“We have 12 million Almajaris in Nigeria and I think that is a waste” – Mai Nasara

On Monday 10, October 2011, Adeleke Adeyemi was announced winner of the year’s NLNG Prize for Literature for his children book ‘The Missing Clock’. Adeyemi who writes under the moniker, Mai Nasara speaks exclusively to YNaija on winning the prize, his plans for the prize money and his next projects.

What were you doing when you got the news that you won the prize?

I was working at home. The announcement was made at a press conference and we were not invited. So I got the news just like everybody else did. A journalist friend of mine called me a few minutes after the announcement was made.

What was your reaction?

I was speechless. When I gathered myself together, I burst into thanksgiving. I’m a Christian and I believe in grace. Of course, there was work done but then, God blesses the works of our hands. So it is up to you to do the best you can do.

Did you feel at the moment that you probably deserved it more than the other two finalists?

I believe it’s something received not achieved. It is not about being better than them or being the best. Time and chance happens to us all. The battle is not for the strong neither is the race for the swift. So what you can do is prepare your horse for battle. It is God that gives victory.

What are your plans for the prize money?

I intend to invest in girl-education. From UNESCO statistics, you can see that it is a travesty that most females don’t get an education. My association is with the Hausas and that is why I adopted a pen name, Mai Nasara. My name is Adeleke Adeyemi and I am proud of my Yoruba heritage but I feel more Hausa than Yoruba. Take for instance, we have 12 million Almajaris in Nigeria and I think that is a waste. We’re talking of people who could become future film makers, architects, etc. But they can only achieve this if they are given proper education.  Education brings out these talents in them.

Another thing I am interested in is Environmental consciousness. I have a background in Geology. Although I knew I wasn’t going to practice Geology, I needed the knowledge as a Communicator. There are a lot of environmental hazards we have brought upon ourselves because of the unhealthy things we practice like throwing sachets of pure water around.

I also have interest in Malaria. I have some songs that will be adopted by schools. The way we live, it’s like ‘ignorance is bliss’ but one person dies every 45 seconds.

Have you received the money yet?

No. There’s an award event in January or February next year. That is when I will get it.

What was the reaction like from your family and friends after you won?

It was like, ‘Leke, where’s my share?’, ‘I want just $100’, ‘I want just $1,000’, etc. In fact, the total of all what they wanted was even more than the $100,000! What I said to them was, maybe we should wait for another prize money to come so it can go round. I even told some of them that we should come together and sell copies of the book. If we sell a million copies, I’m sure we will make more than enough to share.

Speaking of your book sales, I’m sure it has increased since you won the prize?

Definitely. We are getting orders from schools, churches and even state governments. They have indicated interest to make it part of their curriculum.

When you sent in your book for the prize, did you ever think you’ll come this far?

I wrote the book and didn’t care about what will happen. Like Alexander Pope said, “Hope springs eternally”. I actually submitted the book with a day to spare.

Has anything changed about you since you won?

I still don’t have a car. I haven’t stopped going by danfo or okadas, whether it is in the mainland or on the island. It has even crossed my mind recently to upgrade to taxis. But then I thought: “I will take the taxi for N500 when I can also take danfo for N50”. Of course, I haven’t even received this money yet. What I have is the promise. Even at that, money doesn’t change people; it only amplifies. If you had a voice, money will make it louder.

So yes, nothing has changed. I grew up as a church boy singing in the choir. So I always remember the son of whom I am, and that includes my heavenly Father. There is no place for bragging rights or boasting.

Have you spoken to the other two finalists since you won?

Ayodele Olofintuade was the second person who called me that day after the announcement was made. She called and said congratulations. I was pleasantly surprised. I was also in Abuja recently and Chinyere Obasi hosted me.

Have you met anyone who you have inspired by winning this prize?

Yes, a number of young people have been in touch via Facebook and phone calls. They are always saying that want to follow in my footsteps. And that is something I rebuke them about. I always advice them to find their own course in life and tread it.

What are you currently working on?

I’m always working. I have several ideas which I am developing into stories at the moment. There’s a particular one called Danfo Boy. It was inspired by Mitoli Perkins, an Asian American child author I respect so much. I even got both the hard cover and the paperback editions. It was authentic. That is what I’m trying to recreate and I hope it will inform, educate and inspire the readers.

Is there any other project you are working on?

A network of libraries. It will be a fantastic achievement in the West African sub-region. We don’t have anything that is world class in this part of the world, not even Nollywood. The name itself is not original. It’s a derivation from Hollywood. We have not carved out our identity. These libraries will help to shape children who will make up the next generation and make massive impact on the continent.

What is the first prize you ever won for writing?

I was in Form One at Government College, Kastina.  I sent in an impromptu entry for the Literary week. I didn’t believe I would win, so I didn’t even turn up on the day the prizes were given out. I eventually won and my prize was a book which I read over and overgain.

What do you have to say about this NLNG’s initiative?

It is certainly laudable. And that’s the least they even do. They also try to get the nominees and eventual winner a lot of press exposure too. It says a lot about their CSR. It is a clarion call that should be heeded by other corporate organizations. The truth of the matter is, it is the intangible that controls the tangible.

Has winning the NLNG prize put you under a bit more pressure as you write these days?

Certainly. There’s a taller order now. This is the least I should do and this is the least I will do. Also, I want to write for TV, films and animated stuff.

What advice would you hand over to those who dream of winning an NLNG prize sometime in future?

Write every day. There’s something  called ‘NaNo Rimo’ that the Americans do. A group of people come together and start writing a book on the 1st of November and they have to complete it by the 30th of November. It’s like a marathon. There are usually a lot of people involved, but with quantity, there is a bit of quality too.

It’s an advice I am still trying to follow myself and so far, I haven’t been able to.

Also, read good books. Your writing reflects the kind of books you read.

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