RELIVING THE 33RD CONVENTION OF THE ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIAN AUTHORS by TERESE UWUAVE

The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) convention was slated for Thursday 11th December, 2014 to end on the 14th at Ibadan, the capital city of Oyo. The ground for the event was the historic University of Ibadan. You can imagine my excitement to be there. I could not wait to have my feet stamped, fully registered where most of the pioneers of African literature like the great Nigerian three–consisting of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and the poet, Christopher Okigbo—had done theirs. It was nice to note that this visit would be an opportunity to acquaint myself with contemporary writers from around the nation. Oh! It was also my first time of visiting the town. It was like a pilgrimage, because I was also longing to engage myself in what has become my hobby looking admiringly at creative and educational books and telling myself: “If I had money…” Ah! I knew I would storm the large bookshops and look up everything until the end of time!

We left Makurdi by seven o’clock. I was among the delegates from Benue State chapter of the association attending the convention. Some other delegates included the state Chairman and secretary, the poets Su’eddie Vershima Agema and Maik Ortserga; Vice Chairman Paul Ugah; Pever X (author of Cat Eyes); my colleagues at SEVHAGE Publishers, Debbie Iorliam and Ene Odaba; Sunday Aduma and the playwright, Doobee Dorcas Targba. Three other delegates; Celina Kile, Anselm Ngutsav and Damian Terkaa Jam, were to join us at the convention from different parts of the country.

I thought of Ibadan and of how I would be registering my presence at the Ibadan university, sighting the old rusty town and going book-window-shopping. My curiosity of what awaited blinded me to the slow pace of the Benue Links bus that took us some thirteen hours from Makurdi to Ibadan. I personally regarded the bus as a jealous one; jealous of the multiple joys I would be experiencing soon. Instead of blaming the bus and its driver, like most of my fellow passengers, I let my imagination take me to great halls I had no idea of, where I shared intellectual meals with the great three, amongst others. Only my body found presence in the bus as my spirit flew away. Thus started my convention.

We arrived town and found our way to the University which was directly opposite the bus park. Despite the lateness of the time, the presence of the ambience of the great three was unmistakable. It was that day that I really knew the functionality of my sense. I touched spirits, heard them and felt them. We got to the faculty of Arts where we registered ourselves and waited for further details of what would follow. We got a lovely ANA Review of great quality in publication, as well as other registration materials which included full color magazines on Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. We were served a meal. My desire now was for dawn, so that I could locate the feet marks of sojourners long gone, the great three too, if possible.

Time passed slowly. By this time, there was a literary party in full swing. The ANA President, Remi Raji and his EXCO among other members of the Association were already there, being thrilled in the opening ceremony tagged: ‘Night of Palmwine and Poetry’ under the mouthy direction of the actor and PEN Nigeria Secretary, Ropo Ewenla. It was thrilling as many poets like Chijioke Amu-nnadi, I call him a man of small letters since he writes all his poetry in small letters; Saddiq M Dzukogi; Uthman Ajibola, amongst others read their own poems. There was also a dramatization of the terror in the North as led by the Boko Haram champion Abubakar Shekau, by one of the spoken words poet. Though I was worn out, the thought provoking presentation evoked in me an unexpected flood of pity, hopelessness, insecurity that tears almost filled my eyes especially as the un-rescued Chibok girls were gradually sinking into oblivion. Just when I thought my patience would wear out, our Chairman, Su’eddie Vershima Agema came out and led us to the hotel where we would stay for the night; the U.I. Hotels. The Boko Haramic presentation kept echoing in my mind: “Walahi, talahi, I wili kilan por you, all of you. I am coming por you.”

Most of the events of the second day of the convention were held at the large lecture theatre of the University Faculty of Arts. It was actually a life fulfilling moment for me, in as much as Soyinka did not grace the occasion as I expected. The public lecture complemented me as I finally set my eyes and felt a physical interaction with the man who had been talking to me in diverse critical books and papers, Professor J. O. J. Nwachuckwu-Agbada–who presented the keynote address. Before his address, there was a speech by the President of ANA, Professor Remi Raji, who is the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and also, a speech by the representative of President Goodluck Jonathan, Ms. Molara Wood (the author of Indigo and Special Adviser to the President on Documentation). From the speech of both, it seemed the President had given the Association a donation to support the convention. The President promised to put writers in the scheme of things and properly establish his efforts through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism! Remi Raji said Ibadan was a salvage host of the convention while Port Harcourt was the honourary host of the convention. He made a promise hinged on a promise; that by next year the ANA convention would hold in Abuja at the ANA Writers’ village.

Anyway, the MC, Mrs. Chinyere Obi-Obasi invited Camillus Ukah, to come and do a citation in honour of the keynote speaker. He did well using traditional nuances to say that the honoured Professor was a tall tree of great magnitude. Sufficiently introduced, Professor Nwachukwu-Agbada presented a brilliant and mind-lifting paper titled: “Literature, Languages and Diversities: How Has Nigeria Fared since 1914?” In it, Agbada gave a concise history of how what came to be regarded as Nigerian literature emerged, and the language issue surrounding it. Questions followed the presentations and Professor Agbada again demonstrated his scholarship by swallowing them up and vomiting appropriate answers. After the refreshments that really relaxed my nerves, there was a Book chat on the Nigerian Writers’ Series, headed by Mallam Denja Abdullahi, the ANA Vice Chairman. The Nigerian Writers’ Series is the Nigerian equivalent of the African Writers’ Series. In summary, 10 books were published by ANA with support from the Niger State Governor, Aliyu Babangida. One of the authors on the list is our very own Pever X with his Cat Eyes. Pever X is the Publicity Secretary of our state branch of ANA and a talented writer. The book chat went well and people like Chike Ofili, Chinyere Obi-Obasi spoke well in the session.

