Mallam Denja Abdullahi, former president of the Nigerian Writers Association ANA, said that the greatest legacy Professor Chinua Achebe and his contemporaries left to Nigerian writers was the formation of the ANA in 1981. As a new programs to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the association in ten cities continue to unfold, says Abdullahi in this meeting with Edozie Udeze that the ANA has more to offer Nigerian society in this dispensation and beyond.
As the Nigerian Authors’ Association turns 40, what do you think are the greatest highlights for the body of writers in recent years?
The formation of the Association itself in 1981 was a remarkable culmination brought about by the insight of the founding father, Chinua Achebe, to convene an assemblage of Nigerian writers to take care of the ‘business side of writing’, to protect “the freedom and security of writers in society”, and behind it all was the quest to unite divergent literary imaginations across the country for the overall development of Nigerian literature. Since then, the Association has steadily provided a resilient platform to announce new writers and new writings through its many literary development activities such as workshops, seminars, conferences, book publications and journals, administration of literary prizes, a historic celebration of literature milestones of prominent Nigerian writers, school outreach programs, literary and reading campaigns, contribution to social discourse and the struggle for social justice, policy and environmental policy and ensure that the literature remains relevant on the front lines of Nigerian society.
ANA has undoubtedly contributed to the brilliant literary and intellectual careers of many Nigerian writers here and abroad today. Most of the people and groups you find today promoting literature in the Nigerian public space through various literary groups cut their teeth at ANA or learned the columns within ANA or ANA. ANA was and still is the original role model that gave birth to the flourishing we know today in the Nigerian literary circle. The profile of the ANA is just solid and intimidating, but as it is in our way as a society to poorly keep the records and take things for granted, if you don’t think and look around. objectively, you can wrongly compare the Association to some upstart literary. groups that we have today with the capacity of the modern era to amplify their puny little achievements. There are a lot of details that can be attached to the great ANA accomplishments I outlined above and it will take a book to do so. The Association’s latest highlight to date is that the Association aims to fulfill the dream of the late soldier-poet, Mamman Jiya Vatsa, of giving Nigerian writers a special place in the cultural landscape of Nigeria’s capital Abuja, with the construction underway of a sprawling multi-purpose facility at Mamman Vatsa Writers’ Village in Mpape, Abuja.
As the outgoing president of the ANA, what are these things that you would have done differently if you had had another chance?
I don’t think I would have done anything that I would have done differently because everything I did in the office was not just mine but what the Association wanted from its leadership because in then I was at the helm as president. Remember that before I started taking action as President, my executive, under my leadership, went through a rigorous process of consultations, administered questionnaires to ANA members nationally, and Organized a three-day strategic plan development workshop led by a team of professionals. consultants in the field and involving members from all strata of the Association, which resulted in the production of a STRATEGIC PLAN (2017-2022) for the Association. Everything I did in the office was in compliance with this strategic plan which is still operational and I am also proud to say that I achieved in the office all but one of my 14 point program that I had put in before when I was campaigning for the office. On a human level, there were certain variables that I did not control and that is why nothing in life that a human being does can be perfect; and as such errors and errors in judgment must occur and some have occurred during my tenure as president. Nonetheless, given another chance, I don’t think I’m going to act or do things with a significant difference.
What are the greatest tributes to ANA’s founding fathers as the joys of 40 years unfold?
The Founding Fathers were visionaries and are to be commended for this. The seed they sowed blossomed and grew solid and gave birth to remarkable writings and literary careers. Some of the founding fathers are still with us and they have remained a source of inspiration and encouragement to the younger generations who have succeeded them. They must also be appreciated so as not to lose their cool even in the face of the youthful insolence of some irreverent members of the Association who have paid too much overtime to the political side of the Association rather than to the literary side. Some of the Founding Fathers who still exist have all been remarkably productive and prolific as writers emphasizing that writing must not cease at any time and that the Association was not formed to replace writing. but rather to improve it.
How did writers use and harmonize Nigerian cultures as sources for developing Nigerian literature?
From using a cultural source base to propel and project Nigerian writings by first generation writers, successive generations have used Nigerian cultures in their own way. The diversity of themes and styles that characterizes Nigerian literature can be attributed to the multicultural tapestry of the Nigerian nation. Our writers have benefited greatly from the many stories, worldviews, philosophies and performative trends of cultures available in Nigeria. These limitless cultural resources of Nigeria are still exploited in so many subtle ways by Nigerian writers and that is why our literature, even from the perspective of world literature, cannot be ignored. To cite just one example, what Chigozie Obioma did with the use of the narrative trope of chi (from the Igbo worldview) as the narrator in his book Orchestra of Minorities, made all the difference in selecting this book for the Booker Prize in 2019. The book itself has a surprising originality, language and style and it is a pleasure to read: all due to the unusual use of a cultural heritage by the author.
Which drama and prose have shown the greatest value to Nigerian literature?
Both were very valuable and even the poetry was everywhere too! All genres have been used extensively in Nigerian literature and Nigeria has produced writers in all genres which are notable in African and world literature. But today I see a tendency to favor prose over the other two genres. Perhaps this is because prose seems to operate within a more universal literary framework whereas theater and poetry can sometimes be linked to culture.
Ten city tours by ANA to mark the anniversary, how to deal with the persistent insecurity in the country?
The security challenge in Nigeria today is enormous, but it is the duty of purveyors of the literary imagination to imagine a better and more secure society. This is why writers must draw on the past, mix it with the insistent present to foresee a better future. You should note that even as part of this national security challenge, literary activities are still organized by the ANA at the national level and sections across the country. Writers are creative people and they can always shape their businesses to fit or sidestep the challenges of the times. I expect the ANA in the Ten City Tour will take up the challenge of safety in the many activities that will take place in these ten cities. The theme of the Ten City Tour I includes the harps on the resilience of Nigerian literature. I think writers need to project the resilience of the Nigerian Federation as evidenced by the resilience of Nigerian literature. The security issue has always been with us in Nigeria, it’s just that it transforms from one form to another as Nigeria evolves politically. I remember the ANA focused on the relationship between literature and security in its convention held in 2012 in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom state. I expect the ANA to contribute to its contribution to the search for solutions to the security challenge the country is currently facing and to take advantage of the tour of ten cities to advocate for peace and justice. social and harmonious life among our people. Writers should migrate some of the good stories they tell in their texts into public spheres in more creative and communicative ways to help build a more peaceful and secure society – a society protected from injustice, hunger, illiteracy. and indiscriminate violence.