Things do not just happen. Everything, good or evil, is orchestrated. Even the extensive problem of terrorism in Nigeria is meticulously organised by some people while others are made involuntary actors in the big farce.
In his soon-to-be-published first full length novel, Satans and Shaitans, Obinna Udenwe, one of the youngest most published short story writers in Nigeria, tells the story of how the supernatural immortals and the powerful mortals unite in their quest to dominate Nigeria.
The initiator and the lead-facilitator of the Senator Chris Nwankwo Youth Creativity Class — his short stories have been published in leading literary magazines and anthologies, such as Kalahari Review, Tribe-write, Flair Nigeria, Kadunaboy, Dreams at Dawn anthology, ANA Review and Outside in Literary & Travel Magazine ─ writes about an occult group, the Sacred Order of the Universal Forces, whose members cut across diverse ethnic and religious bodies but unite, using their fortune and power to found a terrorist organisation, Jama’atul al-Mujahideen Jihad.
The southerner-members of the organisation lead the North to accept the terrorist group as the perfect tool for Islamising northern Nigeria. The North is deceived. However, the southerners, who are predominantly Christians, want the terror group to so trouble the North that the South would oust the Nigerian president, a northerner; and then ensure that no northerner ever rules again.
Obinna Udenwe tells Temiloluwa Bamgbose about this colourful work that metamorphoses from college romance to a blend of dark fantasy and realism.
Inspiration for the book
I do not believe that a general notion or opinion must be the true one. No. I think, rather, that whatever is happening around us — everywhere in the world — could be influenced or masterminded by people of various beliefs, cultures, backgrounds, and so on. For so long now, we have been brainwashed to believe that whenever terrorism is mentioned, it must be spearheaded by Muslims; I do not think that is true.
I have studied the religion of Islam for close to five years now and in as much as people would want you to believe that this religion is devilish and dangerous, I still subscribe to the school of thought that sees Islam as a peaceful religion. I also think that it is the people in Islam — the Muslims themselves, their imams and sheikhs — who have brainwashed a few into twisting the teachings of Islam for their own selfish gain, which is largely what my book Satans and Shaitans tries to explore.
You see, what is happening in Nigeria today could be traced to so many origins, but we don’t pause to ask ourselves who the current sponsors of this ongoing evil are. We don’t. And it amazes me profusely that our people do not care to know. So I was inspired to tell a story about the evil going on in my society with a different perspective, to bring up issues that people fear to talk about, that writers are afraid to work on. I was inspired to delve into the issue of terrorism and separate it from Jihad. See the first chapter of the book, “…in the year 2000, God looked down to the earth and saw Satan’s plot to put evil in the heart of men. The evil was to come in the form of terrorism and the perpetrators would claim it to be Jihad….” So that is what I set out to do — to highlight the dichotomy between terrorism and Jihad, and many more.
When the writing began
I started writing Satans and Shaitans in 2007. But at the time, it wasn’t titled Satans and Shaitans; and it wasn’t about terrorism, occultism and nationalism. Then, it was titled The Clutch Pencil. I was a freshman in the university, studying Civil Engineering and a lecturer was teaching us architectural drawing. He showed us a clutch pencil for drawings. I imagined immediately that someone could unscrew the pencil and insert a poisoned needle in the tube instead of a pencil lead, and then use it to commit murder. That day while returning to my lodge, the story formed in my head and begged me to write it. I refused and I had headaches for some days. Finally, I sat down and began to write a story about two lovers, the girl becoming pregnant and the boy, an artist, murdering her with a poisoned clutch pencil.
I worked on it till 2009 when I changed the story; it became a story of two lovers whose parents were in a fiendish occult and had the power to control what was happening in Nigeria. In 2010, I expanded the story the more, and it became more of a story that talked about nationalism and occult than a romance fiction, so I changed the name to ‘The Shadows of Satan’. I didn’t work on the story in 2011. In 2012, terrorism in Nigeria rose to its peak and I began to study Islam even more. I had been studying the religion of Islam since 2010, because I intended to work on a book about Islam. Then I changed the story, making it a full crime novel.
When in 2013, I began studying Islam and terrorism in Nigeria and its neighbouring nations, the story changed to what it is now Satans and Shaitans — a story of terrorism, jihad, love, romance, nationalism and quest for power. It became a combination of a story of a group of power-hungry men and that of two lovers who were children to two of these men in the occult. So you see, I worked on the story for seven, eight years or thereabout.
