KEYNA ESHIKA, a Director in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Niger State, is also a writer of several books and a firm believer in the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). In this interview with Anote Ajeluorou, she speaks about the need for oneness in ANA as against a divided house and how to take the largest body of writers to a glorious height with the Mamman Vatsa Writers Village fully operational
ANA is 40 years old and plans are afoot to celebrate it at this year’s convention. Are you looking forward to it? What do you expect to see there?
YES, of course. I’m looking forward to it, to see great minds converging together once again and trying to move the association forward, trying to mend things that join us together and strengthening the association.
So, are you satisfied with the state of ANA right now?
Yea, ANA has been a great association right from the onset, given the pedigree of our founding fathers. ANA is a noble association from when I knew it. But of late, there has been dissension from what I should call disgruntled elements from some quarters; I don’t really know what they are looking for. I feel it’s not a healthy development for the great association that I used to know, for people to be having divided minds because of leadership. We should play role models, because I believe we are the image-makers of the country through our writing, because writing is something that lives after you. For us to be seen as having some unhealthy rivalry within the association is not good enough and I think that 40 years in someone’s life, it’s like the old saying that ‘a fool at forty is a fool forever.’ I should think they should bury whatever is trying to divide us and try to mend fences and move forward as an association, because we are here to leave a lot of legacy as writers, because people are looking up to us, because whatever we put on paper will live after us. For some of us, we feel that animosity should not be the way to go. I don’t think that is good enough for us as an association.
How long have you been in ANA?
I joined ANA since 2000. Immediately I launched my first book, some good members of ANA in my state here in Niger came up to me and we have had it good all the way. It’s just of recent we’re seeing this disgruntled mindset; I don’t find it funny. But it happens sometimes, and that’s why we’re humans. We disagree to agree.
What’s the title of your first book?
It’s titled Culture and Human Influence.
Some persons have argued that the association members just gather in one state capital, and after a few days, everyone disperses, and that not much really comes out at the end of the day. What do you think?
I don’t quite agree because for every gathering of intellectual minds, there must be something you learn, even with the situation of things. If you come there open-minded, you would be able to get something good, and even for the reunion’s sake, I think it’s something worthwhile. I also feel that for the elections that are being organized during the annual meetings, because if we don’t do it, we’ll be leaving a lot of loopholes which I don’t think will be good for any association. Therefore, the international gathering of ANA is something that should be upheld, because it brings the unity in diversity of all the genres of literature, then people tend to meet each other and the bond of friendship is renewed, and the bond of intellectualism is shared, and then we forge ahead through that, because dynamism is part of life.
Is there something you would like to change or slightly add to the yearly convention if you were presiding over the association?
Diversification is a good thing in every aspect of life. So, I would like to involve the students, the youth, into mainstream of ANA activities, because they are the ones we are leaving legacies for. So by the time we co-opt them into conventions like these, write to schools and invite them see what the older ones are doing, we then catch them young, so they can follow after our foot steps in terms of inculcating in them what we think that is best for the country, for ourselves, and for themselves as well.
Women usually complain of being marginalized, left out and not properly carried along. Looking at ANA, how does that situation play out? Are women also in the thick of things?
I think ANA has been doing well in terms of giving women the freedom to engage actively or participate in all they do, because we even have female writers group within the body of ANA. It’s just that some things are not taken the way it should be, but I think ANA has been so magnanimous in trying to carry women along, because female writers are co-opted into activities within the body of ANA. I remember in 2004, we initiated the female writers group in Niger State. That was when my third book The Wedding of Miss Housefly and Other Stories was unveiled. We invited women, dedicated the book to the wife of the former governor of Niger State, Hajia Zainab Kure, and we tried to let her see reason why women should be encouraged into writing. She did participate by honouring the occasion and I think it has been wonderful. Just that sometimes, you know women, they are wonderful people (chuckles); sometimes they begin to be distracted and things start falling apart, but we can get them back on track once again if we really want to do so; just a matter of enthusiasm and determination.
When would a woman like you aspire to be ANA president?
(Laughs) Well, that would be great, because my president, Camilus Uka, did a wonderful thing by making a woman his vice, Hajiya Farida Mohammed. So, we’re getting there; I think we’re getting there. Maybe after his tenure, she can climb to the top and that would be a good setup for us women to know that the future is still very bright for us to get there.
You mentioned involving students (children) in ANA’s scheme of things. This year’s convention will be held at the Maman Vatsa Writers Village, Mpape, Abuja. What better use would you want that building put to?
The ANA writers’ village has a lot of things which could be of some tourism sites within the complex where people can go for resort, for holidays, for sightseeing, and then we could get some books which children can read for research, as well as students of secondary and higher institutions can go there for historical findings, so to speak, literally.
Where would you want ANA to be in the next 5-10 years?
I want it to be an association to be reckoned with, an association with a mission and vision that cannot be thwarted by any individual, an association that will impact positively on the nation, which can be a legacy-bequeathing association for direction for the years to come.
The yearly convention is usually tagged ANA International Convention, but you hardly find international writers attending these days, even Nigerian writers who reside abroad. How can ANA overcome this challenge and have a truly global convention going forward?
Sometimes there used to be Zimbabwe and other African countries that attended ANA conventions. The first time I attended, I think in Lokoja, Kogi State, there were some African writers that participated. Maybe we need to give it wider coverage in terms of publicity, both nationally and internationally, so that people can be aware, maybe three months before the convention, and just do wider publicity towards the convention, now that we are even fortunate to have social media working well to our own advantage. We could as well publicize it for people to really come and attend the convention from the international community. I think good publicity will do the work.
* Other works by Eshika are What’s in a Name? She has also co-authored works including Waterfalls, Governance and Institutional Administration and NIgerrian Youth and Good Governance. Her unpublished works are The Africanness in Us, The Distorted Identity and Silent Tears.