“Writing is a muscle, the more you do, the better you get” INTERVIEW WITH JUDE IDADA
By Halima Katun (Literature Voices)
(A winner of the Nigeria LNG Prize for Literature, an AMAA best screenplay award winner, ANAA prize for Drama, a Goethe Institut Afrika Projekt finalist and a finalist in the New Directions Filmmakers of the future project by MNET and was selected for the Toronto International Film Festival’s ‘ADAPT THIS!’, the Afrinolly/Ford Foundation ‘Cinema4Change’ projects and the Relativity Media/AFRIFF Filmmaking project. As a filmmaker, he has written, directed and produced several films, in addition to writing and directing several plays for stage, both in North America, South America and Africa. He has written and published a collection of short stories “A Box of Chocolates”, an anthology of poetry – “Exotica Celestica”; two stage plays- “Oduduwa – King of the Edos” and “Sankara.” The first book in a trilogy of novels: “By My Own Hands” and two children’s books “Didi Kanu and “The Singing Dwarfs of the North” and “Boom Boom.”)
Halima: Good Afternoon sir, it’s a pleasure to be granted this opportunity. You are a very celebrated writer and you did not hesitate to indulge my inquisitive mind. I am most glad. Boom Boom is one interesting book that addresses a very prominent issue. What was the most difficult aspect of writing this book?
Idada: Good afternoon, I’m honoured. Thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed on my book Boom Boom. I am Jude Idada as you know. The most challenging part involved in writing the book was the technicality. As you know, it’s a book that deals with a medical ailment which is Sickle Cell Disorder. The challenge was the scientific part of researching bout the ailment and putting it in words and phrases that would be easily understood by children and will easily capture their attention. Taking the research that was clinical in nature and putting it into a form and a language that children will find interesting, engaging, enlightening, informative and exciting is a no mean feat because writing for kids is in itself very challenging. So taking the words, sentences and phrases to be able to be easy for them to digest, assimilate and find it palatable is not easy considering that I’m someone who writes more for adults. So, I had to make myself think like a child while having information that is more adult-oriented.
Halima: Wow! From your explanation it must have been quite challenging. I must commend you for your effort. Sickle Cell Anaemia is a prevalent plague that has been eating deep into our society and cutting short, the lives of numerous children and youths because of its fatal nature. What prompted you to choose this theme in your book – disease – at a time when Nigerian writers are preoccupied with the themes of sexuality and politics in their works?
Jude Idada: The reason I chose to write about Sickle Cell Anemia is because it comes from a very personal place in my heart. I’ve lost a couple of people over time to this ailment. They are called ‘Warriors.’ It’s important to stress that people who suffer from this disorder are warriors. They battle everyday against an enemy that is pretty chronic. For you to wake up every morning with the knowledge that you have such a disorder and still be willing to live life as best as you can is a very courageous thing to do. I felt it was very important to shed light on Sickle Cell Anemia vis-a-vis the nature, challenges and the stigma associated with it, the best way to manage it and the future concerning it. It was very important for me to pick up this topic. As an artist I always want to add value to public discourse. It propels me to take people closer to how things should be and not how they are. I thought it best that people read about it to change how they see it. A friend of mine in Canada was match-made with a lady in Nigeria and they both had the AS Genotype. We advised him to think better of it as the consequences would be dire. He argued that he was a Born Again Christian and that God would not visit such on his family. So, they went ahead with the marriage and now they have two daughters both with the SS Genotype. So, one of the daughters had an attack and she was crying and saying daddy, ‘Why me?’ and he kept saying ‘God knows best’ and I said don’t put it on God because you went into the marriage with full knowledge of the consequences. So, it occurred to me that maybe when people learn about sickle cell when they’re younger and their characters are not yet formed, when it’s time to make important decisions like marriage they become smarter because information forms their character and attitude towards life. Not just from the place of stigma but of making informed decisions. I also want to see people more informed and educate them that sickle cell patients should be accommodated and not stigmatized. To treat them like normal people and give them all the support, I chose this social issue to champion it because I believe they deserve a better representation in the society. The anaemia itself has to be stopped in its track and that can only be possible through enlightenment and information. And information is better assimilated when it comes through entertainment. That means I’m entertaining you while enlightening you.
