Writings of the general word's body

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Remi Raji guns for ANA Presidency


Preamble to the Manifesto:

Dear compatriots and friends, all-Nigerian authors at home and in the Diaspora, the time is close by. Towards the next election hour of ANA, which holds later in the year in the Federal Capital Territory – Abuja, I hereby make a declaration, offering myself to serve as the next, tenth President of the Association of Nigerian Authors.

I have a simple activist manifesto, a cardinal chart of the main ideas upon which other actions are built. The ANA has come a long way. The original dream of the association is intact; and I consider myself as an inheritor of that dream. There are others scattered all over the continent and around the world, participants all in this declaration of hope, those for whom the ANA is more than a nest of crude politics and jamboree of nothingness, those who believe that ANA can be more than a yearly mention in our nation’s cultural calendar. I share the energies of these positive people. There are many of us, resident and working assiduously, by dint of our industry, many who are willing to sustain the dream of a vibrant, twenty-first century association of Nigerian authors, those who want a leadership that will not be a reluctant leadership, those who desire tested hands in art administration, those who are ready to follow the dream of a greater Nigerian literary tradition, a tradition where sound arguments and decisions will reign over parochial affiliations. This is the imperative, the tonic and the motivation that informed my decision to run for the post of president of the ANA.

I joined the ANA through the Oyo State Chapter in June 1988, becoming in that election year its Publicity Secretary. In the second resuscitation of the state chapter in 1997, I served as the Vice Chairman (under Wale Okediran), and the Chairman, from 1998 to 2000. I served the Association at the national level first as the Editor of ANA REVIEW (2000) and later as a working committee member in 2001 and 2004.

From 2002, I became more involved in the leadership of the Nigerian chapter of PEN International (as Secretary) and in the continental network - PEN Africa Network (as its first Coordinator). Through these collaboration and activism, I was privileged to bring a sizeable number of Nigerian authors, many of who were declared members of ANA, to international visibility, through publications and participations in literary festivals in Africa, America and Europe. As the outgoing secretary of PEN, I hope to encourage a continuation of collaboration and exchange of ideas in the two complementing organisations.

I bring with me the commitment to writing, literary criticism and cultural activism spanning over twenty-five years. I bring with me an unyielding belief in the power of the word as agency for change in a nation like ours, a commitment to excellence in both the things said, and how things are said. I am convinced that the ANA has not been well served in terms of national arts policy formation, in terms of public recognition, and in terms of corporate support. I hope to build on earlier and distant efforts at securing respect for the voice of the Nigerian author. This is my hope, this is part of the ultimate dream with which I raise my voice now. With an executive board in place, I promise to serve the Nigerian author, young or old, established, remarkable or struggling.

The slogan for my campaign is “Booking the Future”. The term “booking” is used here to mean a multiplex of ideas and actions. It means addressing the challenges that lie before us as a nation, through literature; it means negotiating the means by which we can contribute our potentials to the brilliant future imagined for the Nigerian dream; and it means support for deliberate achievements by individual authors in the literary tradition. To book the future is also to be proactive in the encouragement of a new generation of authors and writers through a systematic combination of advocacy, outreach and mentoring programmes. I shall deal with this appropriately at the right time.

In the coming months, I will be requiring your support, your questions, queries, advice and, above all, your prayer and contribution to the dream. I hope I would not be disappointed in this: I want to hope too that for the first time in many moons, the contest for the leadership of the ANA shall be wrapped around cogent issues, real ideas and less on inanities or sheer ethnic politicking. Fellow Nigerian authors, arise, let’s teach and show the way.

Thank you.

Remi Raji
January 15, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

CORA Conference on BBtB


CORA Holds Conference On Bring Back the Book Initiative

As a follow-up to the ‘Bring Back The Book’ initiative of the administration of President Jonathan, the Committee for Relevant Art, CORA, has resolved to stage a one-day conference of stakeholders in the Book industry and the creative and educational communities to fashion out an implementable document that could guide the President and his team in the quest to encourage reading culture and as well place importance on the Book as a source of knowledge acquisition and manpower development, according to Deji Toye, CORA’s Project Director and coordinator of the Conference.

The conference holds on January 17 in Lagos and is expected to attract a fairly large congregation of stakeholders in the relevant Indus tries, including from governmental agencies, said CORA’s programme team.

