When Nigerian Writers Failed The Nation

Chinua Achebe inspired generations of Nigerian writers. Image: Getty

In Enugu last week, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) for the first time in its 38 years of existence failed to hold its national election. Edozie Udeze gives an eye-witness account of the scenarios that played out at the convention.

EVERY year, members of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) from all over the globe, gather at a particular venue in Nigeria for the international convention. The convention is usually hosted by a state chapter which had earlier won the hosting right. In the past 38 years since the association was formed, the convention has gone on without break or disruption. Every two years, election would hold to elect new national officials to run the national secretariat. As it is usually the case, election years are the most capacious moments, the apt time when most ANA members who had not been to the convention endeavour to attend, endeavour to vote.

Last week, the convention was held in Enugu, the coal city. However, the Enugu convention came with a number of lugubrious and nauseating issues that almost made nonsense of all the efforts made by the founding fathers of the writers’ body who sweated through thick and thin to give birth to ANA in 1981. Even though a lot of members, observers and stakeholders had eagerly looked forward to a glorious and robust literary engagements, but they got to Enugu to meet bundles and bundles of disappointments. The only heartwarming aspect of the convention is that Enugu is naturally clean, conducive and alluring for academic and scholarly hibernation.

Beyond that, the issue of accommodation reared its head, initially distorting the joyful flow in the minds of delegates. Two, from the beginning of the opening ceremony, it became crystal clear that the Denja Abdullahi leadership was not committed to lead on. The opening ceremony slated for 10.00am did not kick off until well into the afternoon. Before then, guests, writers, visitors, observers, lovers of literature sitted inside the huge hall were almost on their tethers, waiting endlessly for the kick-off.

For this, the rest of the day ran along on a slow, steady steam, which also affected the other programmes that took place thereafter. But the most unfortunate incident that nearly tore ANA to pieces was on the second day when the election was to hold. Being a Saturday, members had expected the Annual General Meeting (AGM) meant for 10am to take-off on time. Yet, this was not so. The programme was declared open by a rather reluctant president by 12 noon. By the time the AGM came to an end around 7pm, many people had run out of patience. Election was to proceed since the constitutionally stipulated tenure of the executives had elapsed.

Accreditation alone took over three hours to happen. In the beginning, the electoral committee led by Professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo had proclaimed that new members were ineligible to vote. These were people duly registered and people who had paid their state chapters’ dues. They paid their ways to Enugu just to exercise their franchise and enjoy the thrills of national politics played by the intelligentsia. A lot of them told The Nation, it was to be their real test of what voting, what politics stand for in Nigeria.

So, that innocuous, obnoxious and inconsiderate decision opened up the first stage of can of worms. Rumbling and grumbling soon followed. Impatience and loss of confidence in the system had set in. Cloistering around the entrance were delegates who clustered for accreditation, and then tension and temper ran high. People were unhappy. In the midst of this, politics of hate speech immediately began to rear its monstrous head.

At the time of this restrained temper, some of the candidates, those who were forcing ANA to open up a rotational form of zoning began to insult, lampoon and malign the late Professor Chinua Achebe. Achebe, it was who beckoned on other renowned writers to Nsukka to form ANA in 1981. These unwarranted, uncalled for utterances further infuriated some sensitive members. At that point, ANA as a body seemed on a precipice.

What seemed most unfortunate was that while this was going on, electricity went off, it went off only at the venue, more so the international conference centre, Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu, venue of the event. For over two hours there was no light, light was not restored while the whole city of Enugu was enjoying light. What a suspicious development! In the meantime, activities had been suspended, time was fast running out on everyone.

Then confusion broke out. The Liberian civil war type of confusion, scenario and disorderliness erupted. Some insisted the show must go on in darkness while others opposed it. Those security agents posted to maintain peace and order stood aloof while uneasiness reigned supreme. At this juncture, Professor Remi Raji of the University of Ibadan, and a former president of the Association rose to the occasion trying to pacify and assuage members. This cooled off temper temporarily, but then the damage had been done. Now using her constitutional prerogatives as the chairman of the electoral committee, Adimora Ezeigbo ordered that the election be suspended until when issues are well and duly sorted out.

The disturbing situation now is how does ANA convene within 180 days as stipulated by the constitution to have the election? When does it hold? Who will foot the bills for the hosting? How does it go this time around in terms of delegations to the election? Since this is the first time in the history of ANA that an election is being postponed, who runs the affairs until then? It is understood this is the singular responsibility of the advisory board. But meanwhile no one is looking in that direction. Truth is that ANA must come together to steer clear of deeper constitutional crisis. Elders of the house should mediate now; should endeavour to save ANA from the clutches of the mundane, those who are naturally gifted in anarchic and devilish manipulations.

ANA is bigger than divisive and sectionally-minded individuals, who characteristically root for rotational positions even when they do not have the capacity to carry on. Is this a political party where undue idiocy rules; where mediocrity is the order of the day? ANA needs to move on and grow above hawkish tendencies bordering on hate speeches and ethnic jingoism and other sectional postures that have hitherto slowed down the growth of the nation-state.

Meanwhile, the Enugu State government adamantly refused to sponsor or encourage the three-day convention that brought life and literary awareness to the coal city. This was unfortunate and showed some level of irresponsibility on the part of the state government.

Literature and Integration
Nonetheless, the theme of the keynote lecture – literature and national integration, delivered by Professor Emmanuel Sule of Ibrahim Babangida University, Lapai, Niger State, which was meant to stimulate writers turned into sore taste. When Sule began earlier on, his theme seemed to have appealed to the artists, writers and authors. It was received with wide acclaim. But when the election was truncated, it seemed the ingredients of the theme turned to national disintegration instead.

Sule said, “I take a historical view of the formation of nationalism in Nigerian literature from the point of colonial contact. The grand narrative is itself a product of colonialism, the highest orchestration of the notice of the Caliban being equipped to speak, and speaking against his master”. But the Caliban, in the case of Nigeria, has succumbed to constituted violence in the form of present-day democracy unable to confront it. His capacity to speak ought to be a project, ought to be a project of modernity, one not yet concluded. So, rather than continue to speak, the Caliban’s tongue is torn out, under the force of constituted violence. Then condition of post-modernity offers to mend his broken tongue, by globalizing it, by healing it but only at the global stage, at the price of his own humanity. The Caliban is the postmodern Nigerian writer.

In the sections that follow, I elaborate on constituted violence, metanarrative, modernity, and the postmodern reason, by way of situating the Nigerian writer within their conceptual problematic. Drawing mainly from the idea of Chinua Achebe, Michel Foucault and Achile Mbembe, I try to characterize the present context of national (dis)integration, especially in the ways that human agency – dismally unrealized in our halting project of modernity – gradually succumbs to the excesses of post-modernity. I am interested in calling our attention to the uncompleted project of modernity, such as the reconstruction, maintenance and utilization of the neglected National Library complex.

I make the point that unless we complete the project of Nigerian modernity by building not only an elegant and virile National Library, but also a national narrative to demolish the constituted violence imposed on us, to turnaround the condition of our society, we may end up not having a country. Not having a country is not the same as being a global citizen. It means, in spite of the postmodern condition, being homeless, being perpetually haunted by the ghosts of global far-right internationalism. In other words, Nigerian writers may have somewhere to run to, expecting others to build them a nation, but in the long run the shame of not being able to utilize their agency in the face of constituted violence (unleashed by local and international agents of dehumanization) definitely shadows any individual egoism that comes from a globalized position, what Amatoristero Ede calls self anthropologising projection.