USMAN OLADIPO AKANDE (PhD) is the author of several books, a former chairman of ANA Kwara and one of the pillars of the association. While he’s looking forward to the 40th celebration of ANA at this year’s convention, he’s hopeful that the Mamman Vatsa Writers’ Village will provide the springboard for ANA exploits in terms of innovative management processes that will include all of Africa in ANA’s way of thinking so African writers have the continental validation that’s still lacking and why the continent’s writers and artists still humiliatingly look to the west for cultural affirmation. He spoke with Anote Ajeluorou
What has been the defining moments of your relationship with the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA)?
I’ve been in ANA since 1998. I joined at ANA Niger; then I came to Lagos and was with ANA for a year before I moved to Kwara in 2005. So, I’m following the footsteps of people like Dr. Wale Okediran, who did not study literature but the sciences. I used to do some little write-up, so someone suggested joining ANA to me. Naturally, I come from a family that is art-inclined. My dad was a lawyer; most of my siblings are lawyers, so naturally we had a lot of things to share in the arts, and I have a keen interest in the arts because I read a lot. I read novels right from primary to secondary school.
I started publishing since 2001 (Weevil in Grains) by Dr. Ishaka Aliagan’s NNI Publishers and I had my book reviewed in The Guardian by Maxim Uzor Uzoatu. My other works were published by Hybun Publications, its owner Hyacinth Obunseh, died recently. My other publishers are Ebony Books and Rexton Books. I was the runner up to Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo in poetry that year in 2001.
Some of my works include Weevil in Grains (2001), Supletunes in Tighangles (2001), Tales Across the Plains, Verdant Verses (2009), Labake Isale Eko and Other Plays (2018), and Connecting with My Past (2020).
Since joining in 1998, how has the journey been?
It has been a good experience. When I was in ANA Niger, one had better reach here and there, and eventually I picked up interest. I decided to train myself, so I bought books. I came in contact with people like Abubakar Gimba. So eventually I fell in love with poetry and I later came in contact with the poetry of (Christopher) Okigbo; he influenced most of what I do in poetry in terms of my appreciation of poetry. Ebony Books published some plays for me. And the last work I did was last year during the coronavirus pandemic; I just started writing. So, if I didn’t join ANA all along, I wouldn’t have the opportunity of interacting with other writers. Through ANA, I also came in contact with Chukwuemeka Ike and his books and other African writers and also read the African Writers Series; I virtually read half of them. I became closer to the writing of Chinua Achebe like Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God. I also read the Pacesetters Series. Though I was a science student, it was intertwined. So, when I now joined ANA and through some of the conventions, I now met some of these great writers. Chukwuemeka Ike were always in contact; we used to talk. It was through ANA that I met (late Prof.) Ola Rotimi for the first time. We talked and had good times together.
If I wasn’t in ANA, I would never have meet people like them. I remember my dad; he held a high position in this country, so I thought he had met everybody. One day, he said he liked Okediran’s writing and I said I knew him; so one day l brought him to visit my dad. He was so surprised. If not for ANA, where would I have met all those people? ANA had given me friends all over the country. I didn’t have much friends in Lagos, because I didn’t stay long. But I met people like Nduka Otiono. That was how I met all of them in Lagos then, Obunseh, Denja and Uka, the current ANA president.
Finally, I became chairman of ANA Kwara and met people like (Prof.) Olu Obafemi. Then I handed over to Babajamu. We are ready to receive ANA National any day in Kwara. All available facilities, we make available to the national body in Kwara.
Let’s look at politics in ANA. Would you say it’s been progressive?
Well, will you say politics in Nigeria has been progressive? It has its ups and down. If you look at other countries, you see that they also have their own trying times. The thing is to continue working to make things better. Any organization that comes up and if it’s good and things are working, people will always try to cause confusion. But I think that some people have been trying to build ANA up over the years, to ensure that things work well. But along the line, with the ambition of people, they begin to try something funny. We’ve had people like Okediran; there was no such controversy. Before Okediran, we had people like Gimba and (late) Jerry Agada was there as president. Suddenly, they want to have a kind of change. In life we should also look at equity. Uka has started well.
