Life throws things your way to make you stronger and to get you better equipped for the future. I arrived at this conclusion while ruminating on the best way to describe my experience in the Nigerian LNG literature Award competition for 2011 which could at best be described as some sort of reality show.
I am a fan of reality shows like Maltina Dance All, Celebrity Apprentice, America, West African and Nigerian Idols and Gulder Ultimate. Prior to my nomination in July 2011, I watched them emotionlessly. I voted a few times to satisfy my conscience. When my children shouted ‘e ya’ for the evictee, I ask them, ‘if you don’t want anyone to go, how will the eventual winner emerge?’
We were looking forward to our oldest daughter Adaeze turning eighteen and auditioning for any of the singing reality show and winning but not Mummy. Then I got nominated, travelling from the road of 126 books from Nigerian writers in Nigeria and in Diaspora to last three standing.
LESSON NO. 1
You just never can tell. Always do keep an open mind.
The competition came with unprecedented massive advert, publicity programs, reading tours and interviews and this further increased the anxiety in us. Every other day there was something about the award and us in one newspaper, magazine or online blog. The result; calls from long lost friends, colleagues and relatives all wishing I win.
LESSON NO 2:
Success has many relatives.
Once the short list was announced, we were left to our fate. There was anxiety as different thoughts ran through my mind but thanks to my bank work that kept me and my supportive family and friends, who were very supportive. My daughter said to me, ‘Mummy whether you win or not, you are our Mummy and we love you.’
Most writers told me that they would be pleased to receive an honorary mention. For them, it was all the endorsement they needed. There was an Abiriba Professor who told Abiriba people that his donation was moral support. An old woman asked, ‘moral support ogbara okpe o ole?’ meaning ‘what is the monetary value of moral support). Getting an honourary mention without monetary reward is never the same.
LESSON NUMBER 3.
Be true to yourself all the time. Express your innermost desire even if it does not come to pass.
I recall attending Chimamanda Adichie’s workshop 2011 and I was amazed at the quality of writing from these young brilliant writers selected from over 600 applicants. The presence of these brilliant minds humbled me. It dawned on me that Nigeria is a vast country where all manners of talents abound and in large numbers, therefore as a writer, if you think you are a super writer, just have a rethink.
LESSON NO 4
Talents abound so be the best in your craft.
I have always admired writers who were nominated for one award or the other. My nomination was so fairytale like. I got to know about the competition three weeks to end of the call for entries. It was an opportunity to publish this work which I had polished till there was nothing to polish. I refused my publisher’s advice to postpone publication and we forged ahead. I took delivery of the book and fell in love with it. I said to my colleagues by faith, ‘this is an award winning book.’
LESSON NUMBER 5
You are not just a number. You are also programmed to succeed. Celebrate others it can be your turn tomorrow. Be not intimidated by imaginary contenders.
LESSON NO 6:
The printers sent only 12 copies to me. I sent off 6 to NLNG and my husband who trusted my publisher and spotted a mistake. It was so huge in my eyes. Tears filled my eyes. How could I have made such a mistake? I wanted a perfect book. However, my friend, Elfrida Igebu said to me, ‘Do you know the legions of mistakes that are in other people’s books?’’
LESSON NO 6:
Surround yourself with positively minded persons. No situation should make you think it is over for it is not over yet until it is over.
A few months down the line, I was on way to Banana Republic with two of my friends Emeka Akparah and Elfrida Igebu to celebrate my promotion. Maiwada called, ‘Madam what book did you put in for NLNG?’ That became one of the high points of my life. I remembered one man brought the news of the death of my mother’s sister and mother to her and seemed to always bring similar news to other people. Till my mother died, when she sees will ask, ‘onyema ihe nwoke a gi bia?’ meaning, ‘who knows what bad news this man is bringing now?’
LESSON NO 7:
People never forget those who give them news; always be harbinger of good news.
I remembered that during law practice in Tayo Oyetibo & Co, I took files home woke up in the midnight or early hours of the morning in crazy Lagos to prepare my submissions for the next day in court. I was never bothered that the court might not sit due to the judge taking his child to hospital, being summoned to Alausa, deciding on taking only the cases of the senior advocates, no power, strike etc. These reasons made me leave for the Bank.
How can I forget Mondays; call over days. I took home not less than five files home. I made sure I attended all of them. It only entailed this fat woman running from ‘up to down, north to south, east to west’. I attended ante natal classes on Saturdays so as not to disrupt schedules. A doctor told me that pregnancy was not a sickness and I believed it.
Now in the bank I converted all those nights of preparing for submissions into writing. During my send forth, my boss said to everyone’s hearing including my husband that I treated the chambers like my personal chambers.
LESSON NO 8:
When you are working for people, work with all your heart for one day you will own your own business.
While the ‘dance’ lasted, I made it a point to enjoy myself thoroughly. I gave interviews and attended readings. I thought of the prize money but again I knew that the last three standing had equal chances. Supposing i was never nominated in the first place?’ I always told myself.
I prayed all manners of prayers. To my chagrin, the last few weeks same praying as follows; ‘God please give the prize to the one who would best utilize it and if I am not ready for this prize now, don’t let me win’. I was under tremendous pressure to with relations, friends and colleagues who were either requesting for a cut or giving me advice on how to spend the money. My father, kind by nature, was on hand to exhume all the people who have been a blessing to me and the entire family. When eventually Adeleke Adeyemi won, I was left alone. Nobody came around to give me suggestions on how to cope with the loss! Reminds you of success having many friends.
I took time to read the judges reports. Their glowing tributes of my book comforted me in no small measure. I made a quality friend in Emma Nwatu of the NLNG who was so professional and advised me to launch deep with the platform created by NLNG and try to reach the ‘proverbial NTA’S 150 million Nigerians.’
LESSON NO 9
Remember to always have fun as life is too short. Though difficult, pray for God’s will to be done.
Now that it is over and I have gone back to my life of writing, I think this 10th lesson is fitting for people in my category.
LESSON NO 10
If you had been in a reality show; you have the platform to perform wonders. People like Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert, Jennifer Hudson, Omawunmi Magbele’s and Temitayo George have performed creditably well. Some winners burn out and develop the ‘I have arrived spirit’. Having not arrived, work hard to arrive.
Chinyere Obi-Obasi can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org