The theme of the one-day conference is When the President Wants to Bring Back the Book: So What’s To Be Done Now? And it is billed for the Banquet Hall, Eko Hotels & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos; 9am – 6pm.

The ‘Bring Back the Book’ campaign had been launched on December 20 with the President joining the Nobel laureate Prof Wole Soyinka in a reading session for over 400 students drawn from as many as 100 schools around Lagos. At the Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos. The programme also witnessed the formal presentation of the book President Goodluck Jonathan: My Friends and I, Conversations on Policy and Governance via Facebook, during which about five top Nigerian hip-hop musicians performed to a crowd of about 5000 people at the new Expo Hall of Eko Hotel.

According to CORA , the January 17 conference is a desired follow-up to ensure that the dream behind the project is kept alive even as the country gradually slips into the mood of electioneering “when we tend to forget every other critical aspects of our national life”.

The conference, states CORA, aims to “Gain the insight of stakeholders in the book industry on the current practical challenges of conceptualisation, production, distribution and consumption of books in Nigeria and its impact on the reading culture; and;
i. Obtain suggestions on what steps may be taken to address the said challenges with a view to reversing the waning reading culture, such steps including –

· any cultural/economic policies
· legal/regulatory frameworks
· market/supply-side innovations; and
· civil society initiatives.
Deliberations and suggestions at the conference will be presented to the ‘Bring Back the Book’ coordinators in the Presidency. It should also provide a reference point for a pan-industry advocacy for the revival of the reading culture and the revitalisation of the book industry“.
“Participants are to be to be drawn from the entire value chain of the book industry including the following: Publishers, booksellers and book dealers, authors, printers, libraries/librarians, book and literary event organisers/promoters (book clubs, literary festivals etc), educationists, renowned corporate promoters of book and literary initiatives, book and education-focused MDAs and Nigerian Academy of Letters”, stated CORA.

The culture advocate organisation, which prides itself as ‘Culture Landscapists’, stated: “This event will be regarded as significant in at least the following three respects:

To our knowledge, it is the first time in the last few decades that a Nigerian President has given a public, uncontroverted support to the campaign to return the book and the cultivation of its reading to a pride of place. This is significant in Nigeria where the success of any initiative often depends on a perception of interestedness or, better still, championship at the highest levels of government.

Equally significant is that a sitting President has now drawn a link between book reading and literacy and even onward to national economic development. Trite as that connection might appear, we are not aware that recent economic recovery programmes and various visioning projects have made book reading as central to human capacity development (which has itself been often touted as core to the achievement of economic prosperity) as we see encapsulated in the above-quoted speech of the President delivered at the campaign event.

Even more significantly, the strategy of taking the campaign ‘to town’ by the President will be recorded as a first, in which a matter of such communal significance will be canvassed on the streets before being thrown at policy bureaucrats. Indeed, Mr. President was reported as having dubbed the campaign a “citizens’ framework to bring back the book.”

“In the last twenty years, the CORA Art & Cultural Foundation (otherwise ‘Committee for Relevant Art’ or ‘CORA’) has sustained the campaign to place the book in the front burners of national debate and literacy at the heart of national development agenda. Indeed, we have always maintained our key annual event, the Lagos Book & Art Festival as a testament to our commitment that “the only way to translate the ‘teeming population’ of Nigeria into true human capital is to develop their minds” (
http://coraartfoundation.org/index.php/about-cora). Mr. President’s speech at the ‘Bring Back the Book’ campaign launch shows how much consensus has now grown around this idea.

“While CORA realises the value of the media event of 20 December, 2010 in demonstrating the full faith and weight of the President in the campaign, we take the view that the real task of building the critical citizens’ framework for its sustenance has just begun. Based on our experience in organising intellectual events around book and culture in the last twenty years, the industry has faced a lot of challenges which militate against the return to the era of robust book production, acquisition and reading culture. Some of the challenges arise from the following factors:
Standard of education and its impact on the quality of content and creative expression emerging from the Nigerian local literary community in the last few years

Quality of technical expertise available to the industry following the exit of the multinational publishing companies and its impact on the technical quality of outputs in the Nigerian industry in the last few years (CORA has held a series of book editor’s clinics as a modest attempt to address this challenge).

