AFTER THE ELECTIONS, THEN…?

“It’s an election year,” people kept saying. “That’s how conventions turn out on election years,” some of them added as if it should justify every shortcoming that beset the recently held convention of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) at Kaduna.

The convention offered opportunity for old friends to reunite and also for social media friends to finally get to meet in person, yet the social aspect of the program was obviously subdued by the politically charged atmosphere. Every group of two or more persons was most probably campaigning for their preferred candidates rather than discussing literature and the ways to advance it. Not a few attendees (especially first-timers, including yours truly) were disappointed by this turn-out. It was so bad that once the elections were conducted and the winners had emerged, the convention literally came to an end. For some reasons I cannot say, the winning entries for the various prizes were not announced. Imagine the disappointment of all the shortlisted authors who had hoped to be declared winners and get to pose for photographs with friends and well-wishers. Imagine the disappointment of millions of people who spent that entire night combing facebook and twitter for updates on the prize result. Bear in mind that this has nothing to do with the Local Organizing Committee which did everything they could to beat the odds and see that the convention actually held.

Now that the elections are over, the new administration must see to it that the next convention will not suffer such embarrassments as shortage of financial (and other) report copies. They must see to it that state chapters of the association are better supported both in cash and in kind to come up with and carry out projects that will help members’ career and also attract the thousands (if not millions) of writers outside the fold. At the last convention, the outgone president stated categorically that his administration would be bequeathing millions of Naira to her successor. I think that can get a lot of things moving.

Now that the elections are over, the new administration as one among her top priorities, the movement of the association’s land project from the drawing board to the ground. The past administration must be commended for the giant strides she took towards reclaiming portions of the land which had been lost to both human and natural forces.

Now that the elections are over, the current administration must do all it can to not betray the confidence of those that had trusted her with their votes. The administration must strive to do better than her predecessor in every way. Most of all, efforts must be made towards intellectualizing ANA more than politicizing it. Needless to say, the political aspect of the problem plagues the association down to the chapter level. You have people more concerned with occupying positions than actually moving the association forward.

Now that the elections are over, I expect ANA to start thinking of doing things differently from the past. It was obvious that a number of the shortlisted authors were not at the convention probably due to logistical reasons. One simple thing the association can do is decide henceforward to foot the transportation and boarding cost of shortlisted authors. I believe that the association is capable of doing that. If Saraba Magazine did that back in 2011, then I wonder what excuse ANA will want to put up in 2016. In addition, it wouldn’t be unreasonable if the winning prize money was increased to something above One Hundred Thousand Naira, and also if some provisions would be made for the first and second runners-up? We are talking about prizes organized by the largest association of writers in Nigeria and probably in the entire continent!

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THE QUORUM IS BEING FORMED

If you are not HERE, it then means you are NOT here. HERE is Kaduna. HERE is the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Convention, 2015. HERE is the gathering of eagles and falcons, and of eaglets too. It is one of those rare occasions that bring together under one roof a good number of the literati, both established and emerging voices, both writers and publishers, and even the critics. HERE is the roll call, sort of.

It is good that the Convention has finally kicked off despite the slight setback it suffered earlier on. The Local Organizing Committee ably headed by Friday John Abah, and the Chairman of the Kaduna Chapter of the body, Usho Smith Adawa, must be commended for their immense effort. ANA is the umbrella body of Nigerian authors (creative writers, mainly), even though her membership list will hardly claim to represent half of actual Nigerian writers as untold millions are still outside the fold either because they don’t know about the existence of ANA or because they have lost faith in the body. As such, much still needs to be done to win back the confidence of the disillusioned and to also inform as many as are still out there in the dark.

Making it more interesting is that this is an election year and two contenders stand out: Denja Abdulahi and BM Dzukogi both from Niger State Chapter. You must have been aware of campaigns and pseudo-campaigns going on both at your State Chapters and on social media. I don’t want to comment on the campaign style of some persons, which is actually below the belt. Since yours faithfully will not be voting (not because I am apolitical, but because I am disenfranchised), I can only pray that the voters shun religious and ethnic sentiments and elect someone that will best serve the interest of the body.

I am happy that Kaduna is hosting this year’s convention because it affords me the opportunity of getting to meet with some of my social media friends for the first time. Dami Ajayi tells me he will be (unavoidably) absent. I would have taken him to go see DR Ink as himself and Adebiyi Olusolape did to me some years back in Lagos. But there is consolation. Servio Gbadamosi is already here as I want to believe is Su’eddie Agema.

