Friday, 23 December 2011

WRITE Yourself to FAME & FORTUNE!!!
in the
Liteary Star Search contest
for Nigeria’s star writers in the SHORT STORY category
(not more than 3,500 words long)
in the
One Million Naira Grand Prize,
with N300,000 and N200,000 respectively for the second and third best places. The best 25 stories will be published in a collection and entered for competition worldwide, including the Caine & Commonwealth Short Story Prizes

to apply, write a 3,500 word short story (double space typing) and enclose with Three Thousand naira (N3,000) Entry Fee in bank draft obtainable from anyZenith International Bank Plc branch nationwide, and payable (addressed) to Creative AllianceDeliver by hand or courier service, addressed to:

Creative Alliance Nigeria Limited
(Literary Star Search)
1, Oladosu Street, Off Toyin Street, Ikeja, Lagos

Mail through any NIPOST office nationwide to:

Creative Alliance
(Literary Star Search)
PO Box 2442 Ikeja, Lagos.

For further enquiries, please call: 08057712377; 08091031390

‘Give your children, wards storybook gifts this Christmas’

(As published in The Guardian on Saturday, Dcember 24, 2011)

A new, innovative and interventionist group in the arts and culture sector with radical ideas for change, Creative Alliance, has called on parents and guidance to go beyond the usual this Yuletide season and include story book gifts in their boxes as they give gifts to their children and wards.
  Coordinator of the one million naira (N1m) grand prize in the short story category, Literary Star Search contest, the flagship project of Creative Alliance, Onoriode Enodano, said just as parents and guidance spend to buy clothes for their children and wards this season, they should spare a thought for story books as well.
  Enodano noted that the season should be more than mere celebration but one in which parents should reflect on the future of their children and the need to entrench literacy in them, pointing out that story books that develop the young, impressionable minds of children should form a part of the Christmas festivity.
  He further urged that since children and wards no longer enjoyed the beauty of listening to moonlight tales as told by the old folks – parents and grandparents – as was the case in years gone by, it would be proper to supplement that pastime with written stories from books. He said it was the only way young ones could bridge the gap modernity has created to rob them of the beauty, colour and drama of moonlight tales.
  On the Literary Star Search contest designed to throw up Nigeria’s best short story writers with a view to nurture, promote and handsomely reward the overall winner with N1 million star prize, Enodano stated that Nigerian writers also deserve to be treated to a measure of true stardom. He also noted that fame and fortune had continued to elude Nigerian writers much as they have exerted their skills in writing beautiful, award-winning stories. He stated that Literary Star Search has been so carefully designed to highlight writers as true models for society and worthy of being treated as celebrities, since their literary craft has uplifted the country on the global cultural scene more than any other art form.
  Enodano further stated that the second and third runners-up in the contest would go home with three hundred and two hundred thousand naira (N300,000 & N200,000) respectively.
  He noted that Creative Alliance recently thrown open the doors of its competition, Literary Star Search, a search for true stars deserving of praise in the short story category. Writers are to submit a short story of not more than 3,500 words long with an entry fee of three thousand naira (N3,000) in bank draft payable to Creative Alliance in any Zenith International Bank Plc branch nationwide. For further inquiries, interested writers are advised to visit
  As part of its innovative intervention in the creative industry, Creative Alliance would partner with and support the Femi Morgan-led Artmosphere, an Ibadan-based literary group scheduled to hold its January book reading and music performance at its Agodi office. Author of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi Wives, Lola Shoneyin, an Ibadan girl, will read from his novel and interact with the audience. Beautiful Nubia is also billed to performed.
  Enodano said supporting a writers’ group in Ibadan is symbolic of a homecoming of sorts since Nigeria’s literary spirit took root in that ancient city with the birth of Nigeria’s premier university, University of Ibadan, and its pioneering students like JP Clark, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, Isidore Okpewho, Chukwuemeka Ike, Molara Ogundipe, and the Femi Osofisan, Odia Ofeimun and Niyi Osundare generation that followed them.

It’s A Terrible Irony We Can’t Match Our Potentials With Development, Says Layiwola

Prof. Dele Layiwola early in the year finished his tenure as Director, Institute of African Studies of the University of Ibadan, Ibadan. A professor of performance art, Layiwola spoke with ANOTE AJELUOROU about his tenure, the objectives of the institute in synthesizing African indigenous knowledge and making it available for use. Specifically, he traced the origin of the institute as situating knowledge within the African context away from its European, colonial imprint

