Current Vice President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Mr. Denja Abdullahi, had a parley with ANA Lagos members on his visit to the chapter recently, to canvass support for his bid to become the new President of ANA in the forthcoming 2015 elective positions among eligible members of the association. In this interview with ANA Lagos members, he clarifies many reasons why he sees himself as the most capable person to be elected as the new President of ANA, and how he intends to improve the writers’ body fortunes. Adjekpagbon Blessed Mudiaga informs
What is your view about performance poetry considering the thinking in some quarters that it is not an art to be taken too seriously?
Whoever is thinking of performance poetry as an unserious art form should himself or herself not be taken seriously. I say this because poetry in our part of the world is in the first place an oral form before it was later reduced to writing with the advent of eastern and western civilizations. If that is our heritage, then the rising wave of the spoken word performance should be encouraged and promoted as we are only returning to our primary essence as a people with a long and vibrant history of poetry as performance. If I become ANA President, I will ensure an international festival of performance poetry which will draw the world to Nigeria is held annually in Nigeria with all the right razzmatazz. I know a lot of champions in the field like Iquo Diana Abasi, Dike Chukwumerije, Efe Paul, Titilope Sonuga, Sage Hason, Akeem Lasisi, Dagga Tolar and many others who can help drive that kind of event.
The Nigerian Writers Series of the Association under which some new titles were recently published is a commendable project, but we noticed some of the books were badly edited. What happened and how can this be corrected in future?
I was the coordinator of the series and I know what processes the titles went through before they came out. There was a call for submissions, close to 200 manuscripts were received and 10 were selected after passing through 3 series editors who did what I will call ‘selectional’ editing and the 10 manuscripts were farmed out to 4 different publishing outfits who participated in an open competitive bidding before eventually bringing out the works. The editing problems seen should have been corrected by the publishers who are supposed to have their own in-house editors. But I must say everyone who participated in the bringing out of the series did their best given the time, the constraints and the circumstances. This present experience has taught us how to it better next time.
Tell us the latest on the ANA Land, What has this present exco which you part of, achieved on the land?
Simply I will tell you that this exco has been able to reclaim the land from trespassers and vicious Abuja land grabbers. This exco did a foundation laying ceremony on the land in 2013 and presently preliminary infrastructural development is on-going on the land with KMVL acting as its agency on the proposed development.
Does ANA have a newsletter and if it does not, why?
ANA National for some time now has not been publishing a hard copy newsletter for obvious reasons. The world has gone digital which very interactive and quick means of disseminating information beyond the printed matter. I think what should be emphasized now is regular publication of an electronic newsletter that can be circulated on-line to avoid the problem of distribution and movement of printed material here and there. The ANA website can be made more interactive and regularly updated with somebody to be tweaking it 24/7 so that you can always go there for the latest news and feature on the Association. I know some states chapters are publishing printed news=letters, they should continue but should also consider having e-versions. Websites, newsletters and all the other social media means of disseminating information can only be useful and achieve their purposes if they are factored into the workings of the Association as a policy and people given those particular tasks and the enabling facilities.
Does ANA have a style book? Should it not have one to take care of editing problems such as the one referred to earlier in respect of the Nigerian Writers Series (NWS)?
ANA does not presently have a style book. What can be likened to a style book is the guidelines for the adjudication of its prizes, which is only given to the judges and not available to writers. Even that document, to the best of my knowledge has not been available to the Association in recent years. I remember working with it in my days as ANA general Secretary (2005-2009).Even if that document is retrieved today, it will need serious updating and so many things have changed with the writing world and with ANA itself.ANA in trying to put the NWS in good stead has registered a publishing outfit that in future will properly manage the series and definitely the issue of stylebook will emerge when that outfit is run as an independent entity with personnel and paid minders of its operations.
How many years tenure is the proposed developer given on the ANA land?
ANA is operating a BOT arrangement with the developer and the tenure is for about 25-30 years or so. I cannot recall the details of the existing agreement for now but all I am sure of is that a business model has been worked out to give ANA all the revenue generating and recreational facilities it wants on the land and the developer the atmosphere to recoup its own investment.
Some young writers perceive ANA as majorly for old writers, that its structures do not allow young people to participate in its affairs. What do you have to say on this?
All classes of writers both old and young are members of the Association and we have different classes of membership ( Full members, Associate members, honorary members and institutional members). You participate in the Association in whatever capacity you are qualified for, I will not go into such details now. At State chapters, a lot of young people participate in ANA activities as members and even at our national events. ANA chapters in States have a lot of schemes and projects to encourage young writers and so also at the national level. The NWS project I talked about earlier published 10 titles of fiction and about half of those titles were mainly by young writers. ANA literary prizes were mainly instituted to encourage young writers and that philosophy has been behind the administration of the prizes for close to 35 years now. A lot of young writers have won those prizes and many of them have even gone to become world renowned writers. Add what ANA does in schools all over the country including the Yusuf Ali schools-based literary awareness campaign that has been running for 4 years now across the country; and with all these you will surely accept that there is a place for young people in ANA.
Does ANA have a social media presence?
Yes we do with our facebook pages both national and state chapters, website, blogs etc. But we can always do better.
You have been part of the present National EXCO, in what ways are you going to do things differently if elected?
You will have to read my manifesto to get the details of that but I will tell you simply I will make good use of my experience to avoid the usual pitfalls as I know what works and what never works. I will also carve a niche for my executive by ensuring we surpass whatever has been on the ground before with innovative programmes and projects and most importantly by rescuing the Association from its perennial problem of funding. I will also put in place a fully functional secretariat that will help in putting all the affairs of the Association in the appropriate administrative and operational perspectives. With me as President, the chapters will work closely with the national secretariat and will be carried along fully in our various operations.
What other supports are you envisaging for writers as President?
The Association primary objective for existing is to support writers. We shall do that by translating that big broad objectives into innovative and practicable programmes and projects like continuing with the NWS but in a more vibrant manner, workshops, residencies, encouraging publishing cooperatives, collaborating with other sectors in the book chain, advocating with other creative bodies for establishment of the National Endowment fund for the arts etc. We shall be there to speak for our members and package them to get the best from the society while also ensuring they contribute meaningfully to that same society.
What is the status of writers of motivational and inspirational books in ANA?
ANA is primarily an association for creative writers who have been published. People who have written the kinds of books you mentioned are welcomed provided they will add creative books to their arsenals. Writers of creative non-fiction are also accepted in ANA but once you join, first in the local State chapters or sub-chapters you will understand the membership structure of the association better and regularize your membership.
Will you allow democracy to prevail if elected?
There is no alternative to that I can tell you and if you look at my antecedents in the Association, you will realize that I have been very democratic in my operations. In the kind of association that we run which is voluntary and going by the nature of our membership which is made up of very independent-minded and sometimes eccentric people, you cannot afford not to be broad minded and democratic as a leader. Being democratic will allow you to harness the available potentials and challenge people to offer their talents and capacities in the service of the association.
What would you do to strengthen the ANA brand?
Strengthening the brand will start from piecing together the long history of the association in a documentation process that will underscore the strengths, weaknesses and potentials of the association. That will then be factored into the working out an 8 year strategic plan which I mentioned in my manifesto, to be drawn up by experts in the association. We will also engage reputable brand managers( we used some of them to give some mileage to our activities when I was general secretary of ANA and it worked) to assist us in projecting the appropriate image for the association that will attract the needed support for our activities. Mind you, this brand thing is not about image laundering in the case of ANA but ensuring that the Association benefits from its close to 35 years of unceasing labour for the literary and cultural development of this country.