It is not in doubt that Chief Femi Fani-Kayode is one of the most prolific writers of our time. We decided to ask him about his essays and poems and this is what he had to say...
www.mytestimonys.blogspot.com : Let’s talk about the poems and the essays, how does that happen? They come out so passionate and prophetic...
FFK: Thank you very much. There are two aspects. I love writing articles about current affairs and what is happening in our country because I have a passion for Nigeria. It’s my calling and I feel that is important to express my opinion as freely as possible. You don’t have to be in power or be looking for power before you write. If you feel you have something to say and if you notice that a lot of people take their time to read your contributions and that they appear to take what you say very seriously, then you have a duty to come out and speak the truth or at least express your opinion on national events from time to time. I enjoy writing essays on a wide variety of topics and not just politics. I have been doing that for almost twenty six years now.
I remember a series of literary debates which I had in the early days. The first major one was in 1996 in the Sunday Guardian Newspaper when I had a long 3 month debate with Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah about Pentecostalism and Catholicism. He was a rising star in the Catholic Church then and he was very vocal about so many things. I think that he was the spokesman for the Catholic Bishops Conference in Nigeria then or something and he pastored his own branch of the church somewhere in Lagos at the time. I on the other hand was a practising Pentecostal and I had just finished my pastoral course at the Action Faith Chapel Bible Seminary in Accra, Ghana one year earlier where I got my degree in theology. So I was power-packed and ready to go toe to toe with him.
I was a very committed and serious-minded Pentecostal Christian then with a very compelling testimony. The debate was sparked off by the fact that I took objection to a long essay that he wrote about the Pentecostal Church and their views about God. I considered his write-up to be very insulting to our faith and church and I resolved to do something about it. I wrote a full page rejoinder the following week titled ''Is Matthew Kukah A Priest Or A Politician?'' and it caused quite a stir. Of course he was not in any way intimidated and the very next Sunday he wrote his full page responding to me titled ''Priest, Politician and More''. I responded to him again the following Sunday with another long article about the Catholics and that is when the whole debate about church history, the Catholic Church and the Pentecostal Church started. It was explosive and very educative for all the readers that were following it every Sunday. It was a beautiful thing and a very thrilling intellectual exercise for us all. It was so popular and closely followed that for the next 2 months the Sunday Guardian dedicated at least four pages each Sunday to it and published articles from both sides of the divide written by different people each Sunday. At a time it got very acrimonious and hostile but it was nevertheless very informative and educative. It was also very entertaining and every time I went to any Pentecostal church at that time they would announce me, encourage me and say that they are reading the debate with keen interest and supporting me. Of course Kukah got the same level of support from the Catholics and he was a very tough nut to crack. He is a wonderful man and after the debate we became good friends. We still are. If there were more formidable intellectuals in Nigeria like Bishop Matthew Kukah in our country Nigeria would be a much better place.
The second major literary debate that I had was in 2001 and it was in the Sunday Vanguard Newspaper where I had a column. The whole sharia thing was very hot in Nigeria then and I took strong exception to the essay of a Muslim intellectual by the name of Abu Jaffar who wrote a series of articles in the Sunday Vanguard disparaging Christianity and describing Jesus as ''weak''. I responded to him and for the next three months we wrote one essay each every Sunday responding to one another. We went into the history, practices and beliefs of both faiths and I had to read no less than 11 books on Islam for that debate alone. It was explosive and literally the whole country was following it. Kudos must go to the editor of the Sunday Vanguard at that time, my brother Kunle Oyatomi, because there was considerable pressure on him to stop the debate because it was generating so much heat and tension between Christians and Muslims in the country. Yet Abu Jaffar (who I never met or ever spoke to up till today) and I never saw it like that. To us it was a purely intellectual exercise and scholarly debate about the credibility and veracity of our two faiths, a detailed sojourn into the history of both and a listing of atrocities in world history committed by both sides. I enjoyed it thoroughly and evidently so did he. Most important of all both us and our readers learnt from one another and shared valuable information about Christianity and Islam that most people didn't know. It was a wonderful thing and by the time we finished we understood one another's faiths and their history far better. How I wish that we had more Abu Jaffars in Nigeria that could argue forcefully and eloquently for their faith without resorting to throwing insults or bombs. I have been involved in many literary exchanges and debates over the years on many different topics but I believe that those two, the Kukah one and the Abu Jaffar one, were the most explosive, the most acclaimed and the most celebrated.
