One father once said, “There are two types of men, the smart ones and the non smart ones”, Tolu Ogunlesi is definitely one of the smart ones. Here’s a young man whose approach to issues, especially his effortless writing I totally enjoy.
In this very short interview, I’ll try as much as possible to introduce the other side of Tolu.
Nobs: Tolu, I’m a huge fan of your work.
Nobs: You are welcome. Who is Gbenga and how is he related to Tolu Ogunlesi?
Gbenga is the one that has mouth. Our uncle told him that in Lagos, if you don’t have money, and you’re not mad, at least try to have mouth. Or else you’re on your own. That’s the Law of the Three Ms – money, mouth and madness. As per the relationship between Tolu and Gbenga, they’re still trying to work it out.
Nobs: Tell us about growing up; life with your siblings and constructing mud houses.
I lived the first eighteen months of my life in a small Edinburgh flat, the next eight in a high-ceilinged bungalow in Abeokuta (see Google Maps). I must have been one of the first persons in my generation to know that it was an apple that put Adam in trouble, and that Cain was a yam-farmer (like something out of Things Fall Apart) – it’s there in the Illustrated Children’s Bible, in case you think I’m making it up. So, yes, books were important to me.
But outdoor play was important too. I had a swing. We had an almond tree, and filled buckets with its fruit. I played monkey-post soccer, sang in a Christmas choir, watched Superted on video (that was the only cartoon we had; the only other thing to watch on video was a documentary: Jesus Then and Now). On TV we had Voltron and Danger Mouse and Another Life and Frank Spencer and Rentaghost and Dempsey & Makepeace.
Nobs: When are we going to see “TOLUMED”? Not a lot of people know that you trained as a Pharmacist.
It always helps to have a back-up plan in today’s Nigeria, so that means TOLUMED is always a possibility. A pharmacist’s license in the hands of a smart somebody is like an INEC certificate of return: “Whom God has blessed, poverty cannot curse”
Nobs: Apart from Cyprian Ekwensi, are there any other trained pharmacist-writers out there?
There’s Professor Adebayo Lamikanra at OAU. I’m sure there are others out there.
Nobs: What was your parents’ reaction when you informed them that you were leaving Pharmacy for writing?
I never had to tell them I was leaving, because I didn’t just leave suddenly. From Pharmacy to full-time writing, in a sense it was a very gradual sneaking-out of the building.
Nobs: Do you ever regret making that turn?
No. At least not until every time I remember that in an alternative world I could have become Nigeria’s biggest distributor of Viagra. Think of how much money I’d make from you alone (if your ‘Memoirs’ are to be believed)
Nobs: The Geckos in my house are always singing, “ So inspired” by Waje. What other books have you written?
A novella for young adults, titled Conquest & Conviviality. And I’m pretending to be working on a Naija-English dictionary.
Nobs: I expected that. Is Tolu dating?
Nobs: Tell us what you expect in a relationship?
Just three things: food, shelter and clothing. I’m not a very demanding person. (Regarding the shelter, I actually mean ‘emotional’ shelter aka love – I don’t need the keys to a flat)
Nobs: So should we be expecting a wedding soon?
Soon is too ambiguous a term. Consider these two sentences: 1. “I am going to eat soon.” 2. “Nigeria is going to have stable electricity soon.” You see the difference – there are different kinds of soon. So, back to your question, yes, expect a wedding soon.
Nobs: How many times do you eat in a day?
Sometimes once, sometimes twice. Very randomly. Sometimes it’s laziness – there are times when looking for food is harder work than enduring hunger. So…
Nobs: Would you rather skip lunch or dinner?
Nobs: What about lunch with the president?
I wouldn’t skip it. Would be even better if it was actually a real lunch-with-the-President (y’know, me asking him to pass the salt and the pepper) not lunch-with-one-million-other-yoots-in-the-vicinity-of-the-president.
Nobs: Talking about lunch with the president, what do you think was wrong with the last one involving the youth?
The organization – and I blame the president’s people.
Nobs: How should they have gone about it?
They could have handled it much better. Think of how different it’d have been if they asked themselves: “What Would Obama Do?” But no, when Ghana-mus’-go signs in, common sense logs out.
Nobs: Do you know about 360date?
Who doesn’t? I doff my hat to the ever-expanding Noble Group of Companies. So what next – 360Escort?
Nobs: Who would you love to go on a date with?
Ah well, I don’t know. I don’t have an “ideal date candidate”. Variety is the spice of life, and of The Date. But I know who I wouldn’t want to go on a date with – I wouldn’t want to go on a date with someone who wouldn’t want to go on a date with me. You might think that sounds silly – but you’d be surprised at the number of dates involving people who would rather be anywhere else but on a date with their date!
Nobs: You work hard, do you play hard?
If you call tweeting and reading and sleeping on trains play, yes, I play hard. But I also like dancing, so any opportunity I get to dance to Naija jams, I seize it. In Lagos I love hanging out at City Mall and Mega Plaza food courts, and wandering round the Palms. And Kuramo beach at night is one of the best things you could ever do in Lagos.
Nobs: Ass man or boobs man?
Why not both? Is God too now into the rationing business?
Nobs: Slim or big boned?
Nobs: Even if the price of Akara goes up, what should stay stable?
City Mall chicken wings; Sabo chicken suya.
Nobs: Let’s have the following firsts
Er, is this for Playboy? Or do I look like a memoir-writer? All the ones that involve physical contact have to be cleared with my office first. At least until we can afford super-injunctions. The rest I can answer.
- First kiss
See caveat (above)
- First car
A black BMW 525 bought second-hand in Lagos. It took me a while to find Gear 5. Lagos-Ibadan Express had nothing on that car. But the devil lived inside the alternator…
- First girlfriend
Conflicting statistics/dates regarding this one
- First million naira
I need a guarantee that my creditors do not visit this site
- First pair of jeans
- First mobile phone
A Trium, 2002. Cost like 16 grand back then, which was a lot of money in those days.
- First sex
See caveat (above)
- First CD
I’m a bit old school – so not sure what you people mean by CD these days: compact disc, condom or (NYSC) community development.
- First Nigerian album
10. First porn
Do people still watch porn in the Age of #TwitterAfterDark? (You bet this comment is going to increase the number of Facebookers seeking asylum on Twitter)
Nobs: What do you have to say to aspiring writers?
Read more than you write. Read what you’d like to write. Keep writing.
Nobs: 6 Nigerians you admire and why?
- Babatunde Fashola – A thinking politician. Not very many of them.
- D’Banj & Don Jazzy – those boys have business sense
- Chimamanda Adichie – her writing talent, and the way she’s taken Nigerian literature across the world
- Wole Soyinka – for a lifetime devoted to seeking justice, fighting oppression, and writing. And for his sense of humour.
- The late Tayo Aderinokun – For his humility and level-headedness. (I hate big-manism!) Now I never met him while he was alive. But while doing the research for an obituary, I realised I will always regret the fact that I never got a chance to meet him.
- Chika Unigwe: novelist, politician, wife, mother (to four sons, just like my mum), academic – how she manages to do all the things she does constantly amazes me. By the way you should check out her novel, On Black Sister’s Street, on Amazon. And she’s one of the most good-hearted people you’ll ever meet.
I must add a number 7:
- Olusegun Obasanjo – now this is a man I like to throw yabis at. I actually think he should retire from Nigerian politics and go and rest and feed his chickens. But I’m also compelled to respect and admire him for one thing: his boldness and stubbornness; the fact that you always underestimate him at your own risk.