Onyinye Ough is author of two children’s literature, ‘Emeka’s Money’ and ‘Halima’s Vote’. She is also the Executive Director of Step Up for Social Development and Empowerment in Nigeria. Here, she talks about why she chose to educate children about corruption, and more. Excerpts:
Bookshelf: Why did you decide to author books for children on the subject of corruption?
Onyinye Ough: I decided to write anti-corruption story books for children because I believe that fighting corruption begins with what we teach our children. The corruption problem is deeper than we think. Many corrupt practices have become culturally acceptable. We need to go beyond convictions and developing systems and begin to tackle how our society treats corruption. Corruption is not in our DNA as some people think. We just need to begin to look at some of the drivers of corruption and tackle it from that angle. Social norms such as ‘it’s our turn to chop’ is one of the drivers of corruption which we must tackle. We can begin to address those social norms that drive it by educating young people on the necessary values needed to be persons of integrity from as early as age five. Story telling is one way of educating children on these values. Children are victims of corruption and bad governance and it’s important that they begin to see how corruption hinders them from accessing good roads, quality education, and so on, by using stories. It is important to prevent the future generation from falling into the ‘corruption trap’ that we are in and encourage them to be agents of change. This is the reason why I wrote these two anti-corruption story books for children, ‘Emeka’s Money’ and ‘Halima’s Vote’.
Bookshelf: The books were published last year. Were you targeting the general elections that took place early this year?
Ough: My first book, ‘Emeka’s Money’, was published in August 2018 and launched in September 2018. It was more of a coincidence and not targeted at elections because for a while I have been thinking of writing anti-corruption story books for children. ‘Halima’s Vote’, my second book, was targeted at the elections. That was released in December 2018 and spoke out against vote buying and the importance of holding our leaders to account for their promises.
Bookshelf: How have the books faired in the market, so far?
Ough: My focus has been on engaging students in schools using these books and providing it for free as materials for teaching anti-corruption education and values. We have given over 1,000 copies to both students and school libraries. We just recently started focusing on the sales aspect to help fund our activities.
Bookshelf: ‘Halima’s Vote’ teaches children to be wise in choosing their leaders. Was triggered the story?
Ough: As a development practitioner who occasionally works in rural communities, I realised many citizens at the grassroots do not understand the effects of vote selling. More people need to realise that our votes are our power and should not be for sale. Too often votes are traded cheaply for easy cash or stomach infrastructure, whilst communities continue to go without electricity, portable water, clinics and good schools. There are consequences of selling our votes. We need to reject vote buying and hold our political leaders to account for delivering services to our communities.
Also, I have observed that many have accepted leadership roles are only for men and from certain backgrounds. I was motivated to teach children that anyone can be a leader. I believe that women can play a key role in changing how things are done across Nigeria for the better. I wrote ‘Halima’s Vote’ to give a positive role model to women and girls across the country, to show that everyone can show leadership wherever they are.
Bookshelf: ‘Emeka’s Money’ on the other hand shows children the dangers of bribery and corruption. Did you find it challenging coming down to the children’s level?
Ough: Yes. I found both books slightly challenging. You know that writing stories for children requires a different style. Also, breaking down a complex topic like corruption in a way that will still be fun and interesting was not that easy.
Bookshelf: What kind of feedback have you gotten from parents and children?
Ough: I have been amazed at the positive feedback being received from parents and children. Some parents have told me that their kids now want to become anti-corruption activists after reading the books. Children really love it. Some of them now want to dramatize the books during special book events. Head teachers and teachers from schools we have engaged have also provided positive feedback. In some of the schools, head teachers have stated that they are observing an increase in children going to the library since ‘Emeka’s Money’ and ‘Halima’s Vote’ were donated to the schools. There is a song in ‘Halima’s Vote’ I teach kids when I go for book reading sessions. Teachers have reported that these kids keep on singing the songs afterward. Such reports really make me glad.
Bookshelf: You are the Executive Director of Step Up for Social Development and Empowerment in Nigeria. How did this influence your decision to write?
Ough: My experience working in the field of anti-corruption and service delivery for over 14 years influenced my decision to write anti-corruption story books for kids. It is the frustration at the persistently high corruption levels that has inspired me to write and establish Step Up Nigeria. It was after writing my first book that I realised that I needed a platform to engage primary school pupils and teachers on value-based education, using my book. That was when Step Up Nigeria formally started its operations. So I will say that writing the books influenced my decision to establish the NGO.
Bookshelf: What are you working on at the moment?
Ough: I am working on another story book for kids on anti-corruption but with a different theme which I cannot reveal now. It’s a surprise. Besides writing books, under our ‘Catch Them Young initiative’ I am working on the next phase of engaging children on anti-corruption education using different tools.