MUST READ: Young Writer that is making Nigeria Proud, Jeff Unaegbu, speaks to No

Date: 07-03-2011 12:08 am (9 years ago) | Author: Amara
- at 7-03-2011 12:08 AM (9 years ago)
Among the Writers that are making Nigeria proud is Jeff Unaegbu (born Elochukwu Jephthah Unaegbu on October 1, 1979). He is a poet, short story writer, actor, fine artist, and documentary filmmaker.


Unaegbu was born in Amankwo-Inyi village, Oji River LGA of Enugu State, Nigeria, the first child of five surviving children to Mr. John Ejike Unaegbu and Mrs. Cecilia Enonanma Unaegbu. He started his education in a kindergarten school at Jama’are, Bauchi State in 1981 where at the age of 2, he began to draw prolifically.

Unaegbu sat for Common Entrance Examination in Primary Five and graduated with the best result in Niger State for the 1989/1990 session, and gained admission into Government Secondary School, Minna in 1990. He attended Muhanatu Computer Institute, graduating in 2000 with distinctions in Certificate and Diploma in Computer Data Processing. He then attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka from 2002–2006, graduating with second class in Mass Communication. As a student, Unaegbu served as the Editor-in-Chief of the university’s Roar Magazine. He also won faculty and poetry prizes.

Unaegbu arrived in Lagos in 2001 and became an Executive Officer of the Lagos State Council of Tradesmen and Artisans in the Ministry of Commerce at Alausa, Ikeja. Based upon his experiences, he wrote his first book, This Lagos Na Wa (Ode on Lagos) and other Poetic Portraits which was published in January 2006, he has ever since wrote several other books, like Freedom in our bones and the origins of NYSC

Recently, Jeff Unaegbu speaks sat down with NOLLYWOODGOSSIP‘s LIVE ONLINE WITH DELIA.  Enjoy!

How would you describe yourself?

Jeff Unaegbu is a simple easy-going fellow who loves nature and the amusements that life offers, even in deep stress. I am not perfect, mind you. Every day offers new opportunities that nudge at my person and make me react in ways that people may read later as books, listen as songs, watch as movies or see as pencil drawings. I think those four windows are my best interests, and from them, I look at and talk to the world. I play hard. I relax like a baby. And I try to work harder, keeping in mind the importance of allowing other people to have access to me, or else I may make a bad father or mentor, when the time comes.

Tell us what your growing up was like?

It was filled with an ambience of love and care. I was the first surviving child. My elder sister died shortly after she was born. As the first son, I instantly became my mother’s pet and my father’s fantasy. My dad, then a wealthy building contractor, bought a big toy car for me. It was a sensation in those days for my peers who would wonder as I climb aboard the little car and rode expertly around the village compound. Though I was born in my village of Amankwo in Inyi, I was taking to northern Nigeria as a baby and I grew up in Jama’are in Bauchi State of Nigeria.   

People always say that you could actually know what a child will become from tender age. Do your parents always know that you will one day be a writer?

I would say that at the age of two, I began to do pencil works. My mother told me that I spontaneously began to draw a man who was quenching his thirst with a chilled bottle of Coke he had bought from her kiosk. The man said, aha, that this child was cut out for drawing. So, my parents knew to some extend that my hands will be very important to me when I would grow up. Though my Dad would have loved I turned out a Computer Scientist, but what is in you is what is in you. You can’t change that.

Jeff Unaegbu
At what age did you write your first book or Poem? And what inspired you to do that?

I started writing at the age of sixteen. This was six years after I stepped into a place called a “Library: Children’s Section” in Minna, Niger State. My first novel, “Venom” which was about a young man and his Sugar Mummy was never finished. My first book, “Ode on Lagos and Other Poetic Portraits” was successfully published in January 2006 when I was 26 years and some months. I was inspired to do my first work by the sheer nature of stimuli in major cities like Lagos and Onitsha in Nigeria. Everyday the drama in the hustle and bustle in these cities cry out to be made into movies, captured in paintings and songs and books. The stressors were my inspiration.

Your Poem won the longest poem; was the poem written intentional?

I must confess, I did not set out to write the lead poem, “Ode on Lagos” in such a way as to make it the longest poem in Nigeria. I just wanted to capture everything that interests me about Lagos. But by the time I was halfway through it, a funny sense of destiny came upon me that this poem may turn out the longest. It was very stressful writing it because I had to make sure that each of the 668 lines of the poem is exactly 10 syllables and that they rhyme alternately from the beginning to the very end. I must say it’s a miracle to me that the poem still made sense after that lovely adventure of arranging meters.

I’ve read a few short stories you posted on facebook. Another writer even commented that he has never tried  writing short story. Tell us which is hard to write, writing short stories or …?

Well, I think it depends on the writer and his or her orientation and inclination. But generally, it is not easy doing a short story and it is even harder doing one that is below 600 words. This is because you are supposed to put emotion, action, imagery, setting, dialogue, plot, characters and climax all in one short story! If you are not careful, it will appear overdone. If you are too careful, it may turn out watery like a hurriedly-made pap. A novel gives you room to fly and jump and run and then at the end put a full stop. The only thing that may have you thinking seriously in a novel is how to retain the interest of your readers, that is, how to create an abiding suspense from the first page to the last page.

