‘Writers should perform in governments’ gatherings so society can view itself from the mirror literature offers’
By Anote Ajeluorou
WHEN writer and scholar Dr. Peter Omoko was recently announced Caretaker Committee Chairman of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Delta state chapter, many heaved a sigh that relief has finally come. The state chapter of the association has existed without a functional leadership for some years now, and the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the national body had to wade in to constitute a caretaker committee for state chapter of the association. This was disclosed by the association’s National Publicity Secretary (South), Isaiah Ebhodaghe, following a statement issued by the association’s General Secretary, Maik Ortserga in Makurdi.
The caretaker committee for ANA Delta is to be chaired by “Dr. Peter Omoko, and has Dr. Chukwuma Anyanwu as Vice Chairman, Mr. Joseph Orel Ajiroghene as Secretary, Elohor Enoneara Edemirukaye as Assistant Secretary and Mr. Omamuyovwi Edjeba as Publicity Secretary. The appointment is for three months in line with the provisions of the association’s constitution. The caretaker committee is to start immediately and work towards conducting elections and returning the chapter to its glorious past.
“By this appointment, they (committee members) are expected to provide effective leadership for our association by ensuring its growth and development in terms of membership drive, organizing literary activities and promotion of reading culture in Delta state in line with the constitution of the association,” the statement said, adding, “ANA finally wishes the newly appointed caretaker committee a fruitful tenure.”
However, in conversation with him later, Omoko, who teaches at Dennis Osadebay University, Asaba, rejected the charge of a comatose and stagnant state association, noting that there’s a sense in which the seeming absence of leadership in ANA Delta has had an inverse result on the literary productivity in the state. Indeed more than ever, ANA Delta has waxed even more lyrically productive, with laurels to show for the fruitfulness of the chapter’s writers. Omoko, however, stressed the need for more interactions among members, which he said has not been at optimal for some time now.
“Comatose?” Omoko asked. “I don’t think comatose is the word. True, for some time now ANA Delta has been silent, especially at the national level where her voice ought be heard. But this does not mean that the literary output from the chapter has been low. Within the past three years, ANA Delta members have published significant works in the three genres and have won national awards too. Chukwuma Anyanwu’ s Traffickers was published in 2021, F.F. Ifowodo’s The Grip of the Cartel appeared in 2019, and Stephen Kekeghe’s Rumbling Sky, joint winner of ANA 2020 poetry prize was published in 2021. My poetry collections, Herding South and River Songs and Testament were published in 2019 and 2020 respectively. My play, The Mudskippers which came as the first runner’s up for the ANA 2021 drama prize was published in 2021 while my play, A Requiem for the Gods was published in 2020.
“You see, there has been a series of creative activities from the chapter. However, there is the need for the chapter to go beyond just publication of literary works. There is the need for writers in Delta to physically interact. That is the real deal that we have to strive to achieve and entrench in the nearest future. I don’t think there is a specific challenge before us at the moment. We just have to create a conducive atmosphere for writers to regularly interact in the state. As a team, we must work hard to bring all the writers in the state together and be more consistent with our monthly/quarterly interactions. Like I said, creativity is a private engagement. Whether writers meet or not, the muse will still continue to move writers to write. I don’t think it has affected creativity in any way in the state.
“Stagnation? Hmm…! Frankly, you must understand that the Covid-19 pandemic actually took a toll on physical meeting in many associations ANA was not left out. When the lockdown was on, we resorted to virtual meetings and members liked it. For one thing, it reduced the number of travels that we needed to undertake. However, when the lockdown was over, it became difficult to move from that setting to a physical one where we can see ourselves and interact. I think we just have to change and adopt to the traditional ways of writers’ meeting. That is what should be our goal and we must try as much as we can to bring all writers in the state together in one umbrella.”
With a charge to reposition Delta ANA, Omoko said, “I see a future where ANA Delta will be claiming significant number of the national awards for literary engagements in the country” while also noting that a sense of belonging would seemed to have been restored to Nigerian writers by the national body but decried what he called low esteem writers are accorded at the national politics.
“There is always room for improvement,” he said. “But at the national level, there has been this sense of belonging among writers in recent years. For me, that is a major improvement. Are writer getting the real deal in Nigeria? No. Compared to other areas of the creative industry such as music, film and stand-up comedy, writers have not fared well. We are all creators. Outside the yearly award for creativity by ANA, The Nigeria Prize for Literature, sponsored by the Nigeria LNG Ltd and other writers’ friendly organisations, there is actually no platform for writers to be celebrated on a national stage. We need that. People need to know that, like Percy Shelley tells us, ‘writers are the unacknowledged legislators in the world.’ Writers should be celebrated like their counterparts in the other segments of the creative industry.
“I mean, writers should be invited to perform from works in governments’ gatherings so that the effect of such works can be felt right on the spot. Also, the theatres should be brought back to life. People need to engage the work of arts live. Literature is not just academic exercise. It deals with issues of the society and society needs to view itself from the mirror that literature offers.