Elechi Amadi. Image via Press Reader
BY SIMON UTEBOR
Igechi Amadi, an entrepreneur and Theatre and Film graduate from the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, is one of the children of late Elechi Amadi, a celebrated author and academic, whose most popular novel, The Concubine, was one of the best sellers in Africa. She talks about her father’s passion, lifestyle, ideals and contributions to the literary world with SIMON UTEBOR
Could you tell us about yourself?
My name is Igechi Elechi-Amadi. I am 27 years old and a graduate of Theatre and Film Study from the University of Port Harcourt. I am a very easy going person. I am tilting towards my father’s passion, which is writing. I am an aspiring writer and a playwright. Currently, I am an entrepreneur.
Tell us about your siblings and background?
I come from a polygamous home. My father had three wives and I am from the third wife. Collectively, we are 17 children of my father. From my mother, we are just two – my elder sister and I. My elder sister is a very humble person. She is a graduate of Chemical Engineering from the University of Port Harcourt. She is strong-willed and a go-getter. She is my best friend and we discuss everything possible.
How was growing up with your father like?
I grew up in a very strict home. My father was a very great disciplinarian given his military background but he was a very loving person, so there was a very fine balance between discipline and love. He set a very high standard for his children. He was a very gentle man. He was a very rare person. Sometimes, when something happened, I would think what would my father do in that situation, because I really loved his ways and he never disappointed me because he would always fix things right. I would like to imbibe those standards.
What were your father’s core values?
He believed in the power of kindness and he also believed in the intangible ways of reward. I mean those things money can’t buy, such goodness like love, kindness, friendship and companionship. He believed so much in traditions. He was a traditionalist. He believed much in our traditional heritage – he liked traditions a lot.
Can you recall any fond memory with him when you were young?
There are many but let me pick the very appropriate ones. My father loved nature a lot. One of my best days was to sit with him. Our compound has so many trees and flowers. I would sit with him quietly, he had this traditional chair and we would just sit in front of the house and just explore the environment and he would engage me in meaningful discussions. We just enjoyed each other’s company.
Then he used to do that with all his wives and children. Every night, we would have a kind of tales by moonlight. We would all hurry to eat our food quickly so that we could go and sit down to listen to the story. He was a very good story teller. So, we would sit down around him and he would tell us beautiful stories. It was something we always looked forward to and it was something that also united the family.
In polygamy, feuds between the wives are common. As a polygamist, how was he able to settle those kinds of feuds?
My father was very wise. I am not saying this because he was my father, neither am I saying it out of sentiments. He was truly a very wise person. Sometimes when there was conflict, there were quarrels and everybody shouting, raising their voices, he had the best way of handling those situations. He would just say something and everybody would just keep quiet and then they would begin to talk and explain why those were happening. He tried also to get everybody’s point of view. He had great empathy, he was able to put those involved in the shoes of each wife to understand where he was coming from and with that he was able to address exactly what the problem was. Most times, it turned out harmoniously and everybody would become happy again.
What were his likes and dislikes?
One of his greatest dislikes in people was dishonesty and lack of integrity. He would not have any dealing with people he perceived to be dishonest and lacked integrity. He also disliked people who were not real, people who were living fake lives. For his likes, he cherished intelligent and brilliant people. He also liked open-minded people. In those days when we had boyfriends, we made sure they had those qualities that our father loved because it was like something we were going to be judged with because at the end of the day, he would sit down and have conversation with him and if those attributes were present, he would have a smoother relationship with him.
How often did he use the cane on you or any other children when they misbehave?
I don’t want to say often, but fairly often he used the cane on any child who misbehaved. I recall one time he was flogging me and I ran, he chased me, caught me and continued flogging me. He was a core disciplinarian. Apart from using the cane, he also tried to reason with us by advising us on the right behaviour. However, it was such that when we misbehaved to our mothers and they said they would report to our father, you would just freeze. Sometimes, when our mothers reported us to him, you would think he would flog us because we were ready for the flogging but he would disappoint us. He would tell us to sit down and begin to reason with us by telling you not to do what you did and the consequences of such misbehaviour next time. For me, that sank well with me than the flogging anyway. It had more effect as he took time to reason with the person. At the end of the day, you find yourself a changed person.
Your father was a famous writer and academic, did any of his children follow in his professional path?
Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. I am a writer myself. I am an aspiring novelist and also a screen writer. I did theatre and film study. It was my love for the art that took me to study theatre and film. I think I am following in his career path. We have others who took other aspects, not necessarily in writing. We have a designer, musician, a pianist and others. My father used to play the piano a lot. It was one of his favourite past times. I have a brother who has taken that part of him. That brother plays the piano and the saxophone.
He wrote many books. Could you tell some of the books he has written and what lessons you have learnt from some or all of them you have read?
He has written many books. Some of them are The Concubine, Remote Ibadan, The Woman of Calabar, The Great Pond, Sunset in Biafra, When God Came, among others. I have read all his books and the things I have learnt from them are his belief in African culture. In his works, he always evoked great memories of African traditional society. It has made me to greatly appreciate our cultural heritage. I love culture. For example, I always insist on my being called my native name, Igechi. I don’t subscribe to English name and all that and I am able to achieve culture in every form. It is one of the influences his books had on me.
Why was he so passionate about the African culture?
Like I said, he loved culture a lot and he used his works to express that in every way possible. He grew up in a traditional society and I think that also had influence on his passion for African cultural heritage.
What did he study in school?
He studied Mathematics and Physics.
Is that not an irony considering his mastery of art and writing?
It is really an irony. But I think his writing prowess was triggered by his passion.
He served in the Nigerian Army and retired as a Captain. But he left the Army so soon. Did he at any time tell you why he left the military?
