14 October 2012

Nigeria: Okediran's Day in the Sun


The Association of Nigerian Authors, Kaduna State Chapter last weekend hosted award winning novelist Wale Okediran to its annual October Lecture. Sunday Trust was there and captured the moment.

Bursts of laughter resounded intermittently in the expansive hall where a significant number of book lovers gathered to listen to Wale Okediran read from his award winning novel Tenants of the House.

It was a fine afternoon in Kaduna, the city of crocodiles, and the audience, made up of members of the state's branch of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), students of the Kaduna State University, in whose Science Auditorium the occasion was held, seemed lively.

It was titled the Annual October Lecture and perhaps, in the spirit of Nigeria's Independence Day celebration, the organisers of the event, ANA Kaduna State chapter, decided to host Okediran, whose political novel has ruffled some feathers within Nigeria's political class.

Okediran, a medical doctor, had served in Nigeria's House of Representatives and his novel captures the political intrigues that played out daily while he was there, providing a background to thinly veiled drama like the third term saga that played out on national television.

"I wrote a factional novel because I am not that rich to hire lawyers for all the court cases that would arise," he said to the audience when asked why he didn't write a memoir instead.

Regardless, some of his former colleagues in the house did not find his novel as amusing as the audience did. Some of them refused to speak to him for weeks after the novel was published. Their ire didn't stop the book from clinching the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in 2010.

Standing before the rostrum, Okediran confessed his connection with Kaduna, recounting a long train journey in the mid nineties from Ibadan to Kaduna that took several days due to engine failure. He gathered enough material from the misadventure to write an award winning children story.

His first reading was from the opening chapter, where Hon. Bakura, the main character, discovers a gun inside the chambers, in the bag of a female colleague. She laughed at his naiveté and delivered one of the most memorable lines in the novel: "To kill is a crime; to kill at the right time is politics."

It was a passage that had the audience in fits of laughter.

"To be candid," Okediran said, "I didn't see any gun in anybody's bag."

He wanted to shock the reader from the beginning and how best to do that than to put a gun in woman's bag, and no less a woman than a national legislator.

When he read about the president trying to have the speaker of the house impeached so as to position himself for an unconstitutional shot at a third term in office, the audience knew who the president was, even though the name was different. It was a scene that depicted the brutish hands that operate in the shadows in Nigeria's corridors of power, and what drives them - an insatiable greed.

Okediran admitted that when he was trying to capture the president in his novel, he faced a major challenge of how to do so without incurring a damning litigation.

"Make the president handsome," his editor advised, and that was how Dominic Oneya, the president in Okediran's Tenants of the House ended up being good looking.

Okediran's wife, Maryam Okediran, read a short poem just before her husband came on. It was titled The Mad Poet, and was about how man saw a pen and became a poet and then saw a woman and became a mad poet. It alluded to her husband, who, in his final reading, depicted the folly women can drive men to.

The audience laughed enthusiastically as Okediran read from a section where Hon. Bakura willingly went into a sharo contest, to be whipped in order to earn the hand of the Fulani girl he was trying to steal from her fiancé.

The Honourable could not withstand the beating, he lost the girl and his honour, and the audience could not keep from laughing.

"My former colleagues said I was very stupid," Okediran said, "they said, Wale, how can you allow an Honourable member of the house take all this beating and still not marry the girl?'"

He wanted the novel to appeal to women so he decided to introduce a love story in the plot. The experiment has been successful, he said.

"Tenants of the House is a timely meta-fictional account of what goes on in the apex legislative arm of the nation," Dr. Alexander Kure, the Head of English Department of Kaduna State University said in his keynote address.

His paper titled An Overview of Nigeria's Prose-Fiction was rich and engaging. He examined the difference and similarities of the older and newer generation of Nigerian writers and comes to the conclusion that despite the commendable success recorded by younger Nigerian writers, the first generation of Nigerian writers remains matchless in accomplishment.

He was, however, kind enough to point out some of the factors that are impeding the growth of the younger writers. His argument is based on the premise that the Soyinkas and Achebes lived in momentous times and had issues like colonialism, racism and independence to write about, while younger writers, bereft of such history shaping phenomenon have focused on style rather than substance.

He also blames the poor publishing industry that has not taken it upon itself to discover and develop new writing talents. He did not spare the academics either.

"I have always wondered why our reading lists are bereft of titles by new writers and why we keep conniving with our students to ensure they do not write their long essays or dissertations on them," he said.

Speaking earlier, the chairman of the occasion and former Military Administrator of Kebbi State, Col. JIP Ubah (rtd) described writers as a very vital clog in the scheme of things.

"Writers in particular serve as spokesmen of our collective memory, articulated and documented for posterity," he said.

There was also poetry recitation by Ghanian-Nigerian poet John Sapong and the introduction of Master Amos Oche, who at 12, had authored three books already. He was kind enough to present copies of the books to all the secondary schools who sent representatives to the event.

Chairman of ANA Kaduna chapter, Mr. Usho Smith Adawa said his chapter is committed to the annual October Lecture and will ensure next year's event will be even more grand.

But as the curtain fell on this year's event, the applause that rang out was a fitting tribute to a writer that has straddled the divide between the older and younger generation of Nigerian writers.

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