By Henry Akubuiro
Among the Nigerian literary community, the last quarter of the year is characterised by a buzz —an annual pilgrimage to the shrine of fecundity. Kindred spirits move from all over Nigeria, guided by the muse, to partake in the literary ritual at a chosen centre agreed in advance.
But, in a year like 2020, riven by crisis by two condensing factions, a fallout from the Enugu international convention the year before, coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic and EndSars protests, many thought the 39th international convention of ANA scheduled to hold in the early week of December in Ilorin would be deferred. Only doubts were deferred, at last, as reality took centre stage in the Kwara State capital, with participants thronging to Ilorin in support of the Camillus Ukah-led ANA.
Some of the big guns that made ANA thick over the years maintained a torrid love affair with the writers’ tribe by defying the atrocious Ilorin terrains to answer the call of the muse. Former ANA President, Dr. Wale Okediran, who is the current President, Pan African Writers Association (PAWA), came all the way from his base in Accra, Ghana. The cast of big masquerades present included Professors Femi Osofisan, Olu Obafemi, Remi Raji and Sunnie Ododo, as well as Mallam Denja Abdullahi, the immediate past ANA president.
It was Camillus Ukah’s first outing as ANA President, since his election in Makurdi, backed by a group of elders. Themed “In Search of a Better World: Literature as Catalyst for National Development”, the opening ceremony took place at the Mustapha Akanbi Foundation hall, GRA, Ilorin. Members, who hadn’t seen one another in a long while, were full of mirth and shared fraternal bonhomie. They came in their numbers from several chapters across the country. The most glamorous was the Bayelsa contingent, each member spotting a unique fedora hat.
The Kwara State Commissioner for Mrs. Harriet Afolabi Oshatimehin, stood in for the state governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrasak. She noted the contributions and importance of Nigerian writers to the reading culture of the country, and thanked ANA for hosting this year’s convention in the state.
Camillus Ukah, in his presidential address, said the theme of the convention was relevant to the challenges facing the country at the moment. Thus, writers were encouraged to address the prevailing socio-economic problems plaguing the nation, for “literature could be the only profound solution.” Needless to say, “literature occupies a cardinal position in the advancement of the human cause.” He called on all and sundry to support Nigerian literature.
Professor Raheem Adebayo, the Keynote Speaker, and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor of University of Ilorin, in a lengthy keynote speech, addresses the theme of the convention, including the contributions of Nigerian literary legends from the days of its foundation, as well as interventions from different generations of writers till the present. Nigerian writings, he said, had achieved so much in fostering national unity, development, eradication of poverty of mind and soul, as well as deradicalisation of violent elements in the society.
One of Nigeria’s biggest literary figures, Professor JP Clark, who died recently, was honoured with a panel discussion centred around his works with the theme “JP Clark: The Resonance of Writer’s Songs”. The star-studded panelists included Professors Femi Osofisan, Olu Obafemi, Sunnie Ododo, and Dr. Wale Okediran. Professors Akachi Ezeigbo and Sam Ukala, who couldn’t make it to Ilorin, connected via Zoom.
The second panel discussion of the day was on “Writers and their Writings: The Imperial for Institutional Collaboration” was moderated by the University of Portharcourt scholar-poet, Dr. Obari Gomba, featuring Mallam Denja Abdullahi and Mr John Asien, former Director-General of Nigerian Copyright Commission, among others.
Abdullahi stressed the importance of collaborating with conventional media, like newspaper houses, and the need to explore other avenues to promote ANA. He said, during his tenure, he attracted much media presence by spending little or nothing, compared to what government agencies spent annually on publicity. He didn’t rule out cooperating with government authorities but without jeopardising the integrity of the association and what it stands for.
A proponent of copyrights of artists, Mr Asien canvassed for stricter enforcement of the relevant copyright laws in 2021 in order to run pirates out of town. Similarly, the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council, Prof Ismail Junaid, enjoined ANA to begin its anti-piracy campaign by scrutinising the qualities of books supplied to schools in Nigeria.
In keeping with the tradition, the third day of the convention was dedicated to AGM (Annual General Meeting) and award night. Held at the University of Ilorin, the scribblers moved, in buses, from the point of convergence at the Mustapha Akanbi Foundation hall to the University of Ilorin, relishing the amazing views of the state capital and the expansive university environment.
The AGM/Business Meeting was overseen by Mr Ukah, with different reports presented by the executive council, the ANA Land Committee, and Peace Committee. State ANA chapter chairmen present also gave updates of affairs in their chapters and how elections were held to produce new executive councils as instructed by the new national executive council.
There was no consensus where the 2021 international convention of the association would hold. Prof Sunnie Ododo had, before now, volunteered to host the 2021 ANA Convention at the National Theatre, Lagos, which he heads. Regardless, Abia State made a strong case to host it, while another case was made for Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, since it would be the 40th anniversary of ANA next year.
With the AGM over, Professor Remi Raji moderated another panel discussion on “Literature of Potency and Power: Beyond Aesthetics and Narratives, how can Nigerian Writing become a Latent Tool for Mental Change and Blueprint for Innovation?” It featured Professor Moses Tsenungo, James Eze, Odili Ujubuonu, among others. Prof Raji reminded antagonists that he was committed to supporting the present exco succeed by all means.
The 2020 edition of ANA convention ended with an award night later in the day from where it started at the Knowledge Library, owned by late Mustapha Akanbi. Chaired by Professor Femi Osofisan, the playwright thanked the current ANA leadership for organising the convention, against the odds, and members for attending from different states. Subsequently, ANA Fellowships were conferred on Professors Mary Ifeoma Nwoye, Chinedum Uzoma Nwajiuba and Mallam Al-Bashak.
The highpoint of the day was the announcement of winners of the 2020 ANA literary prizes, of which its shortlists were released in advance for different categories. James Eze was all smiles as he won the ANA Prize for Poetry jointly with Abiodun Bello, who was absent at the event. The ANA Prize for Prose went to Terna Abu, while Olubumnmi Familoni won the ANA Prize for Children’s Literature. Clementina Kezie took the ANA Prize for Drama, while the maiden edition of the Ikeogu Oke’s Prize for Secondary Schools was clinched by Chris Gonoh with his work, “I See the Future”, by Chris Gonoh.
Speaking with Daily Sun after receiving his award, James Eze said: “Perhaps my greatest joy this year is winning the ANA Prize for Poetry with Dispossessed, which had enjoyed rave reviews before now. It is a validation of my craft, especially coming from a writer’s body like ANA. This will spur me on to do more as founded by Chinua Achebe.”
No thanks for the factionalisation of the association, the usual ANA crowd and some regular faces were missing from Ilorin. But Ukah believed the modest success of the Ilorin convention would be a catalyst to unite all factions. “ANA is one, and it will remain one as founded by Achebe,” he told The Sun.