Sunday, December 14, 2008

Echoes of rumble in Nigerian writers' house

All is not well in the writers' house. While a period of national election, billed for 2009, approaches and some authors are busy shopping for befitting new hands to man the national executive of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), some other interest groups among the fold are busy bickering and leaking old wounds. As BLESSED ADJEKPAGBON discovers, the most curious part of the latest round of tantrums is some penetrating aspersions cast on some key figures in the present and past leadership of the body as well as on some notable figures of the pen fold. There are equally disturbing allusions to issues that touch the basic foundation of ANA. But all make an engaging discovery.

There is a growing controversy over the disclosure that half of the 61-hectre portion of land mapped out for the headquarters of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) in the Federal capital Territory, Abuja may have gone.
Similarly, writers argue and bicker that their fold has not been immune from electoral fraud, financial impropriety and intense political sharp practices.
The on-going tension which has set writers on different camps is propelled by the authors' on-going exchange of screaming e-mails on the Internet. Top, among the issues in contention is the debate over what principal characters did or did not do on the property as well as accusations over alleged electoral malpractices and manipulation of ANA membership records during election years. The argument is blossoming with hot expressions.
"Anyone who supports literature because of politics will destroy literature for exactly the same reasons. A literature that cannot be its own justification, indeed one that needs a political parocialization to garner roots, is already as good as dead," says award-winning poet, Odia Ofeimun.
Ofeinum, a very vocal social critic and one-time president of ANA is considered an influential albeit controversial voice within the fold of Nigerian writers. Beyond ANA, many in the larger society also see his views as indicators of what is happening in the creative writers' community.
Odia's comment hints of the simmering political undercurrents in the body. Issues around the 2007 general election which was allegedly too 'politicised' and manipulated are among the developments Odia's comment highlight.
Authors claim that like recent voting exercises that have been taking place in most state chapters and the national fold of ANA, last year's election which brought in Dr. Wale Okediran, for a second tenure as President was not very clear. But beyond the election matters dust being raised over how some executive members almost willed away ANA's land in Abuja to some estate developers.
In his reaction to a mail recently posted in the Internet-based listserve, authorsinlagos by Mr. Hyacinth Obunseh, the Vice General Secretary of ANA, Odia, in a bid to correct some misconceptions over his action during the association's 2001 convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers state also raised some core issues about the body. At the convention he opted not to vote for Elechi Amadi, who contested against Olu Obafemi (Okediran's predecessor) for the position of president of ANA that year.
Odia replied Obunseh: “I think you were deliberately seeking to mislead, when you claimed that I apologized to Elechi Amadi for not voting for him at the Port Harcourt conference. I never apologize for the positions I take because I think long and hard before I take them. I refused to vote for Elechi Amadi and I proved the importance of what a single vote could do. A fifty-fifty tie between the candidates could not be broken after I failed to cast my vote. I merely explained on another visit to Port Harcourt, as I did at the ANA Conference at Zamfara, why I refused to cast that vote. My reason is eternally valid: I refused to vote for Elechi Amadi because during the debates,
he had joined those who wanted to sell part of the ANA land to develop the other parts.”
With the Odia vs Obunseh mail exchange other writers were drawn into the milieu of comment and reactions. From there more issues were thrown up. Among the most contentious subject matters are the writers' debate on the need for the Association to have a concrete audit of its members worldwide; need for disciplinary measures against those in elective positions found to have mismanaged the association's funds; and an alleged contractual agreement signed by the Prof. Obafemi and Nduka Otiono (General Secretary) led national executive with a certain developer over the development of the association's Abuja land writers' village.
These issues have largely pitched Odia against other executive members of the writers body. Among those slugging it out with Odia is the current president of ANA, Okediran, General Secretary, Denja Abdullahi, Obunseh and others.
Accusations and counter accusations fly. Odia wonders, “Why would one ANA Executive take over such a disreputable agreement from another Executive and then seek to normalize it? No matter what the courts say about it, future generations of writers deserve to know how they were robbed. Hyacinth, you may love the trivia and sassiness of ANA bickering. But this matter is too serious to be smuggled into discussions, as you have done, merely to win debating points.”
But Obunseh observe that the financial account saga is more of a state thing instead of the national ANA which the former president seem to refer to. He actually, tended to hinted that some writers, assumed to be in Odia's camp are to blame for the said misappropriation.
