Author of ‘Banks vs Bitcoins’, Osivue Itseumah, believes that African governments underestimate the potential of cryptocurrencies: ‘I think a lot of government officials or pro-fiat folks may only see investments in cryptocurrencies as profit-gaining opportunities.’
First Draft is our interview column, featuring authors and other prominent figures on books, reading, and writing.
Our questions are italicized.
What books or kinds of books did you read growing up?
For as long as I can remember, I have always had an interest in reading, both for leisure and educational purposes. Growing up, I read everything from church bulletin advertisements to newspapers, but I specifically remember my mom asking me to read Gifted Hands by Ben Carson while I was in secondary school and that led to my interest in a variety of other non-fiction work.
I started reading more biographies, autobiographies, and non-fiction bodies of work, especially every summer when my mom bought me books from WHSmith. I then started regularly visiting my school library when I returned to boarding school. There, I discovered volumes of work by Enid Blyton, Anthony Horowitz, and John Grisham, all of whom’s writing style and story plots I began to imitate when I began writing my own work.
I also got introduced to books and plays written by Nigerian and other African authors such as Mother’s Choice Agbo Areo, The Incorruptible Judge by D. Olu Olagoke, and Sizwe Bansi Is Dead by Athol Fugard, in my English and literature-in-English classes in secondary school. I then discovered the works of Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie years later. Alas, between required text and leisurely reading, I gained an appreciation for all types of prose, but I gravitated towards non-fiction.
What is it about non-fiction that captivates you?
The reality of it. I have often wrestled with reading or watching fiction because I lose interest when I read or watch something that is unrealistic or improbable. Additionally, something about reading about the real-life experiences of people I admire or respect appeals to me because I can gain an insight into their trains of thought, depending on how much they share, of course. I have also always enjoyed learning about history, so being able to learn from the experiences and perspectives of notable revolutionaries and world leaders is extremely valuable/interesting information to me.
If you could rewrite a classic book/text, which would it be and why?
I do not think I would wilfully rewrite a classic book or text, as I would not want to ruin what makes it a classic. However, if I was certain that my rewrite would only be read by the author, then I would rewrite William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I think there are several ways the story could have ended—as with any other; however, I think the story is essentially a social experiment, and the variables that would have influenced the actions of the characters in the book would be very different today. So, it would be interesting to rewrite the book considering: ‘how would a group of preadolescent boys behave and survive if they were the only survivors in an airplane crash in 2021?’
Between required text and leisurely reading, I gained an appreciation for all types of prose.
What’s a recent book/text you disagreed with?
I do not recall disagreeing with any particular book or text, but I think that may be a function of confirmation bias in the way I select books/texts to read, or the fact that I like to read (auto)biographies, which I can not necessarily disagree with.
What’s one way the pandemic has changed your reading tastes/habits?
I have started reading a lot more about Black history and reading books and articles written by Black people, but that was not a direct result of the pandemic. Unfortunately, the murder of George Floyd occurred only a few months after the pandemic began, so it was more of a coincidence. However, I must admit that I have also read less for leisure since the beginning of the pandemic.
What’s the last book you read that changed your mind about something?
I thought about this question for a number of days and I genuinely cannot think of a book that changed my mind about something. I mostly either learn new things from books, or learn the facts about people or events that I may have only known a myth about. I would say the last book I read that taught me a whole lot about history was Ken Saro-Wiwa’s A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary. One of my life goals is to make a documentary based on that book. Pardon my shameless plug.
I mostly either learn new things from books, or learn the facts about people or events that I may have only known a myth about.
What’s a major takeaway from Ken Saro-Wiwa’s ‘A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary?’
Amidst all of the persecution, opposition and barriers that Ken Saro-Wiwa faced in his role as one of the leaders of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, he did not relent in his pursuit for accountability from all parties (including the Nigerian government) who had contributed to the theft of their resources and pollution of their fatherland. His courage and willpower are evidenced countless times in his narration, but even more evident when one realizes that Saro-Wiwa was documenting his experience in police detention when most would have been crippled by their fear of impending doom, which he ultimately faced. However, equally as important a takeaway is the fact that the narration of his experience at the hands of Nigerian law enforcement in the late 90s reads eerily similar to the experiences of thousands at the hands of the now-defunct Nigerian Police Force Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) up until the #EndSARS movement in 2020.
What’s a common misconception about how Nigerians/Africans use cryptocurrency?
I am not sure this is a misconception per se, but I think there may be an underestimation of the genuine belief in cryptocurrencies. I think a lot of government officials or pro-fiat folks may only see investments in cryptocurrencies as profit-gaining opportunities. While this may be true, they may also be underestimating the potential for mass adoption of cryptocurrencies as a medium of exchange.
What’s something that cryptocurrency and non-fiction have in common?
