Wole Adedoyin – National president: Society of Young Nigerian Writers
Jare Ajayi – The Man and His Works : A Limelight
1.Tell us about yourself?
Answer: I am Jare Ajayi, born at Igbeti,Oyo State,Nigeriaat the threshold of Nigerian independence. I am a journalist.
I started my journalism career with anIbadanbased weekly newspaper, Sunday Glory. I later moved to the Daily Times. While in Times, I was basically with the Sunday Times but was writing for virtually all Daily Times titles like Times International, Evening Times, Daily Times, Lagos Weekend and of course the Business Times. I was a correspondent for theLondonbasedWest Africamagazine.
In 1990, I became the Arts, Reviews and Culture Editor of Tribune titles. In 1992, I revived the paper’s Labour Page that had been rested since 1986 as a result of a labour crisis in the publishing house.
1993, I started a Tourism Page for the paper. It is my joy today that the two new pages – Labour and Tourism – still feature prominently in the Tribune along with the Reviews Page that I started with.
I left Tribune in 1995 to run a private business. The business consists of arts promotion, management consultancy, publishing and training. I did not leave writing and journalism as I write for Inter Press Services (IPS), an online international media network. I reported for the Network from such places asCanada,USAamong others.
Presently, I run a bilingual newspaper – and maintain a weekly column with the Compass newspaper.
2. How long have you been around in the literary scene?
Answer: Glory be to God Almighty who has given one the grace to be alive and to have been engaged in literary activities for a while. I have been writing since my teenage years and when in school. But my first published work came out in 1988. It was a poetry anthology titled ‘Arise and Other Poems’. My first novel, Bile In The Dish, published in 1990, was the first runner-up in the ANA Literary Competition, of that year. In 1994, I was bestowed with the International Poet of Merit Award in Washington D.C. United States of America (USA) – there are other awards. I have authored many other books since then. The biographical work I did on the first African novelist to be published in English language, Amos Tutuola, remains the most authoritative work on the man till today.
3. During this period, what has been some of your achievements and/or contribution to the development of the sector?
Apart from the two titles I mentioned earlier, I have also authored Crossroads, an anthology of poems (1993),Forest’s Revolt (a collection of short stories), just as I have prose and poetry contributions in many publications locally and internationally.
I wrote the biography of Amos Tutuola, the renowned novelist. There, of course, are literary essays, critiques, drama pieces as well as non-fiction works.
As regards contributions to ‘the sector’, I want to state, with all sense of humility that I have done quite a bit. In my days in the Daily Times and in the Nigerian Tribune, I used the media to promote the arts – including the literary art which is my first love. Quite a number of artists in the literary and visual genres especially can attest to this. So, I believe, are many publishers whose books I did a bit in promoting. This trend continued even after I left both the Times and Tribune.
It is on record that I, with the encouragement of that indefatigable individual, Mr Odia Ofeimun, established the first state chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). It happened in 1988/89 when Mr Ofeimun was the General Secretary. When I told him about the need for writers to have a platform for meeting more often than during the annual national convention, he said I should meet with writers inIbadanto have such a platform. I met with people like our matriarch, Mrs Mabel Segun, Professors Joel Adedeji, Dapo Adelugba, Femi Osofisan, Bode Sowande, Niyi Osundare, Dr Tony Marinho, Chief Wale Ogunyemi, Dr Wale Okediran, Dr Remi Adedokun, Dr Hyginus Ekwazi, Dr Lanre Bamidele, Dr Harry Garuba, Dr, Emevwo Biakolo and a host of others. The consultation led to the formation of what is now known as the Oyo State Chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). We were meeting first at the Arts Theatre,UniversityofIbadanand later at the then Dr Bode Sowande’s Odu Themes Meridian, Agbowo inIbadan. Later still, the chapter moved its reading venue to Dr Marinho-owned Educare Trust, then at Coca cola area ofIbadan.
I was producing a monthly newsletter. Costs of producing this newsletter was later picked up by Dr Marinho – whom ANA Oyo owes a lot of credit for his immense contributions. I need to state that we held readings in the premises of some individuals such as late Chief Bola Ige – who is also a very strong pillar of the association.
