It was meant to be a remarkable homecoming for Nigeria’s writers’ guild, as it was tagged, but things fell apart when it mattered most, and the centre wobbled out of control. Twenty-eight years after the first ANA Convention was held in Enugu, the 38th national convention of the Association of Nigerian Authors returned to the Coal City where it was founded by Chinua Achebe with great expectations, but it took a turn for the worse.
The first tell-tale sign that things were not going according to plan was when, days before the kick off of the convention on November 31st, 2019, the much-expected funds from the Enugu State Government never came, to the embarrassment of the LOC led by the state Chairman, Mr. Zulu Ofoelue, who tried all it could to reach out to Governor IfeanyI Ugwuanyi. But the immediate past president of the association, Denja Abdullahi, rallied round to salvage some pride for the association by raising some funds to get the convention underway.
The Festival of Life on the Day One, Friday, November 31st, 2019, saw poets and artistes performing to rev up the convention. Denja Abdullahi’s drama, Death and the King’s Grey Hair, was performed by students of the Theatre Arts Department. The keynote speech, the next day, by Professor Egya Emman Sule, on “Poetics of Integration” was a major attraction at the opening ceremony. But those were about the glimmering shafts of a fading light.
The AGM, which kicked off at noon on Saturday, was characterised by ruckus, culminating in an anti-climax as the election, which was supposed to usher in a new executive council, as done very two years, was aborted, later in the day, marred by alleged voters list manipulation, accusations of thuggery, vote-buying, etcetera.
It was meant to be a day of glory for one of the four presidential aspirants –Camillus Ukah (the Immediate past ANA Vice President from ANA Imo), Ahmed Maiwada (former ANA Legal Adviser from ANA Abuja), Ofonome Inyang (immediate past ANA General Secretary from ANA Akwa Ibom) and Chike Ofili (former Chairman of ANA Lagos from ANA Lagos).
But, on that ill-fated day in the Coal City, the chickens never came to roost, as decorum was thrown to the winds. Thus, writers, who were regarded as the conscience of the nation, became the laughing stock of a nation, as they whimpered long into the night at IMT International Conference Centre, Enugu Conference, inconsolable like some nondescript characters they often depict in their fiction.
While some people have heaped the blame on the immediate past president of the association, Mallam Denja Abdullahi, for masterminding the crisis that rocked the election, others have blamed the presidential aspirants themselves for fanning the embers of discord and resorting to thuggery that truncated the election.
The Sun Literary Review spoke to Camillus Ukah and Ahmed Maiwada, who are perceived as the strongest contenders and also in the eye of the storm for their opinions on what went down.
“The idea of creating a crisis by Denja Abdullahi to pave way for a candidate already well endeared to the ANA electorate is completely out of place in my own case with respect to the disrupted ANA 2019 election. Furthermore, no man in his right senses would want to set fire on his own house. The Denja Abdullahi-led ANA administration had built a formidable house in terms of achievements before the 2019 ANA convention. That convention was expected to be the event for parting ovation and for the celebration of a work well done. Denja Abdullahi or his admirers could not have been party to any form of crisis in that convention. The crisis in the 2019 Convention is rather from the direction of those who defiantly refused to see anything good in the glaring giant strides of the 2015-2019 ANA National EXCO. They were free to make their points and hold their opinions, not bringing down the house. They did not allow members to peacefully decide their next set of leaders.
“By ANA’s constitution, no one is a candidate until he or she is duly nominated on the floor of the congress. We only campaigned as members interested in running for offices. But none of us had been nominated and none of us was a candidate in a constitutional sense. But the leadership of the association listened to us and treated us with respect. The EXCO followed the constitution and house rules until some persons, bent on derailing the process, insisted that the EXCO should not nominate members of the electoral committee.
“To achieve a peaceful process, the EXCO yielded and allowed each of the persons (interested in) running for the post of the president to nominate someone of their choice to the electoral committee. It was unprecedented, but it was done to build confidence in the process. The EXCO was dissolved and the electoral committee took over proceedings. The committee called all the four members who were interested in the presidency to a meeting. The electoral committee and the ‘aspirants’ agreed on the modalities and ground rules (which were consistent with the constitution, house rules, and previous electoral practices). There was no disagreement.
So the electoral committee began the accreditation process. ‘Aspirants’ who had complaints were at liberty to speak to the electoral committee as a whole or to their own nominee in the electoral committee. Some ‘aspirants’ spoke to the committee; and the committee noted their complaints and promised to address them before the nominations. But those ‘aspirants’ could not trust and respect the judgment and integrity of the persons representing them in the electoral committee. Those ‘aspirants’ chose rather to disrupt the process to the shock and embarrassment of their own representatives in the electoral committee.
“Now, let us take about exclusion specifically. We all agreed on the terms of the accreditation. If we work by the house rules of excluding first-timers from voting, the number of candidates eligible to vote during conventions is cumulative. States that regularly attend conventions in their numbers over the years would naturally produce more eligible voters than those who show scanty irregular presence.