I think the one thing that cryptocurrency and non-fiction work have in common is that a person, or group of people analyzed the world (or their society) as it is/was at a point in time, and conceptualized a future based on an informed projection or prediction. Across most science academic backgrounds, academics and professionals write essays or perform tests to confirm or reject theories or thesis statements. In the same manner, the white paper on Bitcoin reconceptualized electronic payments in a way that renders third party financial institutions useless and proferred a method to do so i.e. cryptography.
I think a lot of government officials or pro-fiat folks may only see investments in cryptocurrencies as profit-gaining opportunities.
What three books or texts would you recommend to someone trying to understand cryptocurrency?
- ‘Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System’
- ‘Bitcoin Frequently Asked Questions’
- ‘Ethereum White Paper’
What’s your writing process like: edit as you write or write a draft first, then edit?
Definitely write a draft first and then edit. I was actually taught to write without correcting spelling errors, sentence structure issues, or really anything that people would normally correct as they write. I happen to overthink writing everything from e-mails to articles, but I learned that this is because I often try to produce perfect sentences from the jump. So, in order to save time and reflect on my ideas without forgetting or overthinking them, I just write and then edit after.
I was actually taught to write without correcting spelling errors, sentence structure issues, or really anything that people would normally correct as they write.
What was your process for writing ‘Banks vs Bitcoins’?
I kind of started it as a response to CBN’s February press release, as if I were writing an open letter. I then tried to pull out a summary of my arguments that I could use to build a coherent thesis, but that was a little challenging because my mind works a mile a minute when writing about Nigerian affairs. The way the article came about is so interesting because I was legitimately planning to pitch an article on cryptocurrency affairs in Nigeria to The Republic about a month before I received the request for an essay so I had already had several conversations with my co-author and my other fellow crypto enthusiasts where we discussed the government’s public policy and how we would respond if we had the opportunity, and alas, I did. The actual writing of the words was straightforward, once my co-author and I agreed on what our message was going to be.
What’s the most meaningful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
I was actually watching a YouTube video a couple of weeks ago where a screenwriter was being interviewed and I don’t recall what question they were asked, but their response was ‘Tell your own story’ and that stuck with me. I recall that from when I started writing my own work after being inspired by Enid Blyton, Anthony Horowitz, Chimamanda Adichie, I often plagiarized their stories, not necessarily their words. I have since learned that it is okay to be inspired by another writer’s writing style, but it is absolutely imperative that everyone tells their own story. In other words, if I write about my experiences and my community then whatever I write will be authentic and resonate with others.
I have since learned that it is okay to be inspired by another writer’s writing style, but it is absolutely imperative that everyone tells their own story.
Who is an author you wish you had discovered earlier?
I would not wish I discovered any author earlier, to be quite honest. I think with every author I discovered, I was at a time in my life when it made sense to read their work. For example, I discovered Ta-Nehisi Coates in 2019 when I read an article he wrote in The Atlantic; I then bought one of his most popular books, Between the World and Me, which I learned a lot from. I do not think that I would have appreciated the message or even understood it if I found it three years before. It’s kind of the same with music for me. I only discovered John Coltrane in 2018, but if I had discovered him three years earlier, I would never have appreciated jazz, talk less the greatness that is A Love Supreme.
What is your favourite topic to write or read about these days?
My reading and writing patterns are very unique these days, due to the nature of my occupation and various side projects I engage in, and because I have not been reading for leisure recently, I don’t think I will have any interesting suggestions, so I will just include the last three books I recall reading (which go back as far as 2019).
- Hopes and Impediments– Chinua Achebe
- Permanent Record– Edward Snowden
- The Skin We’re In– Desmond Cole
I would not wish I discovered any author earlier, to be quite honest. I think with every author I discovered, I was at a time in my life when it made sense to read their work.
What can we expect you to write about next?
I am actually currently writing an article on the ‘Politics of Data Privacy in Nigeria’ so if accepted, you can expect to see that in The Republic. However, with the current affairs with the Twitter ban and rumblings of a potential country-wide internet firewall, I may write about a related topic.
Question from Chinonye Otuonye: What are your methods for mapping out your ideas?
I have a whiteboard in my apartment where I write down my ideas and then I just stare at it and think out my plan in my head and when I have a main point to make or think of something to research, I make a note in my iPhone. Sometimes I make voice notes too, but I realized I get too lazy to actually listen to my own voice notes so I pretty much wait until I am motivated enough to write the body of work and then go back to my iPhone notes. I also get ideas from the most random things; I could be watching a TV show or overhearing a conversation and it’ll trigger something in my brain that I was never going to think about by myself. I would love to say I have a particular system or template that I use, but my thought process is very disorganized.
Bonus: Please suggest a question for a future author’s First Draft.
What was the biggest struggle you had to overcome as a writer, and how were you able to overcome it? If you are still battling with it, how do you cope with the challenge(s)?⎈
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