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Grim headlines fire youngster’s imagination to inspiring debut novel




As hard times continue to bite Nigerians, epitomized by socio-political, religious and economic woes, the writerly segment of society is having a rich harvest, and actually fueling their imagination from it. Teenage author, Miss Diekara Oloruntoba-Oju, in her debut novel, When Lemons Grow on Orange Trees, has seized on the grim headlines that pepper the daily news to craft a fictional account that may well have lasting repercussion for society. For those in the affluent class who would not lift a finger of empathy to assuage the pain they see all around them, there seems to be no safety as an equally grim fate awaits them.

Or indeed, when the bombs fall into churches, mosques and marketplaces in Borno or Yobe, how safe do you feel in your skin in faraway Calabar or Enugu? What form of help did you offer to your fellow men and women at the theatre of pain? And so, when pain comes knocking on your doorsteps, what reciprocal help or empathy do you expect to come your way?

“Mostly, the sad news in the newspapers inspired me into writing,” Miss Oloruntoba-Oju stated at the launch of her book at Goethe Institut-inspired Literary Crossroads Conversations with African Writers, moderated last weekend in Lagos by poet and music critic, Dr. Dami Ajayi. “I was always upset about the sad headlines and I wanted a face to the statistics in the news. Besides the suffering I read in the papers, I felt there was apathy about the stories we read. We tend to see bombing or poverty so far away. I had to make the rich characters see what was happening by plunging them into so much suffering. I had to burst their bubble of comfort. The title is a good metaphor for what I was writing, the sweet and sour of the family I was describing.”


And like most young people who are disillusioned by the failures that so easily define their country, young Oloruntoba-Oju just wishes there could be an end to the injustice and unfairness in Nigeria, a country where talent and ability should come first and not some primordial considerations that have held the country down from making progress.

According to her, “I want a Nigeria where there’s love, a place where people are channeling things for everybody, where people have to grow and develop and not defined by whose son or daughter you are. I want Nigeria to be a place where there’s justice and peace.”

A foreign language undergraduate at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and currently an Equivalent Year Abroad Programme (EYAP) at Goethe Institut, Lagos, Miss Oloruntoba-Oju grew up in sleepy Ilorin, the daughter of university dons. Her most gifted companions were the tomes of books at home through which she occupied herself. Her mother described her as a precocious child with a knack for dramatic words. She wrote her first poem at four, about a dead bird they found in front of their house.

The packed hall at Goethe Institut had a large gathering of artists who came to listen to Oluruntoba-Oju read. It consisted of Molara Wood, Lola Shoneyin, Steve Ogundele, Abiodun Abe, Paul Efe Azino, Ade Bantu and other young talents.

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