I was at the election that year. Somebody then hired people who had not published anything and say they must take part in the election. How many people are publishing up there? You don’t just publish in an anthology and say you have voting right in ANA; they have not been able to have any single book to their names and you sponsor them to an election and say they must vote. That’s where the problem lies. We have membership register that will show and also have the National Library taking records of those who have published. Those people didn’t have voting rights. Even in your local chapter, how long have you been there? It’s not that you’ve joined for three or four years and you want to vote. What is the record of your financial commitment to your state? The process was not orderly. It was as if we were doing an informal kind of organization, but ANA has gone beyond that. ANA is comparable to any other association by any standard. Perhaps, we need to apply ICAN standards, whether you read accounting or any other course, once you measure up to that standard and quality expected, in terms of publication, you have all rights conferred on you. It might be subjective regarding publication, but the publication can be accepted if you have an ISBN number, and other criteria, so that at the time of the election year, it’s easy to determine who is to vote and who is not to vote.
Uka will not be there for more than four years, and at the end of the day, you see the efforts he’s making to stabilise ANA. This man is more competent and more advanced to hold this position; this man cuts across and also gives a kind of vibe that every section of the country also has a hold on the system. Who’s been president of ANA from that part of the country after Chinua Achebe? Nobody. So why should it be someone from the Middle Belt, north or south? That’s the wisdom; people like Obafemi, Femi Osofisan, Remi Raji and Denja Abdullahi; these are four former ANA presidents. I think we should give them that honour and tactical support from the other end. We should give them that due regard. We were brought up to believe in Nigeria. We were brought up to be proud in our country and our ethnic heritage; we were brought up to be proud in our religious attributions but sadly we now assume those base sentiments at the expense of becoming proper human beings.
If you were to advise the exco, which direction would you want it to go, so everybody is properly carried along?
The cliche over the years is that ‘united we stand, divided we fall.’ It was a down moment for ANA, but when you look at all the indices: who is in charge of the writers’ village? It’s Uka. Who has the elders and board of trustees of ANA on his side? It’s Uka. So when we decide to bring everybody without doing the proper thing, it could be dangerous because of the ambition of some people; the best form of defence is attack. They went to court and the court has ruled in Uka’s favour. So I think it’s the right time for us and I think that ANA also, every state chapter, should be mandated to move closer to the academic institutions. We have a lot of people who are involved in the creative world, particularly in the arts department and other areas of the humanities.
In the next five years, where will you like to see ANA?
Now, we are celebrating 40 years, I want us to see the writers village as a well established convergence zone where writers all over Nigeria can always congregate at whatever time and can even have their own independent engagements and programmes different from the yearly convention. I want programmes that will bring people from all over the world, with a well defined residency programme. And every state should also have similar areas where they can leverage on at the village. I believe the world is not going stale. There are still people who are capable; we should give them the opportunity to showcase themselves.
We should be able to have category of international awards that can emanate from Nigeria. We can institute our own African literary prize here in Nigeria that every African can look forward to and be proud of. We don’t have to wait for the Caine Prize or Booker Prize or Nobel Prize, all coming from Europe. Let our own validation as writers begin and end here on the Nigerian, African soil. We can have our own here in Nigeria that every African can always be proud of, to say this is our prize, one for national and the other for the continent for the benefit of humanity. So those are the changes that I see that we can make.
We can also attract grants, so that states can have opportunity for anybody who is writing can to get grants to complete ongoing projects. Like me, I have a writers’ enclave where writers can have a retreat. I have dedicated a whole village to it. I discussed with Okediran; he said I shouldn’t do it for local writers only, but also for international writers. I thought about it and I said ‘yes.’ I want to have a prize for literature and probably a scenario where I can bring two Nigerians to join two foreign writers, which will end up in a writer’s festival. Each state should have a writing or book festival, not until there’s an ANA convention, to show that through writing, we can preserve our culture, we can promote our culture. These are the things I believe that ANA should be promoting in a kinetic manner, as our chairman would say, a convergence of all state ANA activities, to show that ANA is a force to contend with, as far as Nigerian literary space is concerned, and to bring about Africa’s cultural renaissance in our society.