Writers can kill. The creative writer plays God by creating people on paper and destroying lives at will with an ordinary pencil or pen or a computer.
The power of the written word hit me most through my late uncle, Alexius, who used to be a trader in Onitsha.
When I got a job as a journalist in Lagos, my uncle told all his trading mates that once any one of them annoys him, thenceforth he would tell his son in Lagos, that’s me, to write in the newspaper that the fellow had died.
This so frightened my uncle’s friends that they always begged me whenever I happened to be in Onitsha not to write that they had died!
Those were the days when the newspapers were akin to the Holy Writ, before the advent of social media and Fake News.
Back then, if it’s written in the newspaper from Lagos that one had died, how could the poor fellow in Onitsha go all over the place telling everybody that he had not died? Of course, any bloke that sees the published dead man coming towards him would instantly flee, crying that he had beheld a ghost!
The sight of Onitsha people fleeing from the ghost would be as hilarious as the scenes in the 1977 play The Corpse’s Comedy by the Ghanaian playwright Nanabenyin Kweku Wartemberg in which a telegram manifests announcing a man’s death only for the supposedly dead man to appear back in town. A Christian preacher is brought in to bind the ghost with his dramatic prayers but the ghost reappears and the preacher flees for his dear life! Then a fetish priest is hired to cast away the ghost with powerful incantations but the ghost comes back and the juju man runs for cover!
Well, this matter of writers being licensed to kill is not a laughing matter; so let’s make progress on the right course. Whether as Gospel Truth or Fake News, the printed word is a clear and present danger in diverse ramifications.
During the outbreak of the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease, the word was soon put out that a cure could be found in drinking saltwater and many met with sure death drinking buckets of concoctions of salt and water!
It was just a case of a so-called writer or ill-assorted writers putting forward the surefire “cure” that they had written on their phones and broadcast on the worldwide web.
In the matter of the Coronavirus, alias Covd-19, a number of deadly herbal mixtures was equally touted as the cure of the viral pandemic by some daring soothsayer “writers” on social media.
Okay, let’s get serious at the business end of real writing where writers are licensed to kill without apologies.
With the weapon of words the writer unmans emperors, upends dictators and shatters bigot theocrats who purport to be messiahs.
The creative writer alive to his craft almost always has the last word in the march of civilization and history, a lesson that needs to be learnt by the current supremacist celebrators of transient power.
As Chinua Achebe deposed in Anthills of the Savannah, what survives after the epic battle is the story thusly: “It is the story that outlives the sound of war-drums and the exploits of brave fighters.”
Wole Soyinka told the journalist John Agetua when he lived in exile in Ghana: “We haven’t begun actually to punch holes inside people. But let’s do our best to use words and style when we have the opportunity to arrest the ears of normally complacent people; we must make sure we explode something inside them which is a parallel of the sordidness which they ignore outside.”
Writers are licensed to kill empires. For instance, Thomas Paine through his 47-page pamphlet entitled “Common Sense” killed the British Empire by advocating the independence of the Thirteen Colonies that initially made up the United States of America.
A writer served to kill slavery via Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an 1852 novel that turned out to become the second bestselling book of the 19th Century after The Bible!
Writers almost always have the last word against evil dictators even when they masquerade as infrastructure-building democrats.
After his disgraceful fall from power, Italian Fascist generalissimo Benito Mussolini was quoted by a writer as saying these words: “Seven years ago I was an interesting person. Now I am a corpse.”
Dorin-Marian Cirlan, a member of the firing squad that executed Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and wife wrote: “He looked into my eyes and realized that he was going to die right then, not sometime in the future, then started to cry.”
Hard men also cry at the very end when treated in the only language they understand. Writers will as ever record it.