At the risk of being one of the critics the minister accused of confusing Nigerians with regards to the project, one cannot fail but feel that the move was an afterthought. Not only were writers conspicuously absent when the re-branding project was flagged off in February, the only time the Minister, in her speech, referred to a few writers was not in connection with their writing. She however made up for this at the breakfast meeting, where she said writers like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Femi Osofisan, Niyi Osundare, and so on, had been good ambassadors who had represented the image of Nigeria to the outside world.
This point, though, had been hammered out by writers at several fora since the take-off of the re-branding project. Speaking on behalf of the Director-General, National Council for Arts and Culture, M.M. Maidgugu during the World Theatre Day celebration, national secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Denja Abdullahi, said Nigerian playwrights had been labouring with little or no assistance of government to project the country’s image.
“Even before this current effort of rebranding Nigeria”, he said, “our numerous talented playwrights and dramatists such as Hubert Ogunde, Oyin Adejobi, Ishola Ogunmola, Duro Ladipo, Kola Ogunmola, Ola Rotimi, Wole Soyinka, Femi Osofisan, J.P. Clark, etc have all…with little or no support from government…made their marks, uplifted the country’s image and have been sources of inspiration to our upcoming generations”.
This was echoed by the national President of ANA, Dr Wale Okediran, at the breakfast meeting. Okediran said: “Nigerian writers over the years have been in the forefront of re-branding this country quietly without much fanfare. As of today, our writers such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Helon Habila, Chimanmanda Adichie among a host of others have become noble cultural ambassadors for this country. They and other numerous Nigerian writers have become the positive image of Nigeria at home and abroad. The kind of positive image these writers have given this country is far more than we can get from any international public relations firm”.
He also decried government’s indifference to the plight of writers, saying that all over the world, governments promoted arts and literature, and wondered why the Nigerian government could not endow a prize in literature as a means of encouraging creativity in the country. “We wish to use this medium”, he said, “to remind government of its responsibilities of nurturing creativity among her people. All over the world, government plays a big role in the promotion of arts and literature. Apart from the provision of writers’ resorts, publishing support and writers workshops, most of the world renowned writers at one time or the other have benefitted from the provision of grants from their governments, to assist them in carrying out their works. If a corporate organisation such as the NLNG could endow a promising Literary Prize, nothing stops governments at the three tiers to endow grants for Literature and the Arts”.
Another glaring failure of government, as far as writers are concerned, is in the education sector. Okediran lamented that “in a country of over a hundred million people, only about 100,000 creative literature books are sold annually”, a situation which can be corrected by improving the quality of education and, as he stated a little later, ensuring that “libraries in the country are well stocked. This way, apart from making sure that more books are purchased, the pervading poor reading culture in the country will also be reduced”.
The need for government’s support was expressed by almost all the writers who spoke at the meeting when the floor was open for comments. Some of them even spoke as if they had never had a chance of airing their views to those in position of authority. Well, it would appear as if what they had been writing never got to the right ears given the type of response they had been receiving. The only time those in authority acknowledged what a writer had penned was when he or she wrote what they considered offensive.
In her speech at the meeting, Akunyili identified with writers by declaring that she had written a book on her experiences at the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) which was being published in the United Kingdom. One of the participants, who was a publisher, apparently thought that was a violation of the teachings of re-branding and challenged the Minister’s decision to publish abroad. But she defended her action by saying that the publisher had a Nigerian representative.
Another participant failed short of expressing doubt about the whole project, accusing government officials, especially those in ministries of information, of trying “to defend the indefensible”. Writers with this view must have felt let down during the Ekiti rerun election, when the Minister, in the company of the Inspector General of Police and INEC Chairman presented a position that was at variance with that of the majority of Nigerians.
Against this background, one wonders how viable a partnership to re-brand Nigeria can be between writers, who are the “defenders of truth” and government officials, who are “defending the indefensible”.
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