I have read some of the books shortlisted for this year’s prizes and I dare say that they all good to clinch the trophies. Merely making it thus far is proof enough that you are remarkable. Below is the shortlist for this year’s prizes.

ANA PRIZE FOR DRAMA

  1. The Last Ilari –  Tunji Ajibade
  2. The Last Prophecy of Omu Nwagboka – Obumse Amechi Chiedu
  3. Unstable – Dickson Ekhaguere

ANA PRIZE FOR POETRY

  1. Blazing Moon – Nwachukwu Egbunike
  2. Clinical Blues – Dami Ajayi
  3. Euphoria of Sophistry – Terseer Samuel Baki
  4. A Tributary in Servitude – Servio Gbadamosi

ANA PRIZE FOR PROSE FICTION

  1. Bongel – Maryam Bobi
  2. Don’t Die on Wednesday – Michael Afenfia
  3. Long Shadows – Mnguember V. Sylvester
  4. A Pelican of the Wilderness – Jacqueline U. Agweh
  5. Satans and Shaitans – Obinna Udenwe

ABUBAKAR GIMBA FOR SHORT STORIES

  1. Fire on the Tip of Ice – Halima Aliyu
  2. Smithereens of Death – Olubunmi Familoni
  3. The Bottom of another Tale – Su’eddie Vershima Agema

ANA/CHILDREN’S WRITING PRIZE

  1. Ada Marries a Palm Tree and Other Stories –  Charry A. Onwu-Otuyelu
  2. The Leprous King – Daniella Clinton
  3. The Magic Mirror – Nnenna Ihebom

ONE OTHER CITIZEN OF CINDERELLA-LAND (A Review of Towunmi Coker’s Promise of the Future)

Title: Promise of the Future
Author: Towunmi Coker
Genre: Prose
Format: Paperback
Extent: 159 pages
ISBN: 978-978-52838-4-6
Publisher: WriteHouse Collective

Celestina (a.k.a Ajoke a.k.a Joke), orphaned at a very tender age, ends up in the house of Mrs. Arinze (a.k.a Madam), a cantankerous task master who drives the poor girl to the brink of her might until she wishes she had died in the fire accident that wiped off her entire family. Ngozi and Uju (Madam’s daughters) are not much different from Cinderella’s stepsisters, even though Ngozi is more humane than her sister. Life is less hellish when Mr. Arinze (a.k.a Oga) is around. Besides, Celestina gets to keep the change anytime he sends her to buy him condoms which he uses on her. Somehow, she will find a surrogate family in the Okonmas (the people next door) whose second daughter, Amaka, will become her lifelong sister/friend. But her greatest source of relief and consolation is Kunle, some guy she runs into one afternoon during a short walk out of the house. They become close friends and then lovers. We learn in page 6 that Kunle has been her boyfriend from when she was 12. We have no idea how old she is at the beginning of the tale. Perhaps, under the circumstances, it is understandable and forgivable of Celestina to think that Kunle is:

“heaven sent. Just for her. Often times she wondered the turn her life would have taken had she not met Kunle. Frustration would have been her middle name. Perhaps she would have died of boredom, frustration and maltreatment… his promises to her, his assurances and comforting words always whispered hope. He was the reason she still had faith in something called ‘Future’…” Page 7.

All this is until she discovers that he is a sham.

In this book, because the wheel of time isn’t cogged, the narrative freely spins forward and then backwards at random. There are times that Towunmi Coker appears as an overexcited croupier who resorts to spinning the roulette clockwise and then anticlockwise with little or no warning for her dazed readers who keep wondering where or when they are at a particular point in time. It is worse for those who have not watched and understood the serial movie LOST which also flings viewers through time in like manner.

A little leap into the future, Celestina becomes more of Ajoke or Joke who thinks more in Yoruba than in Igbo. But things have happened so fastly that you are left panting along the track in so short a time. In page 51 Celestina is still contemplating sitting for GCE, even though she is not sure how she will outwit Madam and leave the house for the number of days it will take. And then in page 59 she has sat for the exams and the result has come out. Page 63 is four years after she written JAMB and post-UME. Through her chat with Aunt Yemisi (a blood-relative she eventually reunites with miraculously) we get to know that it was Amaka’s mother (a.k.a Mama Nkechi) that bought her the GCE form and that she wrote the exams when something unexplained just happened to keep Madam out of town for that entire period. Miraculous, isn’t it?