We retired after that session and I found my way to the university bookshop in the company of Paul Ugah and Sunday Aduma. We met Su’eddie at the bookshop with a friend of his, Servio Gbadamosi. Su’eddie later served as a tour guide as he is a regular to Ibadan and a patron of its many bookshops, particularly this one. When we were leaving, he packed a whole bag of books!  I packed a whole bag of looks for the way I went about moping at the books. I was enthralled! I love books and this was book heaven! I heard later from Su’eddie that the glory of the library had really depreciated but what on earth was he talking about!

In the evening, there was a show of the Yoruba version of Osofisan’s play Who is Afraid of Tai Solarin? as translated into Yoruba by Dotun Ogundeji and directed on stage by Tunde Kelani. Though it was difficult grasping the English wordings that were hardly staying for long on the screen, the highly comic aspects infused in the movie-stage rendition sent me beaming from ear to ear as I walked to U.I. Hotels.

Dawn sneaked in on us on the third day. We were scheduled to have a tour of Ibadan but we didn’t come out in time, and only our fellow delegates—Debbie Iorliam, Ene Odaba—went for it. They went to the African Heritage Research Library and Cultural Centre. They had much fun that left me wishing… IT was after missing that event due to the incorrect time I was keeping that I discovered the goodness of having an accurate time keeping device.

There was ANA Annual General Meeting which took place at the Large Theatre Hall. However, this took place after returning from ANA City Tours which were at the University Zoo and the African Heritage Research Library and Cultural Centre. In the A.G.M. of ANA, the president gave his speech, then the treasurer presented her report which was commended for its quick readiness and accuracy. Other issues as it concerned ANA were also discussed. The beauty of the AGM was how one does not know that he sits with a professor until he/she stands up to make a point. I left at some point but heard that there was a heated discussion on the suspended Secretary of the association, Tanko Mature Okoduwa who was absent on the day. There was also the issue of the authenticity of which Executive was in charge of the Edo State chapter of ANA…

The convention ended that day, with an enthralling Dinner Night Awards Ceremony at GloryView Hotel Bodija. I did not regret sharpening my teeth and putting on my eye glasses because I ate and I saw things that will forever remain memorable to me. The high table comprised personalities such as Emeritus Professor Femi Osofisan, a one-time President of the Association; Molara Wood (author of Indigo and Special Adviser to the President on Documentation); Professor May Nwoye; Professor Remi Raji – the ANA President to mention a few. The representative of the President of Nigeria, Molara Wood gave a speech after the welcome speech of the ANA President (after hailing the high table members, he simply said ‘Welcome’). There were also some presentations, the best of which was Iquo Eke’s performance of her poem, ‘Say my name’ with an actor/performer. Then it was time for the award presentation. The awards started with the general category which included awards to people for contributions to literature. Our Benue ANA matron and my lecturer, Dr. Maria Ajima was awarded for her contribution to the growth of literature and the association.  My boss, our Chairman, Su’eddie was up for two prizes after being shortlisted in the prose and poetry categories of the ANA awards with his books, Bottom of Another Tale and Home Equals Holes: Tale of an Exile respectively. We had interest in two awards too—Damian Terkaa Jam’s Sounds of a Metal Gong and Dul Johnson’s Melancholia, both books published by SEVHAGE, where I work. The hall went quiet as the awards started with the general awards.

The award for playwriting was announced; winner Soji Cole. The ANA/Chevron Prize for Environmental Writing (worth Two Thousand Dollars) went to Ifeoma May Nwoye. Next, the ANA Prize for Drama was announced. Dul Johnson’s play was shortlisted in this category. He lost to Tunji Ajibade who took the prize. The ANA Prose Prize was the next category and I held my breath. Su’eddie’s book came second runner-up while Immanuel James took the prize on account of the long length of the book or so the judges said. Our delegation was saddened. It was the last category next, the Poetry category. The judges announced that the competition was tough and that in the end, even out of their shortlist, a joint tie had been drawn. The winners are—Su’eddie Vershima Agema with Home Equals Holes: Tale of an Exile and Ebi Yeibo with his The Fourth Masquerade! We jumped up in smiles as we celebrated. Of all the winners, only May Nwoye and Su’eddie were present to receive their awards. The other awardees had their awards collected on their behalf by people in their chapters except for Immanuel James who no one seemed to know.

Soon, Richard Ali gave his parting speech. We trooped out, smiling. We got back to the hotel—Sunday Aduma and I—and before we hit the bed, probably slept.

The next day, we were up by 5:30am to head back to Makurdi. It was another long journey, and our delegates discussed all the 13 hours of the way. The weekend behind and a lifetime of experiences to hold on to, I looked forward to whatever literary adventure lay ahead.

Terese Uwuave, writer and critic, lives in Makurdi and Sokoto state, Nigeria.

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