Kola is a feminist married to a feminist (don’t have a heart attack neither of them is transsexual) a teacher, father and a firm believer in diversity. He’s a culture advocate who is gradually working his way into becoming one of the foremost authorities on the propagation of Yoruba Language. 9jafeminista caught up with him on Facebook post election and we decided to have a chat with him.
9jafeminista: You’re a writer, a teacher, a husband, a father, editor of a couple of online magazines, you recently ran a successful fundraiser online and launched Yoruba names dictionary… Where do you find the energy to combine all these and quite successfully too?
Kola Tubosun: Hmm, When you list them like that, it sounds like a huge deal. In actual fact, most of what I do are regimented. I work in the school from 8am to 4pm. I try but am often unable to do much else during that period. But miracles happen. Then I have some time usually between 4pm and 7pm to follow up on other personal commitments. It got overwhelming at some point, so I had to re-strategize at the beginning of the year. I recently hung up my pen as the editor of the NTLitMag but I know that it hasn’t fully excused me from other responsibilities on that publication, and to writing in general. Good planning, sleeping, and exercising, help.
9jafeminista: When Nlitmag was launched I felt it was an ambitious project in a Nigeria that was really on a large scale, indifferent to the arts generally. Would you say a lot of things have changed since those days?
Kola Tubosun: Well, the magazine was carved out of NigeriansTalk itself as a way to showcase literature from the usually unheard voices and perspectives in Nigeria and around the continent. It wasn’t meant to be “large scale” as such, or anything, but merely a platform to let deserving voices be heard on a monthly basis. We have achieved that aim over the two plus years that we ran it, reaching thousands of readers and writers. Now it needs a new leadership and a new direction and I look forward to seeing where else it can go.
9jafeminista: Although you’ve tried to downplay how hard you work and the way you manage to deploy your different talents effectively. I’m curious about your latest baby… The Yoruba names dictionary. How did you birth the idea, why do you think it is important that we have that kind of website now, how relevant is it in today’s village we still erroneously consider a world?
Kola Tubosun: When I think about it – and I have done that quite often these days – the idea has always been there. My father always said that there are no stupid questions, so my memory of growing up around him throws up several instances of my restless curiosity about words, names, events etc. He patiently explained them to me, and I’ve retained a lot of those imparted knowledge. However, at adulthood, I realize how much of the information held by adults will disappear with their demise, and how much we’d have lost by buying into a “globalized” culture that celebrates monolingualism (and monoculturalism) at the expense of our own language and cultural experience. This I find totally unacceptable, And when I realized that I have in my power to change things, I also realized how late it seems and how much earlier I (and many more people with similar skills and motivations) should have been on this. To be fair, many have (See Tunde Adegbola, Francis Egbokhare, Ron Schaefer, Tunde Kelani, Akinwumi Ishola, etc), but note that they’re all adults. Where is the new breed? Where are the leaders to take the mantle into the new generation?
So, to answer your question specifically, this Yoruba Dictionary of Names started as an undergraduate project while I was in the final year at the University of Ibadan in 2005. But it is an extension of a number of years of looking for something like this. They say if you look for something and you can’t find it. Create it. In 2015, ten years later, I finally found enough people to make it happen as I’d want it.
And to your final question: how relevant will it be? Let me answer this in a minimalist way, and say that even if all the dictionary does is provide a way for ME to be able to find the meaning of any Yoruba name that I want whenever I want it, and for my son’s benefit as well, I will have succeeded. However, I assume that it will have the same (or more) benefit for a lot more people in the world, and that is an added benefit.
9jafeminista: Well you’ve made your point about how globalisation appears to be snuffing out diversity. Could you talk a bit more about that?
Kola Tubosun: As per globalisation, this is – just as the name implies – a global problem. The problem is in a false belief in the acceptance of ONE culture and language as the panacea to the problem of global distrust and misunderstanding. That if we all speak English (or that we all do anyway), we won’t have as much problems in the world. People who make that argument however don’t say yes when you substitute “English” in this case for, let’s say, “Hausa” or “German”. I think it’s fueled by a kind of laziness (or to be charitable, “conservatism” – a belief that things are already how they are. Why change?). The end result is the extinction of thousands of languages and, along with them, cultures and worldviews that could only have added to us.
On the one hand, the predominance of English is there to help communication and global interaction. Nothing is wrong with that. But the attendant consequence of discounting our own languages (or feeling ashamed about them) is the drawback. Go around Nigeria today and find out how many parents still speak their language to their children. Then find out why. You’ll be ashamed.
9jafeminista: Let’s talk about Nigeria’ and her multifaceted problems mostly fueled by the patriarchy. I know you followed the recent elections that ushered Muhamad Buhari in as the president. The absence of women in our political space was emphasized by the only woman running for the presidency Remi Sonaiya … And we know how that went… How do you think we can address this problem?
Kola Tubosun: Nigeria’s experiment with civil rule is new, and so can be excused for dragging its feet on some of the crucial indices of progress. I’m buoyed by the fact that women have, even in our recent past, proven themselves capable of doing great things in the public space. I speak of Dora Akunyili, Oby Ezekwesili, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, among many others. Ours is a patriarchal continent, for the most part, and it will take a while for our politics to reflect anything different from our centuries of socialization and conditioning.
9jafeminista: Half of the voters are women as at the last census… So why this tokenism? A kind of ‘just take and shut up’ thing successive governments have done. The way lip service is paid to “the female-gender” (whatever that is) and the past president’s boast of being a feminist… But we need more women in governance! Were can’t keep using our ‘young’ civil rule as an excuse
Kola Tubosun: You’re right, and I think more women should vie for positions of power. But I don’t think that we want women to be voted in JUST because they’re women either. I preferred Obama in 2008 to Clinton, but only because I believed him to be more capable. If the US election today is between Elizabeth Warren and anyone else, I’ll choose Warren. Also, because she’s put herself out there, and because she’s capable. We have many capable women in Nigeria, but where are they in the public space?
9jafeminista: Doesn’t this take us back to the question of patriarchy? Especially when you think about godfatherism in our political space and glass ceilings preventing women from achieving their true potential
Kola Tubosun: True. And we’re not alone. I find it interesting, for instance, that it has taken America this long to even consider a woman for that top position, in the number of centuries they’ve had presidents. Talk about institutional patriarchy! We at least had a woman presidential candidate just 16 years into our new democratic experience. It’s not perfect, what we have. Actually, it’s terrible, considering the number of strong women we’ve had in our history, from Madam Tinubu to Mrs. Funmilayo Kuti. But I believe that the problem is a societal one. Our government is a representative of who we are. It’s like a chicken and egg situation. Writers are already doing their part. Artists should follow. And we as a people should stop encouraging Nollywood movies that cast women as helpless, hapless, creatures when they are not being cast as witches or husband thieves. We should begin to tell their stories as strong agents of positive change in the world. Things won’t change if we merely expect it to.