We held annual conventions, carried out literary/book reading sessions in schools all in an attempt to ensure that majority of our people imbibe the spirit of reading at least two or three books a month and that young ones in schools cultivate the habit of reading and writing. We instituted literary prizes and gave out awards in this respect. Yoruba, which is the indigenous language in our area was included among the categories of literary activities for which we created prizes. Mr Ebika Anthony and Mr Olumide Sowunmi were always on hand to assist me in getting things going then. I remember moving around to places like Ile Ife, Oyo,Abeokutaand Ago Iwoye to enlist the interest of our fellow writers/aspiring writers in those places in ANA. One is happy to note that our efforts paid off as Ogun and Osun states chapters were later established. One is also happy to state that our modest efforts yielded fruits as members of our branch later won prizes both locally and internationally just as some of the then fledgling writers later became established. The tradition is still on.
It is probably germane to mention here that I held the forte during the turbulent period of the late dictator, General Sani Abacha. Our General Secretary then, Mr Nnimmo Bassey had to go underground because he was being hounded by security agencies of the late dictator. As the Assistant General Secretary then I held the forte. Meaning that one has been with ANA even during some dark periods. Here, tributes must be paid to such people like Mr Steve Shaba, late Chief Bola Ige, late Chief Wale Ogunyemi, Dr Marinho, Prof Osofisan, Mr Ofeimun, Mr Ogaga Ifowodo etc for providing the safety net for our GS then and for making ANA to trudge on.
4. As a member of outgoing administration, what were some of the challenges that the administration faced in the period?
First, as is always the case where there is paucity of fund, the administration suffered lack of money to finance its activities. Along the line, the country got into the frenzy of electoral activities which seemed to take the shine off other engagements. This, ordinarily, should be a catalyst, rather than an impediment for literary activities. But it affected us in a way. This is in form of attention being shifted to the electoral activities by most of the people who would have otherwise been more beholding to ANA.
Then, there was the issue of our floating Secretariat. By this I mean a situation in which we have to keep ourLagosoffice while the hub of activities should be inAbuja, the federal capital. Under normal circumstances, this should not be a problem at all. That is in a situation where there is a proper structure. Lack of such a structure was one of our drawbacks. It is an area we are to work hard to do something about.
I need to state one thing at this juncture. There is always this nagging thing about collective responsibility. But if we must be honest with ourselves, there are varying responsibilities in accordance with what the Constitution assigns to each office. In the outgoing administration, I am an Ex-Officio member – having no specific portfolio. But that is not to say that I am in any way outside the administration or trying to exonerate myself from whatever lapses is seen in the administration. I mentioned the foregoing so that in appraising us vis a vis my aspiration to a higher office in the association, there will not a vicarious misrepresentation.
5.What is your take on the Nigerian literary scene?
Nigerian literary scene is a very interesting, very vibrant one. It is an environment one has a longing and pride to be part of. Longing because of its fascinating dynamism and its capacity to titillate and challenge. Pride, because of the image it has carved for itself locally and internationally. When African literature is mentioned,Nigerialiterature looms large within it. One is proud to be part of the tapestry called Nigerian literature, its organistic semblance and its undoubted rich future.
6. What would you say are the problems affecting literature, writers and literary associations in Nigeria?
Although the problems bedeviling one may dovetail into the other, they are not necessarily the same. The major problems or challenges that literature inNigeriafaces is that of exposition. I mentioned earlier that one is proud to be associated withNigerialiterature because of its universal acknowledgement. It is however a fact that its present image and popularity can be enhanced much further. Indeed, should be enhanced much further. For instance, how many of Nigerian literary works are translated into many world languages? Outside of Achebe, Soyinka, Tutuola, Osundare, not many Nigerian writers are available in other languages . such would happen mostly to works that are known.
The challenges faced by Nigerian writers begin with limited avenues for the publication of their works. The number of publishers is not enough to cope with the number of works being churned out by writers. Some otherwise promising outfits in publishing have gone under for a variety of reasons while many that are still on are thriving mainly by relying on recommended texts, getting printing contracts from such organizations like NERDC, NBEC, etc as well as by publishing high profile biographies which would be launched with funfare. Few, if any, are publishing companies that are thriving mainly on selling books they publish – especially creative books.
