Barrister Ahmed Maiwada is an Abuja-based lawyer who also functions as a poet and novelist. He is the author of four poetry volumes –Saint of a Woman, Fossils, Eye Rhymes and We’re Fish. Recently, the outgoing leadership of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), organised a media tour of the 36.9 hectares Mamman Vatsa Writers’ Village located in Mpape, Abuja. Maiwada, in this interview, sheds light on the big role he played to salvage the land from illegal occupants. He also unveils his plans for Nigerian writers as he guns for the presidency of the association at the annual convention of the association holding in Enugu this week. Part of the plans are to give a pride of place to young writers, reconcile lost members of the association, rev up ANA prizes, enforce accountability, etcetera. He spoke to HENRY AKUBUIRO.
You have been touring different ANA chapters in the run-up to the ANA Convention holding this weekend in Enugu. How has the experience been like?
It is a different experience from when you go just for a reading as a writer, read and interact with members of a chapter. It has been a revelatory experience so far, because one gets to see, at a very close range, what membership of ANA comes with. People can easily think, if you are a member of ANA, you belong to a prestigious organisation. But, when you get in there, you now discover there are so many problems. At the chapter level, there is the issue of lack of accountability or lack of trust. Some members do not trust to pay their membership dues, because they don’t know what the money will be used for. Apart from that, there is the problem of raising funds for activities. You will be surprised that Kano, as many as the members are, don’t have sponsorship, except, maybe, the Murtala Mohammed Library that gives them a space. They are even luckier than others. For us in Abuja, we don’t have a reading venue. I spoke with people from Bauchi, and they said they haven’t been having venues at all for lack of resources. The experiences ANA members have been going through are something that should be better.
You are considered one of the front runners for the position of ANA president at the Enugu national convention. What are the focal points of your campaign and what new things do you intend to bring in?
I am glad to hear that I am one of the frontrunners. Coming from you, you are giving me an insight how we will be performing. I am looking at overhauling ANA. From the background I am coming from, considering my training as a lawyer and somebody who has worked within a corporate organisation, I have things to offer. I am coming from the position of working with board of directors; I am coming from a position of being a director myself (representing Leasing Company of Nigeria) and on the boards of Sokoto Hotel and Lake Chad Hotel Ltd. So I know what corporate governance is. Working with the company, I also know what corporate governance is –you know the hierarchy of authority, and so on.
Looking at the constitution of ANA, you also will see that it is similar to an extent. At the very top, you have a president; under, you have the general secretary, and so on. The difference is, in ANA, each member is elected, and you, as the president, is not supposed to see other elected executive members as your employees, and refuse to let them have any say whatsoever in the association. If you have any issue with any elected member, the routine is to report him to the Executive Council. That is one of the reasons ANA has not been performing well. The Congress will elect members and, at the end of the day, only two or three of them will function. That is one of the things I want to change in the association.
Secondly, I have noticed that many well-meaning members of our association –serious senior members –have left the association, or they don’t have anything to do with the association. Professor Jerry Agada is one. I have had a talk with him, and I got to know he was not really happy with the association. When I asked Baba Dzukogi, “Are you interested in ANA?” he laughed, and responded, “Do you want my wife to curse me?” Even when I travelled to Niger, I found out he wasn’t the only one disenchanted with ANA. The interest you are seeing now for ANA, I was the one who made it possible –that job of making people believe again. If we don’t have membership in ANA, then the dreams of our founding fathers would have been lost. I have started doing the job already, bringing back members who have left the association.
Next, I have interest in young writers. The young writers are currently moving around, looking for platforms to expend their literary energy. Once they hear there is something happening, they go there: either they get the thrill they want or get disappointed. Meanwhile, ANA is supposed to be doing this for them. I have identified young people across this country who we can train for leadership. In addition to that, we are going to have these guys attend programmes like residencies, exchange programmes for universities and institutions abroad.
