Widely known as a poet, non-fiction writer and culture administrator, BM Dzukogi is a former National Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and current Chairman, Northern Nigeria Writers. He is the pioneer DG, Niger State Book Development Agency and the founder of Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation. The Sun Literary Review chatted with him on the reported exclusion of the literary arts from the Covid-19 Committee on the Creative Industry and his face off with Chairman of the committee, Alibaba, the comedian.
The Federal Government of Nigeria has set up a Covid–19 Committee on the Creative Industry led by the ace comedian, Alibaba, to work out modalities to cushion the effects of the industry. How do you see this development?
It is a good development. They didn’t enlist any Nigerian writer on the committee in the first place. They love Nollywood, so they populate the committee with them. They forgot Nigerian writers as usual. When the committee was announced without writers, we shouted. Hon. Saidu Musa Abdul, a member of the Federal House of Representatives from Niger state, saw my post on Facebook, and called me. He promised to talk to the Hon. Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. He did, and, few days ago, my name popped up in the committee’s WhatsApp group. Two days later, I received the appointment letter. I am talking about last saturday.
How did you feel when you were added?
As I said, a friend of Nigerian writers made a case for us. I wasn’t expecting my name there. So, I felt nothing much! Government committees hardly work. The only thing was that the Minister’s grand thought of bringing us together was a new point of hope. More respect came for him when he listened to our complaints for inclusion. I commended him for that during the virtual inauguration. I also told himself about the absence of a national book development plan. I told him that we have one at the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation which we gave to the Reps Member for appropriation at any level.
The literary arts, which is one of the foremost sub-sectors of the Nigerian creative industry, respected worldwide, we hear, has been excluded from the catchment area of creative industry as designed by Alibaba. What really happened?
The Federal Government relies so much on Nollywood. Government seems to think that it is the most important sector in the creative industry. They are wrong, and Nollywood, which seems like a government pikin, thinks so, too. The rest of the sector members come forth as strangers, especially writers. You could feel the air of lordship when the Nollywood people speak at the WhatsApp group. Secondly, Nigerian governments treat writers as opposition. Why they are always suspicious of us is strange and ridiculous. But we are in the era of partnership. We want to change the perception of writers being opponents of Government.
How did you fight this imbalance as a member of the committee?
Of course, I spoke about writers. First of all, the committee is a plural convergence. Everyone is likely to arrive with his sub-sector agenda which must be laid on the table. Nollywood people, fashion, hoteliers, event planners, and all sorts of popular culture guys are not the ones to speak on behalf of the Nigerian writers. Everybody has to speak for himself first. Then the aggregation of the information sought, in our form which was thrown to the creative as individuals, organisations or heads of sectors and sub-sectors to fill it. It is not everybody who will be on the committee. Then the report has to be holistic. We just started, and the group is falling apart already due to intolerance and dictatorship of Alibaba. If he is the all-knower in comedy, he is not so to Nigerian writers. He has a leadership problem. He enjoys sycophantic comments. He appears to be tired of me when we have barely started. Addressing the imbalance is to continue to advocate for inclusion.
Was that what led to your hurried eviction from the committee?
Yeah, Advocacy! Alibaba is a unilateralist. He unilaterally removed me during a discussion Wednesday night from the committee. He didn’t even consult anybody. Where he got the powers from is still strange. A member of a committee removing another member without giving any explanation. He is the Prime Minister of the committee. The discussion was about the place of writers on a chart he flashed on the committee WhatsApp. I drew his attention to the fact that writing was missing while publishing and printing came up prominently. I kept appealing to him to make it WRITING, PUBLISHING AND PRINTING. This is the natural order. He refused. I continue to appeal for understanding and the next thing was eviction. Those in leadership positions in Nigeria always personalise it for themselves, family and friends. He lacks powers to do what he did. I feel ashamed for him and disappointed in him. If you check my chats with him, you could see that I saved his number as “Alibaba the great”. That means I liked him even before arriving at the committee only for him to come and disappoint me the way he did.
From what transpired in the committee meetings, how do other segments of the creative industry see writers?
Some were very understanding. The committee’s Secretary was one Anita. Darey Art Alade was one fellow who even volunteered to assist me distribute forms to Olu Obafemi and co. After the incident and I reported back to writers, some urged me to call Alibaba. I couldn’t find him in my WhatsApp again. So, I sent a message to Segun Arinze; he didn’t reply but Darey Art Alade promptly replied to me when Segun didn’t. Darey said he would do something about it. I am waiting. In fact, Jerry Adesowe of ANA suggested his name and as a cool-headed guy. Darey proved so during discussions.
Do you think the Nigerian literary committee has done enough to be recognised by government?
Brother, who else has done more than us. Nigerian literati has been around for over 200 years. We lead in Africa. Our names shine as stars in the sky. This is talking about Achebe and co. The glory is more intense today with the younger ones. We are the traditional custodians of the creative sector in Nigeria.
What’s the way forward for this Covid-19 Committee on the Creative Industry vis–a–vis the literary community?
Unless it is the Minister who gave the permission to sack me, it is our right to be there. My suspicion is strong on the fact that the Minister couldn’t have just sent me packing for no offence. The FG doesn’t like us at federal level. They have no national book agenda. They see us as opposition people because we speak. With or without government, the Nigerian literary environment has continue to grow. We have ushered in the era of boom in literary book development. However, we know it is our right to be there so, we will resist Nollywood in connivance with some government people to appropriate the incoming supports, grants, credits to themselves.