Sunday, 10 April 2016

MEET WALE OKEDIRAN THE LITERARY ICON


 
The Society For Young Writers is holding a national reading day in honour of Dr. Wale Okediran on the 14th of April, 2016. Arrangements have been made by different literary groups and Association of Nigerian Authors Chaptersto celebrate him on this day. What a big honour.

Wale Okediran was born on April 14 1955 in Oyo, Nigeria. He attended the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) where he qualified in April 1980 as a Medical doctor.


After working in a number of government and private hospitals for a number of years, he went into private medical practice in 1987 by establishing the Cornerstone Medical Centre in Ibadan. He remained in active private practice until 1999 when he went into active politics and was appointed Chairman, Oyo State North Hospitals Management Board. He remained in this position until 2003 when he contested for a seat in the Federal House of Representatives, Abuja where he represented his constituency from Oyo state from 2004 till 2007.

His writing career started way back in his secondary school where he was an active member of the school’s press club and debating society. At the University of Ife, he edited a campus newspaper, Rip Off”. He has  published till date twelve novels out of which nine are adult fiction and three are for children. Many of the books are on the reading lists of several Nigerian Universities.

He served Association of Nigerian Authors in various positions; National Treasurer,  General Secretary and later National President of the Association of Nigerian Authors and contributed in no mean measure to the development of Literature in Nigeria.



Your name and possible nicknames:
My name is Olawale (Wale) Okediran but my friends and colleagues fondly call me OKD/ Okedi/Amazda

The Society For Young Writers is holding a national reading day in your honour, how does that make you feel.
Embarrassed, humbled and grateful to God

You are a medical doctor who veered into writing and politics, how did that come about?
I have always loved books. As a child, my most precious moments were spent in the school library. It was therefore not surprising when all the distinctions I had in my ‘O’ levels were in the Arts while I only had credits in my Science subjects.

All my efforts to convince my father to allow me study Mass Communications were rebuffed and I ended up studying Medicine which my father preferred. Along the line, I got drafted into politics by the late Federal Attorney General, Chief Bola Ige who was my mentor.

I later represented my constituency in Oyo State at the House of Representatives in Abuja between 2014 and 2017. Although I greatly enjoy practicing as a doctor, I have been able over the years to successfully combine politics with my writing and medical professions.   


Who were your greatest influencers as a writer?
Apart from famous African Authors such as Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Cyprian Ekwensi, Camera Laye and others, I grew up enjoying Chinese and Russian Literature. I was therefore in addition greatly influenced by Russian authors such as Anton Chekov, Leo Tolstoy, Dostoestovisky, Pasternack among others.



From the records, you have written many books and won awards while being long listed and shortlisted for some; The Boys At The Border,  Shortlist for the 1992 Commonwealth Literature Prize, The Rescue of Uncle Babs, winner of the 1999 ANA/Matatu Prize for Children’s Literature, Dreams Die At Twilight, Longlist for the 2004 NLNG Literature Prize and 2004 adjudged as one of the 25 best published books in Nigeria by Specrum in the last 25 years, Strange Encounters, Winner of the 2005 ANA Prize for fiction, The Weaving Looms Shortlisted for the 2008 Wole Soyinka Prize For African Literature, Tenants Of The House, Co-Winner of the 2010 Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature. What does being listed or given awards do for a writer?
In a positive way, Literary awards and recognitions can help promote a writer’s work and give him/her more confidence to continue in his/her writing career. On the other hand, if not well handled, the awards and the usual public adulation that goes with it can give a writer a false sense of superiority over his peers. This could then make a writer arrogant and repulsive of good advice about his craft leading to a gradual deterioration in the quality his/her works.


Should a writer then write for awards?
No. A writer should only aim at writing a very good book. If the awards now come, all well and good but a writer’s primary aim should not be to win awards but to write very well. This is because as good as they may be, literary awards are very subjective and do not always reflect the best writer. The best indicator of a good book is the reader. Once a writer can garner for him/her self a critical mass of readers, then that writer should feel fulfilled and happy. Literary awards if and when they come are just the cream on top of a cake and not the actual cake!



You set up Ebedi of which I was a beneficiary. Why did you set it and how is it being funded?
The Ebedi Residency came to be when I realized that many writers including myself were always behind in their writing schedules because of the lack of space and time to complete their manuscripts. I have spent money and still do booking into hotels and guest houses just to complete my manuscripts. When I later discussed the issue with my wife, she advised that we convert part of my country home in my hometown, Iseyin in Oyo State into a Writers Residency. Thankfully, with the kind support of the Ebedi Board of Directors, the Residency has exceeded my expectations having hosted over 60 writers from six different countries including Nigeria since its inception in 2010.