So you can see from that that I have been writing essays for many years and long before I went into government. Even before I went into politics in 1989 I was writing essays for the newspapers. I remember the first essay I ever wrote that was published in a Nigerian newspaper was in 1987 and it was titled ‘A Call to The New Breed’. I will never forget it. That was the first essay I ever wrote for public consumption and I was 27 years old at the time. The second one that I wrote was titled ''Visions of a Federalist'' and it was published in 1988. I was very happy with those first two essays and the responses that I got to them throughout the country was phenomenal. I have not stopped writing essays since that time.
The poems, however, are a completely different thing. I have always loved English, Greek and French literature and history and I read virtually all the great classics from a very young age. I have also always loved poetry and reading poems ever since I was at school in England as a young man of twelve years old. I did not actually start writing my own poems though until many years later in 2007 and ever since then I haven’t stopped. It’s just something that I love doing and I think that it is by far the most refined and sophisticated form of self-expression. It is the language of the deep and those that have vivid imaginations, developed minds and extreme passions. It stirs emotions up in us that other forms of prose simply cannot stir. Poetry is the purest form of expression. It comes from the soul. Only refined minds can understand poetry. Only developed and learned minds can appreciate it's power and purity. That is why poetry is more celebrated in the more advanced civilizations whether it be in places like India, the Far East, the older western civilisations, the Arabs of the Middle East and so on and so forth. When it comes to sub-Saharan Africa the Yoruba of Nigeria, the Zulu of South Africa, the Igbo of Nigeria and the Ashanti people of Ghana appreciate poetry more than any other people on the continent because it is embedded in their history and folklore. It is the same with their love songs and when they sing worship songs to God in their languages and dialects. It is very moving indeed. People that come from great empires that have seen great suffering and that have great and rich histories are the ones that usually appreciate poetry. Well educated and refined people. It’s the language of the refined and the civilised. It’s the language of the soul. Poetry can move you to tears if you are a sensitive soul and apart from anything else poetry, as far as I am concerned, is also the language of angels. You are saying and writing things that come from deep inside your spirit and soul. You are expressing your passions and your deepest secrets. These are things which under normal circumstances you would not write or say.
One thing that people need to understand is that when somebody writes a poem they should forget about who wrote it or who didn’t write it. The reader should allow the poem to speak for itself and he or she should completely forget who the author is.
The prose itself, the message it seeks to convey and the passions that it stirs are far more important than the author. There was a time I was toying with the idea of writing poems without my name and using a pseudonym so that ''Femi Fani Kayode'' is taken out of the equation. Sometimes it’s more effective that way so that people don’t focus on you and instead they focus on the message. I thought about it but in the end I said, ‘No’ and I decided to continue using my name. I asked myself why I should hide my name as if I am ashamed of myself or what I was writing and I therefore chose not to do so. I chose to continue writing poetry and to continue to use my name for my poems. I love poetry. I have written so many and each one, for me, is like a little precious pearl no matter how long or short it may be. Every single one of them has a meaning. Any time I write a love poem I am actually tapping into my emotions and I am writing about a particular individual that nobody knows. Only I know who that person is. It was only on about four occasions that I made it self-evident who I was writing about. For example I wrote one for my wife which was titled- ''A Tribute To My Wife Regina- Daughter of Zion'' and then there was a second one which I wrote for my children. I wrote those ones in 2008 and 2009 respectively. All the other poems I have written, every single one of them, the love poems and the ones that are not love poems; usually it’s a specific individual that I am talking about. I draw inspiration from the Spirit of God, my pain, my emotions and my experiences and it just comes out flowing.
www.mytestimonys.blogspot.com : Twitter went crazy when one of your poems, The Power of a Woman, was trending, many women were commenting on the fact that you know them so well, let’s talk about that poem
I wrote Power of a Woman in 2009 when it was first published and it was basically a collection of all my experiences with women. It was re-published again recently and once again it generated a lot of interest. That’s a great poem though it is very light-hearted and funny at times. I guess that it's a contrast from my usual style of heavy and soul-searching writing where all kinds of deep emotions come to play. The Power of a Woman is a light and easy read and it is very refreshing and informative. It leaves you with a smile on your face and gets you thinking about the way women behave and what really motivates them. It is actually an advisory on women for men.
