Uyo — Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State, was the Mecca of Nigerian writers last weekend as it played host to the annual gathering of the Association of Nigerian Authors, the largest such gathering of writers in the country.
It was the first convention under the pragmatic Remi Raji led EXCO that swept into office last year at the Abuja convention last year. That had been the 30th and probably the worst in the association's history. This year, the writers were looked forward to better things at the 31st convention.
But Uyo could have easily gone the way of Abuja. The Local Organising Committee had its challenges, the biggest of which was that they could not access the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, and without government support, things were going all wrong.
The national EXCO, seeing how things were going, had to step in and rescue the situation from turning into a total disaster. It had to source finances from elsewhere just so the convention could hold. About 300 writers attended this year's convention which focused on Literature, Social media and National Security.
The convention opened formally Friday November 9th at Uyo's Ibom Hall, the hub of cultural activities in the state. Despite the initial challenges and set back, the president, Remi Raji was positive of his administrations strides.
"Above all, this convention is the evidence of the change that we promised and that the Congress desired. Yet we are aware of the misplaced apprehensions and the negative expectations of some elements in the Nigerian literary body about our resolve and capability. Let all wrong expectations and apprehensions therefore be dashed; let all worries be cast into shrouds of doubt; let all despair be drowned in the glory of our resilience," he said.
He was, however, practical enough to recognise the challenges that characterised the organising of the convention. "I should add that what we have witnessed in the past two days is afterall not new. This, I have been reliably informed, would be the third time that the National executive of ANA would be taking over the execution of the annual convention that was supposed to be organized by the state chapter, practically. The first time was in 1986 during the change of leadership of ANA from Achebe to Omotoso; and the second time was at the transition of leadership from Femi Osofisan to Ken Saro Wiwa. This third time in which the national executive has been challenged again to work out the annual convention in Uyo is very instructive. It is high time we began to revise the criteria by which state chapters would be conferred with the onerous duty of organizing conventions. Learning from this in a hard way, we will be more practical in the future," he said.
And in light of this declaration, the Congress, which held a day later, changed the modality of selecting the next host states. It was announced that the Ogun State government had declared its intention to host the writers again, as it did successfully in 2010. And the Kaduna State chapter also made a bid. The EXCO decided a committee will visit the bidding states to assess the level of preparations before hosting rights would be awarded.
However, his decision to announce that he had no intention of re-contesting for office at next year's convention would be debated soon.
And then Prof. Pius Adesanmi, the keynote speaker, brought in all the way from Carleton University, Canada where he is Professor of African and Literary studies took the podium. He set Ibom Hall alight with his cerebral paper titled "What Does Nigerian Literature Secure".
"It is in this expanded context, where literature is increasingly determined by very loose understandings and definitions, that our emergent crop of writers must try to secure not just the social memory of their own generation. This new cultural context challenges their very ability to own stories devolving from our national experiences, good and bad, in the global marketplace of creativity," he said.
He dwelt on the unbounded nature of contemporary writing, where writers write from 'cyberia' and are more or less citizens of the cyber world which transcends physical and cultural boundaries.
"Now, a new generation must deal - or is it cope? - with the existence of a parallel world which admits of no boundaries whatsoever, be it geographical or even the old boundaries that secured the identity of literature, differentiating creative prose from other forms of writing. It is also a world in which ownership of national imaginaries is no longer easy to determine as a piece of flash fiction could appear anywhere as a Facebook update, telling stories we thought we owned," he concluded.
It was greeted with a rousing applause inside the hall. Outside, in the portico, book sellers were busy making sales.
As the sun grew mild in the evening sky, the writers threw off their nerdy garbs for crimson football jerseys as they took on journalists in a novelty football march. They won 2 goals to one.
The next day, at the University's Little Play House, the AGM was preceded by plenary sessions featuring presentations from Dr. Jerome Dooga of the University of Jos (At the Click of a Button: Social Media Promoting Illiterate Literature), Ngozi Chuma-Udeh (Nigerian Literature and the Paradox of Security: An X-Ray of Maik Nwosu's Invisible Chapters and Chimeka Garrick's Tomorrow Died Yesterday) among others.
At the dinner, winners for the coveted ANA Prizes were announced. And having been restructured, the prizes have been whittled down to eight, and unlike in previous years, winners went away with their cash prizes.