“If I’m not known for writing, I’d be known as a doctor for the mind. I’d be known as someone who’s trying to create better people and who heals the broken spirit.”
Q: I know a number of things you do for us but for those that don’t. What is it that you do?
I’m a writer; I write across all kinds of genres and media platforms, so I write novels which is prose, I write plays which is drama, I write poetry, I write films, in terms of screenplay for cinematic films, short films, and TV series. I direct and produce also. I direct on stage and I direct on screen, as well as produce for stage and produce for films.
Q: In all of this you’ve listed, which do you enjoy doing most?
I’m primarily a writer. I think that’s my first choice and everything else comes after that. I write across all genres and by genres I mean like tragedy, I mean like narrative fiction, I mean like comedy and stuff like that, as long as it is in written word.
Q: There’s a background story of how you changed course from being a science student to the arts. Please tell us more about that.
Well yeahh, in my high school I’d always been in the science class, which is pure sciences and I finally finished high school, graduated with A’s and credits but I’d always wanted to be an artist, a writer.
Even when I was in high school, I was writing between 8 and 9 when I had just gotten into high school. I had read a novel and was inspired to write mine, it was in an eighty leaves Longman book, I’m not sure that’s the name and I showed it to a teacher who told me she will get back to me and she never did but she took it away from me.
I ended up being put in purest of sciences which is a tragedy because if she had read the book, she’d have realised I had more talent for the arts and they’d have put me in the arts but it so happened that in the Nigerian educational system then that they believed intelligent people are supposed to be in the sciences and people they don’t believe had potential were put in art.
Short and long, I went through high school in the sciences, graduated, did my first jamb and wrote for medicine, during that wave, I’d gotten this thought which said to me that I didn’t want to be a doctor which was what I was working towards and I went back to my dad and I said I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to be a doctor, I want to go into the arts. Well of course he thought I was crazy at the time and he said no, you can’t just hop from the sciences and say you want to be an artist.
Finally, I settled for Agricultural Economics from Medicine because at the time you had to move to another course that had the same subjects as what you put in for your jamb and my subjects were Biology, English, so I had to look for a course with the same combination entry and the closest I could get that was farthest away from sciences was the Agric Economics.
So I moved to Agric Economics at another University which was the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, then it was called UNAAB but now it’s called FUNAAB. I was there, studying Agric Economics and when it was my third year; the year before you go for your farming practical – a one year program, which is your fourth year, they gave me a farm I’d be supervising for one year and I realised what I needed to do and I totally decided that I couldn’t do this thing.
I went back to my father again, which is the second time and I told him “look I can’t do this, I really want to do arts, that’s what I want to do and this time around I’m not going to compromise, either I do arts or I don’t go to the University.”
It was more like a fight between me and him and for nine months I was home and every day he’d come to me and say it’s your life.
But at the end of the nine months, he came to me and said you know what, let’s compromise, because not only did I want to do the arts, I also wanted to do it abroad but he said you know it’s my policy that every child of mine has to have their first degree in Nigeria, so I’d compromise on you doing the arts but you have to compromise on doing the arts in Nigeria.
It was a deal and I was okay with it. I ended up going to University of Ibadan to do Theatre arts and film and finished my first degree. I had to even start from 100 level because they wanted me to start from 300 level and I said no, I haven’t done arts before it’s new for me, I have to start from the base and learn all I can learn, so I did that and I finished. I finished my degree as the best graduating student in my class so I was approached. Then, consultancy firms come to Universities, I don’t know if they still do it, and they take the first three people in the class and you guys do series of exams and all sorts, it was called Anderson at that time but it is called KPNG now.
So they came and they did exams for all the departments whether sciences, engineering, everybody, we all went for the exams and passed. There are six stages of interviews after all the exams, I passed all the stages and they employed me. So I was the first artist, like pure artist that they were employing to work in this managing consultancy firm that had to do with accounting and economics and all of those things, I worked with them for a while and then I left to Canada. When I migrated to Canada, I continued to push my studies in Human Character Development and all and I finished and graduated, worked for a while too and rose to the Vice President of human resources and one day I just said nah Jude, this is not what you fought your Father for, to sit behind the desk and make policies, you wanted to be an artist, so I resigned.
My mum thought they were doing me from my village, it was crazy but I mean this is what I fought to do, I wanted to be an artist. While I was working, I’d published a collection of short stories and so I gradually went back to it and started writing poetry again and then took that big step, sold my properties and made my first film called The Tenant. I wrote and produced it, had a friend direct it and you know since then, I’ve just been in the arts, I’ve been making films, I’ve published several books, I’ve won awards and I’m here having this interview. So, that’s the story.
Q: What body of work have you created so far that you’d consider the most challenging?
Well, I’d say rewriting my play, Oduduwa: King of the Edos, cos for me I happen to come from a family that is an anglophile family, being that I have seven siblings and then of course my parents but at home, I only speak English, I don’t speak any other language, which is sad.
So, I was going to rewrite this play which was very cultural; Yoruba, and Edo. Not only cultural in terms of language but also sophisticated history and all of that.
And for someone who grew up in Lagos, went to Kaduna for high-school and went to Canada and has spent over 10 years, I had to immerse myself in a culture that I really knew nothing about.
So it was challenging in that way; to write and rewrite coz I had to learn just about enough Yoruba and Edo to make what I was writing real, you know, and relatable and accurate and all that stuff.
That would be my most challenging work especially when the work now won the Arder prize for best drama.
To me, it was like being able to write so well, the details, knowledge to be able to win those awards, it was evident that it was a great job, not just for the talent and style part of it but the research. The length I went for the research to create what I did. So yeah, I think that is till date my most challenging creation as you put it.
