A 21-story building of luxury apartments under construction in Lagos, Nigeria, collapsed on November 1, 2021, killing dozens and injuring others. On March 8, 2022, Joseph Jegede submitted an unpublished short story to Novelty Fiction, explaining that it was inspired by the Ikoyi building collapse.
NOVELTY FICTION – How did you learn about this tragic incident, and what was your reaction?
JOSEPH JEGEDE – It was on the news some hours after the building collapsed, and honestly it broke my heart.
NOVELTY FICTION – You submitted Arinfesesi on March 8, 2022, about 4 months after the incident. That is pretty quick for a work of fiction. What prompted you to write such a story, and how soon after the incident did you start working on it?
JOSEPH JEGEDE – I have always been eager to write works that image life experiences; so after I learnt of the Ikoyi building collapse, I thought to myself that this would make a good story, but I didn't write this piece until February, 2022. I had insomnia for seven days consecutively, so I went to my computer each day and started to bring to life some of the ideas in my head. I wrote a piece for each day, and Arinfesesi turned out to be one of them.
NOVELTY FICTION – According to some media reports and official statements, the building collapse happened because of negligence. Safety standards and procedures had not been complied with. You have visited Lagos. Would you say that systemic problems within society make life unsafe for many people?
JOSEPH JEGEDE – Yes, I would say so. This is not the first time we have been hearing of a building collapsing in Lagos and Nigeria as a whole. Some years back, there was the case of the SCOAN, even that of Yaba in Lagos. I am of the opinion that this boils down to building contractors. They should consider the "What if" scenario. What if we don't use enough cement and it leads to something else, what if we use 2-by-2 planks instead of 2-by-4 and the roof gets destroyed. Human lives should be considered over selfish interests.
NOVELTY FICTION – Has working on Arinfesesi made you reflect upon aspects of the Ikoyi building collapse you might otherwise have missed?
JOSEPH JEGEDE – It really has. The fact is, there were people who had appointments, tasks etc. on that particular day, but due to one reason or the other couldn't avail themselves. Usually, they would think of it as bad luck; but after learning of the collapse, they would realize it had turned out to be good luck. This is the perspective from which I drew my story.
NOVELTY FICTION – Has the writing process brought you “closer” to the victims of the incident, maybe even forcing you out of your comfort zone?
JOSEPH JEGEDE – When I write, I am in my character's head. In some way, I feel what they go through. While I don't know any of the victims or even their family members, I nonetheless felt so close to them while I wrote this piece. It was a difficult thing for me to describe such brutality. I remember my editor telling me to revise some of the things I wrote and pay detailed attention to them. It wasn't easy at all.
NOVELTY FICTION – Do you expect that the fallout from this incident will help prevent future tragedies in your country?
JOSEPH JEGEDE – Like I mentioned earlier, this is not the first time something like this is happening, but as usual, life goes on before one is born and even after one is dead. This situation is almost forgotten, everyone has returned to their normal lives. There are several houses in Lagos, especially on the Island, that are wrongly built. (Wrongly built in the sense of poor foundation, poor/wrong layout etc.) So I don't pray, but I'm scared such an occurrence could still happen if care is not taken.
NOVELTY FICTION – Please explain the title of your story.
JOSEPH JEGEDE – Arinfesesi: I have tried to get the right translation but the closest I could come up with is "Misfortune or to be a victim of circumstances." In Yoruba, we often say a prayer that sounds “Olorun maje ka r'arin f'ese si.” It's a powerful prayer to us. For example, a character is off to a place that would end his life. In the event that he did not get there, the fact that he did not get to walk into his own death, we say “ko r'arinfesesi” (he didn't encounter misfortunes). If he had gotten there, we would say “o r'arinfesesi” (he encountered misfortunes). I can't think of a better way to explain.
NOVELTY FICTION – Arinfesesi ultimately sends a positive signal in the context of tragedy. What message would you like to send?
JOSEPH JEGEDE – I believe in things happening for their reasons. When we face some downs in life, we often blame ourselves or our environments. However, some things, despite how unfortunate they might seem, happen for our own good. When you finally read this story, you will realize that hope is made of a whole 30 yards, as long as there is life. And isn't that what matters?
NOVELTY FICTION – Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
JOSEPH JEGEDE – This has been one of my prayers since I wrote this piece, because it means a lot to me even now.
Ki Olorun maje k'a rin arinfesesi.
May we not encounter misfortunes/May we not become victims of circumstances.
Arinfesesi will be published online by Novelty Fiction Gazette on June 15, 2022, and will be made available as an e-book shortly thereafter.
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