Halima: Indeed, it must have taken great courage on your part to carry out this venture; after all, creating awareness is very important, especially for us writers as we must use our voices for the better good. The nature of Osaik’s family is that of love and attentiveness. Perhaps this helped the kids a lot and aided their positive attitudes and admirable qualities. Can you address the importance of having a tight knit immediate environment and how it shapes the lives of children?
Jude Idada: For a child, they need terms of reference; they need a parameter within which to grow; they need a paradigm through which they see the world. This is why they need to be situated within a family structure wherein the members have a bond that is unconditional, supportive and should enlighten them as it concerns the day to day challenges. Osaik’s family is like that and even his Uncle and Aunt that are not purposefully supportive put forth a control mechanism going for him. They’re still terms of referencing and they still offer support. Kompa, his dog, who acts as an emotional anchor, a source of wisdom and all these things help shape Osaik and how he views the world as it is and how it could be. They also build his temperament and personality. Everything that has to do with his family shapes and guides him. The bottom line is that they’re supportive, corrective and they build him into a better person.
Halima: Osaik is a very bright boy with supernatural abilities. He is almost perfect in your description of him without the usual naughtiness that comes with kids of that age. Don’t you think your character is a bit unrealistic while dwelling in the oddities of the Nigerian environment?
Jude Idada: Osaik is not altogether perfect. When we meet him initially he is not yet formed. His mother had not yet told him about the disorder. But in the dialogue on the bed we see his curiosity, we also see his disconnect. We also see the petty jealousy occurring between Osaik and his sister Eghe. He was a work in progress with each subsequent chapter. He was far from perfect. He was a child in formation and he was learning. We see the spiritual connection with earthly realms that inform the tutelage of his character and his ability to understand the world, the desperation of his sister’s situation and his ability to find respite. I hope people see his strength and his evolving and his ability. We meet him as someone who is not a blank slate but as someone who has a history. If we look closely, Osaik evolved over time from the beginning of the book, till the end.
Halima: At the hospital scene where ‘Boom Boom’ was rushed to when she had an attack, we witnessed a typical Nigerian demonstration of a government hospital with staff who display careless and unprofessional attitude towards the plight of patients. Government hospitals are for the masses. If they are so impatient towards sick people, what effect is this on the poor man? Why do they do this in government owned hospitals? Is this something that you have experienced personally? How do you think this can be tackled?
Jude Idada: Yeah, the hospital was a picturesque depiction of what we see at government hospitals. It’s informative and systematic of the nation as a whole where there’s no patriotism and how people view work as it has to do with the government. They feel a disconnect because they feel the government hasn’t treated them well and they don’t owe it anything. But, it’s different in certain private hospitals where they earn higher; hence, they are more courteous and they take their profession seriously. It has to do with the factor of wealth and of nationalism in terms of patriotism. When it has to do with the country as a whole, there’s no ownership and it shows in the work we do and it shows in the pledge and the oath and the allegiance. It shows with even embezzlement and looting because they feel what they’re doing is not wrong. They have a feeling of entitlement. They also think the little they’re doing is even too much. So, they feel being courteous to patients is asking for too much. So, they transfer the angst they have for the country to the patients. I have experienced it personally with my brother who had a heart attack just for us to get to the hospital to find the ER was locked and people were dying, when we finally rushed him to a private hospital the doctors were shocked at his survival. Five people died at the government hospital right before my eyes. The nonchalance was appalling. It’s as a result of lack of connection between the worker and the government as he feels there’s no regard for the work that he does so instead of taking it out on the government, they take it out on the patients that come to them for succour. The government is believed to be a bully but now the worker has turned into one too. I hope that when medical professionals read that scene it will appeal to their hearts and they will start the redemptive journey of change.
Halima: The situation in this country is indeed dire and we hope with time things will improve greatly. Your profile speaks of one that has worked extensively with the film and theatre industry. Should we be expecting movies from you anytime soon? What exactly do you do in this industry? How do you impact young artists in Nigeria with such expertise?
