The Pen and The Sword: Okey Ndibe

The Pen and The Sword is a Praxis series of conversations where Nigerian writers reflect on what it really means to be a writer and explore how writing and indeed, writers, can influence change in the country, especially in the midst of the many killings and abductions going on.

‘A writer is, above all, part of a human collectivity,’ Okey Ndibe states at the start of this conversation. ‘An enlightened writer ought to—in his writing and deeds—uphold the irreducible idea that every human has inherent dignity. When one adopts this stance, certain implications follow. An important one is that all human beings, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, gender etc, deserve to be treated justly. Injustice and ignorance fertilize terrorism and other brands of intolerance. On the other hand, whenever enlightenment reigns and justice exists as a society’s operative principle, we see a retreat from the pathologies of religious intolerance and nativism and—their worst manifestation—terrorism.’ But does it have to stop at writing? Or is much more expected? Okey Ndibe further explains, ‘As I implied above, the writer is, first and foremost, a citizen. Just as a doctor’s social and moral obligations don’t end with doctoring, or a lawyer with lawyering, a writer should not demand to be freed from ethical duties within society just because he or she has written a brilliant poem, short story, or play. I refrain from prescribing for others what they must do; but I, for one, make a point of engaging with fellow humans on numerous other levels beyond my vocation as a writer.’

In answering why it is necessary for a writer’s work to reflect the happenings in her environment, Okey Ndibe adds that ‘Writers are of different temperaments. How each writer responds to the happenings in her or his environment often depends on that writer’s social experience, ethical formation, and artistic vision. And it’s a good thing, as it yields the kind of richness of insight and stylistic variety that are a boon for readers.’ He, however, tries to influence change through writing in his own way, ‘I strive for an expansive social and moral outlook in my writing, and reflect this attitude in collaboration with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.’

We also learn that Okey Ndibe has little or no belief in stereotypes, ‘I absolutely abhor and reject the idea that there exists a correlation between ethnic or religious affiliation and vice or virtue. It’s a toxic notion, but too many people fall for it, because it’s seductive. It shocks me when people embrace the idea that if you belong to this ethnic group, that religion, this political party, or that gender, then your moral quotient can be inferred. I wage constant war against that virulent illogic.’

Okey Ndibe is a novelist, political columnist, and essayist. He is the author of the two acclaimed novels, Arrows of Rain and Foreign Gods, Inc.. Okey Ndibe is one of the foremost respected and admired contributors to the social and political essence of Nigeria or lack of it.

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