Nigerian Writers Dispute On Writers’ Village
When on Wednesday, September 1st 2010, the Ebedi International Writers Residency, the brainchild of Dr. Wale Okediran who was one time President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and a former member of the House of Representatives was opened at Iseyin, Oyo State, Nigeria, there could be ponderings over the Aims and Objectives of the ANA, if they were not defeated under his leadership concerning the dormant Abuja Writers Village initiated by Mamman Jiya Vatsa over twenty years, which predates Ebebi.
The Aims and objectives of the ANA is to encourage and promote the Nigerian literature, encourage the collection, reading and transcription of oral literature available to the public through translation from the original language into other Nigerian and non-Nigerian languages, promote the interest of writers in all that concerns their profession and well-being and to protect their rights as writers, encourage the commitment of writers to the ideals of a humane and egalitarian society, co-operate with other organizations in Nigeria, Africa and elsewhere, which share similar aims and aspirations, liaise with organizations established for the promotion and development of the book throughout the world, stimulate and develop indigenous talent, skill and intellectual powers and promote solidarity among Nigerian authors.
Mamman Jiya Vatsa's role:
Mamman Jiya Vatsa was one great Nigerian poet and writer cum soldier who lived between Decenber 3, 1940 to March 5, 1986. He was the first Nigerian who tried in seeing that a writers' village was built in Abuja, and hosted their conferences. This was when he was a Major-General in the Nigerian army and Minister of the Federal Capital Abuja and also a member of the Supreme Military Council, before he was executed by the Nigerian Government of Major General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) on March 5, 1986, following accusations of his involvement in an abortive coup.
Since his death, Nigerian writers have hosted several special readings in memory of him and to those like Vatsa who contributed to the growth of literature in Nigeria. Nigerian writers bemoan that Vatsa was among the foremost Nigerian writers who made writers have good sense of belonging in Nigeria by treating writers like kings, even though that Professor Chinua Achebe, the author of the famous Things Fall Apart, founded ANA close to thirty years now.
The effort of Vatsa made ANA acquire 56 acres of land at Mpape, a suburb of the Federal Capital in Abuja in 1985 when he hosted ANA convention in Abuja. Vatsa promised to facilitate the building of a writers' village but for his untimely death. The land, according to investigations, was taken from ANA for not been developed for over twenty years by the authorities in Abuja, but the authorities later relinquished it to ANA. However, Nigerian writers may not be interested in the politics that surrounds Vatsa's death, but they are interested in his service to them.
It was arguably that Vatsa made government to be giving ANA support and respond to literature in the country. The association's land, it was a former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Modibo Umar forwho who renamed the land after late Chief Cyprian Ekwensi and wrote off the N22 million land rent fee on the land. One time Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode it was said agreed to collaborate with the association to put up a befitting writers' village on the land, yet to no avail till this day. Not even Okediran who was a famous ANA president in the 21st Century among the organisation's ex-presidents achieved anything on that land after his first tenure and his re-election of two years each.
Wale Okediran's failures:
Dr. Wale Okediran only hoped to ensure the effective take-off and speedy development of the Writers' Village in Abuja, so as to improve the capital base of the association. Apart from that, he touted for the canvassing of the development of the spirit of volunteer work among ANA members to enable the association pursue its activities, advocacies and programmes in cost effective ways, while intended to embark on international outreach programme and coalitions with other writers' bodies all over the world with the reorganization of Pan-African Writers Association as a top priority. Okediran talked about many things at the same time when he was ANA's president. Amongst other events, he talked about organising for the organisation an international colloquium for the celebration of the 50-year anniversary of the publication of Things Fall Apart by Professor Chinua Achebe, written in 1958, which took prominence in the newspapers that published the event than it was experienced live. Apart from the not-started writers' village in Abuja, it's not certain whether ANA had functional capacity offices in the state branches and at the national secretariat under Okediran. If ANA had these, the offices and the secretariat might be lacking befitting resource centres with onward development.
The dearth of these didn���t improve the quality and activities in the ANA's Aims and Objectives under Okediran. Were there not many frustrated writers that could hardly get their works published in Nigeria because ANA had not lived up to its promises? Okediran hoped and hoped that the writers' village was something that he could achieve, but to no avail. He blamed his failure in not developing the land on what he called the bureaucracy with the Abuja AGIS.
Chinua Achebe's support:
Professor Chinua Achebe is described in the literary circles as the African literary Iroko. Nigerian writers celebrate Achebe, investigations say, because he cleared the path and carved a canon for the germination and blossoming of modern African fiction. They celebrate Achebe today because he gave the pristine form and essence to post-colonial literature. But not even the likes of the a Secretary for Social Development at FCT, Mr. Olusegun Awolowo, and Hyacinth Obunseh who worked closely with Okediran and ANA Secretary-General, Denja Abdullahi, helped in this Abuja writers' village to make Achebe proud. They were just stakeholders in the business of promoting arts and culture in Nigeria on the newspapers and the FCT authorities always feel proud and grateful to be part of the ANA, but there was little to show for their touted stewardship. These men had always promised that the FCT would soon establish a special Library of Nigerian Literature at the Ekwensi Centre (Abuja writers' village), but how soon?
