Given a choice, some teenage girls in Nigeria today will most certainly opt for a career in music or become a notable Nollywood actress. In their thinking, the entertainment industry remains one of the surest paths to instant fame and fortune.
It is no surprise, then, that some of them secretly wish to become an Ini Edo, a Genevieve Nnaji, an Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, a Tiwa Savage or some reigning princess of the screen or billboard, forgetting that without the requisite smashing look, talent and hard work, their desire remains what it is – a mere wish.
But here is one young woman who is not fascinated by a career in the movies or music. Though, if, by chance, she turns up unexpectedly at an audition, a casting director is likely to give her more than a casual one over. Nor would a studio producer dismiss her with a wave of the hand as unfit for a recording session on account of her voice.
Even so, she chose, from very early on, what she wanted to become in life – a writer. Oluomachi Chinedu, an 18-year-old, 400 level student of medicine at Babcock University, Ilushin in Ogun State, has not only glom onto her childhood dream but has made a good start with a debut novel, Love outside Home, a 175-page book about well-heeled, globe-trotting parents who value their careers more than their two children.
Cyrus Peters, a high-flying oil tycoon, and Hilda Davies Peters, a supermodel with a corresponding international itinerary, are the parents of two daughters – Joyce and Judy age 16 and 14, respectively. Spousal squabbles and beatings are part of the daily life of the Davies, with the children often bearing the brunt of the acrimonious and violent shout-downs. Since husband and wife are seldom together at home for any length of time, divorce ends the union. The consequence on the children is predictable: denied vital parental care and love, one of them dies and, because of that, another is traumatised for life.
Good enough subject matter for Oluomachi who never experienced such disorientation at home herself. But it was not hard to imagine, as most writers do. Besides, in her reckoning, such themes are seldom mentioned in contemporary Nigerian fiction.
“I wanted to write something that is close to home,” Oluomachi told me in that self-assured, girlish voice common to teenagers when they find themselves the subject of attention for commendable actions. “Everybody feels that the home is a place of love, filled with happiness and moral support. That is not the case for some people. Every child deserves to be happy, to be protected.”
Oluomachi focuses on family values in Love outside Home, honing on the physical and psychological damage done to neglected children by a divorced couple. It is not for nothing the author pointedly remarks in a prefatory statement that “children require presence and not presents; no amount of gifts and meeting of financial obligations can replace the presence of parents in the life of a child.”
For much of the book, the absence of parental care is the lot of Joyce and Judy and the author, with a combination of teenage zeal, innocence and rebelliousness, lays bare for readers how far and deep the trauma can go. At some point in her misery after losing Judy, Joyce denounces and denies both parents privately and publicly.
But what you can’t deny the young author is her determination as a writer. Oluomachi’s mother, Vivian Amadi Chinedu, a teacher, remembers her at six or thereabout always reading and jotting things down. “I did not pay her much attention. I did not catch her drift towards writing then.”
She took it for the normal childhood preoccupation, busy with pencil or pen and paper sketching whatever catches their youthful imagination. But Oluomachi kept at her drawings or writings up to secondary school and university.
“She never told any of us what she was writing and we didn’t press her,” Mrs. Chinedu told me one late afternoon last weekend at The Patron Hotel in Lekki where her daughter’s novel was publicly presented to a gathering of fellow students, family, friends and the media.
An auditor in Lagos working with FIRS, former neighbour and family friend of the Chinedu’s in Warri where Oluomachi’s father lived and worked as a Chevron staff, Diamond Tietie, who was chairman of the presentation, praised the young woman’s effort. “It is not easy to be a medical student in a Nigerian university and write a novel at the same time,” Diamond noted. “This is a remarkable feat for a young woman in a country where teenagers like her are inseparable from their handsets and obsessed with whatever is trending in the social media at the expense of writing or reading.”
Oluomachi’s teacher in secondary school recalled that her ward was in a class by herself as a student. “She was different. While others trooped out during break time, Oluomachi would remain in the class reading. I am proud of her as her former teacher and I am not surprised that she has written a book we are here launching today.”
Speaker after speaker spoke glowingly of a girl whose commitment to writing has deepened with time, from the moment as a preteen when she devoured story books her mother bought for her and her siblings.
On that Saturday at the tony premises of The Patron Hotel, Oluomachi herself was aglow with the satisfaction of one whose dream has finally come true, as guests eagerly bought copies of Love outside Home for various amounts of money “to encourage her.” One guest shelled N1m for some copies, making the young author richer than some established Nigerian writers who are dependent on royalties alone would ever hope to become in their lifetime.
Above all else was the feeling that many of them had come to be part of Oluomachi’s story, not only her devotion to a career she chose for herself in her formative and younger years but the story of unrequited love from those who are obliged to give it unconditionally as she tells it in her book.
Asked which of the two – medical practice or writing – she is likely to concentrate on more in the coming years, Oluomachi paused momentarily and then with that teenage precocity, declares: “I want to become a writer fully and also practice medicine. Both are different professions. For me, writing is more like a hobby and medicine is something I want to do.”
As it is, Oluomachi is in good company straddling both professions. Former president of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Wale Okediran, is a medic cum writer who is as busy with his doctor’s bag as he is with his laptop.
Another is, or should have been, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who quit medical school midway to take up writing fully. By the way, Chimamanda is Oluomachi’s role model and the young writer hopes to be as good as her someday. Very ambitious, you would say. But like an acolyte eager to learn from the master, Oluomachi has read all of Chimamanda’s novels, from Purple Hibiscus to Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah. She has also read all of Chimamanda’s interviews.
“I admire Chimamanda a lot,” she says. “I’ve read all her books, listened to her interviews. I see her as a strong woman, I see her as a warrior. I like her novels and I love what she stands for women.”
With this promising beginning for the teenage author and many years ahead to learn her craft, Oluomachi might someday become a role model herself to one or two of the coming generation of writers among the female folk.