a colleague noted, it is a book of codes, of hidden messages that can be deciphered in a classroom setting.
Mahmoodah: “Time had dealt a heavy blow on the indicators of a blessed society”. This statement in the book reminds of the themes it discussed; greed, religion, politics, ambition, greed and power. These are issues which are still present in today’s society, in spite of the fact that the timeline of the narration is from an earlier period. If the themes discussed are still as important in the modern day, why did you have the story set in an earlier time?
Yishau: Like I noted earlier, the manuscript was written in early 2000. We were just getting into democracy. So, it actually reflected the right time. It would have been wrong to set a story about the military era anytime later than 1999. The fact that the themes are still as important in today’s Nigeria is an evidence that we are moving in circles. We don’t learn from the past and move away from it. It is also like a confirmation of the saying that “there is nothing new under the sun”. We just find a new way of presenting it.
Mahmoodah: The follow up of events, such as the death of Alani’s son which came after his mistress, Tosin’s death and the fact that his other mistress in the latter part of the story (when he had become Prophet T. C. Jeremiah) abandoned him in a wretched state after tricking him with the same promise of a child that he had forfeited through Tosin. Were these events created to picture nemesis, and how fate deals justice unto mankind?
Yishau: Poverty has been known to drive men and women crazy. But, one thing we all have to be careful about is the reality of nemesis. When bad things happen to people, we wonder why. For some of these people, they only need to search their conscience to know why things are upside down for them. They don’t need a pastor, an alfa or a babalawo to get to the roots of their woes. Nemesis is simply catching up. I created those events to show how fate apportions justice silently.
Mahmoodah: Alani fell in love with Rebecca, a sex hawker, who was led into the vocation by circumstances, and married her. His actions beforehand—of abandoning a pregnant mistress and his family—and afterwards his occult practices which convinces us that he is behind his wife’s inability to bear a child negates each other. Were you trying to portray through that sequence that perhaps, he lost the last ounce of conscience he had after had married Rebecca, and had become quite heartless from that point onwards?
Yishau: Alani was a victim of desperation. We have so many people like him around. I deliberately didn’t expressly say that his actions of abandoning a pregnant mistress and his family and that his occult practices were behind his wife’s inability to bear a child. I simply left that for a reader to figure out. Truly, I was trying to portray through that sequence of events that he lost his conscience to retain the fame and money that came after joining the Brotherhood.
Mahmoodah: The book sought to reveal the different offenses of our society. As well, its final paragraph bore a message of forgiveness, showing how Justus forgave the system that had dealt him harm. Were those series of events not trying to portray that Justus’s feisty spirit had been beaten down in prison since he did not continue his fight for the betterment of society after his release?
Yishau: Justus forgiving those who wronged him doesn’t necessarily mean he abandoned the fight for a better society. He simply chose not to choke on the poison that bitterness is so as to remain alive. We all know bitterness, like poison, is a killer. For a man who had gone through a lot and was only just realising why, it called for sober reflection and a reappraisal of his life goals. Being imprisoned in military era Nigeria was not a pleasant experience. So, he could appear beaten down but it doesn’t necessarily mean he was giving up on social justice.
Mahmoodah: As an author of three books, what would you have done differently with your first novel, if you could go back in time?
Yishau: I will tell you a secret. I have avoided rereading my first novel because it was something I wrote at 22 and I feel that I am more matured in terms of age, language and so on.To avoid the temptation of thinking that I should have done something different, I have only read bits at book readings. I just enjoy feedback from its many fans and endure the criticism from the few who feel the structure is defective.
Mahmoodah Oyeleye is the author of Faded Blues, the winning novel for the Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors 2021 and The Campus Journalism Awards, 2022. She is a member of the Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation. Her works have been on the shortlist and longlists for literary prizes including the Akachi Chukwuemeka Prize For Literature (2023), Writefluenza horror/suspense/thriller contest (2021), Gimba Suleiman Hassan ESQ. poetry prize (2023), Abubakar Gimba prize for short story (February 2021), Wakaso Poetry prize (May 2021) and BKPW poetry contest (February 2022). Her publications have graced and are forthcoming on print/online platforms of the Kalahari review, Atherton review, Honey fire literary magazine, Upwrite magazine, Microfiction Monday magazine, World Voices Magazine, Susa Africa, The green shoes Sanctuary, Applied worldwide blog, Haven Spec magazine and others.
She is an undergraduate student of Economics at the Lagos State University, Ojo. The link to her works is @ linkfly.to/mahmoodahoyeleye