Chibundu Onuzo, author of the Spider King’s Daughter is a distinguished ambassador of Nigeria. She was voted the best Black student in 2012 at a ceremony in Parliament. The novel, published in 2012, is her debut and the first part of a two-book deal with Faber and Faber. A first class graduate of History from Kings College, London, she is also a contributory writer to the Guardian (UK). She has been interviewed by CNN, BBC amongst other international media. Multitalented Onuzo who wishes to work in advertising, also plays the piano for her church in Brent Cross, London. She took some time to talk to Tundun Adeyemo.
You are a celebrated writer. Have you always been interested in writing and literature?
Always is a long time. I don’t imagine as a baby I was much interested in literature. I’ve been told that in those first years of my life, I was more concerned with chewing the pages of books than deciphering the words in them. But once I was taught to read, I remember enjoying it immensely. I soon discovered the art of reading silently without sounding the words and from then, I was off. I could sit for hours reading and it was an interest that my parents encouraged. There was always an ample supply of books lying around the house.
One of my favourite subjects in primary school was composition. I really loved those essays where we had to describe what we’d done over our summer holidays. Of course in mine, there would always be some jara. I would add a little maggi to make the story sweeter.
How have you handled your popularity (fame)? In other words, what keeps you humble?
Well as I’m not exactly famous, there’s not much to handle. I’ve been recognised in the street only once and this was so unexpected and flattering that I instantly became a fan of my fan. I’m just starting out. I’m still learning and pride isn’t a useful attribute in an apprentice. You’re always learning and re-seeing things as a writer. Once you started thinking you’ve arrived, you’re probably past your peak.
Aside of writing and blogging, what else do you enjoy doing?
I sing and I play the piano. For about a year now, I’ve been playing at my church in London and it’s been a great experience. The band there is very professional and they’ve really pushed me. I’m also a quintessential Nigerian in Diaspora. I love everything to do with Nigeria and I scour for news of the country on the internet. I regularly live stream Channels evening news and I follow many journalists based in Lagos and Abuja. At every opportunity I get, I talk about politics to anyone and anything that will listen.
Aside of Christianity and your church, what motivates you?
Motivation is an odd thing to unravel. Being alive is motivation enough for pursuing your goals. Sometimes, not every day, but sometimes I wake up and it hits me, I’m alive and some of my classmates are dead. I’m only twenty one but I know people who haven’t made it to this age and it galvanizes me. You understand the wisdom of David when he says in Psalms, teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
If you could tell the President of Nigeria anything, what would it be and why?
I would say to him, Mr. President I would have voted for you if I was resident in Nigeria in the 2011 elections. You set a new trend in democracy in our country. You made it populist, you made the people feel for the first time that their voices had been heard at the ballot and you also brought the resource control hat back into fashion. Now it’s time to set more lasting trends. We want anti-corruption to become fashionable again as it was under Murtala Mohammed. We want poverty alleviation to trend as it did under Lateef Jakande. And where there has been no marked precedent, we want you to blaze the trail. And one last thing, Mr. President, sack some of your advisers and start listening to the shoeless.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years? What are you currently working on?
Alive, by God’s grace. I’m working on my second book and I’m also applying for a placement in advertising and I also very much want to move back to the motherland in a couple of years and put my hands to the plough. This nation building requires hard work and sweat from all of us. So I suppose, in short, we’ll see.
Who are your heroes? Have you any?
My parents are definitely two people I look up to. They have walked the talk quietly and with little fanfare for the twenty one years I have known them. So many people have graduated because of their sponsorship, so many have lived in our house, so many have benefitted from their lives. Last year, my mother started a charity school in G.R.A called Little Acorns. Both she and my father live on the principle that it is better to give than receive.
I’m not as well travelled as I want to be. Certainly in the future I would like to travel more within Nigeria. I’m hoping my NYSC year will give me this opportunity. Just in case the person who handles posting is reading this, please send me to either Ondo or Ekiti. I would love to see firsthand what Governor Mimiko and Governor Fayemi are doing because I’ve heard many good things.
As to fun travel memories, my father is Igbo and so we all went to Ubulu, our village, every Christmas and we loved it, including my Yoruba mother. We would go and see the masquerades dance in the village square and once, a particularly ferocious one chased my cousins and I with a whip. We were so scared, we ran into the first house we saw. It belonged to a complete stranger who thankfully, had left his house unlocked. We ran in and bolted the door until the masquerade gave up and left. Just the fact that we sheltered in a stranger’s house with no fear and no need to ask permission, reminds me of all the things I love about our people.
Your parents must be proud of you. How does this make you feel?
Thankful. I respect my parents a lot and I just pray that the only tears my life will ever bring to them will be tears of joy.
p.s: This interview was first published in 2013.