I have started discussing some of the things long time ago in anticipation that, whatever it is, it is ANA that will benefit. Young members are going to get sponsorships. The five-bedroom residency facility on the ANA land, it is most certain, as I have stated in my manifesto that 80-90 percent of members to enjoy those facilities are mostly the youth.
We have the issue of prizes: we are going to limit entries to only ANA members. My own interest is only for ANA members to send in entries. We are going to have an overall prize for the year for, maybe, 5,000 dollars. When the present ANA Exco came on board, it promised to increase the prizes in its Strategic Plan. Rather than improve on what they inherited, it has actually reduced the number of prizes. Even at that, it cannot pay the 100,000 naira. There was a boy who won the ANA/NECO Prize, and ANA didn’t have the money to pay. I can assure you ANA is broke at the moment. As I am talking to you, ANA can’t fund those prizes.
I am going to streamline these prizes. I will start by reconstituting the judges. I will like to have a set of judges for each particular genre. One set for poetry; one for prose; one for children’s literature; one for drama; another for short stories, etcetera.
Again, I would like to have the judges apply and go through interviews. You have to be up to date with what the current trends are. Being subscribed to top literary magazines or journals in the world may even be one of the conditions for the judges to apply so that you don’t see strange things in the work of a writer and say “this man doesn’t know what he is doing”. It is not because you are a lecturer that makes you qualified to be a judge of ANA prizes. Even if the prize money is not beyond 5,000 dollars, at least, let ANA prizes be a reference point that people will respect and say, if you win this prize, you actually merit winning it, because you know what you are doing.
So where is the money for all these going to come from?
That is where the ANA land comes into play. I don’t want to talk from the beginning on the ANA, because some people may say that’s the only thing am focusing on. However, I don’t see anything wrong in talking about the assets that is going to fund your administration. Yes, we are going to go after funds. We are going to make massive use of the goodwill we are going to bring into the association. My general secretary, Akogun Tai, is well connected in Ekiti State. We have a team of people who are well to do –people who can deep hands into their pockets and say, “There is no money in ANA; let’s come and help out.” That’s the point. In addition to that, we are going to use the connection with the people we know. Don’t be surprised we may even get highly placed individuals, like Emir Sanusi, to endow some of these prizes. That’s what we are bringing in, and I insist that part of what we are going to add to ANA is goodwill, which we don’t have right now.
Besides, we are going to have a bookshop that will showcase only books by ANA members. The thinking behind it is that, I expect by the time the Mamman Vatsa Writers’ Village comes on stream, we will have room occupancies from all over the world. I have people connected with embassies who we can leverage on their support to get clients. By the time we have foreigners occupying our rooms, they will come out and take a walk. It means that we are going to have members’ works before the world to see. By just showcasing them at the Mamman Vatsa Writers’ Village –some of them will never get the opportunity to be noticed –it is like we are binging global patronage to them. There are so many things I have in mind to do, which you will find in my manifesto.
One of the greatest legacies to be bequeathed the incoming ANA National Exco is the 36.9 hectares of ANA land located in Mpape, Abuja. I read you on social media recently promising to restore the original 60 hectares offered to the association. How is that possible?
First of all, I want to correct the impression that the 36.9 hectares of the ANA was salvaged by ANA legal team; it is a lie. I achieved that feat alone. If any other lawyer was there when I won the case in 2012, let him come out and say so. I was the Legal Adviser for ANA and I was the ANA lawyer for the case, too, and I was the only one going to court. If anybody else made an appearance, let him show. They refused to tell you that, because, if they do so, people will know that it was Ahmed Maiwada who actually secured that land for ANA. I am repeating it: I won that case alone. I was on that case for four good years. If I could do it then all by myself, what of when I become the ANA president? The only money I got from ANA was 20,000 naira, which was filing fee. My appearance fee was not even paid.
Even till now?