Dan brown influence
I am delighted you mentioned Dan Brown. He is one of my favourite writers. In fact, I have read all his books. But I started working on the story in 2007. Meanwhile, I first read Dan Brown in 2010: The Da Vinci Code — it was a gift from my dad. My dad and I began to look for all Dan Brown’s books. He had a lot of influence on my writing, especially when the story changed from The Clutch Pencil. The book alludes to a conspiracy theory because it explains an occult The Sacred Order of the Universal Forces, an international organisation headquartered in the Netherlands but with branches in almost every country. So the members of the Sacred Order in Nigeria are fictitiously responsible for terrorism in Nigeria. Like in real life, I believe strongly in conspiracy theory. Have you ever paused to imagine the discussions going on in every room in every building in Nigeria; in the world? Sometimes, I think about this; funny but true. Sometimes I wonder how many closed-door, secret meetings go on around the world? What secret do they discuss in there? There are other writers whose works I have read that helped a lot too, such as Luis Miguel Rocha, Mario Puzo, Sandra Brown, Maria Corelli, Mukoma Wa Ngugi and P. D. James. Dan Brown’s books had influence on me while writing Satans and Shaitans but I was already working on the story before I even read him. I think Maria Corelli had influence on me from the beginning. She always had.
Research for the book
It was daunting, very tasking, because the story went through some evolution, from The Clutch Pencil to The Shadows of Satan, then to Satans and Shaitans.
In each phase, there were lots of effort and research. First, in the story, when there was a murder, I had to research to see if there was a device that could detect crime scenes, such as the location where someone was buried. I created the device. I had to research a lot about terrorism, read about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Chad, and what is happening in Nigeria. I read newspapers, surfed the Internet, emailed my friends and requested for materials. I put it up on my Facebook wall and some of my writer-friends, such as Karen Jennings, emailed links and information. Sometimes, I didn’t sleep till early in the morning, fine-tuning and crosschecking information. Then I had to solicit help from my friends in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain. I have some Muslim friends in Nigeria who crosschecked my information; it was challenging. I read the holy Quran more than I read my bible. Some parts of the story were about Catholicism and the Jehovah Witness, so I had to spend countless hours at the Enugu State Library, scouring information about Christianity. I guess I have so much information on Catholicism that I have to do a book, to be titled The Poisoned Sacrament.
Release Date for Satans and Shaitans
I hope Satans and Shaitans comes out middle of next year, at the most. You know the long and tasking process of copy-editing, cover design, publicity and so on. Some publishers have indicated interest in the book. We are still negotiating with them on the rights. Perhaps we will know soon.
Would there be an e-version?
Of course, there would. But if the publisher buys the rights, it will become the duty of the publishing company to determine whether there would be an e-version. But then, every good book now has an e-edition, so I believe there would be one. I hope so. Let’s watch and see.
Plans for public readings
There will be public readings. It is the reception that the book receives after publication that would determine the fora. I hope to attend some readings in Nigeria, because we will have a Nigerian publisher as well. They may arrange some readings. I will arrange some readings, too, in Ebonyi, Enugu, and other states where I can. I don’t know for now If there will be readings in other countries. Like I said, I hope the book gets nice reception from book lovers and from the world at large. That would determine the number of readings, signings and at which fora.
Yes. I have written other books. There is The Dancing Bird, an epic novel. There is Viaticum, a dark story of murder set in both Sudan and Nigeria. It is about the two countries and about a girl who murders every man she makes love with. It is also a crime fiction, just like Satans and Shaitans. I have also a collection of children’s stories titled Wenitem and Her Friends.
And their publishers
I wrote a historic book titled The Dancing Bird in 2009, and I self-published it with a Canada-based print-on-demand publisher. But like most self-published books, it failed to gain the necessary marks it deserved, except for in my state, Ebonyi, where it is selling like fire because it tells their story like it has never been told before. Right now my editor and I have revised the book — we are sending it out to traditional publishers. We hope that it gets published and receives the kind of readership and warm embrace it deserves.
My book of children stories, titled Wenitem and Her Friends was published by ABIC Books in 2013. It was before the Children’s Day celebration and people ordered copies that they gave to children and schools. We sold about 7000 copies in a month. It is still selling gradually now. I will soon conclude work on Vaticum, which I have been working on since 2010.