By Henry Akubuiro
IT was the first time the brand new Mamman Vatsa Writer’s Village, Mpape, Abuja, was playing host to any event. When members of ANA (Association of Nigerian Authors) arrived at the ultramodern Chinua Achebe International Conference Centre at the Mamman Vatsa Writers’ Village, last Wednesday evening, they were greeted with tweet tweet calls and the down chorus of birds in the sprawling, idyllic setting.
But it wasn’t just a night for caroling and fluttering birds. The voices of poets and other creatives were to eclipse those of the merrymaking birds in the Festi- val of Life —the first event of the day, a welcome cocktail and soiree. The dead- locked Ghanian poet, Pobee Mwintombo, who came all the way from Accra, was among the performers who regaled the audience with their poems and skits. Denja Abudullahi’s play, This is Abuja, celebrating the rich culture of Abuja and Nigeria, was also performed by a drama troupe.
A four-day event themed “Resilience and Nation Building:The Role of Nigerian Literature”, this year’s convention was also the 40th anniversary of the association, founded in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, by Professor Chinua Achebe and other eminent Nigerian writers to promote literature.
This year’s convention was an improvement over previous conventions in terms of the variety of programmes. The second day of the convention began with Emeritus Professor Femi Osofisan presenting the Anniversary Lecture entitled “The Story as an Escort” in which he traced the journey of the association and its innumerable contributions to literacy and literature in Nigeria, and the beauty of the written word in our world.
Preceding Prof. Osofisan’s lecture were a number of panel discussions discussing contemporary literary issues. The panel on Children’s Literature was chaired by Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo with Dr. Osarobu Igudia of the University of Ibadan and Mrs Chinyere Obi-Obasi, former runner-up Nigeria Prize for Literature, as panelists.
Another interesting session was the panel on “Travelogue” chaired by Dr. Wale Okediran, which had Prof. Dul Johnson, Linda Mustapha and Prof. Mabel Evwierhoma as panelists. The poetry panel, chaired by Prof. Al-Bishak has Prof Joe Ushie and GMT Emezuo as panelists. Some of the panels could not hold, due to the absence of some members. The second day was capped with a poetry slam, a new addition to the convention, and a dinner.
The third day of the convention attracted the most crowd, as more delegates, especially the working class, used the advantage of the weekend to storm the Mamman Vatsa Writers’ Village. It was a full house full of smiles and laughter. In his remarks, the President of the association, Camillus Ukah, thanked all those who made the journey and the support they had given the present and past leadership of ANA.
“I thank ANA illustrious members for the support to remain the strongest in Africa. I can assure you the Mamman Vatsa Writers’ Village is the biggest in the whole world,” he said.
The former chairman of the Imo State chapter of the association, described the late Mamman Vatsa, the former FCT Minister, who donated the land to ANA during the regime of Ibrahim Babangida, as “an unquantifiable man”.
He said, “When I look at the man who bequeathed writers this place, I thought of what was going on in his mind. I have never seen a writers’ village as big as this outside Nigeria.’’
He also thanked KMVL, the developer of the Mamman Vatsa Writers’ Village, for transforming the scribblers’ village and hosting the literary pilgrims this year, as against the practice of state chapters hosting each ANA convention.”
The highlight of the day was the keynote address presented by Professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo entitled “Creativity, Literacy Advocacy and Nation Building: The Role of Nigerian Literature.” Her introductory remarks traced Africa’s encounter with alien powers and forces.
For centuries, she said, some Western countries enslaved Africans and colonised and ruled many regions of the world, especially Asia, Africa, the Far East and the areas known today as North and South America and the West Indies. “Wherever they conquered, dominated and ruled, these European powers established their own systems of governance and imposed their cultures —including their religion and way of life —on those they dominated.
“Initially, the idea was to spread the Christian civilisation to these ‘primitive’ peoples or pagans and to create new sources of raw materials for European industries and also train people that would ensure the economic growth of the colonising countries,” she noted, adding that, for a very long time, blacks, she noted, were regarded as sub-human, irrational beings and people without civilisation.
Professor Adimora-Ezeigbo said she had to revisit the histories of violence, conquest, domination and influence in this paper, for “they affected and still affect African writers and what they wrote about in the past and what they write about in the present. In spite of the identified flaws in Yambo Ouologuem’s Bound to Violence, the up-heavals that characterised certain periods of Africa’s historical experiences have been graphically explored in the novel.”
Emphasising on literature as a tool for national development, the award winning writer and scholar said literature “is the most efficacious subject or discipline to provide the humanistic education Nigeria needs to make progress and to escape from the scourge of corruption, ethnicity, nepotism, greed and bad leadership. Literature teaches us about life, enriches our experience of human psychology and relation- ships, which are needed to build character and nurture balanced human beings.”
She echoed, “For a literature that is conscious of the need to empower and encourage the people with self-knowledge, as well as teach them their past, present and even future for the purpose of societal re- engineering, the importance of creating or nurturing an inclusive literary culture that harnesses and promotes writing from every part of the country is imperative.
“Recently, in 2017, a young Ghanaian-American writer, Yaa Gyasi, published a novel entitled Homegoing based on the Atlantic slave trade, covering the experiences of more than three gevdrations of two families from coast of West Africa (now Ghana) to the plantations in America and on to modern Ghana and USA. This is a work of epic dimension. The two novels mentioned above fall into the category critics study under postcolonial writing.”
The role of literature in the indigenous languages in nation building, she noted, “must not be overlooked in this lecture, for it is as important as Nigerian literature produced language. Our cultures are lost when we write in a foreign language. Our cultures are encoded in the languages we speak.”
She emphasised on developing the culture of reading among Nigerians, for, “When people read, they become educated. When they become educated, they gain knowledge. Knowledge is power. It is only knowledge and application of knowledge to bring about change that can save our people and cause a redistribution of wealth so that every Nigerian will take care of himself or herself. I dare say literature is one of the sources of that knowledge.”
As he did on the first day, the Ghanian poet, Mwintombo, performed another set of poems. The thrilling and colourful night came to an end with dignitaries and ANA members dancing on stage in celebration of their reunion. Before then, former ANA presidents, including Professors Femi Osofisan, Dr. Wale Okediran, Denja Abdullahi, and the incumbent, cut the 40th anniversary cake, to the joy of all present.
The last day of the convention featured a business meeting where the fortunes of the association were deliberated. The AGM climaxed with the reelection of the president, his deputy and other key officials members of the association.
Former ANA President, Denja Abdullahi; the General Manager and CEO of National Theatre of Nigeria, Prof. Sunday Ododo; the University of Uyo scholar, Professor Joe Ushie; and Professor Mabel Evwierhoma were among the writers honoured with ANA fellowships.
Obinna Udenwe’s novel, Colours of Hatred, won the maiden Chinua Achebe Prize for Literature sponsored by the Government of Anambra State. The ANA Poetry Prize was jointly won by Kehinde Akano and Stephen Kekeghe, while Cheta Igbokwe and Onyeka Nwelue won the ANA Prize for Drama and Prose respectively.
This year’s ANA convention attracted more participants compared to last year. The President of PAWA, Dr. Wale Okediran, Senator Shehu Sani, Professor Femi Osofisan, Prof Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo and Dr John Essien of NCC were among dignitaries that attended all the events.
A member of ANA Abuja, Mr Eddie Onuzuruike, told Daily Sun on the last day, “We are happy this is happening in our lifetime, bringing Nigerian writers to the Mamman Vatsa Writer’s Village. If this is the only thing Camillus Ukah achieved in his first tenure, it’s monumental.”