What major highpoint characterised your tenure as director of the institute?
  We were able to accomplish a few things. We were able to upgrade and review our curriculum. We were also able to upgrade the environment such that we are now able to receive guests and hold international meetings here.
 What sort of knowledge dissemination does the institute engage in other than the traditional ones universities are known for?
  Well, you know that our universities are centres of knowledge. The tertiary institutions were founded by Europeans and Americans whose knowledge centres are based and are coordinated or contextualised in their own societies. So, most of the missionaries who came here founded these institutions from the viewpoint of their own backgrounds and their own individual societies and cultures. But in actual fact, it was President Kwameh Nkrumah of Ghana, who first muted the idea of African Studies in an African University. When the University of Legon was founded, he was the one who thought that knowledge ought to be indigenised and contextualised in the societies that produced them.
  He said that the knowledge systems that were brought to Ghana or Africa in general, had their roots in European cultures and that was why Africans had the books but they were not able to make any headway or breakthrough or were not inventive with the knowledge that they had acquired through Western education because the root and the philosophy of such education had its roots buried in Europe and America.
  So, he felt that an Institute of African Studies will seek to indigenise knowledge, will seek to impart and root the knowledge that had been transferred from Europe on an African soil and in an African culture. And that once you have done, the knowledge will become more meaningful; the inheritors will be more dynamic with it and it will also chart a future for them and for their own society.
  So, he founded the first Institute of African Studies on the continent at the University of Ghana, Legon. That was just some months before the one here at Ibadan was founded in1962. I think Nkrumah founded the one in Ghana in 1961. He funded it directly from the Presidency because he felt that the political leaders of the day must be interested in the town and gown interaction of the capital base of knowledge and the centres of governance. So, that is how he founded the Institute of African Studies in Ghana. We pretty well patterned the Institute of African Studies, here at the University of Ibadan after the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, Legon.
You said you just upgraded the curriculum of the institute. The impression people out there get is that universities do the same thing every year. What exactly do you mean when you say that you just reviewed the curriculum of the institute?
  We felt that what our predecessors taught might be suitable for the people of that time. The knowledge-base in Ibadan, for instance, especially as the first university on the continent, and to some extent in West Africa, (I mean, I know Forah Bay was there but the University of Ibadan is a pioneer institution in west Africa; I mean those single honours degrees of those days were meant to train persons who would take over from the colonial masters. They did not foresee the kind of complexities that our societies went through soon after independence, and which was tragic for Nigeria, which ultimately precipitated the Nigeria Civil War in 1967.
  If you read Prof. Wole Soyinka's Seasons of Anomy, you see the elite in that novel, the university graduates who took single honours degrees and got into public service. Also, if you read Prof. Chinua Achebe's A Man of the People and No Longer at Ease, you will see what I am trying to portray. That the students who were the product of the education we inherited from the colonial masters were not sufficiently grounded in their own societies. And there was that era when people asked, ‘how can you have an Institute of African Studies in an African university?
  But after a while, those of them who used to argue like that capitulated and saw that truly there is a need to have an Institute of African Studies, which will indigenise knowledge and study the ramifications of knowledge-bases in Africa and contextualise them on the African soil and on the African predicament and the African condition. We only do postgraduate studies here. You will find the actual component of what we have here because here, we insist that whatever knowledge you are bringing from any of the faculties, and we are represented in all of the faculties, must have a basis and an implication for development in Africa or for the future of Africa. That is why you find that those components of humanities taught in the major departments have some major research base here, which is slanted towards Africa.
For the average man on the street, what exactly does that mean?
  Now, let me illustrate it with a few examples. You will notice that the playwright, Prof. John Pepper Clarke started his career from here at the institute; he was a research fellow here. This is how he came up with the Ozidi Saga, a major research into the culture and folklore of his people, the Izon (Ijaw). If he had sat down at the English Department, he would not have been able to do that. Also, it’s noteworthy to see that we have various units in this place. You have the unit that deals with Indigenous Knowledge Systems, which gets the names and the stories about herbs and can pass them onto the Biochemistry Department and his colleagues in Biochemistry in the College of Medicine for analysis and use. These are what our people believed in and this is what they think this one is used for.
  Now, what is the scientific basis of this? They are able to collaborate and bring out research in this area. That is what will make meaning to the original owners of the knowledge of the plant or herb, which he discovered. From here, and the stories and folklore around the herb or plant could find scientific component and application.
  Also, you find that in most of our performances (drama) here, there is research and practical performance, and they are predicated on the fact that if these performances are indigenous then they must be distinct from the plays of Shakespeare, of Shaw, or of Beckett. So, you find that our researches are largely based on things African and in Africa. I do know that every year people go to America in the name of going for African studies. Why must you go and study African literature in the United States? It doesn’t make meaning; it’s like standing logic on its head.
  In actual fact, a lot of the output of the researches that we have here we send to the departments for them to test. For that reason, we have an outlet called the Wednesday Seminar, and it is very popular. And you could come and give a paper irrespective of your faculty. We have every major faculty represented on our board so they can all come and see what we are doing and present papers. Some have been here to present a paper on lightening. You know the concept of lightening; it is believed among the Yoruba that Sango is the deity for electricity. Rainmakers sometimes say they want to link the traditional theory of rainmaking with the scientific component of it. We welcome them because research has no boundaries. We are happy to help people make a cultural meaning out of their lives and their studies.