“The 2019 ANA Convention was particularly remarkable with the bloating of the overall attendance. State branches that were known for one regular attendee (or at most two attendees), registered tens of unknown faces for the convention. Proper accreditation ought to prevent those first-timers from voting. That was constitutional, and we all the ‘aspirants’ agreed it should be done. One wonders why they turned around to unleash thugs on the convention. One wonders whether accreditation has become a strange process in elections.
“The violent fellows should have had the courage to state their true intentions from the beginning: to set the constitution aside, to allow all first-timers and non-members to vote, and to, ultimately, destroy the election.
“2019 ANA Convention was not the first time security men were invited to protect writers and to help maintain order during convention. Since the 2015 election in Kaduna, there has been security presence during ANA National elections, which, of course, has been necessitated by the state of insecurity in the country and the increasing desperation for ANA’s top offices. Unfortunately, the security operatives invited this year were simply impotent in the face of crisis. There were candidates who boasted openly that they had bought over the security agencies two weeks before the convention.
“It appears they compromised the security agents in order to set their thugs free on the convention. I was shocked to see the importation of thugs. I got the shock of my life when I saw some writers transform themselves into thugs and motor park touts…to say nothing about the non-members they recruited to cause violence. Some of the said violent writers were aspirants to the highest elective position of the association. They were desperate and they scuttled the election process, even though their own nominees were part of the umpire. What a disgrace! I still wish it was a bad dream. There is no justification for the action of the ‘aspirants’ and their thugs. They were a violent minority that upset a peaceful house.”
“Where could I have imported the thugs from, anyway? Nonetheless, there are several pictures of me with my supporters at the convention, which my supporters and I have shared all over Facebook. Kindly show those pictures to the person who accessed me of importing thugs and ask him or her to point out any thug there with me. From what I know, several of my teeming supporters were going writers from all over Nigeria, each of them duly registered through his or her chapter chairman to participate in the convention. And thus assertion remains until proof to the contrary is established.
“Accusing me of masterminding the failure of the elections by vote buying doesn’t agree with reason and what actually transpired at the convention. How did vote buying (assuming there was any) influence Mallam Denja Abdullahi’s infamous list of voters in which duly registered delegates were disenfranchised: the real cause of the failure of the elections? Any supporter of any candidate who told you vote buying was the cause of the failure of the election was either not at the convention or a pathological liar.
“In any case, how did I buy the votes, when there were no ballot papers distributed by the time the disruption of the accreditation process took place? I was sitting in the chair inside the hall that evening, after being called into the hall by members of the Electoral Committee. I was busy collating visible malpractices ranging from student delegates from a chapter or two, first-timers, disqualified delegates, etcetera, when I heard the noises of protest at the entrance.
“I went over only to see that delegates from a particular state chapter were not taking being kept outside the hall lightly. Soon, every delegate not allowed into the hall pushed his way in by force. The hall was in pitch darkness then. I didn’t go and give anybody money to force himself in. I didn’t even have any cash on me, after being too busy at the venue to go to the ATM. How could I have bought any votes under that circumstance? Could I have done it earlier on? Well, I’d been in that hall since I arrived soon after the start of plenary, only going out briefly to consult with my team members. So where and when did anybody see me buying votes, assuming there were ballot papers held in the hands of delegates?
“To my thinking, the supporters of the opposition candidates were jealous of the way my teeming supporters had received me at the convention venue and felt sorry for their candidates regarding the votes I had coming in my favour. They should be told that politics isn’t for crying babies.
“The allegation of imposing the former Vice President on ANA by the former President was not only made by my supports, I also made the same allegation. A number of people had informed me that the former President had asked them to support the former Vice President, but many had told him that, based on their honesty and personal assessments, that person lacked what they thought ANA presidents should have.
This sad event started right from the convention in Lagos. I got to hear of it in November last year, in a chat I had with the first person who asked me to consider running for the Presidency, based on the total rejection of the planned imposition by the former President by a whole section of ANA in Nigeria. The former President had fought with a few of his close associates chiefly on account of their supporting me for the presidency rather than the candidate he had directed them to support.
“Someone lost his job as ANA Project Manager because of that. Many were harassed or intimidated by the said former President. Were there such indications in Enugu? I can say, there was, and there is no better evidence than the infamous list prepared by the former President, of registered delegates, which accredited all delegates from chapters supporting the former Vice President to vote and disqualified most of delegates from all other chapters assumed to be supporters of the other presidential candidates.
“I think credible elections are very feasible as long as the causes of the disruption – Mallam Denja Abdullahi, the former President, and his manipulated list of eligible delegates, are out of the way. The list was kept very secret by the former President, who singlehandedly prepared it, in total isolation of the General Secretary, whose constitutional duty it was to keep the said register. By the time we saw the said list, the Electoral Committee members had run through it for us to discover the alarming reality of several eligible delegates being completely excluded, for no other reason than they hailed from Chapters considered as strong chapters for the presidential candidates other than his anointed one.
“I should hope the Electoral Committee would do a proper list of delegates duly registered for the Enugu and permit for verification by the various chapter chairmen, who must exhibit receipts of convention fees they are alleged to have paid ANA National on behalf of their delegates. Once that is done, then we’re back on track.”