You made a documentation on the history of Nigeria which is very interesting and educative too. How did you come about the facts you employed in backing up the history?

It was not easy at all. Just like in writing a book, I had to source for research materials, in this case, video clips. Some of the clips are as old as sixty years! For example, a clip on Azikiwe speaking in London was videoed in 1947! I got it from the BBC. I also consulted books on that amazing man. The information formed the voice-over narration. Actually, it was Mbazulike Amaechi that I visited. He was Azikiwe’s close confidant in those days. We took a picture together. There is also a picture of himself and Azikiwe together. How I wish I had seen and talked with the man himself!

Is any University in Nigeria using any of your book or documentation? And if yes, what benefit do you think it’ll be to the students?

The English Department and the General Studies School of the University of Nigeria are using my first book as texts for their students. The NYSC informally allows its youth corp members to buy another of my books, “The Origins of the NYSC”. This book keeps me busy all round the year, doing more and more impressions for new corpers.

Do you have any books in the market? If yes, how can fans can get them?

Having a book in the market is a thing of strategy. I noticed that books are bought by Nigerians only if the books are really very important in putting food on the table of the buyer! So I follow the school system which recommends and then I point out to students where they can get them. Bookshops may keep a book for many years without selling them. And aggressive advertisements for a book may backfire in terms of expenses and little turn-out in the actual purchase of the book by those who have become aware of its existence. Therefore, I directly ship my books to a region of high concentration of its awareness at a given time. I will not take “Ode on Lagos” to NYSC camps, rather the other book I mentioned will do well there and will only do well there during orientation periods. So also, the NYSC book will not gather muster in the open market. It is a thing of strategy. Nevertheless, all my eleven books are accessible in the University of Nigeria Bookshop at Nsukka and the National Mathematical Center and International Basic Research Center, both in Abuja. Direct shipping is possible if any buyer emails me or calls me. ([email protected] or +23485272576). I have vendors around Nigeria whose contacts I will give to prospective buyers nearest to them. The vendor comes to your door. Two of the books are in African Studies Center, Leiden University, Netherlands for Netherlanders and another book is in Michigan State University Library for Americans. I am gradually making the books available in State libraries in Nigeria and Ghana and looking to international distributors.

I saw your picture with Sam Loco. Are you also into Movie Industry (Nollywood)?

I have featured in “Saved by Sin, Part one and two”, “Uzumuagala, Part two” (in which that picture was taken). I have also directed and acted in “Udaram”.

Do you write movie scripts too?

I wrote the movie script for “Udaram”. I am also doing a serious emotional script on a great Nigerian billionaire and philanthropist who died sometime in the past. I am getting information from his biography which his wonderful first son gratefully gave to me. The book was written by someone else. I have also visited his birthplace several times. The movie will commence shortly by God’s grace. A war film has been my obsession, and a script is near, only that the logistics are mind-blowing. The titles of these scripts are actually private matters, although a working title may change when a movie is completed.

Which of your works is most challenging?

All of my books have been challenging in the making. I have had situations where I lost valuable hard copy documents, lost soft copy files to viruses and other computer mishaps. The uncanny thing is that these experiences almost always occur whenever I thought I was through with the manuscripts and ready for the press. The first book would have been published in 2004, but the would-be publisher thought it wise to make away with the money given to him for its publication! The happy thing is that each challenge made me better and made me look again at the manuscript that was going to press and try to improve on it. In retrospection, I will say that the seemingly painful challenges are actually friendly spiritual messages send to me to make me go back and make the work better before it is allowed to be published! Do you know that if my first book was published in 2004, it will not have had a place at all? The other books had similar stories of strife.

What do you do on your free time, how do you relax?

I listen to music and do TM or Transcendental Meditation, which is just closing your eyes and relaxing all your muscles and shutting off every single thought from your mind and becoming one with the universe. It is frightening at times, especially if your room is very cozy. But it is the most refreshing way to relax and gather tremendous energy in the universe for your next task. Your brain will appreciate it. I also make sure I transmute sexual energy or libido into creative energy. Sex is natural, but too much of anything is bad. When I remain celibate for some months, the energy wants to either explode in serious sex or get dissipated through creative means. I chose the latter option more of the time…. And the end of a book or movie or song or drawing brings a very relaxing and fulfilling feeling that is akin to orgasm….

Are you writing any book at the moment?

I am humbly coauthoring a book with three professors; one of them is a professor emeritus. Of course, it is not easy at all. The book is a history of an intimidating entity that you will like to read about when it is done. It will be out by the end of this year.

Some of my readers complained that Nollywood movies are becoming too westernized and does not really represent our culture – what do you think that needs to be changed in Movie Industry?

