Stanley Ifeanyichukwu Onuoha was there. His mission was to pray to the Creator and, afterwards, sell his books to the few Nigerians who still believe in reading or can afford to buy.
But the struggling writer was unaware that he was standing at death’s door. Some dare-devils ha
d plotted to take him and scores of other worshipers down.
“I left my books with a woman to go to the back of the building when the bomb went off,” he recalled, painfully with a furrowed forehead and fear etched on his face.
Had Ifeanyi hesitated for a moment, he would have been part of the statistics but God saved him.
“The bomb exploded shortly after I left. When I came back my books were all burnt. I was covered with smoke but alive. It was the mercy of God,” the tall slim, fair -complexioned, man said passionately, looking tired but still managing to smile.
He gave thanks to God for sparing his life in the book he wrote after the Madalla experience , “Nigeria is sick and Pregnant”. Like the writer, we all know the country is sick but pregnant; we’re unsure.
The Mbaise-born, Ifeanyichukwu, 30, a former seminarian and graduate of philosophy is one of those young people who have refused to let the massive youth unemployment in the country, the selfishness and corruption of our leaders force them into a life of crime. He is a young man who has understood what it means to realize his potential and pursue his dream.
Ifeanyichukwu, as his name states, knows there’s nothing impossible with God, and he has hitched his wagon on the Creator to enable him maximize his potential. His dream is to be a renowned professor and author.
Onuoha, however, knows it’s a long journey, especially in a country like Nigeria. He has, therefore, taken his own advice and started with what he has – a pen and paper!
Onuoha is writing books in a society where the reading culture is dying. But the young man keeps dreaming and thinking about the future. He has over 15 titles to his name, including: Start with what you have, Youth In search of Wisdom, Nigeria is sick and Pregnant as well as In praise of Women, and Man in Control of His Destiny.
Face2Face caught up with the resourceful youth at the ABC Terminal Owerri, pounding the floor and trying hard to convince people that “reading maketh a man”.
Blessed with fine features, he is matching back and forth like a soldier dropping his books on every seat and asking people to take a read. He looks exhausted but still smiling. His eyes are everywhere, looking for new arrivals and walking straight to them just as they sit down.
Some accept his books and flip through while others read the blurb and hand back to him. There are those who admit they have no money and so cannot buy. A few unmannerly ones chase him away with a wave of the hand, ‘don’t disturb me joo’ . But some who are impressed with his youthfulness and audacity chose up a title and pay cash.
But the writer is never discouraged, whatever the reaction.
“I go to everybody; it’s a matter of ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I am not coming to harass you; I’m not coming to beg money from you. I say, ‘good morning am a writer, I wrote these books, I want to show them to you’. I will give this person some and go to another and drop a few more. They will go through the books and select what they like. The unfriendly ones will say, ‘a beg joo, take ya book, I no get time to read’. At the end of the day, I can sell up to 20 -30 copies,” he explained.
“ I know time will come when I will take my books outside the country to publish but you need to start with what you have. Life is a process, In nature, you follow a process- that’s what life has taught me. In life, due process must be followed. So let me start small and also try to make the book affordable to all. That’s why you can get N100 book and N500 book . The important thing is to spread the message – money will come.”
An optimist to the core, Onuoha leaves Umuokirika, Mbaise, every morning to get to the bus terminal, so he can sell his books. He must meet passengers travelling to Abuja and Lagos in particular before they leave. He wrote to the management of ABC for permission to ply his trade so he has easy access.
Occasionally, Onuoha pops into the nearby Chisco terminal also to vend his books. He goes home every day with enough money to meet his needs. But he works hard for it.
A graduate of Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary, the writer shared his writing experiences with Face2Face.
“It started like play when I was in UniPort. I had no money and no job. I was in my room one day and thinking of how I can make my own money, having come out of the seminary and now facing the real world. How can I take care of myself? Even though my family was helping, I wanted to distance them from my personal needs,” he said, bluntly.
“And one day, something told me ‘there’s money in my room’ – and I couldn’t get the message. But I heard it again – ‘pick up your pen and start writing’. I didn’t know the money in my room is my library and my books. That night, I left my room and went to a nearby store and bought an exercise book and started writing.”
Onuoha also shared his frustrations with a publisher who tried to ruin his ambition and another publisher at Abuja who gave him a shot in the arm. There were also two “angels” – priests – in the same Abuja, who assisted him.
But he has a word for Nigerians and publishers in particular.
“We must remember that the future belongs to the youth. They must be encouraged. We must look for long term projects, let’s remember the future in whatever we’re doing – learn how to develop young talents, don’t always look at the money. I believe a lot of these young girls and boys out there are gifted but no one is helping them.”
Onuoha has still eyes in the classroom as a professor. He will go back to school and study. Meanwhile, he continues to market his books and churn out new titles, hoping that change will come and pregnant Nigeria will, one day, give birth to a healthy baby.