Nigerians don’t read as expected – Onuora Nzekwu (Eze Goes To School author)

Posted: March 3, 2012 in arts/culture

Born to Mr. Obiese Nzekwu and Mrs. Mary Ogugua Nzekwu (nee Aghadiuno), both of Onisha in Anambra State, on February 19, 1928, Joseph Onuora Nzekwu, author and journalist, started life as a school teacher.

He joined the Federal Civil Service in January 1956 as Editorial Assistant at the Nigeria Magazine Division of the Federal Ministry of Information, a division responsible for the production Nzekwu rose from Editorial Assistant (1956-1958) the Editor of the Magazine. He ran the Nigeria Magazine Division of The Federal Ministry of Information until the Nigerian Crisis compelled him to transfer his services to the Eastern Nigeria Public Service in the last quarter of 1966.

In Eastern Nigeria, Nzekwu converted to Senior Information Officer, a duty post in which he combined the roles of Information Ministry and Cultural officer. In 1968, he was promoted Deputy Director of the newly created Cultural Division.

At the end of hostilities in January, 1970, Nzekwu returned to the Federal Ministry of Information in May and was posted to the information division as Senior Information Officer.

Both in his capacity as Protem General Manager, which he was until July 1, 1979, and Substantive General Manager, which he became on that date, Nzekwu as Chief Executive, modelled and piloted NAN to maturity. Nzekwu retired from the Nigeria Public Service in 1985, after presiding over the affairs of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) for nearly eight years and servicing his country’s government for 39 years.

A Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in 1961 enabled Nzekwu to study American Methods of Magazine Production with Crafts Horizons in New York. It also enabled him to travel to lowa, Mexico, the West Indies and England. Towards the end of 1964 he studied Copyright Administration for three months in Geneva, Prague, Paris, London, New York and Washington with a UNESCO Fellowship.

Nzekwu has three published novels to his credit. Huthinsons, London, published his Wand of Noble Wood in 1961, Blade Among the Boys in 1962 and Highlife for Lizards in 1965. His Troubled Dust, a novel based on the Nigeria Civil War is published in 2012.

In 1977, Nzekwu published his first non-fiction work titled: The Chima Dynasty in Onitsha, in which he presented the history of Onitsha through an account of the reign of its monarchs. His Faith of Our Fathers, a compendium of the arts, beliefs, social institutions and code of values that characterize the Onitsha traditional community was published in 2003.

Together with Professor Michael Crowder, a renowned historian, university lecturer, author of books on African history, he co-authored Eze Goes to School and Eze Goes to College; two school supplementary readers first published by African University Press in 1964 and 1988 respectively.

Nzekwu’s hubbies are fiction writing and choral music. His current interests include researching Onitsha history and traditional culture.

Nzekwu married Onoenyi Justina Ogbenyeanu, daughter of Chief Isaac Aniegboka Mbanefo, Odu II of Onitsha, in June 1960 and was inducted into the ancient and prestigious Agbalanze Society of Onitsha in May 1991.

On August 8, 2006, NAN observed its 30th Anniversary, during celebrations at Abuja, to mark the occasion the Agency presented a plague to Nzekwu as a “Maker of NAN.” In December, 2008, he was conferred with the Nigerian National Honour of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON).

In this interview with VICTOR NZE, Nzekwu gives an insight into his latest work, his opinion of contemporary Nigerian writers, and many more.


Can we meet you, Sir?

My name is Odinigwe Joseph Onuora Nzekwu, I was born in 1928 at Kafanchan in Kaduna state. My father worked with the Nigerian Railways and was transferred to Kafanchan and there I was born.

I started school in Kafanchan till Standard Four in 1939 when my father died, I moved back to Onitsha, my home town, stayed for only two months. When my father’s younger brother arranged for me to join him in Zaria, he too worked in the railways and lived in Zaria for about three months and then he was transferred to Kano. I completed my elementary school in Kano, I completed my standard six in Kano and I have to move down to Onitsha to start looking for a secondary school. I repeated Standard six in Onitsha and thereafter I went to St. Anthony’s elementary teachers training college, from St. Anthony’s I moved into St. Charles.