One would have thought that the Institute of African Studies would be looking more at the humanities...
  African medicine is taught here; so, too, are religion and belief systems. We have a herbarium or a laboratory for ethno-medicine. We have a museum here with a vast collection of artworks, which have their own prominence and can be looked at from the viewpoint of the society that produced them and the material art, how they produced were produced. There is no single way of looking at the world, how meaning is brought out of various societies. By simply inspecting an artwork from a given society, we can tell you quite a lot from the history of the artwork itself. We also have a laboratory in the sense of having a museum and a vast collection of artworks. We do have a Performance Unit, an Ethno-musicology Unit, a Folklore Unit, the unit that deals with linguistics and folklore. We also have a unit that deals with African and oral history and more recently we have a unit that deals with Conflict Studies.
It sounds like a university within a university…
  Yeah, quite so; a university within a university!
The white man would argue that the African man was never inventive in terms of technology since essentially, the continent is still far behind other continents in this regard. How does this institute react to that kind of view?
  Well, there are prejudices across cultures. Occasionally, too, our people have made such statements to the fact that the white man has no culture. Or that some foreigners are not cultured in the sense that every name we have has a meaning. Here, you don't name a man stone without reason. One line of a name may tell the whole history of a linage, where they are coming from, where they are going or why they are where they are.
  If you look at our mode of dressing, it is highly symbolic; so, too, our sense of colour. If you look at our adages and proverbs, they tell a lot about our own history, about our own culture. Some of the most inventive users of even the English language today are Africans because when they look at the background and the etymology of their own languages, the etymology of the wealth in their own language, they are able to adapt them and use the English language in a version, which is refreshing and completely different. And this has been widely acknowledge of Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, that they have come to put a new freshness into the English language itself to the extent that they have changed it from what it was originally and enriched it simply by applying the background of their own African languages to it.
  So, to turn around and say that the African is not inventive is a statement which is not only racialist, it is irresponsible.
But how can Africa explain her technological backwardness?
  We are still suffering from the fallout of slavery. 400 years of moving people, of displacing people, of upsetting society, especially those of them who were preoccupied with inventiveness, creativity and so on. We are just lucky even with the artworks that are left. People were simply displaced and taken to foreign lands where their energies were used to build civilizations in other places. It is a pity; I know that slavery and colonialism have damaged the psyche of the African. And it is not as if we are less endowed, as a number of those who make waves in the scientific world today are Africans.
  Philip Emeagwali, in spite of all the prejudices, has been able to hold his head high in the world of computers. There are a lot of Africans who work for Space Stations and NASA in the United States I do believe that if we have the political will, we can make a breakthrough in technology. After all, many of those who have carried out startling surgical operations in the United States are Nigerians. They perform excellently outside their own home places, but when they come back home, there is a lot of handicaps.
But that does not seem to be the case with the Japanese or Chinese, and some language experts argue that it is because the Chinese and Japanese more or less think in their own languages, and that is why they have advanced the way they have?
  It is true, I agree with that.
This institute as conceived by Nkrumah of Ghana was to be a think tank for governance but what we find now is a disconnect between governance and centres of knowledge generally in this country. How did this happen and how can it possibly be redressed?
  The process of patronage and nepotism is rife, where people put square pegs in round holes simply because somebody is either their brother or is their crony who will move capital for them. Or move huge sums across the border. Or who they can use? That era is still very much with us. Sometimes, there are people who dread their colleagues simply because this colleague will beat him at an interview; so, he would prefer to take the wind out of the sail of that colleague.
  I know that education is a thing of the mind in this country. It is unbelievable to look at the quality of the polity, look at their manifestoes, look at what they say even at campaign rallies and look at the quality of minds that we have.
  Like you say there is a disconnect, but we must begin now to build this tradition of excellence. Which is what other people do. We go abroad and we see it; we should not only go abroad to shop alone. And, the fact that somebody has bagged two or three degrees does not mean that he is a true leader or he would give you the kind of education and the kind of salvation that you need. It must be the knowledge-base that is holistic in terms of mixing the best out there in society.
  Many of our farmers who have been tilling the land for many years can predict to you when the rain falls, the quantity of water, the varieties of tubers they have here, where one will do better. Some of them will just hold the soil in their hands and tell you what will be good in it. They are scientists in their own rights. There is no reason why we cannot incorporate the knowledge that they have with the one that we study from books from abroad.
  We don't have to go very far just across the border here in Benin where that Reverend Father who runs the Songhai Project. The small community is self-sustaining. It produces all the fruits and even exports some; generates its own electricity. He was a professor in the United States and saw malnourished school children and they said they were from Africa and he wondered that with all that landmass. He left his post in the United States and came back. He is a Nigerian. He came to Nigeria that he just needs a bit of land but they didn't give him so he went to Benin Republic. They gave him land there and he has transformed the place.
  When they saw what he was doing they said do more. I understand that he is coming to start a project like that in Port Harcourt. It is not as if we don't have the expertise; I think it is the will power. When did countries like Malaysia, Singapore get their independence? Malaysia came to take palm kernel from NIFOR in Benin, Nigeria. Now Malaysia is the greatest exporter of palm oil; we even import it from them. It is amazing the potential we have and where we are. It is a terrible irony. I think the leadership is wrong. And it is like a wagon; once it is wrong in front, it will continue to go wrong. Generations following like a railway wagon. Once it misses one track, the rest will follow.

