Denja Abdullahi is the National President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), multiple award-winning author and cultural, literary promoter. In this interview with IBRAHIM RAMALAN, Abdullahi speaks on the forthcoming 38th ANA International Convention in Enugu, his achievements as ANA president for the past four years, as well as updates on his Denja @50 arts and literary festival.
You came into ANA Presidency with a formidable manifesto. About four years down the line, how far so far?
I remember granting you an interview two years ago at the tail end of my first tenure in office where I said I have achieved 70% of what I promised in my manifesto before assuming office. If I had said that then, I can say now that I have delivered considerably what I promised the ANA electorate in my published manifesto entitled “The Pragmatic deliverables.” That Manifesto has a 15 point agenda and I can tell you I have delivered on 14 out of the 15 agenda. The only 1 thing I promised that I did not get to achieve until now is the enhancement of the corporate profile of ANA prizes. Even on that I made efforts which will yield fruits in the dispensation of the executive that will come after me. I challenge you, ANA members and every other person to go and pick up that manifesto and review the achievements under my tenure to assess the claim I have just made. In the course of my tenure, my manifesto and the strategic plan (2017-2022) document which I instituted with the buy-in of all ANA members, have been my guidelines. So when my executive does things, we are not moving whimsically as the winds carry us but we have a plan which we have stuck to and it is thus easy for us to record achievements and fulfill our electoral promises.
Could you also share with us some of the challenges you faced on the course of running the affairs of the writers’ association?
The challenge has been basically finding funds to operate with and the fact that the administration of the Association is done on ad-hoc basis. These limit the things you could do. These situations also put a lot of pressure on your private resources and time. There is a way in which the situations also defeat those that came on board with you to serve, who along the way, fall out or refuse to give their optimum performance because things are turning out differently from what they had expected. I have been in the ANA National Executive Council for close to two decades, so I knew what I was getting myself into by vying for the presidency. I was ready to give it total commitment and make the necessary sacrifices. The alternative to that is to fail, knowing the way ANA is structured and the very loose thread that holds members to the Association in terms of financial and other commitments.
What then are some of your takeaways from the association as you would soon join the league of its former presidents?
It is an interesting Association that is a microcosm of Nigeria, where much is expected from leadership with little or no serious commitment from followership. I have had interesting moments in the Association, met a lot of interesting persons and travelled round this great country of ours. The Association has within it an enduring spirit that has sustained it all these years in spite of the vagaries of time and depleting resources. The communal and egalitarian spirit of the Association, based on the solid initiatives of its founders, always resist corruptive influences that intermittently assail it as it goes along.
38th ANA Convention is just around the corner, how prepared is the association?
We are very prepared. We have just returned at the end of last month from the inauguration of the LOC for the Convention. Enugu is a place with all facilities that a writers’’ body can exploit to have a memorable convention. The Enugu State Chapter of the Association which won the hosting right has given us their plan of action and taken us round to inspect venues and facilities. They have also approached the State government, corporate bodies, educational institutions and individuals to partner with ANA for the convention and they are getting good responses. On our part in the National Executive Council, we have made arrangements to ensure that the convention goes without any hitch. It will be the last convention of this present executive council and judging from the last three we have had which were all well organized, the last one cannot be otherwise but be the climax!
Since it is equally an election year, are you endorsing a candidate to continue from where you stopped or you are stepping aside for stiff contest?
There is nothing like endorsement in ANA by the President or anyone. ANA is not a political party. Everyone runs and is elected based on personal merit and his or her ability to sell himself or herself to the ANA electorate. Most things that sway people in other Associations or in the larger Nigeria like money, ethnicity, religion, propaganda and the likes when it comes to elections do not work in ANA. In ANA, leadership is entrusted on people through consideration of personal merit, personal disposition, verifiable records of service to the Association and the direction which the generality of members of the Association wants to take at a particular time. Going by all these, it means I do not have to endorse anyone and even if I do, it does not matter as the collective will of the ANA electorate will always prevail. There will be competition but contestants must ensure they play fair and do not destroy the unity of the Association in the name of “stiff contest.” ANA is a service organization with absolutely no pecuniary or other kinds of rewards beyond the fulfillment in serving, for anyone elected to serve it, so why will anyone play desperate or show desperation in trying to serve?
It was alleged that taking the convention to Enugu State has political undertone towards favouring a particular candidate, what is your take on that?
Those making this and other similar allegations are already betraying their desperation. ANA has a process in choosing where to hold its conventions. State chapters of the Association normally bid to host and it is given to the state with the strongest bid. In the past, the ANA Congress do vote for states based on their verbal presentations at conventions. That format was jettisoned when from experience some states will speak grandly about their ability to host and sometimes with colourful power point presentations but when you give them the convention to host, you go there and you will find out they have nothing on ground. It happened like that in Abuja 2011, Uyo 2012 and in Kaduna 2015. Those unsavoury experiences led ANA to reform the process and do thorough inspection of States’ bids before awarding the hosting right. In this case of the 2019 hosting right, Edo and Enugu put in bids and after examining the two bids, the ANA National Executive Council awarded the bid to Enugu in May 2019 as Edo was found short of what is expected. These two states earlier re-presented their bids at the 8th Meeting of National Executive Council held with Chairmen and Secretaries of States Chapters in April 2019 in Ilorin. If not Enugu, where else would we have gone with the convention? ANA Constitution states it that Convention must be hosted by a State. No other State has come up with any other bid, so should we force the hosting on a state that is unwilling to host? If it is about the elections, it does not matter in ANA where a convention is hosted. Even if a convention is hosted in your bedroom as a candidate, you can still lose if the generality or the majority of the electorate does not want you. It has happened several times like that in ANA and a case in point was the 2009 convention in Minna. Those bringing up this allegation do not know the history of ANA and we are aware of some other desperate measures they are planning to embark on based on some strange sense of entitlement they have that they must be made leaders of the Association in the next dispensation.
As for your golden jubilee, what is the update, sir?
We have kick-started it with a performance poetry competition among selected secondary schools in Abuja held at Doveland High School on 25 June, 2019. The event went on very well with stiff competitions among the participating schools and distribution of cash prizes and books for all the students and their schools. Next is the main event on August 27th 2019 in Abuja which will feature a lecture on “ Leadership and Institution Building in the Creative Industry,” to be delivered by Prof Sunday Enesi Ododo of the University of Maiduguri, presentation of a book of Festschrift on me and three new works from my stable as a writer, critic and cultural administrator, presentation of a play adaptation of my work “Mairogo,” and of course production of my award winning play “Death and the King’s Grey Hair” and of course many other features fitting into the mould of the “Denja @50Literature and Arts Festival”.
Is this celebration heralding your eventual retirement from active literary and cultural activism?
Not really. It will just mark a milestone in my personal and creative life and the beginning of a different route to take in my life in which I will still be doing what I like doing but in newer more subtle dimensions. I have served the public long enough. I think the time has come that I should be more “Selfish” with my time.
What next after ANA?
I will still be writing of course and I will definitely have more time for that and other intellectual endeavours which I have neglected somehow. I will also have more time for my family and primary career as at now. I want to do a significant shift of focus in my life which I will begin to contemplate seriously after leaving ANA as President.