Of course, that’s one of my most favourite quotes. There should be some kind of political truth or political meaning and cultural truth in all our productions to the extent that nobody escapes in terms of feeling of guilt or responsibility, and things like that. You have to shake things and people up so that they know that there are some people watching, even though they are powerless. The writer is powerless, but he has the advantage of bringing certain things to the notice of the public. The readers, who are not even reflected, constitute a critical part of the cultural production, because you are writing about them, and, even if they don’t know what you are writing about them, there are people who are transmitting what you are writing. We should be brave and courageous in facing the politicians or whoever is responsible for governance.
Over time, you have avoided a deliberate genuflection to our compromised critical enterprise. In fact, you have disparaged “the faceless surrender into faceless bandwagon by African critics” or what you call “cultural dissidence”. Who will bell the cat?
The critics are supposed to speak out. Charles Nnolim was brave about speaking about that deliberate hymn singing, of cowardly writers and critics praising one another. If you want to praise your friends, you praise them in private. Academics is business. If I catch you on the track, just as if you catch me, say what you like. My books are there for you to talk about. In public, I deal with your work like a public property. People harass me about my elder brother, Peter Nwankwo, and why I don’t write about him, as well as my first cousin, Chukwuemeka Ike. There is a reason: if you praise him, they will say because they are your relatives; if you are critiquing roughly, they will say because you don’t like them. So I stay away from things like that. I just keep the business as professional as possible. All my friends and colleagues know that. I am very professional when it comes to my works or my life as a literary critic.
You criticised Okigbo years back, which drew a slur of insults from Okigbo fans. It appears many do not buy into your standpoint that an error in creative writing is not a tragedy…
People make mistakes; nobody is perfect. I was saying it with reference to Okigbo’s writings. I made it clear that, even geniuses make mistakes in their leanings, crafts, and political dispositions. You should correct those mistakes; you don’t let them get away with that because they are geniuses or whatever they are. And when you critique a writer, the writer kind of sits up in the next attempt. Somebody would say elsewhere that mistakes should be opportunities for a better intelligent decision next time. Our critics don’t see it that way. If you say somebody has not done it right, they start shouting and insulting you. But, of course, with Chimalum Nwankwo, they are wasting their time; I will still take my stand. In fact, most of the sensible people who were insulting me over my comments on Okigbo have written to apologise that they were wrong and my observations were right. That settles it. I am a very fair person, both socially and professionally.
What happened to your fiction project?
It got lost in Philadelphia while I was traveling to Abuja. The laptop was stolen at the airport, I believe, by the American authorities, because of its strong political contents. I assumed that it got lost in America because the immigrations saw the Love Song for Julian Assange who was a wanted man. I reconstructed the Love Song because I had scraps, but I couldn’t reconstruct the novel.