The question to ask is why is this so? Could it be that publishing, by its very nature, is not a business that can stand on its own? The answer, definitely, is No. publishing can be a very thriving business as is the case in many other climes outsideNigeriaand as used to be the case in the early days of publishing even here inNigeria. By that, I mean in 1960s through 1980s.
The problem came with the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) with its attendant devaluation of the naira and other components of the programme as introduced by Ibrahim Babangida administration. Disposable incomes of an average Nigerian dwindled while costs of production rose. Few people were (and still are) able to buy books while publishers are forced to sell books at relatively high prices due to high cost of production. The problem has continued to deepen since then.
I can summarize what I’ve been saying this way: Literary organization have problems – like many other human organizations. These problems are exacerbated by lack of resources with which to operate. In spite of this lack of resources, members don’t spare their organization.
The way out is to strengthen the organization structurally and financially while members should show more understanding and more commitment.
7. What role do you think the new media (the internet) can play in taking ANA and the Nigerian literature to the next level or meeting up to its counterparts in other parts of the world?
Just as Nigerian media practitioners (mediamen) are taking good advantage of the new media to disseminate ‘news fromNigeria’ to the outside world, writers too have to do same. Luckily, there are lots of technologies for this. The Association too (ANA) will have to take the advantage of the ICT to make its presence more felt locally and internationally as well as to further project Nigerian literature.
8. What do you propose as the way forward?
The way forward is firstly, to be versed in the usage of computer, the internet and the diverse media of communication, especially those that are internet-related. The second thing is for our government to improve greatly on the infrastructure. Electricity and functional Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Governments should spend more money on education and improve on the welfare of the people generally. It is when people would not have to be terribly worried about the basic things of life that they would be in a good position to patronize the arts. Fundamental to all these however is the issue of security. Since it is a person who is alive and is in a healthy condition that can write or patronize the arts and since everywhere in Nigeria today is virtually under siege, it means that the issue of security is vital among the major challenges government has to deal with for any aspect of our life – including our literature – to thrive well.
9. In the coming election, do you intend to contest any post?
Yes, I’m running for the position of General Secretary of the Association by the grace of God.
10. If given the mandate as the General-Secretary of ANA, what are you coming to tackle; and how?
I mentioned some of the challenges faced by the present administration earlier on. I will tackle those as well as the issue of making the association more visible, more vibrant, more respected and one which will be more responsive to its members.
The 15 Action Plan as contained in my Manifesto spells out what I hope to do as General Secretary. A copy is given to you – if space permits its usage. It is as follows: (It is important to state beforehand that Manifesto is only a précis of what is to be done as it would be too unwieldy if details of what to be done and the general modality for doing them are included. But it does give an insight into the direction we are to face).
1.. Ensuring that a functional secretariat is opened for ANA inAbujawith a proper liaison office inLagos.
Computerization of the Association’s activities. By being more ICT-compliant, ANA members and their works would be more widely known and patronized.3. Making the association more visible both in concrete terms and in the national discourse.
4 Availability of libraries is important for books. ANA, under my General Secretaryship, will work with governments at national, state and local government levels to establish libraries. Governments will be persuaded to bulk purchase every title published in their areas and stock them in these libraries.
5 Closer relationship will be fostered between the National Executive and States’ Chapters through a regular meeting that will involve the NEC and States’ Chairmen and their Secretaries.
6 The Federal Government and its appropriate agencies would be engaged with a view to ensuring that materials for book production are available at affordable prices. Besides soliciting for the liberalization of material availability, we will also encourage the production of some of these materials locally. (Indeed, it would be a matter of re-activating the production as we used to have some of these things produced in this country before).
7 It is observed that acrimonies often characterize discourses on or about ANA. A perusal of the situation suggests that this often happens due to lack of necessary information. We shall ensure that information about the association is more widely available and at the earliest possible time. (This is without prejudice to the fact that some seem to derive fun in ‘kicking’ the association even when they possess information). In like manner, dispute resolution mechanism will be put in place with a view to having misunderstandings cleared as quickly as possible.