As a historian, I am beginning to sense that Nollywood is about to become self-aware. At first, it was like a roaring cub that was just roaring and roaring out movies without doing any soul-searching. This was because profit was the motive and the sensation of home video was arresting to the common audience, who did not fancy the elitist stage or theatre. Look carefully, newer movies are being churned out that are addressing our history, however distorted. But they are like near-pure drops in the vast ocean of aimlessness now. I am optimistic that very soon; all movies will begin to look for histories of every village to portray to the world, or very eminent personalities in the past to portray to the world. But these new type of movies will entail research! This is where a new age will come in: the age of Nollywood movie elites. Only very serious producers will survive that era. Again, tremendous profit will be realized because the idea of a history or a biography of influential places and people sells itself depending on the power of the influence. For example, a long movie on “The History of Niger Delta” or on “Odimegwu Ojukwu” will explode the cinema box office. I don’t want to go far. The Federal Government of Nigeria will be forced to come in when that era begins. University theatre departments will also feature prominently during that era too. Again, research will be the dividing line, it will divide the boys from the men. I feel this era in my bones. This is why I made a documentary on Azikiwe. A full Nollywood film on him will surely follow by God’s grace, if not from me, it will come from other capable hands in Nigeria. Mark my words.

Our Nigeria Universities are not what they use to be, what can the Government do to upgrade the qualities?

Have you noticed that immediately after a church service in which a pastor talked about the beauty and practice of social decorum, some of the same congregation that listened to him will fight and abuse each other as they struggle to move their cars out of the church parking lot? Mind orientation is the problem. When a person is a professor and he does not know how to do field research properly then there is a problem already. He or she will duplicate his or her style into hundreds of students, who will in turn do the same. And a silent chain reaction has been born. Now, a person that cannot think logically will function badly in societal systems. Creativity also becomes stunted, especially with the mind and body virus of secret debilitating self-habits. The worst is that the more a person is being educated in that line, the more he is becoming headstrong and self-assured. The government is made up of persons. Some of these people themselves would have to go through a serious programme like the one that astronauts going to the moon undergo and obtain a “certificate of mind clearance” before they can then come back to govern us. Many recommendations have been given. The government should go to its archives, dust all the recommendations, distill them to suit our times and then IMPLEMENT them. The problem is implementation. Another problem is that when a public institution is created for the purpose of implementing something good, the mind virus of Nigerian mentality makes sure that the institution is turned to a money-milking cow that would leave its original intention and become a liability to the government! What I sense is that the key lies with able and tested leaders and with private-owned enterprises concerned with mind-reformation. The government should employ their services and then the first set of graduands of such workshops and serious practically-oriented training sessions will then go into the universities as government officials and ferret out old undergraduate projects that will bring money to the government, encourage students in mind-reforming workshops to invent things that the government will be interested in, and give mouth-watering awards of recognition to outstanding staff and students. It will be reasonable if this special task force reports directly to the Federal government or state governments headed by reformed persons themselves or else the task force itself may get corrupted by the mind-virus again. The time is NOW.

Do you think there is any future for the young generation in the area of Education in Nigeria today?

If we work hard to IMPLEMENT our bright ideas, the future is bright. Almost every environment in Nigeria is crying out to be tapped as it is full of opportunities. The funny thing is that people do not go into something unless someone else has gone there and succeeded. Now, in education, every field of study has the potential of making students enriched beyond their wildest dreams if they are creative enough to see how that field of study APPLIES to real life situations in this Nigeria that is teeming with opportunities. This is where the hope lies. A person who is training to be a pilot in Nigeria will have to look at the possibility of being really trained in Nigeria. If not possible, such a student should try to look for scholarships abroad, especially if they know they are talented there. Really it appears difficult to get scholarships, but the truth is, every country would accept a person to come into it if and only if the person shows evidence of having a talent related to the area they are going for. This is because the country is enriched by the person’s presence. A talented student can write a wonderful book on Piloting and submit it to the head of an aviation institution abroad, and that alone will attract the institution to admit him! Now it is this people who go abroad that should come back when they are fully trained to train others. The government will have to make it conducive for them to come back or even hunt for them in the first place. They would have to come back and fill positions in universities and polytechnics and provided with training equipments. If this happens, the education sector will be bright for the young generation in Nigeria today.

Well thank you so much, we hope to hear more from you again. NOLLYWOODGOSSIP whishes you the best of luck.

You are most welcome and thanks for the opportunity.

Posted: at 7-03-2011 12:08 AM (9 years ago) | Upcoming
- kenolis at 7-03-2011 12:20 AM (9 years ago)
Posted: at 7-03-2011 12:20 AM (9 years ago) | Hero
- Fantastic2m at 7-03-2011 12:51 AM (9 years ago)
Hope he's your bf . . Else i aint seein reasons for this spam
Posted: at 7-03-2011 12:51 AM (9 years ago) | Newbie
- qunodinga at 7-03-2011 11:21 AM (9 years ago)
poster, thanks for d info..but pls try to summarise this..most of us has limited ait time in the cafe
Posted: at 7-03-2011 11:21 AM (9 years ago) | Gistmaniac
- mcena at 7-03-2011 11:37 AM (9 years ago)
nawa 4 u oo, wt was on ur mind wen u posting this?
Posted: at 7-03-2011 11:37 AM (9 years ago) | Upcoming