At NAL lecture, Ukala sues for Afrocentric theories of writing, criticism derived from oral traditions
By Anote Ajeluorou
One nagging problem of scholarship in Africa is its continued slavish dependency on theories and philosophic postulations from America and the west generally many years after decolonisation. There has been a clear inability or reluctance of African scholars to formulate theories and philosophies based on African experiences and worldviews, and derived from Africa’s abundant age-old oral traditions. This has been identified as a major impediment to effective theorising in the discourse of African, nay Nigerian literature and other intellectual endeavours. Also of note is the inter-generational war between older literary critics and younger ones in explicating the works of younger writers for the purposes of validation and endearing them to the reading public. These were the issues in focus when professor of drama at Delta State University (DELSU), Abraka, Sam Ukala, delivered the Nigerian Academy of Letters’ (NAL) 2015 yearly lecture titled ‘Is the Nigerian Critic still ‘Timid’?’, hosted in Abraka last Tuesday. The top hierarchy of NAL, including its president, Prof. Benjamin Oloruntimehin, secretary, Prof. Olutayo Adesina, emeritus professors, Ayo Banjo, Ayo Bamgbose, Dan Izevbaye, Ben Elugbe, Prof. Dele Layiwola among others were present. DELSU’s Deputy Vice Chancellors for Academics and Administration, Profs, Austin Anigala and Rose Aziza, led other academics in hosting their colleagues from other universities. Ukala posits that Prof. Charles Nnolim represents older generation of critics who accuse younger critics of doing little to spotlight younger writers and their works. But he says Prof. Tony Afejuku provides the counterpoint to Nnolim’s criticism of timidity among Nigerian writers, who he accused of not being adventurous enough in exploring such frontiers as science fiction and other big issues. Afejuku thinks otherwise and argues that older critics haven’t done enough. It is this back and forth accusations and counter-accusations that Ukala calls age-grade generational system of classification of writers and critics. He also queries Nnolim for leaving the role of critiquing younger writers only to younger critics. According to him, “It is apparent that most Nigerian critics, perhaps due to the force of tradition, they speak of the first, second, third and fourth generations. Some think the fifth generation has begun to emerge. Yet, in view of the collaborative and communal modus operandi of the Nigerian age-grade system, is it right for the older generation to expect the younger generation, alone, to write about itself, that is, criticise, alone, the creative works of members of its generation? Does not the younger generation of critics, willingly or compulsorily, devote much of its time to researching and writing about the older generation of creative writers… In return, has the older generation of critics paid commensurate critical attention to the creative works of members of the younger generation?” In any case, both critics and writers of older and younger generations agree on the poor style of younger writers in terms of “poor language, craft and lack of aesthetic direction”. According to Ukala, Olu Obafemi considers the style as having “no fundamental, well-structured thought in the dimension of creating a new vision… But I think there is this scattered experimentation with the artistic form. And when the writers of this generation are angry, they pour it out in that ‘unstructured’ manner”. Afejuku agrees too with Nnolim and Obafemi when he says, “creative writing in present-day Nigeria is rudderless… in terms of technique, style and craft”. SO, how does the evolution of an indigenous theory of writing help the writer and the critic of Nigerian literature move forward? How have the writers and the critics fared in the evolution of the theory of criticism as guide for the future like their European counterparts have done for their literature? Where should such theorists look for the evolution of such homegrown theories as guide for Nigerian writers? In effect, how do critics overcome their ‘timidity’ and theorise on a body of rules that should guide African and Nigerian writing and stop the aping of foreign theories that are alien to the African experience? On theory, Ukala posits that “theory is the stipulation of underlying principles – rules or conventions – by which literature is evaluated and explained. But it goes beyond being a tool for criticism; it is also a model for the creative writer, who wishes to replicate its principles, and a guide, in the form of a point of departure, for the creative writer who wishes to revolt against those principles. Therefore, it is theory that should provide the rudder that would launch the Nigerian creative writer and the critic onto one cooperative trajectory for the achievement of Nigeria’s literary objectives”, In this vein, Ukala posits that Nnolim, Obafemi, Niyi Osundare, Dan Izevbaye, Emmanuel Obiechina, Gordini Darah, Chidi Maduka, Tanure Ojaide, Ossie Enekwe are all in agreement on the need to formulate