By Edozie Udeze On Nov 6, 2022
The outing was fully infused with dances by different cultural groups. This year’s Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) convention which just ended in Abuja was aptly spiced with dance-dramas that made it more stimulating and electrifying. Apart from the usual serious literary discussions, the gathering was an admixture of cultural and literary fanfares. Edozie Udeze reports.
For four days last week, authors gathered in Abuja for the annual convention usually organized by the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). This year’s theme was: Literature and National consciousness: The story as a catalyst. But the most interesting highlight of the confab was the induction of more new members as ANA fellows. The programme was well-attended with only a few new members who could not be present physically. Although the over all attendance by members was low this year, the beautiful ambiance of the hall provided guests with enough aura for relaxation and reflection.
The opening show on Thursday was peopled more by professors and academics from different departments of the Humanities who came from all over the nation. Both the old and younger professors and academics were in good mood to deal with different literary issues that bother a nation that is almost on the precipice. Professor Ernest Emenyonu spoke glowingly on the need for authors, story tellers generally to tell more of our stories. He believes Nigeria is a good society where people; writers, poets, novelists, name them, can still thrive excellently. “This edifice is good, it is an excellent place for authors to converge to discuss literature” he said, referring to the mainbowl of ANA House situated at the famous Mamman Vatsa’s Writers Village, Mpape, Abuja, venue of the confab.
“ANA must continue to embrace great minds”, Emenyonu, a member of ANA board of trustees, charged as the hall responded warmly. “We should also accommodate authors who write in local Nigerian languages. And beyond that, Nigerian government should entrench literature into the curriculum to make it wholesome in schools. African literature is good for societal growth and development. In the main, ANA has sowed a good mustard seed. Today we are the envy of the whole world, for this headquarters stands out as one of the very best in the world. We have to take a cue from Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka who paved the way and today we reap bountifully from it all. In 1958, Achebe hit the literary world with Things Fall Apart imbued with our story. In 1986, Soyinka became the first Black African man to win the Nobel prize for literature. To the two literary giants we owe a lot”, he surmised to the delight of delegates and guests.
Earlier, Professor Olu Obafemi had talked eloquently on the sequences and importance of being an ANA fellow. A fellow himself, he dwelt on the different categories and what qualifies one to be so honoured. He said thus: “There are two categories of ANA fellowship. It is mainly given to members who have worked ceaselessly to make the association great. More so, anyone admitted into it has to work continuously to make the association enviably the best. However, we have had to streamline our association, enhanced the entry qualification and other salient conditions to make the admission highly commendable”. He also highlighted the role of the executives in this regard when he opined, “Even though the executives of ANA has the right to nominate those to be so admitted, the criteria are paramount. Each nominee has to be a writer, thoroughly committed to the trade. He must have contributed in many ways to the growth and development of writers affairs in Nigeria”.
In other words, you also have those tagged foundation fellows, overseas fellows, honorary fellows. Nevertheless, all fellows should, in all intents and purposes, serve ANA. They have to be duly inducted and sworn in accordingly. In the end, all fellows have to work diligently to strengthen ANA and to allow it grow from strength to strength”. Today it is glaring that the association is united and progressively tackling the task of writing and telling our stories via all genres of literature.
At this juncture, there was an interlude of dance, showing an interface between drama and prose and poetry. The Benue State Cultural Troupe, a troupe that has won several cultural laurels was invited to thrill the people. Decked in their national costumes, easily identified as Tiv and Idoma ensemble, the dancers took the stage by storm. The drums pelted, beating slowly, powerfully, provocatively and as the tempo rose, the height of musicality took over the earth. Moving slowly in measured snake-like form, the dancers twisted their whole dance patterns to sychronise with the heavy percussive sounds of the drums. The flutist got unto the stage in a frenzy way to raise the rendition to a palace-like performance. He gyrated, blew it harder, lauder as he walked gingerly and resplendently round the stage. Suddenly, the marriage between dance and written literature blossomed. Even professors naturally given to stoic lifestyles responded positively to the acoustic renditions that made their mood exceptionally refreshing.
The dazzling costumes were colourfully made. The dancers equally selected special dance patterns and movements that celebrated unity in diversity. The union of fishing and harvest dance patterns indeed set minds back to the rural areas where safety and the means to live and sleep and work have become rudderless and arduous. Yet, the simplicity of those dance steps, the classical way they were delivered permeated souls and reignited the hall with excitement. The dances were simply good tonics to dilute the academic nature of the gathering. This was why some of the guests went out of their way to spray money to the dancers.
Delegates came from different states, even when some states shunned the august gathering. It was obvious no foreign artist came this year. A lot of close observers related that to the bomb scare which trended profusely while the confab lasted. But then those who came from Nigeria, had their ears to the ground. People walked with controlled trepidation, minding the company they kept and being careful who they mixed with.
On behalf of the new fellows, Linsay Barret, great columnist, author and artist who responded, felt the honour was too good to be true. Obviously elated Barret, father of A. Igoni Barret, internationally recognized author, said: “This is my first fellowship in Nigeria, in fact anywhere in the world. In fact this is my first award. I did not go to school, formal school, you know. Therefore on behalf of others, I can authoritatively say that we are extremely happy. We deserve this for we have worked the best we can for the interest of ANA. But I still feel my colleagues deserve it more than me, even though it is obvious ANA believes in transparency”.
He went on: “I am therefore happy because all my life I have stood on the principles of what I believe to be true. We also thank those who are here for us, who came all the way from different locations for us. It is a mark of respect. So, to have this award is an honour and we will work to keep it sacred,” he told the audience. Again, it was time for the students of Theatre Arts, University of Abuja to take to the stage. Clad in costumes made to represent different tribes and cultures in Nigeria, the students opened the stage with dance-drama anchored solely on the wings of love and togetherness. They chanted unity; they demonstrated poise waived within different dance movements. They had different instruments that fitted the dances they showcased.
Their giant drums represented traditions, customs that predated history. They were evocative, booming with loud vibes piercing the hall. Graceful, elegant dances, with songs rendered to sooth nerves, some in praise of Nigeria, equally doused the atmosphere. “We honour and bless Nigeria”, they sang as the Ibibio and Efik cultural costumes some of them wore dominated and overshadowed the rest. “God bless Nigeria. God bless ANA”. At this, the cheering by the audience became more enthralling. Indeed, the students were beautifully outstanding, showing that dance can also be used to forge for a total cohesion.
ANA president, Camillus Ukah who handled the induction session however confessed about how he had inducted some person outside the official arena. This confession did not go down well with some. Yet while the session went on, he commended ANA for having worked harder to achieve lots in recent times. “This is Africa’s largest gathering of writers” he re-echoed. “This literary clan is the most productive and we are proud that like Achebe said, African literature is a celebration of life. The list of fellows is not exhaustive. As time goes on, we will add more. These are people who have been doing their best to promote literature in our clime”. It is for reason, he contended, that there is this season, a season when and where writing and story-telling blossom endlessly. It is for this reason also that Nigerian writers have been winning literary awards everywhere. Their level of resilience remains unprecedented even in the face of chaos, insecurity, poverty and uncertainty in almost all facets of human existence.