Without slaying the Katrina dragon, I would have run mad, says Osundare

By Anote Ajeluorou

When Hurricane Katrina hit the United States city of New Orleans on August 29, 2005, the world held its breath at the magnitude of disaster it left in its trail. Lives and property perished. One of Nigeria’s leading academics, award-winning poet and public intellectual, Prof. Niyi Osundare, was at the centre of the tragedy. He and his wife miraculously survived. Now, he has recorded the harrowing incident in a new book of poetry, and he was in Lagos to last week to share the experience with his core constituency, the literary community. But trust the activist poet, the reading session was also an opportunity to review the state of the nation.

Reading from the new collection, City Without People: The Katrina Poems, Osundare gave a moving testimony on his encounter with the ‘Katrina dragon’ that nearly swallowed him and his beloved wife. In particular, he said writing the poems in the collection was his way of slaying the dragon; a form of release from the dark episode.
  The event held last week Wednesday at The Life House, Victoria Island, Lagos, was graced by fellow writers, culture workers and some childhood friends of the poet, who though must have heard or read about his experience during flood but could not have felt the magnitude of the danger the poet and his family faced until they heard him narrate same.
  Indeed, the ‘Katrina dragon’ produced such a monstrous torment in Osundare’s soul that he felt ‘naked’ afterwards. But he needed to slay that ‘dragon’ that kept recurring in his dreams and waking moments for six long years until he was able to write City Without People: The Katrina Poems.
  Recollecting, Osundare said, “The Hurricane Katrina experience was different from any I’ve had. It was why it took me six years to write these poems. After it, I finished Days, and Tender Moments (my first love poems). It (the Katrina experience) really rendered me naked. My wife and I were stuck in the artic for days; if we dropped, we’d be dead. Then she said she heard footsteps on the roof. I thought she was hallucinating…
  “The details of the disaster brought terrible moments to me; I had nightmares, of me being surrounded by water. Then I said I was going to slay the ‘Katrina dragon’. (Thereafter,) it was cleansing. Without it (writing this book), I would have run mad”.
  While the storm raged and the rising water started inching up and swallowing him, his wife and his home and all they had, Osundare, the bookman, was busy saving his books, shifting and taking them further higher up the shelves until his wife tapped him on the shoulders. Then he realised with a shock how close to death they were. Then the scramble for the artic to safety began. His wife held her phone between her teeth while he held a transistor radio between his. And for days, they were stuck there, with no food and water, and growing faint from the exertion of clinging on to dear life until a kind neighbour, Plasido Sabalo, miraculously arrived to save them from death.
  “I was trying to save books while the water kept swallowing up everything we had right before our very eyes,” he recalled.
HOLDING the packed audience at The Life House spellbound with the magic cadence of his voice that teased through the innumerable word plays and sound images, and lacing them up with folk songs from his native Ekiti root, mostly in call and response fashion, Osundare’s performance was the master craftsman’s; flawless and impeccable. He conjured varied images of the Katrina tragedy, taking the audience by hand, as it were, through the labyrinth of New Orleans, of nature roused, angry at the puny rites of man and making mincemeat of him.
  Through Osundare’s masterly reading, the audience was transported back in time to the heart of the storm that flattened an iconic, cultural city.
  So spellbound was the gathering that as Osundare went from one poem to yet another in his talismanic rendering, the audience forgot itself, as it gasped at the man, who escaped from the jaws of death by water, numbed and silent, soaking in the sheer magic of the man and the equally magical spell of his poetry. His escape, was indeed, an affirmation of his name Osundare, proclaiming as he did, his victory from the water, although not in the typical osun tradition in Yorubaland, but water all the same, in faraway New Orleans!
 Also in tune with environmental concerns like his earlier work, Eye of the Earth; City Without People: The Katrina Poems speaks of concerns about how incident was as much a natural as well as ‘man and woman-made’ disaster through the greed of billionaire developers that encroached on the wetland, buffer zone between the sea and the city. He called the disaster ‘careless consequence of a disaster long foretold’.
A YEAR after the incident, on August 26, 2006, University of New Orleans, where he teaches, asked Osundare to write a poem about the hurricane. He wrote ‘Anniversary’, which he said was both interesting and symbolic.
  The renowned academic received a lot of goodwill and sympathy from friends and acquaintances from all over the world. But some have remained indelible in his mind; these he has since immortalised with his fertile poems. But Chinua Achebe’s message seemed to have taken deeper root in his heart; and he was to transform it into a poetic anthem of sorts, as it rends, ‘What the storm took away, friendship will restore; Katrina will not have the last word… Katrina will not have the last laughter!’
  Although Osundare has since sufficiently recovered from the storm and the ruin it brought upon him, he stated that there were some scars that have refused to heal six years after. He lost rare books and manuscripts in various stages of completion to the storm. But one irreplaceable tragic loss was the tape-recording of his mother, which he was yet to transcribe before the storm came and took it away. In the recording was a retracing of his early childhood, how his parents met, who they really were when they were young, and how they lived before Osundare turned 12. It was to have been his autobiography.
  And then, in the inconsolability of the days that followed the devastating storm, with the final awareness that he would have to start life without those rare possessions, stranded in a refugee camp, especially his precious recording, his mother appeared to him in dream to retell him everything in the tape in a consoling way. I consolatory tone, Osundare said, yes, he would never recover the tape and write his cherished book from it, but books do not tell anyone ‘good morning’!

