Stringent voices and mega narratives

Henry Akubuiro

It is a pilgrimage the Nigerian writers’ tribe looks forward to each year, regardless of the location. This time, it was the season of migration to the west, and the mega city of Lagos rolled out the carpet for mega narratives after more than twenty-three years of playing the host.

The ANA convention is often a gathering of Nigerian writers from more than 30 states of the federation. But beyond the gathering, niceties were gratis for fecund minds. For three-days entertained delegates with books exhibitions, award of prizes, drama performances, keynote speech, interactive session with the winner of the 2018 the Nigeria Prize for Literature, Soji Cole, among others. Lucky ones went home with prizes.

When kindred spirits gather, bonhomie reigns. So it was when the opening ceremony got underway at the Lagos Airport Hotel, Lagos, chaired by Prof. Femi Osofisan, with dignitaries that included ANA President, Malam Denja Abdulahi; veteran writer, Mabel Segun; renowned writer, Prof Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo; the wife of Ekiti State Governor, Bisi Fayemi, to mention a few.

L-R: 1. Professor King Aribisala, 2. Denja Abdullahi (ANA President), Bisi Fayemi (wife of Ekiti State Governor), and Professor Femi Osofisan during the opening ceremony of the 2018 ANA International Convention in Lagos. 3: Akin Adeoya (LOC Chairman) with Steve Ayorinde (Lagos State Commissioner for Arts and Tourism) and Soji Cole winner of the 2018 NLNG Prize for Literature

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Abdullahi, in his speech, reiterated that the association, had toiled over the years, in numerous projects and programmes, to protect the interests of Nigerian writers, nurture the innate creative potentials of Nigerian children and youths, preserve the cultural heritage of this country, serve as its truly patriotic ambassador at large, promote the reading culture and a knowledge-based society.

Having realised that, for its voice to become stronger as an association, it was imperative for it to toe the path of self-sufficiency and remodelling its working capacity, Abdullahi stated that his administration had largely focused in the last few years on re-structuring its operational procedure by opening up to greater strategic partnerships and building a writers’ village in Abuja.

He also bought into the idea of the association lending its voice to commentaries on the state of the nation and “the political conundrum we presently find ourselves in in the country”. ANA, as a body, he hinted, would take active interest in the forthcoming general elections among the league of the civil societies monitoring the process.

He thanked the ANA Lagos Chapter headed by Bisi Adebiyi and members of the LOC headed by Akin Adeoya for “creating the mega in this convention in the mega city of Lagos with its mega narratives.”  He also encouraged members to vote for candidates of their choice in the 2019 general election.

Prof. Osofisan was excited that the annual gatherings of writers were becoming more interesting. “I am happy to see developments in ANA,” he said.

The multiple award-winning playwright, a founding member of the association together with the Achebes, said, inasmuch as writers were obligated to deride social ills, they should also commend the good part of the society, including the achievements of some of our leaders.

Our literature, he said, had been so despondent, misleading those living abroad that there was no hope for the country.

A writer herself, the wife of Ekiti State Governor, Bisi Fayemi, who was a special guest at the event, said writers performed multiple functions at the same time, “When we write, we are combining speaking and teaching.” She was to unveil the ANA A-Book-A-Child offerings, as well as her personal books.

She spoke further on her literary bent, “I write to maintain my identity; it is basically for me to satisfy myself.  I write to bear witness to issues around me; to teach and to instruct.  You have to defend the things that happen around you –the things you see and experience.

As writers, it is our duty to unearth issues of politics, religion and hate, all the problems that trouble the society.  Whether in form of poetry or prose or drama, it is our work to see how we tackle the issues to make for a better and saner society.”

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Before the keynote speech by Prof. Karen-King Aribisala, former Head, Department of English, University of Lagos, the Lagos poet, A.J. Dagar Tola, presented a poem entitled “They Teach Us” in which he disparaged the hypocrisy of modern age.

In her keynote speech, “Literature: Mega Cities and Mega Narratives”, Prof. Aribisala said there was a tendency for mega narratives to be contentious: “Each mega-narrative upholds a book; a physical manifestation of its ideological narrative such as the Bible or the Communist Manifesto.

These books are deemed sacrosanct by ‘believers’. Therefore, they seek to preserve and protect them physically, thinking that, in so doing, they are protecting the ideas in them.

“Their opponents have the same mindset: they seek to destroy the books believing that, in so doing, they are destroying the ideas and ideologies in the books.

Literature is replete with examples of this ‘human tendency’. The physical/book is deemed more powerful and influential than the spiritual and psychological/ideas.”

For people who have been historically subjected to the mega narrative of colonialism, the scholar-writer opined that “mega narratives are particularly repugnant,“ for they emanate from the apparently dominant powers of Europe, whose theories of civilising ‘the other’ led to the brutalisation of the body, mind and spirit of the colonised. As such, under no circumstances should mega- narratives be trusted.

She pointed out that post-colonial writers “invariable relate to mega-narratives in light of its applicability to themselves, ensuring that they tend to see mega- narratives as akin to ‘weapons of mass destruction’.”

Prof Aribisala observed that the writers of mega city fiction appeared intent on ‘breaking that cycle’.

She said, “In the main, they perceive the mega city as a mega tyrant imposing itself on its citizens, brutalising them in a variety of dimensions.

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As such, the writers ‘try to right the wrongs’ arising from perceptions of their abode and locations as it impacts on their creations and characters.”

The award-winning author further noted that mega city writers often create characters who, while lured by the opportunities the city offers its inhabitants, nevertheless discover that its allures and bright lights are all a ruse when they are confronted with the overwhelming negative realities of urban life.

As evident in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Ian McEwan’s Saturday, Leye Adenle’s Lagos Noir, or the collection of short stories Lagos Noir, the keynote speaker opined that, regardless of century and place, “mega cities are perceived as filthy environments beset by poverty and crime.”

The dominant thread in her speech was that writers of mega city fiction promote mega narrative ideals such as love, brotherhood, justice, equality, and social commitment to both indigenous and “universal locales; thus, they tell the truth of our existence.”

Mabel Segun, the author of many children’s literature classics, was a sight for sore eyes at the lit fest. Lamenting the dearth of quality juvenilia in Nigeria, she said,

“These days the standard of children’s literature has gone down. Maybe it is not prestigious to write for children.”

In the past, she noted that celebrated writers, like Chinua Achebe and Cyprian Ekwensi, aside writing for adults, also wrote for children. She called on established Nigerian writers to do the same.

A roundtable discussion with the winner of the 2018 NLNG prize, Soji Cole, preceded the opening ceremony. He expressed the view that winning more readership was more important than winning the $100,000 prize.

The delegates reconvened in the evening to be entertained by a star-studded cast dramatising Ahmed Yerimah’s award-winning play, Hard Ground.