By HENRY AKUBUIRO
The sprawling edifice of Afri Hotel, Central Area, Abuja, was unusually busy last Friday. Hundreds of writers arrived the hotel from all parts of Nigeria. Most of them hadn’t seen each other after the last convention in Kaduna. They embraced each other amiably, and conversations were enkindled on every corner.
The Thought Pyramid Centre, Abuja, which hosted the soiree called Festival of Life, was used to welcome the usual participants who had journeyed from the length and breadth of Nigeria to participate in the annual convention. Poems were read by poets, and the students of Nasawara State University capped it up with a drama presentation.
If that venue was small and overcrowded, the Women Development Centre, Central Area, Abuja, where the opening ceremony held on Saturday morning, was quite spacious and conducive. And there were a number of big writers and dignitaries in the hall.
Renowned playwright, Professor Femi Osofisan, was a sight for sore eyes. Professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo returned to the convention after missing out in Kaduna. Former ANA President and Minister of State for Education, Professor Jerry Agada, was present, as well as former parliamentarian and one-time ANA President, Dr. Wale Okediran.
Others were the playwright, Senator Shehu Sani; poet and wife of the Imo State governor, Mrs Nneoma Okorocha; a representative of the Ghana Association of Writers, Kofi Sunday; the cerebral scholar, Professor Isidore Diala; SONTA President, Prof. Sonny Ododo; veteran writer, Prof. Idris Amali; ANA Vice President, Camillus Ukah; and Dr. Lizzy Iheanacho, who representative of the DG, National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja, Other notable writers in Abuja included the poets, Chiedu Ezeanah, Ikeogu Oke and B.M. Dzukogi, to mention a few.
A minute silence was observed for late Ken Saro-Wawa Jnr., the son of late ANA President, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who died recently, as well as deceased iconic writer, Elechi Amadi, who will be buried in December.
The president of the association, Mallam Denja Abdullahi, in his address of welcome, said, ANA, “at this period of reflection and with a full sense of accomplishment in the service of self and our dear nation this 35 years, must, however, re-examine itself critically to recalibrate its operations in order to run better and achieve greater goals in tune with the demands of our contemporary world.
“The Executive Council, elected into office last year, he said, had taken it upon itself to “birth a new, dynamic, systemic and highly mobile association that will be a pride to the founding fathers, some of who are here with us today, and to the little starry-eyed teen immersed in the world of the imagination.”
Lest we forget, it was Senator Shehu Sani, who initiated the move for the writers’ convention to be held in Abuja. When he took to the podium to address the gathering of writers after Abdullahi’s speech, he praised the doggedness of the Mallam Abdullahi-led executive council for overcoming the odds to organise the convention, especially in this time of recession.
“ANA has become a household name, the mind and conscience of all Nigerians,” he said, even as he believed the gathering would contribute to the national discourse on a more prosperous Nigeria. The senator, who felt deeply troubled about the fading interest in literature among the Nigerian populace, enjoined writers to take the bull by the horn.
“One of the basic problems we have today is the declining level and potency of our national discourse. When politicians have libraries in their houses, they simply become part of the architecture of their houses. Politicians will write and launch books, but, if you call them to discuss the books, they don’t fancy that,” he said. Therefore, he called on members of the association to make an impact with it, and to keep alive the spirit of ANA.
Prof. Sonny Ododo, who chaired the ANA Strategic Plan Development Committee, presented the published blueprint to the president of the association, Denja Abdullahi. He commended Prof. Femi Osofisan for winning the 2016 Talia Award, the first African to win it.
Students of Nasarawa State University made sure there was no dull moment at the convention, as they spiced the occasion with choral renditions. Students of the Hilltop Arts Centre, Minna, Niger State, also engaged the audience with a brief total theatre presentation.
The Ghana Association of Writers, represented by Kofi Sunday, added to the international hue of the convention. Many Ghanaian writers, he said, grew up reading classics by Nigerian authors, such as Cyprian Ekwensi, Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, and were influenced to be writers. He emphasised on encouraging readers to read, because, if there were no readers, they would be no writers. He subsequently presented books to the ANA president, on behalf of the association.
The wife of Imo State Governor, Mrs Nneoma Okorocha, in her goodwill message, said African literature had come a long way, and we should keep the flame burning. She thrilled the crowd with three scintillating poems of hers.
The keynote speech, entitled “A Writers’ Body and the Burdens of Current Nigerian Writing”, was presented by Professor Isidore Diala of the Department of English, Imo State University, Owerri.
He specified that the “core of Nigerian literature, the various artistic modes of expression quite apart, is the lived experience of the people and thus the indispensable social commitment of the writers is the filter through which their peculiar image of the human situation is represented”, and that the “kind of literature developed around each important historical moment is determined by what I could refer to as the heroic resonance of such a moment.”
The opening ceremony was preceded by a tour to the book fair by participants, who purchased their favourite books. The train subsequently moved to the ANA land located in Mampe, Abuja, for sightseeing and readings.
The second and concluding day of the convention began with a master class workshop and the annual AGM of the association at the National University Commission auditorium, climaxing with the conferment of fellowships on a select group of distinguished members –late Elechi Amadi, Professor Jerry Agada and Dr. Wale Okediran –and the announcement of prize winners.
Winners of the literary prizes included: Franklin Finecountry, author of Avenger of Blood (ANA Prose Fiction Prize); Fela Omoyele, author of Kosoko King of Eko (ANA Drama Prize); Obari Gomba, author of Thunder Protocol (ANA Poetry Prize); Peter Ofodile, author of From Sin to Splendour (ANA/Abubakar Gimba Prize for Short Stories); and Philip Begho, author of Water-Carrier Millionaire (ANA/ Ngozi Chuma Udeh Prize for Chidren’s Literature).