 OSUNDARE read evocatively and widely from The Katrina Poems and gave his audience first hand glimpse of the gamut of experience that the storm was. He also showed his audience the beauty of New Orleans, particularly how famous a city it was before the storm on account of its cultural life and living art performed on the open streets, somewhat like Lagos owambe parties. He reminisces on how welcoming the city was before the storm and its ruination.
  ‘The lake’, ‘The Katrina anthem’, ‘Emergency call’, ‘City without people’, ‘Post mortem’, ‘Lesson’, ‘Plasido’, and ‘Death came calling’ were some of the engaging and heart-rending poems Osundare read from City Without People: The Katrina Poems.
   And in the course of the reading, the poet raised salient issues regarding the importance of culture, in the life of a civilized nation. He took direct shot at the Nigerian political leaders who regard the art as an anathema; saying that they feared art and artistes because they always want to protect their corruptive tendencies.
DURING the interactive session that was moderated by dramatist, culture activist and former Deputy Editor of The Guardian, Ben Tomoloju, Osundare traced his creative genius to his roots in Ikerre, Ekiti, Christ School, Ado Ekiti, particularly how the two rocky hills, Olosunta and Oro-ile, played a significant part in it. “I grew up revering nature… I grew up enjoying Olosunta festival. I went home last August to witness Olosunta, but it was sad it has been deserted…”, said Osundare, suggestively attributing the trouble of the festival to incursion of the western faith. He declared sternly, “All religions are valid… I’m very skeptical of religion of every persuasion. There should be room for agnostics; diversity is very important. I’m a humanist!”
   Writer and lecturer at the University of Lagos, Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, took the author’s mind back to how tragedy and pain have over the times, inspire great poetry and writing, with her own experience of the Nigerian Civil war that recently gave birth to Roses and Bullet, and wondered if such was same with Osundare’s case; and other writers in New Orleans had been inspired to also document their experiences.
  The poet replied, “Painful situations will always lead to great literature, not just poetry. It reminds us that cataclysmic events usually engender artistic outpouring like we’ve seen in New Orleans. Yes, many poems have been written about the storm. People see us as people that should not forget. New Orleans University has done two books, one of them Katrina Rising on it. People have been writing about it. You see, history is never told in one lump; rather, it is told in bits, told in unexpected turns. Hurricanes and wars often excite this kind of writing… Journalism and literature are close together. There is a way the two professions actually fish in the same pond.”
  There was also the African political dimension to the reading session. And as a public intellectual, Osundare in response to a question from the journalists, Dimgba Igwe, addressed the issue of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe; wondering how the African statesman and patron of cultural ventures could have turned into what has come to be regarded as a monster. Observed Osundare, this was in stark contrast to how he started, lending his support to writing and cultural matters shortly after becoming president in the 1980s, especially his support for the defunct Harare Book Fair, for which he was a patron. It was Mugabe that handed Osundare the Noma Prize.
   “Mugabe has become a very complex thing. At the Harare Book Fair, he was very bibliophilic; he went from stall to stall asking publishers questions about the publications. He arrived an hour early so he could go round and see the books on display”, recalled Osundare.
  He continued, “We need to look at Mugabe very critically. The British has not done their part well to the Lancaster House Agreement. To single out Mugabe and demonise him is doing a disservice to Mugabe and Africa, although he should have left power. The unequal coverage by so-called world media like CNN is out of context. Who dictates world discourse? The land issue is a big one. Zimbabwe belongs to white and black people…”
 OSUNDARE praised the crew of Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) who put the reading session together for nurturing the artistic soul of Nigeria with their unrelenting offerings and activities. 
 He said, “The renaissance of this country we talk about will really happen. Culture and art do a lot for the progress of a country”.
   In stating the purpose of convening the 13th Arthouse Forum for Osundare, Akinosho said the poet more than deserved to be so honoured having done Nigeria and Africa proud with his sublime writing. He also stated that hosting Osundare was remarkable and interesting for CORA and all the people that enjoyed culture productions
  Akinosho had further mused, “Osundare is one of those Nigerian poets that most qualifies for the Nobel Prize. He has created a kind of poetry, a sub-genre, which, when you hear of it, it is English but very much with Yoruba phrases, such as ‘to utter is to alter’.
  As is traditional with Akinosho, he read a poem from the collection. But this was after D-Tone had performed songs from his upcoming albumaccompanied with a guitar. Then Segun Adefila, Ikuo Diana-Abasi Eke and Ropo Iwenla also read from the collection. Afrobeat artist, Edaoto Agbeniyi also performed, while Akem Lasisi performed his tribute poem to Osundare contain in his album currently in the market.
  Personalities present at the event that held The Lifehouse included Profs. Biodun Jeyifo of Harvard University; Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo of Unilag; Ben Tomoloju, the dramatist, culture activist, who as junior student had shared creative moments with the then budding poet, Senior Osundare, in their days at Christ School Ado Ekiti; Prof. Karen Aribisala; Amb. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu, who recalled how Osundare had contributed selflessly to the projects of the Awolowo Foundation; the near Siamese journalists, media entrepreneurs Dimgba Igwe and Mike Awoyinfa; Executive Editor of TheNews magazine; Kunle Ajobade; publisher of Position magazine, dapo Adeniyi. There were also Osundare’s childhood friend, Ebenezer Babatope Ojo, who came with his partner in his law firm; as well as the writers Daggar Tolar, Kunle Ajibade, Toni Kan, Nike Ojheikere; Funmi Aluko; Jumoke Verissimo; and Ayo Arigbabu, publisher of Dada Books; among others.

My mandate is to reposition ANA for institutional support, says Raji

By Anote Ajeluorou

A fortnight ago, university don, Prof. Remi Raji-Oyelade of English Department, University of Ibadan, won the keenly contested leadership of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) as president in an anniversary convention that was clearly a flop. But Raji-Oyelade insists he has his feet firmly on the ground and is poised to steer the writers’ body in the right direction in spite of odds