Hyacinth Obunseh pack of ripples:
Hyacinth Obunseh is not a known writer to many but he holds sway in ANA. He was there when Okediran was president and is an exco in the leadership of Dr. Jerry Agada, the present president of ANA. One journalist talked about Obunseh in 2008 thus: “He has been in ANA exco for a fairly long time that you begin to wonder whether he can't do without the writers' tribe.” Yet, there was little significant from him in achieving the writers' village. His definition of writers is thus: “Writers are idealists, always seeking the ultimate points, the ideal situation and the best. They tend to want to and mostly succeed in living in the world they create in their books. It is hard, therefore, and almost impossible to find matching partners.” This was when he was asked why he was not married at forty-something years old in 2008.
Obunseh, for two or more years, was ANA's Public Relations Officer (South) under Prof Olu Obafemi's administration, a period he described as both interesting and challenging, whereas that regime couldn't achieve the writers village. To exonerate himself (though accepting his failures) from the failures that had characterised ANA, he had said: “Under Professor Olu Obafemi, however, I did not have much opportunity to express myself in my office, because we had a Super General Secretary (Nduka Otiono) who was in Lagos and was quite able to do things alone. That was his style, and I must say he mostly delivered. In my second coming, I worked with Dr. Wale Okediran, a man who believes in giving you space to prove your worth, celebrates you when you do, and calls you to order when you step out of line. Under his wing, I became, not just the ANA southern spokesman, but also Supervisor of the Lagos based ANA National Secretariat. I won't say I have excelled and blossomed under his watch, but I can say that he respects me and am very close to him, because of my work rate and results. I will add, with all sincerity, that it has been a very interesting period for me, working with a president I look up to as father and friend, a general secretary – Denja Abdulahi – who respects my views, believes in me, and is not threatened by my work in Lagos: the National Secretariat; and colleagues who give me room to do what I can/need to do, for our collective good, and take me as I am.” Wow!
Among the comments Obunseh made to his critics at the Owerri, Imo State 2007 ANA Convention when he seek to be elected as assistant general secretary was: “We will deliver, even better than we did last time, which led to our landslide victories. As the president said in his speech after our elections, 'it is not yet uhuru for us'. We have rolled up our sleeves and put on our thinking cap. We remain focused on bettering the lot of the Nigerian writers, at home and abroad, improving on our poor reading culture, put together more capacity building workshops, and, very importantly, lay the foundation stone, and complete the building of our long dreamt Abuja Writers' Village, all within our two-year tenure...”
Critics of ANA were saying that what they got from the respective regimes of ANA were promises, yet there was controversy that the writers land in Abuja may have gone, as they argued that those who had superintended ANA had not been immune from electoral fraud, financial impropriety and intense political sharp practices. Based on this, award-winning poet, Odia Ofeimun condemned the action thus: "Anyone who supports literature because of politics will destroy literature for exactly the same reasons...” Many in the larger society were also said that they saw what was happening in ANA. A critic once said: “Odia's comment hints of the simmering political undercurrents in the body. Issues around the ANA 2007 general election which was allegedly too 'politicised' and manipulations are among the developments Odia's comment highlight.”
But in their bids to defend these reactions, there was mail-war between Odia v. Obunseh. One of the mails read: “I think you were deliberately seeking to mislead, when you claimed that I apologized to Elechi Amadi for not voting for him at the Port Harcourt conference. I never apologize for the positions I take because I think long and hard before I take them. I refused to vote for Elechi Amadi and I proved the importance of what a single vote could do...”
The issue of a concrete audit of ANA's members worldwide cropped up in the controversy. An alleged contractual agreement signed by the Prof. Obafemi and Nduka Otiono led national executive with a certain developer over the development of the association's Abuja land came up. Odia had divergent views against other executive members of the ANA. Okediran, Abdullahi, Obunseh and others were among those that slugged it out with Odia. Odia wondered, “Why would one ANA Executive take over such a disreputable agreement from another Executive and then seek to normalize it? Hyacinth Obunseh, you may love the trivia and sassiness of ANA bickering. But this matter is too serious to be smuggled into discussions, as you have done, merely to win debating points.”
While some of these scribes are not on the board of ANA leadership today, it is not certain what the Vatsas and Saro-wiwas who were once ANA presidents could be thinking in their graves, as Okediran opened Ebedi International Writers Residency just barely one year he abdicated ANA presidency, what he could not achieve for the writers in Abuja Writers' Village, for the years he was president of the organization. The likes of Abubakar Gimba and Niyi Osundare who are living might be puzzling that even though Okediran worked on the Abuja Writers Village, it is not functional.
Odimegwu Onwumere, Poet/Author and Media Consultant, is the Founder of Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), Oyigbo, Rivers State. Mobile: +2348032552855. Email: [email protected]