The discouraging economics of book production and distribution in Nigeria and the gradual erosion of local book printing and production in preference for Asia
Issues of curriculum/syllabus development and quality of reading lists in Nigerian educational institutions; and
The environment for the support of civil society efforts at promoting book and reading culture in Nigeria.
CORA states that the conference will follow the popular parliamentary style now associated with CORA-organised deliberations, although Position Papers will be presented by key stakeholder groups drawn from the following four major sectors of the industry:

· Business: Publishers, book sellers/dealers/distributors/printers
· Creative: Authors
· Educational: Librarians, teachers, school proprietors, NUC, NAL
· Promotional:
- Government (MDAs);
- NGOs/CSOs (book clubs, literary festivals, poetry salons, book fairs etc);
- Corporate donors (companies with bias for literary CSR commitments).
There will be interventions from other industry participants and from the general house.


Deji Toye
Conference Director (+2348023624647)

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Sefi Atta Interview

Now, here's the kind of writer interview you don't get to read everyday. In today's Guardian, Sefi Atta is shooting from the hip. She takes pot shots at a certain critic who reviewed her second novel, the identity of whom is not difficult to guess:

"I’m only aware of one critic who reviewed Swallow negatively, and that was in Next. Apparently, he is a bit of a joke and his reviews barely qualify as blogs. An American friend who lives in Lagos asked why he was so spiteful. I said that’s what bloggers do to get attention. They go tabloid on you. I just wondered what I’d done to Next to deserve such a debut.
Critics don’t need to denigrate writers to review our works. They only expose their own flaws when they do. They can point out flaws in our works without being rude. I mean, I’ve heard of dissatisfied readers hurling books across rooms, but really, does reading a book you don’t enjoy constitute a personal affront that justifies retaliation against the writer? It’s absurd."

The critic in question wrote a glowing review of Ms Atta's first book, 'Everything Good Will Come'... The novelist also attacks a former publisher (no prizes for guessing who they are either). Here she is talking about inconsistent publishing standards:

"After Everything Good..., I made a decision to publish my next two books, Swallow and Lawless in Nigeria first, and was very disappointed with the copy editing and production quality. One book was actually published with the wrong cover. It took months to correct them, as a result of staff carelessness. I then discovered my contract had been breached when an American reader e-mailed me to say he’d bought a copy of my book and paid in dollars. My contract clearly stated my books were only to be sold in Nigeria. I got an apology from my publisher, but no admission of guilt, and it resulted in a strained relationship that I ended in March 2009... Even if what happened was due to carelessness, Nigerian writing is now international, so we can’t afford to be lax. I’m not revealing this to embarrass anyone, nor am I suggesting that writers make public every problem they have in the course of business, but we’re often silent about violations of our rights, which only makes us part of the problem. I don’t think exposing the offending party will redress it. Nigerians have a high tolerance for bad behaviour and might even turn on the injured party if they protest too much. That said, I will speak out and take legal action when necessary. In fact, I’d be quite willing to revisit past infringements if I so much as hear any of the parties involved makes a rejoinder that rubs me up the wrong way. They have been warned."

The author also reveals that we can expect to see plays written by her on the Lagos stage, soon.
Read the full interview, 'I write for people not critics - Atta', here.

Insincerity at Bring Back The Book

This is what happens when you have a showbiz impressario having such a heavy hand in the organisation of a supposed book campaign...

No one in attendance at the Eko Hotel on December 20 could have missed the fact that Ben Murray-Bruce of the Silverbird entertainment conglomerate was the main man in terms of the organisation and stage-managing of the two events attended by President Jonathan, especially the afternoon launch of his FaceBOOK, 'My Friends and I' inside the hotel's Expo Hall, an event attended by an estimated 5000 people and featuring some of Nigeria's biggest pop stars. There were a lot of good things about the event, and as an evening event in which writers finally had some voice highlighted, lots of bad things about the day too. Like 5000 people given goodie bags with random populist foreign books, while the homebased publishing industry flounders.

Lot's of shortcomings but let's just talk about two, especially two that irked me and a few other writers on the day. In a piece I wrote abou the afternoon event, I noted this:
"A singer who appeared to have been flown into Nigeria to sing the national anthem, not only could not get her pitch right, she got the words of the anthem wrong."

