Why I write
Since I fired my warning shot across the bow last week, announcing through this medium that I would resume this risky business of writing a weekly column, I have been giving the whole idea a second and even a third thought. You see this for me is like déjà vu, all over again. I somehow feel compelled to offer a tepid apology to all for firing that first shot; beating a hasty retreat into the familiar confines of my vacuous mind, and then carrying on as if nothing happened.
Having withdrawn from the Nigerian journalism space over twenty-five years ago (most Nigerians weren’t born then), you can empathize with me over this groggy sense of dread and trepidation that happens when you are suddenly jolted awake in a strange place, and this is a strange place. The only comfort so far has been the handful of congratulatory messages from my old time friends and some new ones encouraging me to ‘keep the ink flowing.’ The responses have been in the main good, save one from the ever cynical Sonala Olumhense, himself a long in the tooth columnist for this paper.
“Congrats. Excellent start. The key will be whether or not you are willing to dedicate time to think deeply before each one in the months and months ahead. Then and only then will the quality be sustained and raised. Happy you are doing this. Well done” One of them sagely advised.
Another one issued a shrill note of warning. “Beware all ye men of fragile character for he shall jab you here, gouge you there and excoriate you everywhere. He shall give no succor and plead for none. Long may his ink flow.”
And then my cynical friend intones “Please join me in congratulating Tunji for finally finding his pen. Some of us have tried to help him, almost forever, in the search for it. But misery loves company, the self-same Tunji always says, every other cognac sip. I welcome him to the land of frustration. I hope he does not conveniently lose his pen again by Easter. Welcome, son. Yes, your past awaits, the misery complicated by lost youth and ageless indigestion.”
Buoyed by these words of encouragement, I am now embolden to explain ‘why I write,’ instead of the lukewarm excuse previously offered. Even so, I am still somewhat self conscious, at least in my mind about the inevitable comparisons between the ‘Tunji Lardner jnr ’of perhaps thirty years ago and the hoary, ornery, and irascible geezer he has become.
Recently I was sifting through the compilations of opinions and essays that I wrote three decades ago, and I was startled by two things. The first shock was the realization that I could never write like that again. I marvelled at the self assuredness of youth; the pointed inquisitions of any and everybody, the lightening rapier thrusts at goons in power, the monochromic clarity of my vision of the world, always laid bare in stark black and white relief, the moral certitude of my positions all driven by an unquenchable fire in the belly.
These days, the fire still occasionally rages in my rotund belly, but I have over the years been able to pinpoint its source as any one of three things acting alone or in concert; indigestion, constipation or flatulence. My rapier sharp thrusts have over the years been blunted by the slow and steady abrasions of life’s experiences sand-papering the serrated edges and bevelling its point into a rounded burnished finish-still sharp, but not pointed, better suited for slashing. The monochromic black and white contrasts of moral issues that were so clear in my youth have alas ceded ground not to a Technicolor view of the world, but the greyscales of relativism. I now see life in way more than fifty shades of grey. I have come to humbly embrace the uncertainties of wisdom, or perhaps the wisdom of uncertainties in fully acknowledging that the more I know, the more I know that I do not know. Or as Buddha puts it ‘true wisdom humbles.’ But even so, you can still expect to see flashes of the old Tunji in the new.
Yes, I expect the usual complaints about not writing for the ‘common man’ or for ‘ordinary people,’ to which my response is that at this point of my life, I prefer to deal with only uncommon and extra-ordinary people. There will be no pandering to the least common denominator, because while my ‘fight’ as it were is to prod the system into lifting from poverty the over 70% of Nigerians living in near destitution, I hope to speak directly to the perhaps 20% of literate Nigerians who can help make a difference.
And yes, you might have to reach for a dictionary now and again, so I suggest that you also take an aspirin tablet whilst you are at it. Like the old Tunji, this new but old version will still arrogate the universal poetic licence to write about anything from quantum entanglement to local politics and everything in between hopefully for the entertainment and edification of my readers... all twelve of you.
The second shocking and even more disturbing fact is that Nigeria more or less has changed little in the intervening decades. Indeed some of the people I was railing against as a young man are the same people I see in still pulling the levers of state and dominating the newspaper headlines today. It seems that in Nigeria, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
This leaves me with no options than to rail some more. However this time, I hope to educate, guide, persuade and influence the cadences of our national dialogue, especially among young people. I especially want to challenge the orthodoxy of the prevailing narrative about Nigeria, prompt new debates, stimulate new thinking that will hopefully galvanize positive action. Given our fractious nature and the present fragility of this divided country, I am not sure I will succeed, however it is my hope that by casting some empirical light on vexing national issues, explaining them, and persuading the reader to come to a place of enlightened self interest, we might be able to speak truth to power and make rational and informed decisions about whom we choose to lead us going forward and how we want our country to truly develop.
Why I write? Well, the truth is that this is also for my own catharsis. With a million ideas constantly ricocheting inside my capacious head (capacious because it is mostly empty) I find that the act of concentrating my thoughts and writing frequently about them helps to hold my brain in place so that when I shake my head you don’t hear my brain rattle. This is why I write.