Some of my poems are psalmic in nature like the songs of David in the bible. Those ones inspire, they encourage, they bring hope, they soothe the wounded, they offer praise to the Lord and they talk about God, His love and His awesome power. I love those ones because they inspire and motivate people. They offer strength and they encourage others. Others are proverbial in nature like the Songs of Solomon or the Book of Proverbs in the Holy Bible. They just come up with proverbial anecdotes to life and little bits of profound advice about how to survive the rigours of life and make it through.
Some are just pure poetry, love poetry, love songs about individuals that were in your life or that are still in your life and some about the pain that you are going through. You lose somebody that’s dear to you, you feel the pain and you can write and when I write like that, immediately I finish, the pain just gradually goes. That’s the beauty of this wonderful art form-it can be very therapeutic.
Yet I do not limit myself to love poems and all the other themes that I mentioned. I sometimes write poems about things that are taboo and that others fear to write or talk about like death. Nobody wants to write or talk about that topic but Where Angels Beckon is all about death and it is one of my favourites. I love that poem. And if I should die tomorrow or whenever I would want them to read it in the church at my burial service or at the graveyard over my coffin to everyone's hearing before my body is lowered in the bowels of the earth. You see each of those poems has a special meaning to me and over the last four years I have written probably close to about 30 or 40. You can find them all on the poems column of my website-www.femifankayode.org.
The Power of a Woman came purely as a consequence of my own experiences with women and then as I was writing it things just kept coming to my mind. It was written purely by the power of the Spirit. God just took control of my mind and my pen and these words of wisdom and knowledge about the opposite sex just kept coming out. Let me share a small secret with you. I have never written a poem by planning it and sitting down one day and saying to myself, ''today I will write a poem''. It never happens like that. Never! It always starts with just one line and usually I finish my poems within twenty minutes, half an hour or at the most maybe one hour of starting them. I never plan to write. It just happens impulsively. It is never contrived or planned. It takes you by surprise like good sex. The day I sit down and I say that ''I am writing today'' it won’t work. It comes not by planning but by divine inspiration. It’s like a deeper revelation or some deep insight and understanding that you are momentarily given a glimpse into. That is a blessing from God and the power of a creative and artistic mind. It's a gift from God. The Power of a Woman was a collection of my own experiences with women and then the Spirit of God kept dropping things in my spirit as I was writing. I think that we got it just right about the way women are in that poem.
Yet the funny thing is I didn’t learn from my own lessons. I am the most naïve and vulnerable person when it comes to women. I read that poem again the other day and I said to myself ‘'You know all these things about these beautiful creatures and yet you keep on making mistakes with them and about them’'. It is truly amazing. So I never learnt my own lessons about women which is another interesting thing. I am not an expert on them because I never learnt from my own lessons about them. Yet I know them and that poem says a lot about them. The poem is actually a celebration of women. It lists their virtues and their vices. It makes them human and it strips them bare. Yet it is not insulting. It is gentle, funny and kind and like vintage wine it puts a nice smile on your face. It’s a celebration of women and I believe that all men need to read that poem if you want to really understand women.
www.mytestimonys.blogspot.com : Let’s talk about Seven Keys to an Abundant Life; your words on betrayal were profound
FFK: Its one of my poems that is anecdotal and proverbial in nature. Such insightful prose sometimes comes to my spirit. I think that I wrote that one in 2010 or 2011.
Betrayal is one of the most painful things that anyone can suffer. This is especially so when it comes from a loved one or someone that you trusted and relied on. Yet why should we be surprised when it comes. That is human nature and that is how human beings behave. If the Lord Himself, the Master, Jesus can have twelve disciples and He chose them by divine inspiration and one of them ended up betraying Him why should we complain or be surprised when we experience the same sort of betrayal from friends and loved one that we did not choose by divine inspiration.
Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray Him long before He chose him because it was prophetic. It had to happen so that scripture could be fulfilled. He never fooled Jesus and the Lord saw it coming long before Judas was even conceived in his mother's womb. Yet He bore it and went through with it so that the scriptures could be fulfilled. In his betrayal Judas thought that he was hurting and destroying the Master but he didn't know that he was actually helping Him to fulfill His purpose in His life and on earth and to confirm the ancient prophecy of His coming, of His being betrayed, of His being crucified and of His rising again. This was part of God's great redemption plan for mankind but Judas, in his deep, dark wickedness and twisted and evil little mind could not see it. The Bible says, ‘… If the prince of this world had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory’. It’s not that He was fooled. He knew that Judas would betray Him and yet He selected him all the same. That is the way I see traitors and those that betray trust and confidences. It has to happen so that God can effect His plan in your life. If Joseph had not been betrayed by his brothers, thrown in the pit, sold into slavery, misrepresented and betrayed by Potiphar's wife and gone to prison, he would never have fulfilled God's purpose for his life and become the Prime Minister of Egypt. He would never have been in a position to save his own family and the Jews from starvation in their time of need. If his brothers had known that when they threw him in the pit and left him to die, out of jealousy and envy and simply because of his dream, that they were actually effecting God's greater plan and purpose for his life, they would never have done it. They delighted in their wickedness but they didn’t know that God had a greater and better plan for Joseph in spite of their wickedness. In fact it was their wickedness and betrayal of him that set God's plan and purpose for his life into motion. Joseph would never have gone to Egypt in the first place, let alone end up ruling the place as Prime Minister, if he hadn't been sold into slavery by his brothers. So when a traitor or a betrayer does his or her thing just take it in your stride, don't be moved, hold your peace, leave them alone, leave them to God and watch out for what God will do for you and to them. There is always a hidden reason and purpose for everything that happens to a child of God and in any case the traitor will always pay a terrible price for it so why worry? The bible is very clear on that one. It says ''he who repays good with evil, evil will never leave his household''. It is a very deep and dangerous scripture and it is very powerful. When invoked it works and sometimes it doesn't even need to be invoked- it just happens automatically and the retribution just comes either slowly or suddenly. Whichever way, come it will.
So don't worry when you are betrayed. If of the twelve that were chosen by divine inspiration one betrayed Jesus then who are we to imagine people won’t betray us? They will always betray and they will always repay your good with evil. I have been betrayed more times than anybody I know. I have suffered betrayal, I have suffered in the hands of false brethren, I have suffered all sorts of treachery and I have suffered all sorts of intrigues and indignities from people who I have helped in life and whose lives I have transformed. I have suffered all sorts of insults and misrepresentations from people that I have shown nothing but love and goodness, but you know what? Even those who have betrayed me the most I have forgiven and I have continued to love them from a distance. I will never fight hate with hate. The only thing that can drive out hate is love so even when I am betrayed I withdraw but I try as much as possible to forgive and to love. I leave the traitor to God who can do far more than I and who sees the full picture far better than I do. I do not get bitter and I do not hate. The greatest betrayal I have ever suffered in my life came from somebody I loved deeply yet I eventually forgave that person from the bottom of my heart and I don’t regret doing so. That is the key to life. The ability to understand the nature of man - that man will always betray. That is his nature. Don’t ever expect anything in return for what you do for somebody because they will always repay your good with evil. When you do good to others you do it unto God and not unto man. Your reward for those acts of kindness, for that support, for that assistance you gave and for that gesture and word of encouragement will come only from God. And just as you help others, God will raise others to help you in your time of need or to help your loved ones when you are not there or you are not in a position to do so yourself. An act of charity or kindness is never a waste and you must never resolve to stop giving or helping others that are in need simply because someone has betrayed you in the past and has repaid your good with evil.
And when you have been badly hurt and betrayed by someone that you love the key recovery is to learn to forgive. Keep your guard up, don’t let them come back and do it to you again but always forgive them from the bottom of your heart. That way when you yourself do things that are wrong to God and to others, God will also forgive you. That’s the way I live my life. I am not a saint or an angel and I have never claimed to be one but there are certain principles that I hold dear and that I live my life by and this is one of them. The ability to forgive, like patience, is not just a virtue but it is a powerful weapon in the arena of spiritual warfare.
www.mytestimonys.blogspot.com : Which are your favorite poems?
FFK: There are so many but my favorite ones I think are A Tribute To My Wife Regina-Daughter of Zion, Remembering MacDreamie, St. Barts and the God-sent Child, The Power of a Woman, A Note To Umaru- I Stand and I Fight, Where Angels Beckon, The Last Call, She was Tranquility, This Is Wisdom, The Land Of The Black Star, The Fields Of Harrrow, Let Courage Be Your Armour, They Wound The Souls That Love,For My Beautiful Children, To Regina My Queen, The One I love, A Prayer For The Believer, As The Lord Lives, This Wall Shall Fall, A Word To My Father, Reach For The Stars, God Defend Nigeria, O Yes Men Do Cry, There Is None Like You,
The Ephemeral Thoughts Of Lesser Men, On Dominique Strauss Khan And His Women, Despising The Shame-A Resurrection Day Message and so many others. I just love them all.
