Henry Akubuiro, Lagos
Perhaps more than any other group in the last three decades, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), has contributed to the promotion of reading and discovery of new literary talents in Nigeria. Founded in 1981 by the legendary novelist, Chinua Achebe, the association has through, its routine creative writing workshops, award of prizes, annual conferences, reading campaigns and partnerships with institutions set the tone for the flowery of literature in the country, which has enhanced Nigeria’s reputation as the power house of African literature.
Needless to say, all over the world, creative writing has become a big enterprise, with creative writers gaining more recognition by the day. Thus, to be a writer in the 21st century is something of prestige. To this end, ANA went into a partnership with Yusuf Ali (SAN) in 2011, resulting in the later funding the 1st ANA/Yusuf Ali Literary Awareness Campaign in 2012. Since then, the renowned lawyer, who is also an author, has doled out 21 million naira to sustain the project.
“It has endured, because the funding has been constant and comes at a predictable time every year. That enables us to plan ahead each year, and gives us room to innovate and create a sustainable pattern across the country,” said ANA President, Mallam Denja Abdullahi in an interview with Daily Sun.
Indeed, the literary philanthropy of Yusuf Ali met a robust structure of ANA on ground, an association with chapters nationwide, making it possible to create immediate impact. Also, the project has introduced healthy competition among the association’s chapters, as they strive to do better each year. “The monitoring process that we have introduced along the line has also contributed to the project sustainability,” Mallam Abdullahi added.
One of the remarkable things the campaign has done is in the area of mentoring the young and students by encouraging them to read and write. “We cover nothing less than 5,000 thousand students in 100 schools across the country each year in the course of executing the campaign,” he said.
At the beginning, the focus was on secondary schools, then organising workshops for universities students and, later, the publication of three works of juvenilia, which it used to drive its novel initiative, A-Book-A-Child nationwide project. “From all these activities, including what we are using the fund for this year –capacity building workshop on innovations in contemporary literary awareness campaign and media awareness –you could see that the ANA/ Yusuf Ali Literary Awareness Campaign has been very impactful nationwide,” said the president of the association.
Last year, the children books of Ngozi Obi Obasi (The Loyal Queen), Salamatu Sule (Oma the Drummer Queen) and Kabiru Abdullahi (The Golden Girl of Galma) were published with the annual grant. ANA President admitted that these “publications added a touch of tangibility to the generously of Yusuf Ali to ANA since 2012, as it is written on the books that the funds for the publication were provided by him. Books travel, and you can never tell the persons that will get to read them.”
From Thursday April, 21, 2018, the leadership of the association at the national and state levels will converging on Ilorin, Kwara State capital, for three days, to brainstorm on how to create new things to do with subsequent grants in a capacity building workshop, as the benefactor has promised to sponsor it for life.
To make the literary awareness campaign more robust, each benefitting ANA chapter usually raises internal funds to complement the Yusuf Ali grant. Thus, the total money spent each year might translate to about 10 million naira or more. “But without the initial 3 million naira grant from Yusuf Ali, the buildup would not have been possible,” he conceded.
It cannot be gainsaid that patrons of arts are hard to come by in this part of the world, especially when there is no win-win bargain involved. This is what makes Yusuf Ali (SAN) an exceptional patron of arts. Mallam Adbullahi acknowledged hence, “From the success of the Yusuf Ali grant to ANA, we have seen how helpful regular grant can go a long way to stabilise an association like ANA, and make it very functional and accountable.
“That is why we are all clamouring for the institution of an endowment fund for the arts in Nigeria. The Western world is aware already of the importance of regular and sustained funding for the arts by governments, individuals and public and private institutions. Governments in the third world countries, like Nigeria, go about as if they do not owe the arts anything. The arts, literature and culture of a country will eventually go extinct if the government of a particular country thinks they do not need special attention and dedicated intervention.
