Ejiro Umukoro: Promoting Reading Culture with Satire, ‘Distortion’


Good news deserves a bottle of wine and a moment of reflection on how the journey towards making an impact began. Recently, the Ministry of Education endorsed Ejiro Umukoro’s ‘Distortion’ for schools, having been added to the recommended textbooks for senior secondary schools for the study of Literature-in-English. This development formed the crux of the virtual conversation with the author around promoting reading culture. Yinka Olatunbosun reports.


Let’s talk about the journey into writing the book ‘Distortion,’ and why it’s actually a good thing that this has been incorporated into the curriculum.


‘Distortion’ as the name implies is a book that wrote itself on so many levels. That wasn’t the original title of the book. After it was almost done, that was when the title popped. There is a lot of distortion in our society; in Nigeria. You can see the manifest inside the stories that I told in the book from how we handle gender-based violence, how we treat it as nothing, how we normalise and say that it is the victim’s fault or how we condone the perpetrators act and hide them and  when you’re important figures. And then the issue of child surrogacy and building baby making factories became so clear to me when I did the investigative story on how our young girls were being recruited by cultists just because they are fresh young, innocent and very impressionable. 


You can imagine having a 9-year old in the school. This is also a factor of parents normalising jumping classes meanwhile you have not prepared your child for coping with the realities of life. They are not emotionally, physically and psychologically prepared to handle the emotions.


You see all these children are easily lured and it became normal for cultism to thrive in Nigeria. Well, we have the concept that Godfatherism is the only way to succeed; when mediocrity is the real order of the day; where excellence and hard work is no longer rewarded. Instead, you’d see the incident of a parent writing exams for his own son. That is how distorted we have become as a people and the other silent killer is the mental health issue. Where we need to accept that Nigeria is actually doing damage to its own people when I say Nigeria I mean the leadership of Nigeria is causing more havoc to people because the leadership in Nigeria does not want Nigeria to work.


In the country where you have four refineries, three federally-owned, one private and yet the three federally owned refineries have employed civil servants working in these unworking refineries. They are paid every month and yet the refineries do not work. How distorted is that?




You look at all people want relevance, how churches metamorphosed into a money spinning empire. It is no longer a place where people look for succour but it has become a place where people are also milked financially. People go to these places and all they give is tithes.


And yet they come back and they are not better. When you think of the fact that Nigeria is a highly religious place and you look at the level of distortion, manipulation and the wrongfulness of how things are normalised; it disturbs you.


We have destroyed the natural consequences of bad behaviour. In a situation where bad behaviour is often rewarded, rather than bearing the consequences for it, we create a more distorted society and write notebooks well. How is it that young children are being recruited into baby making factories?


What motivation did you have for telling the stories in ‘Distortion?’

Book Cover

I’ve always loved long-form journalism. I’m not a beat reporter. If you give me a bit of reporting to do now it’s like you’re punishing me but if you tell me to do an investigative story, I’ll come up with a long form of writing. 


It is something that I enjoy-the ability to tell a story. It is the same thing that I did with the story of ritual that I did in Delta States regarding some young girls who were killed by some rich ritualists, the Yahoo Plus if you look at that story you will see how I was able to tie visual data visualisation with it; how the bodies were because the police didn’t even find the buried bodies.


I was able to get those boys and I interviewed them. Even the Pulitzer Centre recognised the story because I did tell a powerful social and developmental story.


How did Lightray Book and Literary Society evolve? 


Lightray Book and Literary Society is a space where we teach others how to write. We started with young writers and as an advocate for children that I am, I’ve always felt that children’s voices matter. I don’t know if this has to do with something about my childhood growing up knowing good and bad and how much I want to express myself.  


I was denied from doing that in a very authentic manner. I realise that parents don’t listen to their children. A lot of havoc is done to them. Recently, I did an investigation on a piece on our children being targeted for grooming and our society enables that.


As long as we are inspiring them to write because nowadays we have more smart children and less intelligent children. We can afford to leave our children behind and literature is a way where we build up their intelligence because they now build discernment and build capacity for quick thinking. It’s been amazing how young children are responding to it and our parents are happy about it and we’re going to be turning out a lot of books under the publishing of the company.


How old is this club right now?


I started after COVID-19 or maybe at the height of it. He started as a radio programme. As a matter of fact, we can talk about creative hustle on radio. We started introducing people to reading books on the radio. People were not used to that idea. We didn’t call it book reading because we didn’t want people to tune off. 


Would you say that the internet has put a different dynamic into reading culture?  People think that most of the readers are probably online right now and maybe reading is not as appealing as making videos. If you agree to that notion, what are you doing to ensure that you reach readers that I don’t always look for books to read?


The leadership in Nigeria is also the ones responsible for the drastic drop in reading culture. We have a culture where you do not create awareness or reward reading culture. You would support music, you remove movies but you don’t reward reading culture. I mean how much is the budget for education in Nigeria for heaven’s sake. It’s not at the top of the margin, it’s just down there. And that’s an important sector that should have been given some significance that it deserves. 


This is the way to go. We need to understand that paper publishing is as lucrative as we want it to be; we cannot give up on it because other cultures have sustained the reading culture and we must sustain the reading culture and the love for reading. Loving reading translates to loving books whether they are in soft or hard copies.


What has been the response to the book since its release?


It’s been massive. We didn’t expect the number of books that we have sold. The fact that we did not even do as much publicity as people normally would have done. It’s been a word-of-mouth kind of book buying. People who have read it have also recommended it to other people. People who have seen the reviews of other people are now buying the books and then we are now seeing parents ordering these books. 


Since COVID-19, the book has been going on its own journey and now that the ministry of education has endorsed it, parents are asking: How do we get the books? We are proud that there is a reading desire for a good book. And that’s another conversation. We need our children to be exposed to sound, literary pieces of work. 


I took the journalistic route in making this book. I made the protagonist a journalist and I created four distinctive protagonists and it was deliberate. Part two of the book is coming soon.


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