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By Henry Akubuiro
It was a convergence of writers, intellectuals and enablers of literary productivity at the 2017 edition of the Association of Nigerian Authors International Convention, held in the Benue State capital, Makurdi, with the theme “Canons, Prizes and Boundaries: African Writers and Writings in World Literature.”
Participants came from within and outside the country, with a delegation from the neighbouring country of Niger, under the auspices of the Association of Niger Authors, making a special appearance. They praised Nigerian writers for being on the forefront of African literature and contributing to continent’s democracy through their writings.
In his address at the opening ceremony of the three-day convention at the College of Health Sciences, Benue State University, ANA President, Denja Abdullahi, stated that the annual gathering had become a meaningful ritual in using literature to re-engineer the society towards creativity and innovation. No matter the circumstance, the playwright said, “Whether in the face of unrest or biting economic situation, ANA has remained committed to the pursuance of its founding objectives.”
He commended the affection for literary creativity by the government and people of Benue State despite increasingly harsh economic condition pervading the country. Also, the president applauded the efforts of ANA members, who travelled from different parts of the country for the convention, in spite of the hard times, equating it with “the resilience of the creative spirit in full flight.”
Mallam Abdullahi, who said his administration had been working tirelessly to bring innovation to bear on all its activities, restated that, in its continuous demand for good governance, quality education and social justice, ANA would not withdraw from its role as the conscience of the society, adding, “We are committed to doing our bits in the building of a stronger and prosperous country.”
The keynote speaker, Professor Saleh Abdu of Federal University, Kashere, currently on sabbaticals at as Dean, School of Postgraduate Studies, Gombe State, University, spoke on “Issues in the Evaluation of Contemporary African Literature” in which he stated that “Most literary prizes on offer today tend to be awarded on the basis of some(-times written) set of culture-specific criteria.”
He observed that, for its status as the agent for encoding, expressing and representing man’s affections, spirituality and identity, the cultural sphere is had become the victim of a wave of visceral changes.
Literature, he maintained, “issues from man’s basic impulse to make sense of the environment he finds himself; to secure sanity and security, to develop composure and self-confidence which will enable him to dream and realise his dreams. This impulse is as basic as it is protean, and so it manifests itself in a variety of metaphoric representations in human preoccupations. Perhaps the most ubiquitos and overlooked manifestation of the literary impulse in man is in all instances of the use of language whose metaphoric essence is often eclipsed by its daily use and ubiquity in our life.”
The scholar was of the view that the concept “African Literature” in academics, had been traditionally seen and explored as a complex, multi-lingual, multi-cultural phenomenon historically spread across the continents. He added that ancient writings in Amharic and the Egyptian Hiroglyphics which may have preceded all subsequent genres and which seemed to have been confined to the African continent, do not feature prominently on University syllabi except perhaps as passing topics in the class.”
He affirmed that early African writers, if not African literature, must have been the most cosmopolitan in their vision and literary production/practice. “Early African literature was as global as any could be. But, largely due to the character of subsequent interaction with a second wave of non-African peoples from the middle of the 16th Century, the continent of Africa and the people were degraded and devalued,” he lamented.
While commending ANA for the literary awards it has instituted since 1981, he requested the association to consider working towards persuading the government, through the Minister of Culture and the National Council of Art and Culture, to institute National Poetry Merit Award to last for 5 years; to encourage state governors and local government chair/men and women to also institute literary prizes in the schools under their purview; and to visit and seek audience with members of the legislature for a senstisation session on promoting reading and literary production/activity in their constituencies.
The Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, represented by the state Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Professor Dennis Ityavyar, in his address, welcome delegates to the convention. Despite the prevailing financial challenges, the governor said the state consented to hosting the convention because of its conviction that “ideas should chart the way forward and rule the society.”
He was hopeful that that the convention would add value to the development of the state as indigenes would interact with literary icons who always mentor and encourage those with creative potentials, expressing the determination of his administration to produce subsequent generations of creative writers by delivering on quality education with emphasise on excellence. He informed that the process of handover private and missionary schools in the state to their owners had started, which would culminate before January, 2019.
Governor Ortom appealed to the association to partner with the government in the advocacy for the establishment of ranches as an international best practice to ensure a lasting peace between herders and farmers in Benue Sate. “Our Anti-Open Grazing Law of 2017 has a lot of promise to permanently end the menace of farmers-herders conflicts in the country,” he assured.
He also intimated of the willingness of the government to encourage the harnessing of the literary potentials of his people by embarking on a partnership with ANA to sponsor young writers to write biographies of prominent folk singers from the state.
Earlier on Thursday, participants were entertained with the “Festival of Life”, a soiree that usually heralded the annual convention, at the JS Tarka Centre, Makurdi. If was a potpourri of songs and drama sketches. Besides, a book chat preceded the opening ceremony. The NWS 2 authors were unveiled to the audience. Out of the three author, three were present: Ngozi Obi Obasi and Salamatu Sule.
The Special Assistant to the Governor on Media, Terhav Agerzua, conducted writers round places of interest in the state capital, Makurdi, including a pottery and the state’s newspaper house. The second day ended with the convention’s play at the TS Tarka Centre, Makurdi. Book exhibitions, which held till the end of the convention, afforded participants to purchase books and meet the authors for autographs.
An elated Mr Charles Ironumbe, the Chairman of ANA, Benue State chapter, told The Sun Literary Review at the end of the convention. “We deserve a part on the back for promising to hold the convention, and delivering to the best of our abilities. I am glad everybody was happy. Benue is home of hospitality.” Most participants acknowledged that the lure of pounded yam in Makurdi would definitely bring them back.
The AGM, which held on Saturday, November 28, returned the core of the Denja Abdullahi-led executive for another two years without an election.
Winners of ANA prizes
The panel of judges on Saturday night lamented that many of the entries for certain prize categories in this exercise were far below expected qualities in their various genres. Despite the efforts by ANA and other literary award bodies to encourage the business of professionalism in literary writing, he regretted that there seemed to be no apparent improvement in the quality of entries for ANA prizes.
However, there were few exceptions. Heralding the prize winners were Dul Johnson and Lola Akande, whose works, Across the Gulf and What it Takes, were joint winners of the ANA Prose Fiction Prize. For the ANA Drama Prize, the pride of place went to R.C Ofodile’s play, Magnetism. Likewise, the ANA Poetry Prize was clinched by Obari Gomba for his work, For Every Homeland.