Denja Abdullahi is a culture worker and writer, who has held many executive positions in Nigeria’s writers’ body, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) in almost a decade. Currently the Vice President of the association, Abdullahi is eyeing the first position of the union and asserts, “To me, arts and literary administration is not a hobby or sidekick; it is a career, which must be managed with all indices of professionalism”. In this interview, he spoke to Anote AJELUOROU about his ambition and how he intends to reposition ANA for competitiveness and as a world-class organisation. Excerpts:
What are your plans for repositioning ANA?
I intend to galvanize the talents, expertise and different pockets of competence the association is blessed with in its membership to reposition it. In my long period of service to the association, I have discovered that you can only achieve anything significant, in the midst of perennial paucity of funds, by leveraging and harnessing the potentials in members and other lovers of literature for identified aims and objectives. I will also create working synergy between ANA and other associations and bodies in the creative sector to fight for common goals that will improve the lot of the sector such as ensuring the establishment of the National Endowment Funds for the Arts and the like. I will internationalize the operations of the associations and stake its claim in the scheme of governance in Nigeria. My manifesto is long on what I will do to reposition ANA if elected but these are just a few of them and they are all translated into pockets of programmes, projects and activities.
ANA has since lost its voice in the national space. Will you help reclaim it under your watch?
I do not think it is completely right to say that ANA has lost its voice in the national space. The association has a dynamics that is different from some other associations that jump all the time into public discourse. The association has to be true to its founding ideals, spirit and inherent character. Writers by nature must exhibit some objective distance from what is happening around them so that they can review same and make appropriate interventions when necessary. The association is essentially a craft union, established to promote the interests of its members while participating in the building and maintenance of an egalitarian society. Much of these tasks are done without much media noise and that is why it can easily be assumed that the association is lost in the public space.
Also, different times call for different approaches in the way the public space should be engaged. During the military era, you will recall that the association played an activist part along with other groups till democracy was won. During the various times our democracy was to be derailed, particularly in the period of the third term debacle, I remember signing a public document as General Secretary, on behalf of the association, rejecting that anomaly. We have at various points added our voices to the call for rectitude, propriety, constitutionality and common sense in the governance of our land. I will maintain all these under my watch and even improve on making the association more relevant to the society and in public discourse. I will give a strong voice to the association without making that voice sound pedestrian.
ANA Prizes don’t seem attractive anymore with The Nigeria Prize (USD$100,000) for Literature sponsored by Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Ltd and Etisalat Prize for (African) Literature (15,000) that give out c ash prizes in U.S. dollars and pound British sterling. Will you overhaul ANA prizes for more competitiveness?
What many people do not know is that ANA prizes, right from inception, have a developmental philosophy governing them. ANA prizes were instituted originally to announce new writers and new voices into the public space; it is to sort of groom talents for later literary greatness. If you study and review the history of the prizes you will see that many who won the prizes years back later went on to win other glamorous literary prizes at home and abroad, sometimes with the same books or with other books. ANA prizes were designed to build confidence in writers and boost their literary careers.
However, I agree that the ANA prizes have lost their shine, first with their abandonment by those who endowed them such as Cadbury’s, Chevron, NDDC, Literamed, Spectrum, etc, due to a myriad of economic reasons, and second, with the coming of mega prizes such as The Nigeria Prize for Literature, Caine Prize and Etisalat Prize for Literature. I was at the head of a team instituted by the present ANA National Executive to review the prizes and suggest possible ways of overhauling them. The team recommended the streamlining of the prizes, knocking off those that have outlived their usefulness and those whose administration have become difficult due to sponsors’ disinterest and fatigue. These recommendations were upheld and implemented and we now have fewer prizes we are managing very well. I intend, under my watch, to review further the administration of ANA literary prizes with a view to beefing up their profiles as well as seek the establishment of new prizes that will be developmental and sustainable. We must attract back to the prizes big sponsors and shore them up to achieve their purposes for the winners and the sponsors. ANA as a body has the expertise for literary prize administration in Nigeria more than any other group having been in the business for over three decades.
ANA land in Abuja seems in limbo after a lengthy litigation. How do you plan to convert the land into a proper asset so as to reduce dependence of ANA conventions on government patronage?
ANA is gradually waking up from its slumber. We have won the court case on the land since 2012 and paid the necessary damages due to a developer whose intent was to hold us hostage to his lack of capacity. We have a new agency on the land that has helped us fight off vicious trespassers, encroachers and land grabbers. Preliminary infrastructure is being laid on the land on a very challenging topography. Under my watch, I will ensure there will be no deviation from the original plan for the land to be a writers’ resort with layers of facilities that will house important edifices and generate income for the association. I will also ensure a business model is adopted for the development of the land and the running of its facilities so that the association will derive from it, at least 50% of its running cost, while the remaining 50% is sourced from membership dues and sponsors for necessary programmes and projects.
But beyond the rituals of conventions, how do you propose ANA should engage writers more in your tenure?
I intend to unbundle the annual international convention of the association and repackage it to make it more of a writers’ affair where books, authors and creativity will be fully celebrated. We will pull out some activities within the annual convention to stand on their own as full-fledged events within the year. That will increase our visibility all year round. We will also intensify efforts towards holding developmental literary workshops and schools outreach programmes, including tertiary institutions, celebrating landmark literary events and authors with colloquia, international literary exchange programmes, supporting residencies and generally raising the profile of literary activities.