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There should be a forum for writers and politicians – Wale Okediran

The way it will help will depends on how people react to it. The writer’s job is to write and not to prescribe.  My aim…

The way it will help will depends on how people react to it. The writer’s job is to write and not to prescribe.  My aim is to sensitize the public about the challenges and frustrations of governing this country from the perspective of a former insider albeit in a fictional way. The story will also let the public know that contrary to widely held belief, the problem in our governorship does not solely lie with the politicians but also to some extent with some of the electorate who expect too much from their elected representatives and by so doing, put them in difficult positions.

It is my hope that with this understanding, the electorate will be more vigilant in electing the right people into office and monitor them more closely while in office. In addition, more credible people will be willing to go into politics and increase the critical mass of those who want to change the country for good.

 Your work is fictional biography. What kind of reception do you foresee for it especially as known public figures are bound to feature in it? Are you not afraid of possible vendetta?

 I was aware of the kind of controversy the novel may generate right from the time I started the work. That was why the work was fictionalised. Even at that, the story is a familiar one to most Nigerians and shouldn’t be that provocative.

All over the world, novels have been written about political leaders and I think it’s time we started doing the same to our elected leaders. Specifically, former MPs and Leaders such as Jeffrey Archer, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Francoise Mitterrand not to talk of our own Olusegun Obasanjo among others have all written about power and politics in one style or the other and this tradition should be sustained. We should be able to scrutinize and even have one or two laughs at the challenges, achievements, errors and occasional follies of our leaders and learn from them. Every political literary venture is undertaken with some degree of risk but the need to tell our story should supersede such potential anxieties.

You are assembling political heavy-weights for the book launch. Is this not entrenching some form of ‘political megalomania’ in an intellectual exercise, and a sort of taking sides with the powers-that-be at the expense of the people?

 The idea of bringing the political class to the Book Launch is to engage them in the novel’s discourse. It is important that a meeting ground between the Literati and the Political class be created if we really want our leaders to listen to us. It is wrong to believe that our politicians don’t also have any intellectual side to them. From my experience as a legislator, I can confirm that a sizeable number of them actually read and are willing to engage in intellectual discourse. The problem is not having the time. At any rate, the book is about them; therefore, they should be there with the writers. Hopefully, this meeting of minds will go a long way in erasing the suspicion between our Leaders and writers.

Usually after a loud book launch as this one promises to be, finding the book to buy in bookshops is a problem. Do you think ANA under your tenure did enough, if at all, to assist publishers deepen the book distribution chain in the country?

 ANA under my tenure did its best to deepen the book distribution chain. As we all know, publishing is business and nobody can force any publisher to invest in any project considered to be unprofitable. In the past few years, ANA organised avenues for publishers and writers to discus mutual issues on publishing through which, both sides came to understand each other better. With this, some of our writers were able to get their books published and distributed. We also gave awards to Publishers whom we considered ‘writers friendly’ and denounced those with the history of not paying royalties as at when due. Despite the pervading poor publishing culture in the country especially for the poetry and drama genres, there are still many publishers still searching for good material to publish.

In order to get  TENANTS OF THE HOUSE to every corner of the country, the publisher,  NELSON Publisher will organise a five city country wide reading tour that will take the author to Ibadan (January 30) Abuja (February 11) as well as Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt all before March 2010. NELSON has also promised to sustain a good distribution network both within and outside the country.  

Prof. Niyi Osundare likened ANA to a political party in its relationship with governors, politicians. In view of the fact that ANA never spoke up against any known government policy, how politically conscious is the body?

One of the principal objectives for setting up ANA was to take care of the welfare of Nigerian writers at home and abroad. During my tenure as ANA President, we tried as much as possible to keep to this mandate and avoid getting distracted by the plethora of problems facing the country. This way, we tried to speak only when necessary. For example, our position against the attempted tenure elongation plan of the immediate past regime was well publicised and applauded by all. So also was our position concerning the invitation of the former Military Leader Gen Ibrahim Babangida (rtd)  to a NNLG literary event as Key Note Speaker a few years ago.

It is important to know that writers cherish their freedom and have varying degrees of political and social leanings. Any attempt therefore to speak too much on their behalf will constitute friction. Instead of ANA speaking on every national issue, we encourage our members to express their opinions as often as possible through the various literary media available to them. This way, they will be able to express their individual biases without causing much friction.

As an example, just recently, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) under the leadership of my good friend, Rotimi Akerodolu (SAN) was embroiled in a ‘war of attrition’ among some of their Executive and members who thought that the association was getting too critical of the government. It took the matured handling of some past presidents of NBA to settle the discord. If that sort of thing had happened in ANA, it would have been difficult to reign in ANA members many of whom have access to various media with different, political and religious ideologies, a situation which could have escalated the problem.

It is my hope that the new ANA Executive will continue to search for ways and means of making ANA relevant in matters of national discourse.

How can ANA members be made to read more of their colleagues’ books as a measure of tackling the poor reading culture and poor book sales considering their large number?

 Each of the 26 ANA chapters in the country now hold regular reading sessions where the works of ANA members are readily read and shared. In addition, most of the chapters now publish regular chapbooks or anthologies which are well distributed within the association. Apart from giving the upcoming writers opportunities to express themselves, these publications also improve networking among the members.

 

What do you have to say about the near absence of book festivals and writers residency programmed in Nigeria?

Regarding book festivals, I don’t think we are doing too badly. We have the annual Nigerian International Book Festival which has been on regularly now for the past ten years or so. So also are many small regional Literary Festivals apart from those organised by NGOs such as Rainbow Book Club in Port Harcourt and the CORA in Lagos.

We however still have a long way to go in the area of libraries which are still non-existant in many parts of the country. One is looking forward to a situation where every Local Government Area in the country will have a functional library.

It is not too much for philanthropists to also set up libraries.

As of today, Nigeria does not have a permanent and regular Writers Residency. Luckily, this will soon change as a group of committed writers will soon inaugurate a Writers Residency in Oyo State. To be known as The Ebedi Wrters Resort, the residency will be an all year round residency especially for young and indigent writers who will be given free board for about 6 weeks to complete ongoing literary work.

As of now, ANA publishes a quarterly newsletter, ANA NEWS while its annual Journal ANA REVIEW has been published unfailingly for the past 25 years. These publications are complemented by those from other ANA Chapters and some English and Arts departments of some of our Universities. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

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