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The Trouble of Nigerian Culture Writing

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Culture journalism in Nigeria is bogged down in a lack of skill, professionalism and basic appreciation for the quality of the craft, writes TIA culture critic Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

A pop star shows up for a podcast hosted by a journalist and his website editor and (rightly) derides a piece written by the journo. Instead of owning up and acknowledging the clichéd sentences, imaginative “facts” and all-round bad writing published on his website daily, the editor hollers a defence.

That a person whose business is rap cares more about constructing quality sentences than a journalist and an editor says enough about contemporary Nigerian culture writing.

M.I. Abaga was the pop-star guest, the journalist Ayomide O. Tayo and the editor Osagie Alonge. The website is Pulse Nigeria, which really should be renamed “Loose Writing Nigeria”, after its Loose Talk podcast. Abaga made an appearance after he had responded harshly to a piece Tayo had written in the much abused “open letter” format. As the conversation progressed, Abaga revealed that he intended to criticise Tayo’s writing.

“I was going to take your articles,” Abaga said, “like three or four that I don’t like, and … you know how we used to grade English papers?”

“You’ll give him all As,” said Alonge.

“No, no, no,” said Abaga, looking sad. He turned to Alonge: “If that’s your actual meeting statement to him, then that’s a problem because the writing has to get better.”

Think about it: A rapper felt the need to treat a journalist’s article the way your English teacher treated your compositions back in the day. And Abaga would have done the script justice. His verses may be playfully poetic, but the best of them suggest some fidelity to the rules of English grammar. In a different clime, the mere possibility of a pop act having to do this to a journalist’s work would result in a query or a suspension.

Fortunately for Tayo, Abaga let it go, but he drew attention to Tayo’s first line. “What’s popping,” he read out, with a look on his face that said, Really? You call this good writing? At a later point, Abaga indicated how he could have helped in private: “Here, you could have written this sentence better. Here, the words you used were wrong.” For anyone who cares about writing, Abaga was a delight.

Alonge mostly defended his man, but, to his credit, he also said, “I agree… We are constantly growing.” One hopes this is true, but don’t hold your breath. Few people would say that Pulse Nigeria cares about quality writing. And the idea that a band of writers who can be schooled by a rapper on syntax and sentences are, as the podcast puts it, “curating history” is frightening. If Pulse prose is what this generation presents to posterity as culture writing, then we are in trouble. We might as well declare Chuey Chu a great documentary filmmaker. But this is possible only in Nigeria, a country where the aggressive promotion of mediocrity is proof of importance.

And the rot is not limited to Pulse Nigeria..

One expects an editor to get to his or her position because a love for words has seen them read, re-read, work and re-work pieces of writing for much of their professional life. Not in this country. The Nigerian editor is a speedy uploader with a fancy title. He or she is looking for a quick copy but is unwilling to make it better because they have no love or skill for it and there is no time. Their journalists never rewrite. Journalism may be the first draft of history, but that is no reason for a journalist to turn in a first draft.
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