literary festivals should be self sustainable and should not be tied to the benevolence of an individual or a government in power
Denja Abdullahi is the President Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA, he speaks to Adeola Ogunrinde on the next ANA Convention which will hold October ,and the new site of ANA proposed headquarters.
Its almost two years you became ANA(Association Of Nigeria ) President, what are your achievements so far?
The milestone achievements are bringing into being a strategic plan (2017-2022) for the Association’s future development; conceiving and producing a documentary film for the Association entitled ” Dancing mask:The ANA Story”; restructuring of the internal governance structure of the Association by creating strategic committees,panels and councils; fast tracking the development of the ANA land in Mpape,Abuja, by instituting a stricter monitoring process and doing a foundation laying ceremony;bringing about the second phase of the Nigerian Writers Series by publishing three new titles devoted to children’s literature; internationalizing the operations of the Association by effective collaboration with other writers’ associations in Africa and beyond; launching a project called A-Book-A-Child project to put an ennobling general interest book in the hand of every school going Nigerian child of certain age ranges and generally making the Association receptive to creative and purposeful partnerships with like bodies,governments and individuals.I and my team have done much more than that and there are still more to be done.
In the last ANA Convention at Abuja, you took ANA members to the proposed site for the Headquarters, which will showcase the past and present state of Nigerian writing, any progress on the site yet?
We instituted a proper monitoring process on the land by working closely with the ANA land development committee in which professionals pay visit to the site monthly and report back to us.We have also agreed on development timelines with the developer. All these have kept the developer on his toes and i can tell you real development is on-going on the land. In a couple of weeks and before the next convention,the first completed structure,which is a prototype ANA Secretarial office should be ready.
Encouraging children to read has always being the focal point of ANA, and ANA just released some books for children, what stories do these books tell and are they being incorporated into the Nigerian curriculum for school children?
The process towards the publication of those children’s literature titles started last year with a call for submissions after which we got 13 manuscripts that were taken through three experienced series editors who recommended 3 titles as worthy of receiving further attention towards publication. Co-incidentally the three titles have something to do with promoting the girl child empowerment and the cause of the female gender.Oma,The Drummer Queen by Salamatu Sule is about the the girl child ability to venture successfully into a domain previously seen as excluding her gender.The Golden Girl of Galma by Kabiru Abdullahi emphasizes the right of the girl child to chose her path in life and be educated. The Loyal Queen by Chinyere Obi-Obasi looks into how the female can act right in a seemingly patriarchal setting or negotiate existence within it.We are planning to get the book incorporated in the school system through a project we are launching with the books called A-Book-A-Child nationwide project.The books also have some very unique and peculiar cultural resonance.
Nigerian writers are doing well abroad but in Nigeria one of the major challenge is editing process, as ANA President, what are you doing to bridge this gap so that books written by Nigerians in Nigeria can be produced anywhere in the world?
In ANA we are presently advocating for the bringing into being in a coordinated and professional manner what we can call literary agency, which i personally believe is the missing link in the book chain. There must arise a crop of literary agency professionals who must be devoted to editing manuscripts properly,advising the writers on literary trends,negotiating deals for them and protecting their copyrights etc. The Association as a body has been doing some of these for writers all over but a crop of professionals must take this up as a trade to help the industry. I have personally nudged some young persons into this and i have been watching them grow with it and helping the field. Publishing houses,even the very good ones, have been failing in this respect.All they bare after is churning out books into the market and struggling tom stay afloat.No one cares about having a properly edited book or preventing a badly written or conceived book to get into the market.Who cares to even research what the market prefers to read or getting writers who can write for some specific purposes or markets?
The NLNG prize for literature just released her longlist, what do you think of the prize and does the prize live to its expectations in terms of those who are longlisted, shortlisted or those who eventually win the prize?