Sir, you have been a writer, a reputable writer, what will you make of today’s writers in Nigeria?

I haven’t read many, it’s either I don’t have money when they are published to buy or I was not in a situation to buy or to get a copy to read. But the few I have read are a credit to Nigerian writers.

After all these years, what will you say have sustained you in writing?

One writes from experience and with things that are happening around us. A writer has an opportunity at any given period to pick up a subject that will interest him and once you are interested, you begin to devote your time to follow it up.

What will you say should be the focus of Nigeria upcoming writers?

They should be of acceptable standard anywhere in the world that should be their target and, their objective. They should try and explore our surroundings because what happened in the early past was like books we had to read were based not on life here but on life outside our territory. And I think that would be one of the main attractions of children going to school because children of school age in those days were living about Jack and Jill, Robbinson, neglecting their own environment but I think that what make children go to school is the fact that they go with the present situation and children who are reading books very well, if you told a lie they will know and nobody is interest in evil. It’s the good side of the life that attracts people so we should try and explore our own environment.

Last Thursday, you officially launched a new book; can you tell us about it?

Again, it’s just what we have just described, it deals with a situation that we are very familiar with; a situation we are all players. The book was officially launched last Thursday, February 23, titled Troubled Dust to mark my 50 years of publishing under the chairmanship of Ambassador Arthur Mbanefo at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) complex, Iganmu Lagos.

When you say we are also players, could you be a little precise?

Political disturbances in this country in the 1965-66 that led to the Nigerian civil war in 67; All Nigerians are all party to it, either as participants or spectators in one way or the other we are involved. And this book deals with the situation in the country from 1966 to 1970 that was even the period of the crises, the misunderstanding and the war. I am aware that people have written on the war but they wrote from the point of view of fighters, military people. So, we are one of those journalists who wrote something. This book is a story, it is not a desk book nor on the wall or whatever, it is a story of a man, a woman and their children who were here that period.

The point is that whoever  reads whatever he looks at and thinks that he will gain something by reading the book will want to be there so as to get himself a copy or know how he can go about getting himself either a copy or borrow something to read, of history.

What will be your advice to Nigerian writers especially the young ones and how would you describe their reading standard?

The fact of the matter is that Nigerians don’t read, they don’t read as much as one would have wanted them to read;  as much as will produce changes in their lives.  Really, life in Nigeria has shifted a lot when we were are children in elementary school we know what pressure our parents put on us in order to justify the fee they paid and teachers went out of their ways to make sure that children learn what they were taught; it was not just enough seeing you come to school every day and go, they make sure through tests, through examinations, that you are assimilating what they were impacting.

The truth is that a lot of people’s reassessment of life and living has changed very much from what it used to be and because of this their approach to bringing up their children has shifted from the approach that was used in our younger days. When we were young if we are walking along the street and we do something funny, the elder by way side will either hit your head or cane you.

“Go and call your father, or go and call your mother,” you will cry and go and tell them, they will first rush out, “who is the man, where is the man” or before they ask you where is the man or before they confirm the man, they will ask why did he hit you, what did you do “I didn’t do anything.” “And he hit you” and then they will see the man who beat you, see the cane in his hand “Why did you beat him” they will ask “Didn’t your son tell you what he did, did you teach him to urinate on the street, to walk along the street?” “Was that what you did?”  Your father will take the cane and hit you some more, your mother will beat and lock you inside, next day, you will know that you did something wrong.

Then, neighbour and friends and even strangers take delight in helping you develop manners so, but today it is different, you put a boy in school, a teacher beats the boy in school, the boy runs home to tell his father or mother, they both get themselves sticks because they are going to the school, go and show us the teacher and in the presence of all the school children they start beating the teacher without asking what the problem was. So, we need to re-orientate ourselves, maybe we look back at how our elders brought us up and see what we can transfer from their method or their approach and develop ourselves well because until we do, we will keep sinking and sinking.

  1. Gambo Achuku says:

    pls i need summery of eze goes to college

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