Q: Your children’s book, Boom Boom won the 2019 Nigeria Prize for literature and it is about sickle cell disease. What inspired the book and how did it come to life?
Yes, I won the 2019 prize for my book Boom Boom, and it is about sickle cell anaemia. We know that it is a widespread disorder in Sub-Saharan Africa centered in the West African axis and I’ve lost a couple of people to the disorder.
My friends from my youth, my friend Tunde and so many others over time. Then a friend of mine in Canada was going to get married and his parents did a matchmaking, found this girl for him in Nigeria. He got to know her and all that but there was an obstacle, she has the AS blood genotype, she’s a carrier of the gene and my friend is also a carrier, he has the AS genotype too.
We all told him that he couldn’t go on with the marriage because of chances that they might have a full blown sickle cell disorder carrier and he refused because he’s a Christian and you know, he believes that nothing bad can happen to him, his father is a pastor and all of that.
He went ahead with the wedding, they have two girls and they both are sickle cell carriers, they are warriors; we call them warriors.
When I was in Canada, the 9 year old girl had a great crisis – if you’ve ever seen any of them with their crisis, it’s horrible – so she was crying and screaming and in pains, I was there and her father as well, and she’ll look at her father and say Daddy, why me? And the father would say God knows best, he knows why it happened.
I looked at him and told him, this has nothing to do with God, it has everything to do with you; you made the decision, you knew what the risks were, you went ahead with it.
Everybody spoke to you, so there was no need to compound the matter, even if no one told you, you knew the medical situation but you went ahead with it and now you’re blaming God. It then occurred to me that maybe we speak to people at the wrong time, because when the person is in love, they become deaf, they don’t hear anything that negates the love that they have or share. I thought maybe if we talk to people when they’re younger, when it’s their formative years, and you give them the knowledge, all the information they need to make this kind of life changing decisions, they’ll be able to make better decisions when the time comes.
So I decided to write a book about sickle cell for the age range of seven and above, so when these children read about it, they get the information they need from it, when they get to the age of relationships and marriage, I think the information will already have been imbeded in their memory that nobody needs to tell them about genotype, nobody needs to tell them about the risks of propagating the sickle cell anaemia disorder, they’d just know automatically.
That is precisely what inspired it and then obviously I had to research and find out more about it. And it was challenging because I had to write medical knowledge, a whole lot of technicality and terminologies in such a way that children will be able to grasp it and it’ll be able to be edged in their memory. So that is what brought about Boom Boom and thank God it caught an audience.
Q: What’s your biggest motivation?
I think it’s change. My biggest motivation is that need to help a nation to facilitate a device to actualize change. I feel that my work is to add value. Yes, I want to entertain and all but I also want to enlighten, you know, I also want to empower, I also want to inspire.
So that gap is where I come from and then I observe my society, my environment, or wherever I find myself, both in cases of the people and the event around me.
I’ve always wondered the ifs and whys, what if this happened because of that, that way I’m investigating. When I say why, I’m also asking questions to be able to understand things and that understanding that I have to be able to spread it or to share it or give it to other people so at the end of the day, they can understand life as it is around them.
So I think that is the state my art comes from; that need to change the discourse, to make life better, to modify the behavior in terms of good neighbourliness, to empower love because I believe that with Love, living is better, with love, sharing is enabled and with Love, a greater future is guaranteed.
Q: If you weren’t into art, what else could you be recognized for now?
Well, I think if I wasn’t into art, I’m still fascinated by medicine but from a different angle; the psychological angle, not only medicine for the flesh and all of that but medicine for the mind.
And I think that even with my words, I’m always probing the psyche of man and trying to understand his actions and his behaviour.
I’m so curious about life, so if I’m not known for writing, I’d be known as a doctor for the mind. I’d be known as someone who’s trying to create better people and who heals the broken spirit.
I think I do that through my work, through my post on Facebook, I’m always probing and getting people to understand why they believe what they believe, trying to help them understand the kind of behaviour that are malignant in nature and how it can be changed and then just trying to make them understand about life and the cycles of it in terms of misfortune and fortune, happiness and misery and all of that kind of stuff.
But basically, healing the human spirit.
Q: Are you retiring anytime soon?
Oh no. People like us, we work till the curtain drops.
Q: So what can we expect to see from you in coming years?
Right now I’m working on several projects all at the same time. I’m working on a collection of short stories that is coming up called Only Crazies are Born in April and then I have another collection of short stories which is called How to be Human and not a Colour, this one is about racist encounters; that’s racist encounters that I’ve had growing up during my stay in Canada and it’ll come out by next month (August), hopefully.
I also have another collection of short stories coming out, which is called I Had A Father, it is inspired by the lessons I learnt from my father growing up, lessons which made me who I am. It comes out this December.
I have a short film called Queen of the Night which is about prostitution and that comes out at Afriff hopefully, I’m so excited for that. Then I have a feature film which I’ve been working on for a while but that should come out before the end of the year.
And then I’m also working on a project that has been shot and edited, now we’re just working on the scoring and final mixing. I also have a new film that I’m doing a preproduction for called Angel which is about child trafficking between Nigeria and Benin Republic, we were supposed to shoot that two months ago but again, the COVID, so we hope to shoot in September, October once we get our acts together.
So yeah, a couple of books, a couple of films and a lot of work. Just stay tuned.
Q: Top 3 things you cannot do without?
Top three things… My Laptop, first. My phone, second. And then my durex.
Jude Idada is a Nigerian screenwriter, actor, poet, playwright, and producer. He has also produced and written several other short films and books.
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