By Anote Ajeluorou
Talents, like natural resources, are in abundance in Nigeria. But what is the rate of turnover of such talents to productive use? How many geniuses get thrown up yearly to starve the streets of unemployed, hungry, idle hands in meaningful engagement? What system can Nigeria invent to throw up the likes of talents in the mould of America’s music icon Michael Jackson, Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg or Aple’s Steve Job and such wonder kids? What measures can be created to bridge the gap between poverty and wealth so that young people can genuinely aspire to be the best?
These were some of the core questions El-Nukoya had to ask himself when he embarked on writing his latest fiction Baron of Broad Street, which he unveiled last Sunday at The Lounge in Lagos. Baron of Broad Street explores the story of two boys raised in the slum of Makoko, who aspired to the pinnacle of wealth in spite of their obvious background. While one took the narrow path, the other followed the crooked crowd to march his way up the ladder of success.
Book reviewer Toni Kan described the book as revenge against society, but the author expressed his concerns about how the convergence of poverty and wealth in the same space could so affect the psyche of people to want to react in different ways to arrive at the same point.
As El-Nokuya argued while he spared with comic star Teju baby Face, in what could easily pass for his TV show session, in his exploration of poverty and wealth theme, he said, “That topic chose me rather than me choosing it. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty are never permanent. Extreme poverty is not a sentence and extreme wealth is not an escape. Social mobility is everywhere, as there’s a fair chance for the poor to be wealthy.
“What bothers me is that we (Nigerians) don’t always have confidence to move from poverty to wealth. It becomes more disconcerting how many Michael Jacksons and Steve Jobs are being born in Makoko or such places? It’s in our enlightened self-interest to create a system that throws up geniuses that thrive. We need to create more opportunities to absorb talents to reduce tensions in society.
“Baron of Broad Street is a final battle to win the business and economic soul of Nigeria. Lagos’ Broad Street is the centre of that commercial battle!”
Interestingly, El-Nukoya noted that his book is not a commercial project, but one aimed at further entrenching reading habits among Nigerians. He recalled how it was back in the days, in the 1980s and beyond when Nigerians read compared to these days of reading anomie, saying, “The book is not a commercial project. Nigeria not reading today was not always the case. Nigerians used to compare with each other the books they’d read and discuss them. I always had a Hardly Chase novel with me.
“We were reading like maniacs. We were readers inherently until something changed. We have to make efforts to revive that section of our lives by making reading cool, fashionable. So, our aim is to tell our stories to our own people and to the rest of the world. We need to read and then get the world to read us”.
How could he have written about the poverty travails of Makoko without having lived in the place to experience it himself? Raised in Ibadan, El-Nukoya said he had to take recourse to his imagination and creativity to make the place come alive in his writing. As he put it, “It’s a validation that I probably made it; it demonstrates I’m on point. Imagination is what it is. You can absolutely imagine it; you can extrapolate it. Baron of Broad Street isn’t my personal experience; it’s a cultural thing. If you can empathise you can almost approximate it. You don’t necessarily have to come from a place but you can imagine it”.
Tolu Ogunlese also moderated the event.
Teju Babe Face said he read the book in less than 48 hours and was so excited, as he felt inspired by the themes El-Nukoya explored.