FOR Prof. Remi Raji-Oyelade, the writers’ body, ANA, has been boxed into a position of near-irrelevance as it has failed to function as it should in recent years. But as the body with the most vibrant and creative people, all is not lost yet; Raji-Oyeladee says the body’s lost glory can be redeemed. It is the reason he captioned his acceptance speech, ‘Gather to Reclaim ANA!’ obviously from the abyss it has sunk.
  Therefore, part of Raji-Oyelade’s repositioning agenda consists of formulating a reliable data base for the association for ease of accountability and documentation. Until now, Raji-Oyelade states that ANA had operated like a flock without a shepherd as its vast membership spread across the country could not be properly accounted for. With his knowledge of Nigerian writers, both at home and abroad, Raji-Oyelade says the task of gathering writers together would be his priority, saying now was the time for writers to come together and make themselves really count for what they are worth.
  Raji-Oyelade insists that for this reason and many others, funders and supporters could hardly be blamed for not taking the association seriously, arguing that the body has not shown seriousness on its part. Therefore, a necessary first step would be to put the writers’ house in order before outsiders could be invited to partake in its many socially and culturally uplifting activities.
  Writers, Raji-Oyelade affirms, are at the vanguard of nobility and order in society. For them to be found wanting in these two vital areas bodes no one any good.
  Raji-Oyelade is optimistic that government’s rather lukewarm attitude to writers has been as a result of their inability to organise themselves properly, saying government would be willing to partner with the new ANA leadership to raise the profile of writers so they could play their part in society. As a much travelled poet and former Chairman of Poets, Essayists, Novelists, PEN International, Raji-Oyelade says time had come for a virile writers’ body like ANA to attract institutional support just like South Africa, where he frequents for conferences.
   He notes that institutional support or sponsorship for writers should be something to be taken for granted given the role writers play in advancing the cause of literacy in society with their written craft.
   “Our problems are institutional problems,” he states. “We talk about Bringing Back the Book, reviving our culture and re-orienting society to imbibe wholesome values; how can these be done without writers and their writing, without literature and literacy? I will soon be travelling to South Africa; there, literature and literacy programmes are supported by institutions and governments.
  “How many residencies do we have? We do not lack writers, but we lack support and patrons. Writers can’t function where there are no editors, no translators to translate works into other languages. We need workshops; we need support in every facet of writing such as patrons, sponsors, proper accounting by publishers for royalties for writers, support of Nigeria Copyright Commission against book pirates. Distribution is key. The life of a book doesn’t end until it ends in the hands of readers. We have 80 million potential readers; with just five per cent accruing to me from that number in book sales, I’m okay. We need discipline to do what we need to do to get Nigerian writers to their destination.”
  Government and corporate apathy to supporting literary engagement has become legendary, with a few minor exceptions.
  However, Raji-Oyelade says he would tackle that apathy with determination, saying, “Literature, as you know, is all that gets written and performed; it is the nucleus of most art forms known to man, yet, it is the least supported in our society. We want to raise awareness about the significance of literature for a nation like ours; we plan to use all legitimate means to prove that the author is indeed an important decimal in the cultural life of our societies.
  “It has happened before. The troika of Achebe, Soyinka and Clark proved once and at different times that the Nigerian author is a crucial conscience of national development.
  “Indeed, the quality of the production of the literatures of a nation, as well as the dissemination and patronage of the literary industry, is a measure of that nation's civilization.
  “From ANA, we want to send the signal first that writers are a serious and talented lot committed to teaching lessons and giving pleasures to their audiences; we intend to collaborate with other literary and creative groups in executing innovative programmes that will bring attention to our association. We want to impress it upon our potential funders --- philanthropists, governments, institutions and corporations --- that the support they give to our members, either individually or collectively, through grants, residencies or sponsorships is a support against under-development, ignorance and poverty. Such institutional support as we will seek to happen in our time is a support for literacy.
   In recent times, ANA's silence and absence from national debates and conversations that affect the Nigerian people, like the subsidy issue, and many others have given senior writers concern. One senior writer, Prof. Niyi Osundare, had pointedly asked if ANA had been ought and by whom. Raji-Oyelade, however, says a new wind would soon blow in ANA that would make it truly people-centered.
  He states, “For many years, ANA has contributed to national debates, which affect the Nigerian people. The silence that we witnessed in the past two years was only self-inflicted. This will change. On behalf of the body of the association, we will be responsible and firm, patriotic and analytic. As writers, we will be engaging but circumspect of unnecessary controversy. As unacknowledged legislators of the world’, we will support, criticise and advise governments, constructively on behalf of the people.

ONE issue Raji-Oyelade has had to respond to is how he intends to work with the LNG-sponsored The Nigerian Prize for Literature board, which has a slot for ANA president. There was a slight public row between the award-giving board and Raji-Oyelade in 2009 when the panel of judges rejected his poetry entry for the then $50,000 on grounds that it was not a new publication, an action the poet considered an error of judgment. But Raji-Oyelade is quick to dismiss the row, stating that there is a difference between himself and the ANA position he now occupies as president. Moreover, he says two of his colleagues in the LNG board had since apologised to him over the error, although he did not name them.
   More importantly, Raji-Oyelade states that the prize has since recognised and implemented some of his observations, which include reversing the exclusion of Nigerian writers in the Diaspora from taking part. This was to culminate in the late Esiaba Irobi winning the 2010 award with his seminal drama piece, Cemetery Road, even while residing abroad.
   Raji-Oyelade  notes, “The LNG-sponsored The Nigerian Prize for Literature is very interesting. I do not have problem with them. I had issues with the logic of the prize. It was wrong to limit the scope to Nigeria’s physical space. The depth of our writing lies outside the country right now. I was willing to bury my own ambition or subject it to wider competition. I don’t want to be a local champion.
  “Two of my senior colleagues have come to apologise to me about what happened to my work. It takes a lot of modesty, humility to accept mistakes and move ahead. I’m still waiting for the public apology.
  “In any case, the slot is not for me as a person, but for ANA, to move Nigerian literature forward, to move writers towards excellence. I don’t have anything against that”.

