How did you come about the idea of this story?
The novel is what is called ‘faction’ in literature. That is, an admixture of facts and fiction. It’s triggered off by the sectarian riot that dovetailed an aborted crusade by the German Evangelist ReinhardBonnke in Kano in 1991. As I recounted in the “afterword” of the book, the gruesome experience haunted me since then, and every time there was sectarian violence I felt guilty for not putting pen to paper, or for not completing the story. Initially, I wanted to tell my own story, but over time I had lost much of the facts because I didn’t take note. In writing the novel, I had to engage in a measure of research: reading up stories published about the violence in the newspapers; interviewing many other victims of the violence; talking to security personnel who had an insight into the incident; reading up what jihad really means in Islam; talking to social scientists, etc. The book, essentially, turned out to be a product of several enterprises I embarked upon in my quest to understand why such scale of killings could take place in spite of government.
There is too much of church in the book. Why?
I wanted to tell the story of my own local church, the Christian Evangelical Ministry, primarily because the riot and killings caused the kind of dislocation that can no longer be repaired. There was the brotherly love among us, men and women, young and old. Such bond that was stronger than family ties.
In the violence, some were killed; some lost family members; others ran away from Kano as a result of fear; some terminated their educational pursuits. In fact, lives were dislocated, and up till the time I wrote the book, the nostalgia of the pre-ReinhardBonnke violence era was still with us. Whenever we met, we romanticized that love that welded us into one whole. So, the story of the violence couldn’t be told without a heavy dose of Christianity and Church.
Is the novel anti-Islam?
Definitely not! In the novel I projected the good works of many Muslims. There are characters that prevent the rioters from invading houses where Christians live. There are others who fault the misinterpretation of Jihad and expound the Holy Prophet’s instructions on the relationship between Christians and Muslims. There are characters who quote the Holy Qur’an on the sanctity of life and that human lives should not be taken except a suspect is found guilty through a judicial process. There are several characters in the work who project the wonderful aspects of Islam. What I had in mind was to say that the rioters were wrong-headed.
Apart from lamenting the killings, what other message did you intend to pass across to the reader?
I weep every time I read sections of the novel. I perceive freshness, a kind of newness which evokes fresh emotions in me, and I would ask myself if I actually wrote some plots. However, it’s not all about attempt to evoke emotions, but I attempted to do one thing – call for a thorough investigation of sectarian violence and ensure that their masterminds face the full wrath of the law.
In the novel, I created a character – Alhaji Dan Suna – who is the mastermind of the violence. He attempts to evade justice, but he meets his kind in a tough judge who sends him to jail. As long as the police fail to carry out thorough, dispassionate investigations into sectarian violence, it will be difficult to put a stop to it. For every mob action, there is a mastermind. They can be fished out by the police. Most times, in Nigeria, we underestimate the capacity of the police. However, during my research for the novel, I discovered that our police have capacity; they can dig up those behind criminal acts, even if those criminals dug a hole to hide. If only the police can scrub the undesirable elements from their ranks, they would do wonders. In spite of the poisonous activities of criminal policemen, we still have a league of good policemen who can fish out masterminds of violent crimes.
Secondly, the judiciary should rise to the occasion by dispensing justice as quickly as possible. If those behind mob actions in sectarian violence are punished; if they are sent to jail as promptly as they deserve, victims of mass killings would feel a sense of relief, seeing that justice has been done. But if no visible justice is dispensed, the people would feel cheated. That has been the bane of Nigerians, and that’s why many now resort to self-help. We have arms proliferation, and militias, in the name of vigilantes, are being formed from one part of the country to another. This is not good for Nigeria.
How do you write?
It takes self-discipline to write a book. As a journalist, I have written hundreds of stories, but those are not books. In order to complete Lost in the Wind, I wrote at night. I think clearer at night; I concentrate a lot at night. In journalistic writing, the reporter quotes sources, so there is little room for creativity. But in creative writing, one can recast one sentence up to thirty times. For instance, I can’t tell the number of times I rewrote the first sentence of the book. The plots had to be re-arranged and the narratives have to be done again and again. In describing places, people, and scenes, I had to rewrite them several times. I must mention also that I had thrown away several initial drafts of the book, but I came up with its current content. Writing a book is no tea party.
Is this the only book you would write?
I definitely have to write many more books. One thing is this – my experience in writing Lost in the Wind was enough learning, therefore, my next book will not be difficult.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Theophilus Abbah, the author of “Lost in the Wind,” is an award-winning investigative journalist and researcher.