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African literature needs rediscovery of authenticity — Anastacia Azuma

After 9 years, the department of English, University of Lagos finally produced a first-class graduate. She speaks with Edugist on how she achieved this feat and expresses her views on African literature.
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Anastacia Azuma is a first-class graduate and the best graduating student from the department of English, University of Lagos. She is the only first-class graduate from the department in nine years. She speaks with Edugist on how she achieved this feat and expresses her views on African literature. Excerpts

Please share with Edugist, a little about yourself and your background.

Thank you for the opportunity to be here. My name is Anastacia Onyinyechi Azuma and I am a Christian. I love to read books, write and try my hands at things that have to do with words. I am very passionate about African literature, and would love to teach it in the future. I come from a family of eight with five amazing siblings and two great parents who have encouraged me to be the best version of myself, and continue to do so.

What motivated you to pursue a degree in English?

It might sound kind of cliché, but reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus at the age of nine spurred an interest in me that I knew I had to follow through with. This interest was further advanced after spending a year at Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED), now Lagos State University of Education (LASUED), studying English Education. The beauty of words, how something finite, letters, could be strung together to create something infinite—words, sentences, texts and stories—caught my attention. So, when I applied to the University of Lagos, I knew just what I wanted to study.

Considering the history of your department regarding achieving first-class, when did it occur to you that you’d graduate with a first-class degree?

This question is quite a stumper. When you say “history of your department,” you are implying that the department is difficult or something along that line. Well, I believe that there is no easy course to study and achieving a First Class degree does not come easy. So, the work has to be put in. 

I knew I could graduate with a First Class after the first semester of 300 level. My CGPA had been on and off the grid until that semester when I had a 5.0 semester GPA. That was the point I knew that it was possible. To be truthful, I never thought, before then, that I could do this but I really am grateful to God for the grace, and to my lecturers for instilling the grit and discipline that I needed.

Were there any courses that you found particularly challenging?

Yes, there were many courses. One that particularly stood out was a course on the History of English Language. I just could not understand why I needed to learn about the history of the language, from Old English to Middle English and then to Modern/Contemporary English. And we both know that the language is dynamic and continues to change. But I scaled through, thankfully. 

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Did you stay in the school hostel during your study?

Yes, I did. From 200 level till 400 level, I was able to get a space in the school hostel. However, in 100 level, I stayed with my family.

Did you use the library for study?

I certainly did! Incorporating visiting the library into my daily routine helped me with preparing for classes, tests and examinations. I went from the University’s Main Library to the Faculty of Arts Library and even the library at the Faculty of Education. The fact that there are so many libraries to read in at the University of Lagos is just beautiful. It’s really something I’m grateful for.

What significant challenges did you encounter during your study?

The challenges I faced were mostly internal. I had to deal with a lot of self-doubt. As I noted earlier, I never believed I could do it and that is why I’ll always have God to thank for helping me finish well. I had to consciously work on believing that I was not an average student which was a journey that my family and friends had to help me with.

Did you participate in any internship during your study?

No, I did not participate in any internship. But I was a beneficiary of workshops facilitated by organisations in conjunction with the University, like an editorial workshop hosted by the Society for Book and Magazine Editors of Nigeria (SBMEN) in 2020, and the Professors Without Borders Future-Proofing Course (PROWIBO) in 2022.

Did you win any scholarship for your study?

No, I did not. 

Do you have any role models you look up to?

Yes, I do. I do look up to my parents, a whole lot. You know, they are just two traders who have raised graduates out of their children and are still doing so. I believe that my diligence and tenacity came from watching them do what they do and that has greatly impacted my life. 

I also look up to my lecturer, Dr Nurayn Fola Alimi, and Mr Kayode Odumboni; both of whom, being in the academia, continue to encourage my desire to become an academic. Also, seeing Mr Samuel Bolaji achieve the feat that he did while in the Department of English gave me enough motivation to believe that I also could. 

Finally, much more than having a physical family, my pastors and brethren are such beautiful role models that I look up to. They help me place emphasis on the things that truly matter.

What are your thoughts on the current state of African literature?

African literature has done well for itself, but I believe that there needs to be a journey back home; a rediscovery of authenticity. I have read a large number of books in my lifetime and African literature, written in English especially, takes a big chunk out of that number. In my readings, I have discovered that there has been a lack of authenticity, a seeming decline, on the part of African writers in determining and showcasing what is truly African and for whom they are writing. 

Who really is the target audience of African literature? Africans? It doesn’t quite appear so because it seems as though writings are crafted to appeal to the West. Many African writers write so that they can win a kind of prize which means that what makes African culture and literature African is twisted to accommodate a conundrum of ideologies and principles that is not truly African. And I’m not saying that writing with the West in mind as an audience is a bad thing. No. But I truly believe that there should be a homecoming that resuscitates the ideals that first generation African writers fostered, while still exploring contemporary issues. 

What are your long-term career goals?

Well, I would love to become a professor of African literature. That is one journey I am excited about and that I cannot wait to begin. I would also love to, at some point, write a book that I would love to read. I have no ideas yet, but it is something that I look forward to.

How do you envision applying your knowledge to real-world challenges?

One thing I learned from studying English and Literature is the ability to think critically, and one of the things I would love to foster in society is this ability. I am of the opinion that many world challenges could have been avoided if only ample time had been dedicated to critical thinking and analysis of possible outcomes. However, to be able to think critically, individuals must have a desire to read.

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With literature, an avenue is created for trial and error. Many texts have been written that give instances of what has been and what could be if certain steps could be taken. But I have discovered that not many people like to read. In Nigeria, for instance, the average person hardly reads and that is why, in my opinion, we continue to repeat history in many different ways. 

To this end, I intend to work with organisations to create awareness for an increase in literacy in the society. Fostering readership across all levels could truly be the first step to our change as a nation and in the world at large and I intend to do my part by joining others who have already begun this. Also, to the best of my ability, I hope to be able to give back to society in ways that I can.

After your bachelor’s degree, what next?

I believe that should be participating in the mandatory one year service in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). After that? I hope to continue whatever projects that I would be engaged in, concerning the improvement of literacy in the society. Also, the situation of our country does not make the life of a young graduate easy but I am hopeful that I will be able to get a good job after my service year. I also intend to get a Master’s degree and subsequently, a PhD to fulfil my desire of becoming an academic. Till then, I look forward to the many opportunities that will come my way.

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1 month ago

Such exhibition of intellectual prowess! An erudite scholar.

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