There’s another one titled, My Most Precious, which is a lovely little poem and then I have epic, long and moving ones that tell quite a story like A Tribute to the Warrior, which is an outstanding poem. The Nubian Queen is another beautiful one. There are so many you like Why Do You Love God? There are so many others. I just love them all and they all have a special meaning to me and a special place in my heart. Each one has its own story. You can read them all in the poems column of my website or you can just Google them because most of them have been published before.
www.mytestimonys.blogspot.com : We should talk about your book, when is it coming out?
FFK: There are two books that I am writing. I have been under a lot of pressure to put all my poems in a book. This is coming from mostly people that read my poems and that appreciate them but surprisingly many of those people are not even Nigerians. There are some exceptions to the rule but mostly Nigerians somehow don’t key into these things. This is because most of them don't even like reading in the first place let alone reading or appreciating such a complicated narrative and oftentimes emotional prose. You know that our people are very hard. This is because they have been through so much over the years. I don’t understand why Nigerians generally don’t like poetry but people say it’s because we are not so well versed in the arts. Nigerians don’t read widely. Even the great poets of history, people like Coleridge and all the rest of them, Byron and so many others, Nigerians don’t really read them. Yet the people outside Nigeria do, particularly in the West and even in the East. Most of those, like I said, they read my poems and express appreciation and delight with them are mainly from the Middle East, from America and from Europe and most of them have been pressuring me to put them all in a book. So I am putting a book of all my poems together and then apart from that, I am writing a book which is very similar to the one that Nasir El- Rufai just published and launched. I have actually got most of my transcripts for that one ready.
I haven't gotten a title yet but it’s about my personal experiences in government, not post, but whilst in government and then the third book I will write after I finish that second one will be about my post government experiences. In other words what has been happening to me and the experiences that I have had between 2007 and now. I have been putting a few notes together but I need to get the first two out before I go deeply into that one.
www.mytestimonys.blogspot.com : Are you releasing the books at the same time?
FFK: The likelihood is that I will probably release the first two together that is, the poetry book and the other one. More or less its ready. Those two are ready now. It’s just for me to muster the courage and the will, to put them together and to find a good publisher.
www.mytestimonys.blogspot.com : I have no doubt, they will be best sellers
FFK: The poems I pray will do well particularly abroad like I said. It’s only a few Nigerians that appreciate such things but there are thousands of people abroad that really do seem to love them judging from the responses I get. That one (the poems) will really for an international audience and particularly women.
The one on the Obasanjo years when I was in government, I focused on between 2003 and 2007. It contains all that transpired that I knew about. That one I have got most of the stuff already. The transcripts are there. It’s just that I am looking for a publisher. There is so much sensitive stuff there and I just don’t know whether I have the courage to come out with all that because mine is much stronger. If people think Nasir El- Rufai’s one was really tough they are in for a shocker because I assure you that mine is much tougher than that. By the way I should also mention Nasir El- Rufai. He is a good friend and a man of immense courage whom I have tremendous respect for. I thought that his book was outstanding though I didn’t agree with everything in it but I think the fact that he could come out and write like that is commendable. I think that if anybody has any objections or disputes anything that he wrote they should simply write their own book. That way many people will write their own version of events, members of the public can read them all and people can make up what they want to believe. What I didn’t agree was with some of the things that he said about Obasanjo as a person and what he believed that the Presidents intentions were. I didn’t know about those things and when I discussed them with President Obasanjo he denied them. But other than that, I think the book is an outstanding expose and Nasir is a good and loyal friend to have any day and anytime. He is one of the most consistent people that I have ever known. Of all the people that I got to know whilst I was in government I think that he’s probably one of the most consistent. We may not agree on a few things and we certainly don’t agree on everything but he will always have my friendship and my respect.
www.mytestimonys.blogspot.com : How soon, are we looking at for the book, this year?
FFK: Well, yes, I am hoping I will have two of them out before the end of this year but again it depends on the publishers. There are so many questions I am still asking. Whether I want it done here or outside and things like that.
The material is very sensitive, particularly on the years I was in government. I always get this feeling that I don’t want to upset too many people and whether it’s the right time to come up with some of this stuff. This is what always holds me back but the transcripts are ready. What I am working on now is what happened between 2007 and now. It’s been very eventful. What I know about the situation and what’s been going on. But the other one is ready. It’s a question of time. Don't worry; I won’t keep you waiting for too long.