Jude Idada: I like to think of myself as a 360-degree artist. I’m into different areas of entertainment. Be it the written word, the performing world and the recorded world. I try to find the essence of the art form that I am interested in exploring and then fit it to the message that I want to pass across to either the reading public or the watching public. I do a lot of work on stage. I have published plays. I direct on stage. I have acted a while back. I write. I direct and I produce films. I also write songs although I’m a horrible singer. (Laughter) Now to what is to be expected of me. I have a short film that’s coming out soon. I also have a feature film to be out soon and both are in the pre-production shooting in Benin Republic and Nigeria. I have a stage play that’s supposed to be out but for Covid-19, it has been pushed to next year. I also have an audio play to be out soon. I want to influence or assist upcoming filmmakers and actors and fellow stage artists by getting them to understudy my work and work with me by employing them and I get to pass what was passed on to me by the people upon whose shoulders I stand. Notable people from the University of Ibadan Theatre Arts Department like Professor Femi Osofisan, Professor Dapo Adelugba, Professor Remi Bamidele to mention but a few, all passed on to me the ethics of the profession and the skill set needed and that’s what I want to pass on to people who I will be honoured to teach. I have also organised writing competitions; for example, Sandra Whitley’s Prize for Children’s Literature. I also do some teaching at the Society for Performing Artists of Nigeria, free teaching. I teach Acting, Screenwriting and Directing. I give my services free of charge a lot, to be able to pass down the experience and the skill set to people who are coming up.
Halima: Your versatility is inspiring. You explore almost all aspects of literature and the arts. So, why is it that all of your published books are children’s literature? Is there a reason for this preference? I would say you should list some of your works for me but you already did, so what next should we be expecting from you? Any shift from this genre in the nearest future? Any adult book in the making?
Jude Idada: I actually have an adult novel, which is the first book in a trilogy, which is called ‘By My Own Hands.’ I’m working on the next trilogy which is ‘By Your Own Hands’. So, I do write for the adult audience. I have a collection of short stories which is called ‘A Box of Chocolate’ which are adult stories. I have published plays. I have a collection of poetry which is called ‘Exotica Celestica’ which is a collection of erotic poems told from the angle of the spiritual. I’ve written a biography for somebody. I have three books coming out soon. One is called ‘I Have a Father’. Another one called ‘How To Be Human And Not a Colour’, Which is about my encounters with racism while living abroad and the last one is called ‘Only Crazies Are Born In April’. It’s about my time as a young boy living in Ikoyi and Victoria Island Lagos. I’m also writing another novel for adults. So, like I said I’m a 360 Artist. I explore everything. My audacity is to engage with the public irrespective of tribe, religion, sexual orientation, sexual identity and creed. I Just want to write for people and add a thread to the tapestry that is called ‘Life’ and add value to it. I want to leave existence better off than I met it. I hope my art finds everybody because there’s a space in it for everybody no matter who you are. I’ll keep writing until the curtain drops. I’ll keep expanding myself and I’ll keep taking from people because by taking you’ll enrich yourself as long as you’re open to giving back. Every encounter including this one with you is an opportunity to be enriched and be better than before. Because the questions you’ve asked have allowed me to open my mind and go back to my past and really self-reflect, which is important for growth. So, I am growing and I hope the people who read it will also grow.
Halima: Speaking of your book on racism, there is a new round of exodus to the West by young Nigerian writers after the episode of the 90s. What could be responsible for the new wave of migration? Does it grow the Nigerian literature? In your overview, are they striving better than those at home? Is this why you shuttle between Canada and Lagos?