I was putting it mildly. The singer in question tried and failed at needless vocal dramatics, then she capped the slightly embarrassing performance by getting the lines of the National Anthem wrong! In front of the president! That was just the pits for me.

Who the hell was the singer, and what exactly qualified her for such a high profile gig? - were questions that tasked a number of us writers for sometime afterwards. Well, The Guardian LIFE section of today (an arts/entertainment/lifestyle section that today was turned into a social diary of Guardian CEO Maiden Ibru's birthday party) inadvertently provided the answer as to the singer's qualification at least. Shown with Ben Murray-Bruce and his wife is June Slaton (the-national-anthem-messing-up-singer). The caption helpfully tells us that she's "nee Murray-Bruce" (see picture above). So there you have it. Nepotism, anyone?

As it happens, June Slaton was far from the lowest point of the Bring Back The Book shin-dig, which was broadcast live, with an edited version repeated on many TV channels countless times since. The lowest point was when a certain young lady by the name of Nana Kusherki was called to speak as a representative of "Northern Youth". She took her time coming out. Oh, could we clap to encourage her, the comperes urged, she was a bit overwhelmed by it all, crap like that.

Eventually Nana appeared, all demure, dressed in the traditional style and wearing a Muslim headscarf. Like a product of some trado-Islamic orthodoxy. She started to speak and - what ? - out came a serious American accent. In the whole of the North, they couldn't find any representative youth but this privileged Americana? How does someone with a pronounced US twang represent grassroots Northern Nigerian youth? The pervasive American accent obsession in Nigeria really gets to me. Nearly all radio presenters speak American. Even Bring Back The Book, when the event went via satellite to President Jonathan's 'friends' way up North in Kaduna, the female with the microphone spoke American!

This is what Naomi Lucas said about Nana Kusherki in her 'Open Letter' to the President:
A young lady, Nana... spoke on behalf of the North. Though she made sense to some extent, I did notice one thing though: she spoke with a distinct American accent. My conclusion: she didn't school in Nigeria, so she probably wouldn't understand sitting at home for six months while the government and ASUU try to resolve their differences, outdated libraries still stocked with books my father read while he studied at the same university, disgruntled lecturers who take out their frustration on you, standing throughout a three-hour lecture with the lecturers using a public address system to harass your eardrums and reading from the same lesson note he's been using for the past eight years. She might identify with it, but it is only him that wears the shoes that knows where it pinches.

Very well observed. But I will say the American accent was the least of Nana Kusherki's sins, for as soon as she got to the podium, her headscarf started to slip, revealing weave-on hair extensions. My writer friend, who knows herself, said straight away, that this lady is a fraud. She doesn't 'cover' normally. "Ah-ah, you have come again, how can you be so sure?" I chided. My friend maintained that she knows a lot of Northern ladies who 'cover' and the headscarves don't slip off alarmingly as is the case with this broad; and besides, ladies who cover don't wear weave-on 'cause, who are they showing it to? The head's supposed to be hidden.

As to what she said, Nana Kusherki was massively unsuited. She had been brought on to give a "comment" or ask the president a "question". Instead she launched into a lecture that was more like Northern Nigeria for Primary School pupils, reinforcing so many stereotypes of the North in what she chose to highlight. It was a dreadful performance, only salvaged by a passable few affirmative things she said towards the end.

Nana Kusherki rejoined her friends in the audience, all fashionable young ladies with hair extensions to their shoulders. Not a headscarf in sight. And true to my friend's words, by the time Ms Kusherki was leaving the hall, her headscarf had slipped off altogether, and she wasn't self-conscious enough to lift it back in place. The matter bugged us. Why will this lady just put on the 'habit' of the North like a costume to come and role-play at Bring Back The Book? Who wrote her appalling speech and who put her up to the dress rehearsal? If she was a modern Northern lady in the contemporary style, isn't it more empowering, more honest for her to come as herself, rather than pretend? The matter left a sour taste in my mouth whenever I remembered Bring Back The Book.

Well, today's papers provided another helpful clue, and incontrovertible proof that Nana Kusherki was a pretender at Bring Back The Book. On two separate pages of today's ThisDay STYLE, the fashionable young lady is featured. And guess what? Nana Kusherki is a red-carpet loving, contemporary trend-setting babe! Nuff said.