an indigenous theory to guide African literature against the background of ethno-linguistic groupings and based on the various oral traditions prevalent in Africa. He argues that “elements of theory richly abound in Nigerian indigenous literature” and that what is required is for “established Nigerian critics (to) research and exploit them for the purpose of, not only competently evaluating and interpreting modern Nigeria literature rooted in them, but also theorising them for the guidance of young creative writers and critics”. He, however, says there is “regrettable lack of interest among the critics”. Such Afrocentric theories based on indigenous oral traditions that are already developed and in use, Ukala argues, include folkism by Ukala, which forms the performance style of his award-winning play, Iredi War. According to him, folkism “is the dramatic recreation or adaptation of a story is faithful to the original, not slavishly, but enough for the owners of the story to recognise it and identify with the recreation or adaptation; the plot is simple; the language is simple but imagistic; the story is run-on like the folktale, not structured in Acts and Scenes, and with no stoppages for scene-changing; staging is, therefore, simultaneous; the performance structure allows for robust audience participation and extempore response of the narrator and performs to relevant unscripted lines from the public audience, sometimes formally represented by the MOA (Member(s) of the Audience). Finally, in Folkism, moral instruction comes with entertainment”. Prof. Sunny Ododo’s Facekuerade is another such indigenous theory of theatre derived from among the Ebira mask-less masquerade in which “the core aesthetic elements are the playing space, music and song, dance, play-within-the-play and role playing and aesthetic supernumeraries…” AMONG Ukala’s recommendations include two radical charges that NAL liaises with “the National Library to produce a bibliography of Nigerian literature or a directory of creative writers…, set up a Nigerian Literature Library… and to stock the library, ask each of the writers listed to contribute copies of their works which can be made available to writers and critics on agreed terms”. Just as NAL organised a workshop for young writers some years back, Ukala said it should organise the same workshop for young Nigerian critics and “offer residencies to established critics to do on Nigerian literature what Aristotle did for Greek literature in the 5th Century”. He also argues that “the study of Nigerian oral literature should not be left to the creative writer alone, the critic should do same…” EARLIER in his welcome address, Vice Chancellor of Delta State University, Prof. Victor Peretomode, who was represented by Aziza, stated, “I must concede that NAL as expected of its manifest trail-blazing destiny has been in the vanguard of charting a cause and course of our beloved nation and ensuring that Nigeria takes her rightful place in the comity of nations. A critical look at the contributions of scholars to the evolutions of Nigeria will portray how members of NAL and scholars of the humanities have helped in advancing the development frontiers of Nigeria, Africa and the world. The monumental achievements of Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, JP Clark, Ayo Bamgbose, Ayo Banjo, Munzali Jubril, Romanus Egudu, Dan Izevbaye, Isidore Okpewho (an Abraka indigene), Solomon Wangboje, Ben Enwonwo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Obaro Ikime, Peter Bodurin, Godwin Sogolo, Femi Osofisan, Niyi Osundare and others too numerous to mention have helped in making the world a better place. Much earlier when members of the academy paid him a courtesy visit in his office, Peretomode, after treating the academics to an enthralling Delta traditional hospitality of cola nuts and drinks, said, “Your coming reminded me of Plato, Aristotle and those great sages of old. It’s a great honour to host and support you in our university. My Deputy Vice Chancellors happen to be in the humanities. I think the humanities is a great field, a great discipline of study” to which NAL president Oloruntimehin expressed his academy’s gratitude for the support in hosting them, adding, “We hope more and more of Abraka academics will work to enrich our academy”. Ukala’s lecture didn’t start until guests had been entertained to cultural music, dance and performance by students of Music and Theatre Arts departments. Excerpts from Ukala’ Iredi War were performed to a full house; although poor acoustics in the vast lecture hall nearly marred audibility. After the lecture guests were treated to lunch at the Senate Chamber, with Nelson Edewor’s ‘Last Super’, a sculptural piece overlooking them. But the location of the piece showed apparent lack of thematic taste of the commissioned work. Why ‘Last Super’ piece in a university senate chamber, not a church, where elders in a village council palaver session or academics debating trenchant issues would have been more appropriate? On the whole, Ukala’s lecture was adjudged excellent and praised for its lucidity, erudition and scholarship.