Jude Idada: My writing about racism is a continuous commentary on the experiences I have, just to add to the dialectics that push mankind forward in terms of identity, aspiration and the cross-examination of ideas and lifestyle. The exodus of young Nigerian writers is commendable because obviously there is a growth in terms of exposure to different cultures and different thought systems. I believe as an artist your craft is bettered through exposure but it is also important not to allow ourselves to be entirely validated by the west. That means we shouldn’t buy into that commentary that says unless the west validates us, we are not yet writers. We are writers irrespective of the west. We are complete and we’re whole. We’re contributing and self-enforcing of our ideas and beliefs. It is encouraged that they go abroad to learn and write, also to attend writing schools, etc. But it is important that they hold on to self, hold on to what they are about, the uniqueness of their purview and their voice. They shouldn’t become what the west believes an African writer should be. There’s also an economic angle to it as publishing in Nigeria is not as lucrative. They go to the west to get all the economic enablement and also the network and the exposure. We even see it in the prizes. The foreign sponsored prizes and the local sponsored prizes are polar-wide. The average Nigerian will prefer to win or associate with the foreign sponsored prizes more. I believe we should support what we have at home and push it because if we do not value what we have at home, who will? And if we don’t celebrate it, who will? Though I do understand why. It is because the local writing scene comes with so much drama, dysfunction and economic handicap, poor distribution, and so much more. So, people prefer easier ways, which is very understandable but the most important thing is that we mustn’t lose ourselves in pursuing greener pastures.
Halima: Thinking back to how Eghe Boom Boom had to be transported abroad to be successfully operated upon. You also partly stay in Canada and nobody writes about a disease without research. What are the statistics of Sickle Cell Anaemia over there and here comparatively, in terms of number and care? What are the points of differences in Canadian and Nigerian healthcare systems? What measures do you think the Nigerian Government can adopt so as to make the healthcare system equipped enough to treat its citizens without having to travel abroad?
Jude Idada: In terms of Canadian health care system, there’s a lot of engagement there but as you know Sickle Cell Anemia is something that affects people of African heritage mostly: Continental Africans, Africans in Diaspora, African Americans, African British, Afro Europeans. It also affects Asians, people of Mediterranean origin, the Greeks, people from Cyprus, Turkey, etc. So, because of that it doesn’t have a lot of resonance in the Caucasian Communities, which are predominantly Western. There are still a select number of health institutions in the west that engage the disorder in terms of research, to find efficient and effective management of the condition. With the recent advancement in medicine, there’s now Stem Cell Therapy; hopefully, in the coming years there will be other advancements. Then we can also help by checking our life choices in terms of marriage. Statistically, Nigeria is the epicentre of Sickle Cell Anaemia. We produce over half of the Sickle Cell cases in the world yearly which is over 50,000. So, if Nigeria can tackle Sickle Cell, then there will be a great dent in it, worldwide. I think a law should be passed to the effect that whoever holds a public office should not be allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment. When the political class realises that Nigerian healthcare system is all that they have, they’ll put their money where their mouth is. They’ll have no choice but to revamp the healthcare system. I think when that is done our medical system will boost overnight.
Halima: I must say your ideas are quite insightful, I only wish your ideas will be put into consideration and effected. Moving on, you won the Nigeria Prize for Literature in the Children’s Literature Genre for 2019. How does it feel to be sitting there, waiting, and be announced as the winner of the highest prize for the country’s literature? What profound thing have you done with the money in support of literature in Nigeria?
Jude Idada: I was honoured really. Well, there was the usual apprehension but I knew it wasn’t in my power whoever wins, but I realized we were all winners for even being shortlisted. Speaking on what I’ve done with the money; as I said, I have the Sandra Whitley’s Prize for Literature. I’ve used some of the money to buy books and give them out to schools and then I’m working on some other projects which will come out in the nearest future as it concerns my contribution to writing, literature, publishing and the arts in general. I’m really honoured that I wrote something and people found it deserving and doubly blessed that it had something to do with a course that is even greater than me which is Sickle Cell Anaemia.
Halima: Writing is a way to educate the world. Every writer is an activist. It’s a way for people to see into your mind and reach into what goes on in our head. It’s a unique way of creating awareness. From your book, we can see that you’re also using your voice to educate the world about a relevant issue. What is your current focus on the many ills of the world? How do you intend to battle it?