ANA at 30… A failed convention ushers in new helmsmen

By Anote Ajeluorou

30 years of existence ought to be a moment of real celebration, the popping of champagne and painting the town red. Indeed, all the delegates from across the federation that attended the yearly Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) International Annual Convention in Abuja, a festival of writing, had high hope. But such hope was crudely aborted as the convention threw up more questions about the Association’s ability to properly organise its affairs and serve both the needs of writers and that of the Nigerian public

When the Abuja chapter of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) bided in Akure, Ondo State, to host this year’s convention to mark a return of the writers’ festival to its home, where it has a yet-to-be developed landed property, although still mired in legal dispute, many applauded the move. Uyo, Akwa Ibom, was persuaded to give in to the bid. And so writers had poured in from every state of the federation with the expectation of a grand convention in Abuja that would linger on in their minds for a long time.
  The homecoming convention was also intended to celebrate the poet-soldier, General Mamman Vatsa, who helped in allocating the disputed land to ANA as FCT minister, before falling to the bullets of a frame-up for coup plotting.
  The first sign of trouble was the day of arrival, Thursday, November 30. Accommodation was dismally short and shoddy. Prohibitive cost of hotel accommodation in Abuja did not help matters. The Local Organising Committee (LOC) had to go to the suburbs for relatively cheaper ones. Most delegates did not get accommodated until about 1am on Friday morning. Many did not even get a place to lay their heads even though they had paid their dues. It rankled many.
  Also, the Cocktail and Festival of Life, scheduled for Cyprian Ekwensi Cultural Centre, Area 10, Garki, usually held on the evening of arrival of delegates, did not take place. It usually comprises of readings, performances and a dinner, as prelude to the main celebration of literature in the days to come.
  The opening of the convention at Reiz Continental Hotel, Central Area, showed some sign of promise. It was well-attended. The chairman of the occasion and chairman, Senate Committee on Environment and former governor of Kwara State, Sen. Bukola Saraki, showed up early but had to leave for a presentation at the Senate. Prince Ayo Fagbemi stood in for him. The special guest of honour and Minister of the FCT, Sen. Bala Mohammed, did not show up. No one stood in for him either.
  But the keynote speaker and Frank Porter Graham Professor of African Studies Department, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, U.S., Prof. Tanure Ojaide, delivered a brilliant lecture on the theme ‘Homecoming: African Literature and Human Development’. Among other things, Ojaide submitted that “African literature should be put at the service of Africans to promote literacy and solutions to African problems. What use is literature that does not uplift, ennoble them (Africans) towards higher goals of society, nationhood, and humanity? Literature should sensitise readers and people towards solving their problems and making them better human beings.
  “In pursuit of this objective, African writers should create works that our people can read and learn from…. Special effort should be made to promote literature for children, the common people, and women because they are disadvantaged in the mainly patriarchal continent. A mind developed through book culture can be the catalyst for other forms of development…
 Ojaide continued: “African literature should range on the side of the disadvantaged and be at the vanguard of human development towards lifting Africans from backwardness to a position of envy among other peoples of the world”.
  Also elder artsman, Pa Gabriel Okara added a rare spice to the opening ceremony, when he read from his children’s book, Little Snake and Little Frog, with a blistering anecdote on the advice parents give to their children. He got a standing ovation for his effort. Chinyere Obi-Obasi also read from her children’s book, The Great Fall that made The Nigerian Prize for Literature 2011 shortlist. So, too, did Terfa recite his poem, Peacock, and a Bayelsan lady, who read a poem, Bayelsa woman. ANA at 30 birthday cake was cut to round off the opening.
  The Literary Roundtable, scheduled for Friday, on Day Three, at Cyprian Ekwensi Cultural Centre, suffered a setback, although it was not clear what the roundtable was intended to achieve. Although marked out in the programme schedule, no arrangement was made to secure the venue. Delegates were rudely turned away from the centre for lack of arrangements. It was such a rude shock to such notable literary figures like Odia Ofeimun, Prof. Sam Ukala, Pa Okara, Dr. May Ifeoma Okoye and everyone present.
  After drifting aimlessly for several minutes, delegates were told to proceed to the Millennium Park at Wuse opposite Transcorp Hilton Hotel, instead of the advertised ‘Read and Ride Tour to Gurara Falls’. When it was clear there was no plan to engage the writers creatively beyond hurriedly assigned readings under the shade of trees, Ofeimun took matters into his hand and spoke up on what he saw as a failed convention headed in no specific directions. He called on members to decide on a meeting place, where they could plot a direction for the Association as they had been led so far like sheep without a shepherd.
  This was when ANA president, Dr. Jerry Agada, stepped in to announce that the Raw Materials Research Centre had been found for the Annual General Meeting scheduled to hold the following day. Thereafter, delegates drifted to their various hotels in far flung places like Kubwa and Maraba in Nasarawa State.
  It was clear the convention was headed for the rocks. A mild blame-game had also set in. Who was responsible for the failure of a convention that promised so much and was delivering so little between the LOC, ANA Abuja chapter and the National Executive Council? What would be its likely outcome? Surely, heads would roll by way of punishment!
  The matter was laid to rest the next day at the AGM, which though fairly heated, went on in orderly fashion. Amidst what was clearly a campaign of calumny, blackmail, mindless politicking and name-calling, the election swept away the incumbent executive. Agada, in spite of dolling out over N2 million so the convention did not suffer a second postponement, failed to secure his position as president. English Department don of University of Ibadan, Prof. Remi Raji-Oyelade, won by three votes. B. M. Dzukogi from ANA Niger State chapter beat Hyacinth Obunseh as General Secretary just as Mature Okoduwa emerged Assistant Secretary while former General Secretary, Denja Abdullahi, ANA Abuja chapter member, beat Prof. Sunday Ododo to emerge vice president.
  But implicit in securing their mandate by the new executive is the warning that they must work assiduously for a better ANA to emerge to cater properly for its members and the larger Nigerian society. What emerged from their mandate is the inability of the old executive to manage the affairs of the Association in a manner that would be pleasing to its members. Raji-Oyelade got his first baptism of fire when he had to wade in to settle hotel bills for delegates that were held hostage by hoteliers for failing to pay up.