“Some of the best features of our cultural heritage and creativity are being kept alive by foreign grants and foreign funding facilitated by those who know the importance of heritage sustainability. I always say the arts always have a way of making indelible the contributions of those who support it. Our use of the Yusuf Ali grant, over the years, has shown that you can do a lot in the arts with a gift sincerely given, and the reward to the giver will definitely be more than whatever is given.
“The kind of Yusuf Ali is rare in our clime as not many persons are as astute and intelligent as him to know that life is ephemeral and that what endures are the selfless pursuits you engage in. The corporate bodies are not different: they are forever in search of profit without thinking of responsibility to their communities. They commit huge funds to beauty pageants and Ajasco dance shows on the streets, but avoid the theatre, film, literature and the likes, because of their short-sighted thinking that nothing will be gained in return.”
Mallam Abdullahi isn’t the only one extoling the philanthropy and foresight of the Ilorin-based SAN. Beneficiaries of the grant at the state level are also over the moon. Charles Iornumbe has chaired the Benue State chapter of the association since 2016. He told Daily Sun, “I recall that, out of the seven years of the annual grant, ANA Benue has received thrice.” In 2016, the chapter marched it with the financial support it solicited for from the state government, other bodies, as well as individuals. It, hence, launched the awareness campaign at the Akawe Torkula College of Advanced and Professional Studies, Makurdi, because the focus of that year was on tertiary Students.
It subsequently took the campaign to the nook and crannies of Benue State, visiting College of Education, Oju Gboko College of Education, Gboko; College of Education, Katsina Ala; and Benue State University, Makurdi.
“In all the schools, we read literary books and presented same as gifts to students who could answer our questions correctly,” he told Daily Sun, adding that three months after the Makurdi convention, the chapter commenced the A-Book-A-Child project with the launch at Lady Victoria Academy, Makurdi. “Yusuf Ali campaign has been sustainable, dependable, realistic, and more result oriented,” he echoed.
Richard Inya chairs the Ebonyi State chapter of ANA. He affirmed on the uniqueness of the ANA Yusuf Ali Literary Awareness Campaign, “The first thing that comes to mind is its sense of consistency. The degree of literary awareness in our branch is now high. People, especially the youths, are becoming more and more aware literarily. There are book clubs and literary societies, some of which are founded by young people for the purpose of meeting their literary ends.
“On our part, there have been vigorous awareness campaigns at various schools in the branch, which feature talks, quiz and book donations. We reveal to the students and pupils what lies behind the doors of creativity and healthy reading culture; we show them individuals who attained greatness and global reckoning through creativity; give them tips on how to reach such enviable heights, positing reading as the bedrock.”
“In 2016, we partnered Federal University, Ndufu-Alike Ikwo (FUNAI), to organise a programme that attracted students from all the tertiary institutions in the branch, courtesy of this grant. We now have chapters in different higher institutions and secondary schools in the state. Thus, it cannot be gainsaid that the Yusuf Ali Literary Awareness grant has been of immense value in fostering literary growth in our branch.”
The story isn’t different in Rivers State, where Uzoh Nwamara, superintends the state chapter. He told Daily Sun that the campaign was geared towards making students aware of the importance of reading not only literary works and their academic works, but also other materials to live a balanced and well-informed lives, thus, helping in galvanising the interest of both members and the academic community in literacy issues.
“Yusuf Ali is a man that appreciates the fact that art is patronised for it to flourish. He has exhibited a prolonged commitment to his vision aimed at rolling back the blanket of ignorance covering our citizens. He understands that an enlightened citizenry will ultimately transform into a better society. He is a living challenge to other blessed Nigerians to take up a similar challenge and impact the society positively,” he said.
For Kabiru Andullahi, ANA Chairman, Bauchi, “I know not of any literary awareness campaign feat after NLNG and Yusuf Ali literary readings that has been enormously impactful, in my abiding literary interest.” And from Gombe State came a testament from Usman Nurain, ‘I’ll call Yusuf Ali a true patron of arts.” Surely, Nigerian writers are waiting for who will emulate this feat.