Jude Idada: Well thanks a lot, presently I’m dealing with identity issues and cross-cultural fertilization as it concerns belief system and self-worth, self-description and group description and the intent of migration and cultural assimilation. So, I’m dealing with things like racism and all the attendant evils that go with it. I’m writing a play, which I’m working on putting as an audible play so you can listen to it as an audio. Then, my collection of short stories, “How To Be Human And Not a Colour” I’m really concerned about that because they say a man is as good as what he defines himself as. And they say you give a dog a bad name to kill it. It’s important for me being an African that my self-worth and my identity and the dialectics of my engagement with life is totally rooted in who I am positively. There’s an identity crisis going on in Africa and the world at large. So, it’s important that we know who we are so we are not described for who we are not. Our character impugned and this insidious campaign to make us think that we are less than we are so that they can take as much as they can from us, is stopped in its tracks. So, I’m exploring that in my works. I’m very interested in that and that’s what I’m focused on right now which is lifting high the African standard in terms of philosophy, belief, approach to life and way of life. We’re rich people with a proud rich heritage. It’s important that our history be understood and is told by us so that the Africans that exist now and those that are yet to come will be grounded solidly in the positive imagery that we are.
Halima: Boom Boom is a story about bravery, hope, perseverance and love. There are a lot of things we do not achieve because of our inability to believe. Boom Boom was saved because of her brother’s belief in their mother’s star. We can do so much if only we believe. I’ll like you to put in a little word for young writers out there. What should they believe in their art? How do you think success can be attained?
Jude Idada: I think that first of all, to write is to express and when you look at it in the simplest form of it being an expression of self; a revelation of a mind that has a message or a story to tell. You will be able to scale the first huddle. Most people look at writing as a high value thing that the mere thought of it begins to create obstacles. Maybe just look at it as talking, conversing and sharing. It opens your mind. It lowers the walls and destroys the fences that seek to separate you from your audience. My advice is firstly, why do you write? Is it a pressing desire to communicate? Do you write from an angle of adding value? Writing should be looked at as a call to service; an opportunity to give. Because when you look at what you write as going forth from you and it’s going to achieve a purpose that’s even greater than you. When you look at it from that perspective that you’re giving life through what you write then you will be more enthused to push through those cobwebs that seek to hold you down. Writing is a muscle, the more you do, the better you get. As a writer you have to read, the more you read the better you write, the more you take in, the more you can give out. Inspiration is about watching the world around you and you keep asking questions. The more you ask the more you find inspiration. Observe people and model your characters after them. You will never run out of ideas as long as you ask questions. The what if’s, the why’s the when’s. Then you must be merciful to yourself, be kind to yourself. Do not push yourself too hard. Yes, you want to write for quality, you want to write to make a statement but also remember that good writing is all about rewriting. After writing something, step away from it for some days then come back to it with fresh eyes then rewrite. So, the more you rewrite the better it gets. Diligence is the word, reading is the practice, writing is the call and you must always have a voice, a voice enabled and informed by a unique purview of the world and the purview itself is built on the foundation of knowledge. Thank you so much for the interview. I’m honoured. I hope as writers we will keep on carrying the beacon of hope that we are. We will keep on showing the world not just as it is but as it should be that we will be the last people standing when everything has gone to the docks. It will be us still defending the core of humanity. May our voice keep being the conscience of the society. May our thoughts keep on being the vehicles that take us to where we’ve never been. And May our courage be the language of life.
Halima: Indeed, thank you very much once again for the opportunity. You are one fountain of knowledge. I hope that one day when you and I and all of us are gone, our voices will continue to resonate in this life and all the lives to come.
Jude Idada: Thanks.
Halima Ahmad Katun has a Bachelor of Law Degree (LL. B) from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where she was an executive member of the Creative Writers’ Club, Kongo Campus. She also served as a Public Relations Officer, Secretary and finally Head of Drama and Publicity in the institution. Her work was featured in an Anthology on sexual violence: “My Name Is Sorrow”, published by the Creative Writers’ Club, Kongo. She is from Niger State and a member of the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation, Minna. She holds strong views on human rights, feminism, gender inequality and violence. She loves to read more than she loves to write. Email- firstname.lastname@example.org, Instagram – haleemah_katun, Facebook – Haleemah Ahmad Katun, Twitter- haleemerh_katun, WordPress – haleemerhkatun.wordpress.com, LinkedIn- Halima Ahmad.