From tomorrow, Kaduna will be lit up, courtesy of the Kaduna Book and Arts Festival (KABAFEST) which has assembled a dozen literary stars. It might be premature to start wondering whether it would be just a momentary flash or an inferno that would burn on even years from now. Time will tell.
Since the publication of the Order of Programme, missiles have been flying between those in support and those against it. While the one party calling for its boycott is pointing out that Malam Nasir El-Rufai, the Executive Governor of Kaduna State, is too blood-stained to deserve the handshake of any writer with conscience, the other party insists that, for whatever reason, it would be senseless to throw away the baby with the bathwater. Furthermore, proponents of KABAFEST argue that any initiative that provides a platform for literary engagement is a welcome development — especially in the northern part of the country which has almost always lagged behind her southern counterpart. Nobody familiar with the facts on ground would disagree with that line of argument.
If even a third of the resolutions reached at the inaugural Northern Nigerian Writers’ Summit held at Minna in 2007 had been implemented, the North would have caught up with, or even surpassed, the South by now. The current literacy rate and the number of northern writers compared to those of the south are bleak enough to compel anybody with the least literary inclination to do everything possible – including setting aside certain principles – in order to effect change no matter how little.
Critics of KABAFEST dismiss it as more or less a party of the El-Rufai’s by the El-Rufai’s and for the El-Rufai’s and friends. This may be because the Governor’s wife is listed as one of the writers that would be spotlighted. To be fair to those against the event, they do not seem to be against a book and arts festival holding in Kaduna or in any other northern city for that matter. Rather, their problem is with Malam Nasir El-Rufai’s direct – or indirect – involvement in the whole thing. Most grievous among his stated sins are a) his ‘poor handling’ of the Southern Kaduna killings; b) his stifling of press freedom and the fact that it is in Kaduna that a body of northern youths issued the infamous Igbo quit notice not long ago. However, the truth is that Malam El-Rufai is no stranger to controversy which has trailed him like a faithful dog since his days at the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and also at the Federal Capital Territory Development Administration (FCTDA). In some quarters, as it stands even today, the name ‘El-Rufai’ remains synonymous with ‘controversy’.
Apart from the state chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors, there is also the Kaduna Writers’ League, both of which in one way or another helped to mould Elnathan John who remains unarguably the most celebrated and most successful writer of Kaduna State origin. In addition, Kaduna boasts of Friday-John Abba whose debut play, Alekwu Night Dance, made the runner-up in the Nigerian Prize for Literature in 2014. Moreover, Purple Siver, another literary body in Kaduna, has continued to break new grounds since its inception quite recently. It is not clear how involved these groups or even the Kaduna Ministry of Culture is in the planning and eventual execution of KABAFEST. Their participation would indicate that Malam El-Rufai intended to develop local capacity for handling such big literary programmes as KABAFEST with the aim of making it an annual event. Otherwise, one could only wonder what would be the fate of KABAFEST in the near future when Malam El-Rufai would have been replaced by a new Governor who might not ‘like’ Lola Shoneyin enough to want to continue the good work with her.
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