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At the June edition of the Abuja Writers’ Forum’s Guest Writer Session, the works of two different writers focused on the nation’s challenges, but in spite of the identified fault lines, leadership that shows the path for citizens to tread is key. Tunji Ajibade reports.
W e invited both writers because they talked basically the same thing. That was the president of Abuja Writers’ Forum (AWF), Dr Emman Usman Shehu, as he rounded off the June edition of AWF’s Guest Writers’ Session that took place at the International Institute of Journalism on June 30, 2012. He didn’t start out on that occasion, the two guest writers did, and even they were ushered in by series of events. One was a poetry reading; it was by Elvis Iyorngurum. The other was the mini art exhibition from Sola Abimbola, and there was yet the live music performance by Tokunbo Edwards.
A general comment, reviewing current situation in Nigeria was what Chido Onumah started with. He would, for instance, mention education and much and of its attendant problems. “That tells you how much the situation has degenerated,” he said after he noted that some 42 universities offer academic programmes, yet they have not been accredited by the appropriate authority. More of such was brought to light when he opened his latest book, Time To Reclaim Nigeria.
This book is a collection of essays, some of which had been published in national newspapers, a nonfiction. Part one and chapter one of the book was where he read an excerpt, and that had an essay written in 2006 with the title: Why Nigeria is a basket case. It was perhaps a pointer to the tone of the book that one of Nigeria’s fiercest critics — Patrick Wilmot — was in focus in the essay, and Onuma quoted him extensively as background to the essay.
Wilmot, a former lecturer at ABU, had had brushes with those in power in Nigeria, and had been sent packing from the country by the government for being so critical. Wilmot would note that while China had moved on, Nigeria’s leadership stagnates the nation. “In 20 years, China’s absolute poor sank from 56 per cent of the population to 12 per cent. In 30 years, Nigeria sank from 20 percent to 70 percent. Today, China is a world power, Nigeria is a basket case. In no other country in the world...do leaders show more contempt, less compassion for their citizens.” It was a summary of most of the essays in the book, and what they sought to address.
Engagement with Onumah at Question Time was about the national questions he had raised in his comments and from the excerpts he read. Some thought Nigeria has problems, tribal, religious, but contrary to Onumah’s view, they are not as bad as the example of good and better things in Kenya with is multi-tribal society that he had cited in his preliminary comments. Members of the two most prominent tribes in that country would get to London, for instance, and might not greet one another. But a Yoruba man would relate well with a Fulani or Hausa-speaking person, just as an Igbo man would, wherever they meet within or outside the country. In some other aspects that have to do with national development, however, Onumah would still want Nigeria to copy examples from that East African nation that he said is making giant strides on national issues such as fundamental rights and rate of infant mortality. With all the problems that each segment of the nation presents, both the participants and the author of Time To Reclaim Nigeria agreed that leadership remains central to finding solutions. “Nothing is wrong with the Nigerian society but leadership has failed; no nation has made progress without capable leaders,” the author said. It was pointed out by many at the event that the author should take on the leadership question in his next book.
“I am actually a bit shy but as time goes on I will get into the mood.” That was Richard Ali when he took the ‘hot seat.’ Then he read from his book, the first fiction work of a writer who is best known as a poet. City of Memories, the title of his book, has four main characters. Towering above them is Ummi Al-Qassim, a princess, and her love for a nobleman, and later for a poet. All four characters are in the city of Jos in Central Nigeria. Subsumed is a battle for political supremacy and parental love which are motives for an ethnic and religious crisis, a regular occurrence in this part of the country. Clearly depicted in this story are the tensions and crisis occasioned by issues that cannot be separated from the nation’s leadership.
There is no doubt that the Nigerian question, the myriad of issues that confront the nation was what Ali employed fiction to address in this book. As a participant and literary critic, Elnathan John , would note in the course of the Question Time, the political thought of the author (authorial intrusion), was placed in the voice of the characters and he could hear it as the author read out portions from the book. The author said the observation was correct, but “if I am going to write about Nigeria, then I am going to be in it. I am a product of the society,” and as a matter of fact every author has the right to bring his view into his work. “This is the mentality that I bring into fiction writing,” Ali added, more so because literary work is a vehicle for taking forward the debates as they affect any society.Share