8 Efforts will be made to streamline and increase literary prizes in the country.
9 ANA has to literally go cap in hand whenever a programme is to be held due to lack of fund. If elected, efforts would be made to ensure that the association has credit balances in its accounts and be able to pursue its programmes with relative ease.
10 Young authors will be given more encouragement and more outlets to bring their work to the public. When I was Co-ordinator and later Secretary of Oyo ANA, we encouraged a lot of young and budding writers then. I also used my position as Reviews Editor in Tribune for the same purpose. One is happy to state that among those whom one has assisted in this regard became established and even prize winners. We will encourage formation of Writers’ Clubs in schools and ensure that they function. A lot of incentives will be provided to make this a reality. We will make it a national, countrywide affair.
11 Workshops for budding and established authors will be organized regularly. Content of these workshops will include the latest in the world of writing and publishing.
12 The Writers’ Village inAbujawill become a reality while a prototype – on a smaller scale – will be encouraged at states’ level.
13 Efforts would be made to ensure that the much vaunted National Endowment for Literature (aside the $200,000 Endowment announced last year for the Arts generally) come into fruition and that writers can really access and benefit from the fund.
14 We will create the atmosphere for older members of the Association to relate more with it. It is observed that many old writers and some others who are not so old do not relate with the Association as they should. The administration of which I’m the GS will ensure that this is ameliorated.
15 If elected as General Secretary, our executive council will foster greater and mutually beneficial relationship with relevant organizations locally and internationally – for grants, fellowships, endowments, exchanges, sales outlets etc. In this wise, opportunities will be created to have funds for writers to take time off from their normal schedule to go and write and at the same time create more rooms for their works to be available to the public.
11. Do you think you stand a chance, considering pedigree of other aspirants for the position?
Answer: I believe ANA members will vote for me for a number of reasons chief of which is competence. As stated interalia, I started the very first ANA Chapter anywhere inNigeria. That is the Oyo State Chapter of the Association. For a lont time, it was a model. The 1990 ANA Convention which we hosted continues to be a reference point till today. Members of our branch whom we nurture have won several prizes locally and nationally – even internationally.
Also, those who know me will testify to my penchant for building bridges. With a sense of humility, I like to say that I have friends in virtually all parts of the country. Part of these came as a result of the little I was able to do to advance their writing through my journalistic literary activities.
Experience is also something that can not be discountenanced. As I told you. I’ve been involved with ANA since the 1980s. Oyo ANA was formed in 1988 and is still very virile today. I’ve served in the national executive council as Ex-officio member and as Assistant General Secretary at different times. Finally, I can be a bridge between the old members of the association and the young ones. Young members of ANA with whom we have interacted can testify to my passion in seeing their works grow. Being eneral Secretary will give me better leverage to do this at a higher level and with greater impact.
ANA members want an ANA that is virile, that is visible, that is dynamic, that is courageous and is not found wanting in national discourse.
I have a record in the human rights circle and also as a social worker. All these will be brought to bear on the running of ANA when I become the General Secretary.
In other words, we will engage all those who should be engaged, including the authorities without being confrontational – where there is no need to do so. ANA is a literary organization. But it is also an organization to which rights of citizens are crucial. We will not keep quiet where their rights are being trampled upon in any way. This will be done maturedly, constructively and in a manner devoid of political partisanship or sentiment.
11. How prepared are you towards winning the election?
Answer: I am fully prepared both for winning the election and for running the office. My coming out to contest was as a result of consultations made and the conviction that ANA needs a capable hand to run its affairs as General Secretary. Of the lot, those to whom the association means something know that I’m the most qualified, the most competent.
The office of General Secretary of ANA requires experience, maturity, panache, carriage and competence. Also, I have some international connections which I plan to tap for the benefit of ANA and its members.
These connections span North America, the Scandinavian countries, Europe and the Middle East not to talk of our continent here,Africa.
Answer: Thanks for sharing your time with us.
Answer: You are welcome.