Since its inception, the Residency has been solely funded by me but efforts are being made to attract local and international financial support. 



Everyone knows you as someone who is interested in the growth of writers. Why do you bother?
I have always been interested in the intellectual pursuits writing inclusive. This was why I have assisted many indigenous students with bursaries and scholarships. I have also supplied many Libraries with books all in an attempt to promote the Reading Culture in the country. I guess that my parents who introduced me to reading and writing and were excellent promoters of education must have influenced me in this direction.


As President of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) many years ago, what do you consider your biggest achievement during that period?
I will consider the ability of my executive to execute many Literary projects such as Seminars, Workshops as well as mark historic literary landmarks such as the 25th anniversary of Soyinka’s Nobel Prize and 50 years of the publication of Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ as one of my biggest achievements. 

In addition, we were able to establish and empower more ANA state chapters in the country. Since we believed that ANA’s strength lies in the virility of its state chapters, everything was done to make the state chapters active by encouraging them to have regular monthly literary activities with which to encourage and stimulate their members literary abilities.



Association of Nigerian Authors is not as formidable as some people want it. What do you think are the factors militating against the Association?
Funding is a major problem. There is no way one can run a large association such as ANA without adequate and regular funds. As a former ANA’s National Treasurer, General Secretary and lastly, National President, I am very familiar with this problem. Several times, we had to go cap in hand to prospective financiers only to be humiliated or disappointed. In addition, many writers do not have the financial means to support the association while funding of literary activities by the government has not been very encouraging. This usually leads the association to rely on the personal efforts of ANA’s officials to run the association.

The other factor is the occasional bickering among writers over political positions and money especially at the level of the state chapters. Even though the National Executive has always successfully intervened, the time and energy put into this can sometimes drain the association’s limited resources.


You used to be in the House of Representatives. How well do you think law makers in general are tackling their assignments?
My experience as a Federal Lawmaker was fictionalized in my award winning book, ‘Tenants Of The House’. 

From my experience, the Lawmakers are doing their best in the circumstances through which they came into office and the general socio economic situation in the country. Unfortunately because of pressure from their constituents as well as the inherent desire of an average politician to continue to stay in power, corruption and avarice continue to slow down the work of the Lawmakers.

My position is that it is always difficult for democracy to adequately thrive in a society with an endemic level of poverty. Therefore, if we want the best from our elected political officers, we need to adequately alleviate poverty among our people and therefore free both the electorate and the elected from the burden of ‘scavenging’ for economic survival.


A lot of young people are in a hurry to write and be published. What advice do you have for them?
This a major deterrent in the production of quality literary works by our authors. In the advanced countries with a virile and well organized literary culture, there are various literary workshops and writing schools that can help burnish writers’ skills and assist them in the production of quality manuscripts. In addition, in these parts, established publishers have professional editors who will closely scrutinize the works of their prospective authors and before getting them published. Unfortunately here in Nigeria, due to the poor standard of education, some of our University graduates cannot adequately express themselves in English as such, what they write are hardly publishable. In addition, there is a dearth of adequate publishing outlets for even the well written works leading many writers to go for self-publishing. Even though self- publishing in itself is not a bad idea, the hurry and haste in which this is carried out does not allow for any meaningful input by experienced editors and proof readers resulting in badly produced books.



We read some time ago that Tenants in the House was going to be turned into a movie. How far with the project? 
We are in the final stages of accessing funds from our financiers. Every other thing such as casting, location identity as well as screen writing and editing are ready.  We have been very fortunate in signing up some of the best actors and actresses in the country. Hopefully, in the next few months, shooting will commence. By God’s grace, we are looking forwards to a great film.



Who is Dr. Wale Okediran and what does he want to be remembered for after now?
I will consider myself a simple and easy going introspective middle aged man (my friends jokingly call me a ‘fairly used middle aged man’ because of my boyish looks that belie my 61 years)  who is eager to see Nigeria of his dream become a reality in his life time. I am talking of a Nigeria where issues of ethnicity, religion and gender will not be allowed to stop us from becoming a great nation which we should have been many years ago. This is where I stand and would love to be remembered for.


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