When I finished that case, I recovered 36.9 hectares. The value of that 36.9 hectares, as at 2012 when I recovered it, was 1.2 billion naira, according to KNVR, the new developer. After seeing that, I made a token request of 15 million naira only as my payment (it was supposed to be 10 percent on the value of the recovered land), because I was also a member of ANA, and didn’t want to charge more than that. Unknown to me, the ANA authorities then had requested for 20 million naira from the developer to pay me, and got it, yet I did not get a kobo. They should have kept, at least, 5 million naira and pay me my 15 million naira; but they didn’t. The developer was not supposed to give them a kobo, for that was not part of the agreement we signed with the developer. But he still gave them. These people blew the money. At the Kaduna ANA convention, I was about to tell the Congress what was going on, but I was called aside to calm down, that I would still get my money despite the change of government. That was how I kept quiet.
The current ANA president would tell you the association paid me 5 million naira. How did I get that 5 million naira? There was a second case I was doing for ANA –I did about four cases for the association in all –and I declared a strike on the condition that the initial 15 million naira must be paid. That was when I heard the money had been paid. The developer had already sunk in money, and my success or failure in that case would affect him, so he promised to pay me. He, then, gave 5 million naira to ANA. That was how I got that 5 million naira. I told them that 5 million naira was only meant for the second case. Up till now, ANA hasn’t paid me the 15 million naira. After that, I did a third case for ANA, which I won (I have yet to put my bill for that one). I am on the fourth case now, which I have been doing since 2013, and they all affected the soul and ownership of the ANA land. I am telling you all these to get back to the question. If I did all that fight alone for ANA, I don’t see any reason why, as the president of the association, if elected, I cannot go after the land that has been taken while we were in court.
In addition to that, when I took Odia Ofeimun to the ANA land on the 25th of May 2019, he promised to help ANA recover those parts that were lost. Recovery may not be the physical land; we may get money’s worth back; but we will make that effort. There is no way I will sit down and my conscience will allow me to wish that land away. No! We have to close that file. We must know who got the missing portions of land and how the land got out in the first place. I have what it takes to lead the association. I have gained more experience and I have gained more connections. Though Odia has been chased out of the association, we are bringing him back.
You have been accused of trying to be a power usurper who is vying for the presidency when the position has been zoned to south of the country, in keeping with the rotational presidency of the association, which has served the association for 20 years. As a presidential aspirant from the north, don’t you think you are jumping the gun?
Those who said the presidency has been zoned to the south, did they tell you who zoned it? Up till now, I have been asking who actually zoned this presidency. If it happened, they say, during Gimba Abubakar’s tenure, I asked them to produce the minutes of that Congress that rotated the presidency, and nobody could produce it. In any case, the aims and objectives of ANA says we are supposed to promote equality among not only ANA members but all people. As writers, if we now start saying you are from here; you are from there, how do we begin to champion equality?
When Chinua Achebe started as the first ANA president, how many presidents from the south emerged before Abubakar Gimba from the north? More than one. Was there zoning then? No! We had Omotosho; we had Osofisan –they were all from the former southern Nigeria. I don’t believe those entities still exist. Since Gown partitioned Nigeria into states, constitutionally, we don’t follow states –they don’t matter. Those who are championing zoning are still going back to regionalism, and I think they are taking Nigeria backward. We, as writers, are supposed to show the society the way to follow, not for us to follow society. If anybody is running for the presidency of the association and has something to offer, he should tell ANA his plans, not to say that the other person doesn’t qualify. The constitution of ANA does not provide for zoning of the presidency. I was part of those who drafted the constitution.
I have never recognised any candidate on the basis of zoning. If people have done it, they are on their own –in fact, it is a breach of our constitution. If you think the ANA Congress finds you suitable for that position, so be it! Go and sell yourself. It is not about answering the president of ANA; it is all about what you are going to offer. Achebe, the founding father of ANA, didn’t believe in sectionalism; so I don’t think we should use his name to give us somebody who is not capable of leading ANA.