It is good that Towunmi Coker eliminates the use of footnotes and endnotes just by following local phrases and sentences with their translations immediately. I however believe that “O kwa o oru gi” translates better as “it is your job, isn’t it?” than as “it is not your job.” (page31). Moreover, the reader will not miss the occasional employment of the ‘Nigerian’ English: “who put your mouth?” in page 21 and also “this one Mama Emeka is taking her time to greet me this morning I hope it’s not trouble o!” in page 38.

At first, one is shocked to the read that Celestina gets to feel good “after Oga used the rubber thing on her (pp22) and then one reads again that she “cried whenever she remembered the experience” (pp30). This book is full of such complications, or contradictions. In page 4 we read about a particular night in which “Celestina took a stroll around the compound”, a ritual she engages in “after each day’s stress.” And then the third paragraph of page 5 tells us that “This (same) particular night, she neither took a stroll around the compound…” Another paragraph in page 5 tells us that “There were four rooms… upstairs… Madam, Oga and the children slept in the rooms upstairs. The children had toys in one of the rooms upstairs, which they called ‘Playhouse’. Madam also had an extra room upstairs were (sic) she kept some of her clothes as the cupboard in the room she shared with Oga could not contain all her clothes. This left two extra rooms aside, one called visitors’ room and the other without a name…” By the time you add the children’s bedroom you’ll end up with nothing less than six rooms. I think it’s commendable of the author that the book is woven with simple words and sentences for even a child to read and understand. But the same way that hotdog is best enjoyed hot and not over-cooked, a prose work risks becoming unpalatable once its fluidity becomes too fluid. And Promise of the Future cannot be said to be entirely free of this offence.

In one of those absurd turns that life is known to take occasionally, Celestina discovers that she is the inheritor of the sizeable wealth her dead parents left behind. Suddenly, she can afford whatever she wants. She can do whatever she feels like. In other words, she becomes born again in a new world. She regains faith in God and in return is rewarded with the acquaintance of Jomi during a church program. She will finally accept to marry him after she becomes convinced that he is the real deal.

It would appear that fortune serves a class of people like pornography. First they start small. And by the time they get hooked, they will need something more ‘heated’ to elicit the same level of excitement. At the begining, Kunle is enough dose to knock Celestina off her misery. The mere thought of meeting with, and spending time with, Kunle keeps her alive. She reunites with Auntie Yemisi just before Kunle loses punch. And just before Auntie Yemisi turns to another normal, Jomi is thrust into her world. Most would envy Celestina who obviously is in the good books of fortune which obviously is on the ready to send her a new and reinforced fix just before the previous one wears off.

The thing with most Cinderella stories is that the ‘happily ever after’ theme hardly convinces even the optimists. But Promise of the Future is somehow different. Unlike Cinderella, Celestina doesn’t get to ride with Prince Charming into the setting sun where all sorrows are washed away. Rather, like Apostle Paul with his affliction, she has HIV to keep her joy and liberty in check. We can’t say how that happened. In page 147, Oga thinks “it was Madam that transmitted it to him as he did not trust her activities when she travelled; yet she blamed him…” And in page 154, Celestina feels “Kunle infected her and then she infected Oga, or Oga infected her and she infected Kunle. Or both of them had infected her together.”

The book is about tenacity and resilience. It takes an iron will to swim against such powerful currents that beset Celestina and still make it to the shore alive. Orphaned at a very early age, subjected to domestic and sexual abuse, denied education, Celestina still ends up a university graduate, a wife and a mother of a set of healthy twins. The book is a mix of rock and blues; of rice and beans. The book is flavoured with poetry (or music, just like Cinderella) which Celestina resorts to when she is at her peak and also at her trough.

Any bettor with the least discernment should know that Towunmi Coker (who won the ANA/NECO Teen Author Prize in 2007) is worth keeping an eye on. Promise of the Future is her debut novel. Perhaps that should explain why many readers will find the book a bit difficult. Now and again, the reader is tempted to abort the race midway and just dump the book. But then, the same way Ariel’s music leads Ferdinand on in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Promise of the Future has this ‘thing’ that keeps you going till the very end.