  TRUE, ANA may be bedevilled by tribal politics and other vices, yet the verdict of Saturday was one arising from acute disenchantment from members and how incompetently the old regime ran the affairs of ANA. Would the new regime learn from it and be wise?
  That is the question Remi Raji-Oyelade and his team must answer for the health of ANA in the next two years. And the first place to try their leadership acumen is the next convention scheduled for Uyo, Akwa State, which won the bid to host it. This is beside a huge debt profile past regimes have piled up for ANA and its members, who are struggling to make a meaning out of a hostile environment that would not allow their creative muse to bloom.

How literature promotes literacy for human development
PROF. Ojaide’s lecture at ANA convention in Abuja is concerned with human capital development and how literature can help the continent realise this noble objective.
  In Homecoming: African Literature and Human Development, he argued that there must a homecoming for all African writers to put their uncommon sensibility to use for “an inward-looking exploration for literary strategies and fresh visions to drastically improve the African condition in the areas of health, education, and standard of living as well as in eliminating the rate of inequality, poverty, gender gap, and human insecurity. In a global village, it may no longer matter where you live but African literature needs ‘homecoming’ physically, spiritually, and metaphorically to be relevant to the people of the continent”.
  And because literature deals with the totality of a people’s experience in its incorporation of socio-cultural, politico-economic, and other issues such as gender, class, marginalisation, and justice, Ojaide postulated that its role in the development of human capital could no longer be set aside. He cited the example of oral literature, which written literature mainly draws inspiration, which is deployed towards attempting to solve problems in society so as to enhance the creation of a healthy social ethos. Oral literature, he said, “aims at harmony, justice, fairness, selflessness, communality, sensitivity, kindness and other values and virtues that the generality of the people hold dear and extol so as to be emulated, while the negative ones are satirised in songs and narratives.
  “African literature has to promote literacy to ensure human development. A literate people do not forget and so learn from past mistakes and failures and resort to strategies that succeeded in the past”.

Is contemporary African literature failing the continent?
AFRICAN literature is built on a strong moral ethos, where society’s cherished values are upheld to promote its health and the wellbeing of the people. But Ojaide posited that there is a new, faddish argument making the rounds in what has come to be identified as African literature and African writing, with the later seeming to be the preoccupation of African writers residing in North America and Europe. For Ojaide, while the older writers had their art focused on the role of the writer in society, these new entrants seem to have chosen a different path that tends to negate the continent in their creative sensibilities.
  And appropriately enough, two prizes championing this novel literary engagement are the Caine Prize for African Writing (not Literature) and Penguin Prize for African Writing. The renowned academic noted that such Diaspora writers, who argue that there is no such thing as African literature have long missed the point, and are doing so to please foreign audiences and playing into the stereotype of always negating everything African.
  Such themes as the graphic representation of sex, child soldier, violence, and misery, Ojaide said, play up Western stereotypes about Africa, which some African writers have helped to deepen with their writing on events about the continent. While not denying the existence of these negative occurrences in Africa, Ojaide argued that there is a need to also play up the happy ones as well.
  “One can understand the frustration of writers about Africa’s misery, the corruption, and the failure of political leadership in most countries,” he stated. “However, I appeal to the writers to be cautious so as not to give only a picture of gloom that will discourage rather than inspire. The writer should be balanced in telling the good and the bad about African experience”.

Homecoming for African literature
“’Homecoming’ for African literature,” Ojaide enthused, “entails tapping from our roots to affirm faith in our indigenous virtues and values. With literature, writers build memory that should be a guide to the people.” He challenged writers to return to the positive ways which Africans are known for as a means of solving current intractable problems bedevilling the continent, implying that abandonment of the old, moral ways should be blamed for Africa’s problems.
  He tasked writers to dig into literary archives to unearth Africa’s wholesome ways of doing things to bring about spiritual renewal, adding, “As we retrieve virtues of the past, literature should also critically address current problems and issues… The writer may not always provide a solution, but by raising an issue in an artistic manner for public reflection, he or she is contributing to the sensitisation of the people…
  “The writer imbued with experience of the past must lead to the future by offering a vision of possibilities. In this way, the writer plays the role of a guide and a prophet constructing an imaginary nation or society of an ideal polity to which readers and the entire society are constantly riveted.”

ANA’s muffled voice
PART of the disenchantment of older writers with the writers’ body in recent times has been its loud silence in failing to lend its voice to national issues and debates, and consciously taking sides with the masses for which literature easily aligns or identifies. It had become so bad that poet laureate, Prof. Niyi Osundare, had wondered if ANA had been bought over so as not to comment on national issues or take sides with the people.
  However, before he was ousted from power, Agada spoke up against the insecurity of lives and property ravaging the land when he gave his address at the opening of the convention. Although it was certain the armed robbery attack on his vice president, Ododo, had motivated him up to speak on the matter. He stated, “We in the Association of Nigerian Authors believe strongly that the reason a series of violence and insecurity are rampant is simply because their root causes have not been honestly addressed… The country can still be rescued from the present decadence if the political class can muster the necessary will to do so.
  “We have written and continue to write about the social conditions in our society and proffering solutions; it is high time Nigerian government and her officials turned to Nigerian literature for administrative guidance. I am confident they shall succeed if they do”.
  The incoming executive was also enjoined by ANA Lagos State chapter chairman, poet and school teacher, Dagar Tola, to quit hiding the Association’s head in the sand like the ostrich and be part of the various national dialogues raging in the country such as whether to increase the fuel pump price or not, and other people-oriented issues.
  Tolar also decried the subsuming of literature under English or Social Studies in the Junior Secondary School section, saying such educational policy, which Agada admitted he helped to fashion, portended grave danger for children’s proficiency in the use of English language and the advancement of literacy generally amongst students. He called for its immediate reversal.