Authors- Teju Cole, Helon Habila
Moderator- Kadaria Ahmed
The Cinema Hall at Kuto Cultural Centre was packed full for the book chat between two of Nigeria’s finest authors, Teju Cole and Helon Habila. The chat which was moderated by Kadaria Ahmed, a renowned journalist, was on the newly released books by both authors.
The books – Known and Strange things and Chibok Girls are nonfiction work by both authors. While Teju Cole’s book is a collection of essays, Helon Habila’s described his book as long form journalism which was compiled into a book.
Discussions on the books began with Teju Cole who had written an essay on the Chibok girls’ kidnap. Kadaria Ahmed asked why Teju Cole wrote the essay and why the essay had no additional information that wasn’t already available on the kidnap of the girls.
“Over-night everyone became an expert in Nigerian affairs, everyone had an opinion about what should/shouldn’t be done. It was white saviour complex. The BringBackOurGirls hashtag trended worldwide. I wrote the anti-essay in a cynical way in recognition of the limit of opinion the experts had,” Teju Cole replied.
On Helon’s Chibok Girls, Kadaria Ahmed asked why he wrote a book about the Chibok girls and why the book had no additional information that any other journalist hasn’t written before. “I was in Germany for a year to write a book, but things kept happening in Nigeria. Any time I put on the TV there was news from Nigeria, from my part of Nigeria. So I packed up and came down to write this story on the kidnap of the Chibok girls. I did not want to write about in say 10 years later in reflection. I wanted to write about it now, and the book is long form journalism, my first work of non-fiction.”
The conversation progressed into religion in Nigeria. Both authors agreed that while religion played a role in violence around the world and in Nigeria, it is not the cause of the violence. Helon, described himself as a Christian, northern, Hausa speaking, non-Hausa man, and explained about growing up in Nigeria, living peacefully with Muslims, before the tensions which were mostly politically motivated wrecked northern Nigeria and Jos in Plateau state. “There’s a limit to what religion can do,we are all human beings…there’s a Nigeria before Boko Haram and after Boko Haram, the country has changed forever,” he said.
One thing most people would remember from the book chat was Teju Cole repeatedly saying, “People are stupid!” This was his response to the question by Kadaria Ahmed on his new essay in the NYTimes, A Time for Refusal. He added, “If a mallam tells you to go and blow yourself you go, if a racist fascist man tells you he will make your country great again, you vote for him? Wars, massacres, mass-murders are politically motivated and use religion as a pretext. You don’t need religion to kill twenty million of your people.
“There is something about human beings that is reactive, if you put humans in a situation they will all react in a certain way, except for a handful. This is a time to be difficult, not a time to worry about being politically correct. To curb human stupidity, institutions should be put in place to stop the stupidity from having a multiplier effect. Without education, democracy is useless.”
When he was asked how we should engage with religion to curb religious violence Teju said, “We have been engaging with religion for a while now, now I would like religion to stop engaging with us, we are the victims.” He added that the seeds that produce religious violence are sowed years before and they only start manifesting later. “As far as I can tell, we have a President who hasn’t submitted his totalitarian instinct, what he is doing to the Shiites now is sowing the seeds for evil tomorrow.”
The authors read excerpts from their books and took questions from the audience.
Lucia Edafioka is a writer, music junkie, historian and art lover. She's the staff editor at sabinews.com.