I can’t say exactly what actually happened but he said a few things. He said he could not stand to be almost like a robot, taking orders and having to carry out the orders willy-nilly. In his book, Sunset in Biafra, there were sometimes they gave him orders and he had contrary opinion and when he tried to reason with his superiors, they would not agree and he had to carry out the orders regardless of what the consequences would be, he said he did not like that. He also said he did not like violence, because as a soldier at some point, one has to be aggressive to protect oneself and the people one is protecting, he did not like that at all. He was a very peaceful man. I think serving in the army went contrary to his personality and he decided to retire.
He was twice arrested and detained by the Biafran Army. Did he tell you what happened?
He said a little of that. It had to do with the war but I don’t have details on that. I recommend more research should be done on that.
But did he tell you he was arrested and detained?
Yes, but he did not really delve into that. So, I do not have reliable information on that. He could have told that story to his wives but for his children, I don’t think he really mentioned that development.
He was reportedly kidnapped in 2009 for about three weeks in his hometown in Ikwerre. Could you recall the incident and what actually led to his kidnap?
Yes, he was kidnapped but not three weeks. He was kidnapped for only 23 hours. It was in our compound and we were all very much aware. In fact, we were all very disturbed. He was kidnapped about 8pm on that day and released about 7pm the next day.
How has the family been coping since his death?
Quite frankly, his exit created a void. We try to live harmoniously because we know what he could have liked. It has not been easy but so far so good.
He was also said to have fought on the side of the Federal Government during the Nigerian Civil War, rejecting the notion of Biafra. Why did he not support the Biafran cause as an Igbo man?
My father was not an Igbo man. He was an Ikwerre man not an Igbo man. I don’t have any reliable information about his reason for not supporting the Biafra.
He coincidentally left Zaria three days before the coup that claimed the life of Tafewa Balewa and some people felt he was in the know of the coup. Did he clarify that allegation in his lifetime?
That is very controversial information, but again, I do not have any reliable information concerning that.
His best known novel, The Concubine, published in 1966 was said to have sold millions of copies. Did he confide in you about the fortunes of the best seller novel?
No, he didn’t. We knew the book was a best seller because most people associate Elechi Amadi with The Concubine. Till today, it is a best seller. We knew the book did well but as for the numbers sold, I don’t know.
What lesson did you learn from that book?
The book is about destiny – what will be will be. The book was about a beautiful and enigmatic woman destined to be a concubine because she was married to a water god. The book taught me the virtue of womanhood because Ihuoma, the main character was a virtuous woman, that was why she was very respected in the community. I take a few lessons from her character and it has helped in my personal my relationship (laughs).
His works were greatly admired by even his fellow writers in Nigeria and he had a large readership throughout Africa, but he did not attain wider international reputation of the likes of Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. What do you think it happened that way?
He was a very simple man and he was not very ambitious. He wrote for the love of writing. Other people may also write for the love of writing but then there is a significant business angle to it. They set out to promote their works, go out there to get international recognition and all that. My father was very comfortable; he believed that his works would speak for themselves. He did not go all out to promote his works and make them known more.
He attended the same Government College Umuahia with Chinua Achebe. What was his relationship with Achebe like before their demise?
He was under the tutelage of Chinua Achebe. They were friends, I don’t know how close. They had a huge respect for each other, that is the much I know about them.
Which places did he really work?
He was onetime commissioner for education in Rivers State. He was a teacher, he was a lecturer and he used to give lectures at universities and he was also a writer among others.
What were his political philosophies?
He did not like politics. He abhorred the way politics was practised in Nigeria and did not want to be associated with that kind of life. He wasn’t a politician.
How would you describe your father?
He was a very kind-hearted man, liberal and loved enlightened people. He loved nature, he was selfless. My father was a traditionalist, educationist and a philosopher. Quite frankly, without sentiment, he was a perfect gentleman.
What was his favourite food and drink?
His favourite drink was water, he liked water very much. He liked fufu and our native soup, Okazi with dried fish and dried meat.
What was his favourite kind of music?
He liked classical music.
How did he reward his children whenever they made him proud?
He would commend whoever made him proud. He was not fond of giving any physical material gift. He believed that his commendation was enough to encourage you to do more.
How has his name opened doors for you?
His name has really helped. Quite frankly, I would like to carve a niche for myself. When I was in the University of Port Harcourt, I happened to be in a department where he was well known and people liked me. In the labour market, it has also helped me in my entrepreneurship.
Did he pamper his children when they were growing up?
He did not pamper anybody. He was a disciplinarian. He believed very much in carrot and stick approach. He was never one for pampering. When any of the children misbehaved, he would punish the person appropriately.
Can you consider yourself as a privileged child?
I do very much. Not for material reason but for the things I was able to learn from him. For that I consider myself very privileged.
What remarkable achievements can you attribute to your father towards societal development?
He contributed greatly to African literature and in current tradition. He is one of the pioneers of African literature and has contributed greatly to current tradition.
Were there places he took you and your siblings to for bonding?
There is a popular Port Harcourt Club he usually took us to. He loved playing tennis. We would go there on Sundays and have wonderful treats and fun. In our compound, we have a lot of trees. We just sit around and have discussion and fun, among others.
What are things Nigerians do not know about him?
He liked playing the piano. I think that is probably the only thing people don’t know about him. He knew I liked music and he was always playing classical music with his piano. That is something he enjoyed doing most times.
Between your mother and father, who was tougher?
They were both tough in their different ways. My mother is also a very great disciplinarian because she is a lecturer at Ajuru University of Education. She is currently the Dean of Faculty of Management. So, I cannot really say who was tougher. As for my father, he chose the moment he would like to discipline us, but as for mother, there is no time. As soon as it happens, she metes out punishment to you.