I was one of the first fiercest critics of NLNG prize right at its inception in 2004. I have not stopped criticizing it but the good thing is that the administrators of the prize have been improving on the prize overtime. ANA administer prizes too and we started that long before NLNG prize came into being. Whether anyone accept it or not,the fact is that the initial template for the NLNG prize was borrowed from ANA; ANA assisted the gas company in setting up the prize in 2004. Along the line,ANA has also been part of those who criticize the administration of the prize when there is the need for that. It is also our members that have mostly been competing for the prize and winning it most times. So , we are interested in its survival and will also advise on its relevance and sustainability.Now ,we are concerned about its winner-takes-all syndrome and what happens to the winner, the winning book and the sector that produced the book that wins each year. NLNG is not doing anything worthwhile to support the sector and the associations that produced those books and authors that win the prize every year and which positively rubbed off on their image as a corporate entity. It is like NLNG feast on ready made products in the arts.Take a look at what they are doing in the field of science.At a point it was apparent the science end of the NLNG prizes was not living up to expectation and they now went into investing in the field by donating huge projects to research centres and universities across the country. How much has NLNG invested in the arts and book industry in the country beyond doling out winning sum each year? It is time for them to move beyond that or the prize and the underlying objective will become irrelevant.ANA on its own has it own private history of dissonance with NLNG which i will not disclose here.
Literary festivals are places where you meet new writers, as ANA President, what do think about Nigerian literary festivals,especially the new born Kaduna literary festival, which is coming at a time when farafina creative workshop didn’t hold this year because the major sponsor this announced it was no longer funding the project?
Nigerian is now a hotbed of literary festivals and book chats which is good. We cannot have too many of such gatherings, which are opportunities for us to glamourise the book trade and posture for a knowledge-based society. Considering our population and peculiar composition as a nation,we do not even have enough literary festivals. These literary festivals should be self sustainable and should not be tied to the benevolence of an individual or a government in power.We have seen literary festivals built around a regime or a person dying fast after the exit of such person from power.I need not reel out names we all know those hitherto lively festivals iam talking about, founded on the benevolent frown of one top hat or the other. It is time big corporation,foundations,institutions,trusts etc come up to fund literary festivals via eternally subsisting endowments.Organisers of literary festivals must also subscribe to working ideologies and adopt a business model to keep what they do alive. KABAFEST,which i attended for a purpose, was nice and welcomed in that environment and i am aware it has inspired some experiment in some young persons who will be organising a similar festival in Gombe State further North of Nigeria in September. But if KABAFEST is entirely tied to EL Rufai government then be sure it will not last beyond his regime just as Port Harcourt Book Festival and MBA Colloqium did not last beyond the Ameachi and Bababgida Aliyu regimes in Rivers State and Niger States respectively. ANA and CORA in spite of their poor financial outlay have survived in doing what they do all these years because they have models not tied to the good feeling of an individual or government. They are driven by passion,commitment and creativity.
To further buttress on this topic, as ANA President what are you doing to make sure your tenure experience a robust literary calendar in Nigeria,or you are just only concerned about ANA Convention and registered members of ANA.Do you go to other literary festivals in Nigeria , to see and chip in one or two advice that can lead to their progress?
You should know by now that iam one ANA President that is in the field and play the field. I have kept ANA chapters alive with activities and i have been identifying with them and also with other literary groups across the country and beyond.ANA collaborated with CORA on LABAF last year and we will do same this year. I attended KABAFEST this year and other smaller literary events and festivals to which i have had the chance to attend. To be modest,ANA is robustly alive with activities in spite of the dire economic environment. ANA also offer advice regularly to people who ask us to tell them how they can float innovative literary events and ventures.
When is the next ANA Convention coming up,which state are bidding to host it and what is the theme of this year’s
Benue State Chapter of ANA bid to host the next convention of ANA at the last Convention in Abuja last year and were awarded the right to host in May 2017 at the 6th ANA National Executive Council Meeting with Chairmen and Secretaries of Chapters held in Ilorin.The theme of this year’s convention scheduled for 26-29 October,2017 at Makurdi , Benue State is Canons, Prizes and Boundaries: African Writings and Writers in World Literature” with a keynote speech to be delivered by Prof, Saleh Abdu of Gombe State University. The Benue State Governor,Dr Samuel Ortom, has agreed to host the convention and the planning towards the convention is being led by a crop of distinguished Benue State born writers and intellectuals such as Prof Idris Amali and Prof Jerry Agada,a former President of ANA and former Minister of State for Education.This will be the third time Benue State will be hosting ANA National Convention in the history of the Association and it is a State rich in arts and cultural activities.Pre-registration for that convention is already on,so we expect a memorable convention in terms of organisation and thrills.