Lucy Jonah is a printer, publisher and writer. She has to her credit books like: The Choice, Ehianuka, (her autobiography), When men were gods, Shrouded Secrets, The Trial of Sin, The Pot and the Tripod among others. In this interview by TAYO GESINDE, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Prompt Enterprises speaks on the price she paid to be where she is today.
What informed your choice of career?
I worked for the now defunct Exam Success Correspondence College. I started working as a receptionist, became a proof reader, sectional head to correspondent students, supervisor and was later deployed to the printing press where the lectures for the students were printed. I had to be deployed there because my boss felt my level of commitment was needed to motivate the people they employed to work in the new press. I didn’t like it but I needed to earn a living so I was forced to learn printing administration from friends in CSS Press and Times Press. I also attended Sandwich courses at Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos. I worked in the printing press with its attendant pressures till ill health forced me to leave employment in July 1977.
After being forced to resign as a result of ill health, I didn’t know what else to do because I didn’t want to pick up another job because of my poor health so I was forced to go out to look for small businesses like supply of stationery in order to survive. It was in this process that I was given my first printing order by an organisation that knew I was the head of a printing press. That was how I started working as a freelance printer before I was able to obtain loan to buy my first printing machine in March 1978.
When did you start writing?
The zeal for writing has always been there. I was always writing this and that until 2000 when my first book, Choice was published. It was a commentary on the Nigerian political situation. Then I followed it up with my autobiography which was published in 2006. It took me a long time to write and I was hesitant in publishing it until some authorities told me it was a very good book and that I should go ahead and publish it. The accolades I got from that book made me to dust up some of the works I did and kept on the shelf, I then started writing again. So far, I have written seven books.
Who were your role models?
My role models were people who struggled to achieve. I can’t say precisely that this is my role model but I can say that I had a lot of challenges in life and those challenges forced me to look inward to discover what I can do for myself.
What price did you pay to get to where you are today?
A lot! You know for a woman to make any headway, it takes a lot of determination and hard work. When I was in employment, I was given the most difficult task to do. In order to prove my mettle, I kept stressing myself until I broke down health wise. That was actually what made me quit the job. There was a lot of discrimination against me when I was in employment because I worked myself to a very high position and the men didn’t like me for it. It was war. At a stage I was the chairman of the management board of a group of company employing about six hundred people. I was in my late twenties and that set me against so many people. When I left employment and was trying to establish my printing press and was going about looking for work, I also ran into a lot of discrimination. The men didn’t take me seriously, they thought I was one woman who was looking for something else but was pretending to be a printer because they couldn’t understand why a woman would want to be a printer. So I met so many roadblocks but I was not deterred by anything. I kept trying until I got results. I don’t just try once and give up. I’m used to trying and trying until I get results. My tenacity and doggedness made some captains of industry to forget that I was a woman because they started to give me printing orders and in many cases sought my advice on many issues.
When did you get married?
I was married away at the age of 18 to a man who was very much older and had been married and separated but we didn’t know. I found myself in a situation where there was a lot of discrimination from other women. We were living at the Ahmadu Bello University Senior Staff Quarters in Zaria and the women there felt that this small girl came to displace one of them. They didn’t know that I had no idea the man was married. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was in that marriage for four years and couldn’t bring forth the fruit of the womb. My then mother-in-law hated me with passion. I was in that marriage in the North when the civil war broke out. We managed to come back alive. We came back to the old Bendel State and he resumed work as the chief accountant at the then Bendel State textile Mill. It was while in Asaba that my eyes began to open gradually to the fact that the man just kept me at home while he had a string of girlfriends. He would bring some of them to the house and I would cook for them without knowing what I was doing. By the time I got to know and started asking questions, he was surprised and asked who I was to query him. There was a big fight and I was thrown out. I went back to my parents’ house and after some time, his family came to beg and my father insisted I go back. When I got back, the Biafra soldiers had entered Bendel State and Asaba was ransacked. So, we went back to Agbor and the man established a hotel and left me to manage it while he resumed his work in Benin. Running a hotel in Agbor during the war was a risky business because our clients were soldiers from the war front. I was running this risky business with my life on the line daily without any compensation while my husband spent the money I made for him recklessly on his girlfriends. Eventually, I walked out of the marriage with only my books and a handful of personal belongings, I took nothing more and went back to my parents as poor as I came to his house.
Later I relocated to Lagos. While in Lagos, I got into an unplanned relationship which culminated into me having a daughter. Today, I have two children; a female who’s a PHD holder and a male who’s an engineer. My children are happily married and I have grandchildren.
I have never been lucky with men but I don’t regret that. After the experiences I had, I said to hell with men and went ahead to face my business and my writings. I write to entertain, to teach both men and women and to release my emotions. My autobiography has changed many because through it they were able to see that hardship and difficulties do not have to put them down but should be used as learning tools for greater achievements. I also want women to know that they don’t have to depend solely on men to make their marks in life. If you read my autobiography, where I put down the good, the ugly and the bad, you will wonder why a human being would choose to expose herself the way I did I did that so that people can learn from my experience and know that men and women can overcome obstacles through the help of God and self determination.
Are you saying that your writings were inspired by your past experience?
I am a very observant person, I observe my environment and I listen to people’s stories especially the ones that don’t seem to matter. I don’t forget anything and I have eyes for details. If you and I are looking at something, you may not see anything in it but I will. My inspiration to write is to help people. All my books try to teach men and women that no matter how tough life is, there is always a way. My books are to entertain and teach.
What will you say is the secret of your success as an entrepreneur?
The word success means different things to different people. I can be considered successful because I’m happy and contented and not because I have money. I don’t have money but I manage to meet my modest needs. First and foremost, the Bible says, if the Lord does not build a house, the labourer labours in vain. My secret is the extraordinary love that God showed me. I work hard but is it everybody that works hard that achieves? Some people work hard but they don’t achieve anything. I worked hard and God blessed the work of my hand. Also, one quality God gave to me is that I don’t give up. My writing was as a result of my tenacity, it was my refusal to give up that made me a writer. I wrote my first book more than six times. I always tell people that they should not give up, they should work hard and pray to God to bless the works of their hands. If you fail, do it again and again until you succeed.
What advice do you have for young people?
There is this copycat syndrome. People wanting to follow the Joneses. They want to do what other people are doing without knowing those people’s background or secrets. My advice to people is that they should have a mind of their own.They should cultivate the habit of investment. Money spent doesn’t come back, if you have one kobo and spend it today, you won’t have anything tomorrow but if you keep one kobo today and add one kobo to it tomorrow, it becomes two kobo. Young people should be focused, and hard working. They should also save money or invest.
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