"A couple of months ago, about three or four writers 'listservs' that I belong to, were filled with news and reports of misappropriation of funds and outright embezzlement by the then Chairman of the Abuja branch of ANA... (Name withheld) and his refusal to present an account of his stewardship, including funds, for the two-year-period he was chairman. (The writer in question)... is a member of some of these listservs. He took the ANA(chapter) to court in his bid to stop the branch's annual convention from which a new executive council was to be elected. The court rather than stop the election as he prayed it to do, referred the matter to the Dr. Wale Okediran led (national) executive council to resolve. And for the convention to hold.
“As part of the resolution of the 'crisis,' an expanded meeting of the national executive members present in Abuja at the time, officials of the Abuja branch of ANA, and other writers nearby, held in Dr. Okediran's Apo Quarters residence.
"I am aware also that about two months after that election, ... (he) had not presented the said agreed report, and that even as he is no more the state chairman of ANA Abuja, he still has in his possession, documents of the branch, including cheque books and receipt booklets. It was after exhausting all possible avenues (short of going to court again) to get the former chairman to do the proper thing, that the new branch executive council met, deliberated on the situation and decided to expel ... (him)."
The vice general secretary's mail established that, indeed, there are incidences of financial grog in the ANA system, prompting contributors to worry why a body reputed being the fold of voices of conscience should not be a good example of the uprightness and accountability which Nigerian writers harp on.
Odia fingers the lack of a veritable audit and absence of a comprehensive register of ANA members as one major issue that has been making it possible for elections to be regularly rigged by those who want to occupy executive positions in the association at all cost. But Obunseh seem to be sure of where the electoral manipulation emanated from. Odia's camp.
The ANA scribe wrote: “If anyone rigged the elections in Kano, it was Dr. Shehu and anyone who stood by him.”
Odia's opinion was that Obunseh was trying to impress himself with his skills at sarcasm when he wrote that.
Odia however, admitted standing by Shehu during the said Kano election. But his reply: “By the way, I stood by Emman Shehu in Kano. Could you please tell me beyond mere love of debate how Emman and those who stood by him could have rigged the elections? I can tell you straight away how your Executive was rigged into place and has continued to rig the elections.
“Niyi Osundare, the Returning Officer at the Port Harcourt conference, told reporters that the majority of those who voted were not qualified to vote. An Executive that came to power on a disputed membership audit and refuses to correct it is already provably unfit to run a free and fair election. As for beneficiaries of the no-audit: Okediran's Executive made the matter worse when it tried to annul Shehu's election as Abuja Chairman. As I have noted, he back-tracked when he saw that it was the same horde he deployed for his victories that did the job for Shehu on their return to Abuja. Are you not ashamed to be a member of an association in which members, for lack of an audit, have to be moved as hordes for purposes of winning elections?”
In a swift reaction, Okediran fired back with a volcanic mail full of corrosive attacks on Odia's accusation against him (Okediran). Odia had in a mail also accused him of supporting and carrying on with a bad contractual leadership agreement supposedly signed by his regime and his predecessor, Obafemi as well as the former secretary, Otiono.
In his opinion it is this said tacit pact that led to the quiet leasing of the ANA Abuja land to a developer for 99 years – a move which they went ahead to endorse although other members of the association vehemently opposed it. This led the developer to sue the association to court some months ago, over what it referred to as breach of contract.
In his reaction to Odia's accusation, Okediran raised further issues: “When you told me in Onitsha during the re-inauguration of the ANA Anambra branch a few days ago of a letter from you waiting for my reply, little did I know that your mail is just a rehash of all your previous attempts to discredit my personalty and what I stand for. I would have as usual ignored your latest attempt at character assassination but for the benefit of some of our mutual friends to whom I have copied this mail. They have been kind enough to admonish me each time we meet on the need for both of us to improve our relationship. I am always quick to inform them that I have no problem with Odia. It is Odia who needs to be rescued from himself. I laughed at the ridiculous accusations you leveled against me in your last mail viz;- That I sabotaged 'your' ANA membership audit to pave way for my election as ANA's Gen Secretary in 1997... That I took a 'horde' of ANA members to Kano to vote for me as President in 2005; That the list of ANA members that voted for me in Kano were rigged to enable me emerge as ANA's President; That I attempted to annul an ANA Abuja election before being called to order.
“Apart from being ridiculous, it is shameful that you could not offer a shred of evidence to back up your spurious allegations. Every time you open your mouth like you did in Owerri and Zamfara to talk of "how Okediran sabotaged my ANA audit" I feel like crying for you.”
The argument hot exchange is still raging in the Internet even as some concerned, 'unaligned' writers are currently making efforts to douse the tension in the hitherto close-knit house.
(For further inquiry contact Blessed Mudiaga Adjekpagbon through the phone numbers above)

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