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  Laura King

  Chuma Nwokolo


Wale Okediran    

The Politics of Ink

 Interview with Wale Okediran, former member of the Nigerian House of Representatives and current President of the Association of Nigerian Authors.


 : Most writers are intensely political people but tend to avoid formal engagement in state politics as it involves electoral offices. You bucked the trend then as an elected member of a national legislature and now also as the elected President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA. Tell us more about the factors determining your involvement in politics, and if you think more writers, especially in the developing world, should be similarly engaged.

Wale: I was introduced to politics by Chief Bola Ige, the late Attorney General of the federation, who incidentally, was also a writer. It was his opinion that it is not enough for writers to criticize from the outside but should also get engaged in the political system from the inside. From my experience in the last four years, I agree entirely with him. When I first got to the House of Representatives, I felt out of place until I was able to find legislators of equal minds with whom we formed a group, The Forum for Democracy and Good Governance, which eventually formed the nucleus of the group that finally shot down [President] Obasanjo’s tenure elongation bid. The group has also been in the vanguard of insisting that only people-oriented policies see the light of day in the parliament. In view of all these achievements, it is my belief that more writers should join politics in order to improve the standard of our fledging democracy.

 : What would you like to achieve and be remembered by as President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA, and what have been the main difficulties you are encountering in pursuance of these objectives?

Wale: My objectives as ANA President are, to improve the standard of writing in the country through regular skill empowerment activities such as Writing Workshops, Literary Exchange Programs as well as regular publication of our Newsletters and annual Magazine. My Executive Council is also pursuing membership drives so that each of the 36 states of the country will have an ANA branch. Closely related to this is the membership auditing going on in all the chapters in order to improve the quality of membership. Finally, I will like to make sure that the ANA property in Abuja is fully developed and commissioned before the end of my tenure. In respect of the property, we have been able to get the services of a developer whom we hope will be able to complete the project on time. Finance remains the main challenge to all the above but we have been lucky with support from many donor agencies.

 : Much of your time as President has also been spent fire-fighting or settling disputes, in various branch associations and between varied writer interest groups. Did you expect to meet this much disunity in the body of writers?

Wale: Honestly, I never anticipated that things were as bad as I found them. Although I had expected that writers can sometimes be very emotional over certain issues, I never expected that these differences would degenerate to such high levels of attrition.

 : As a member of the Nigerian legislature you are specially placed, it would seem, to lobby the case for increased government support to Nigerian writing. Does your partisan involvement in Nigerian politics and position in government actually help or hinder your effectiveness as the voice of Nigerian writers?

Wale: Not at all. In fact, my election as ANA President was well celebrated by my colleagues in the National Assembly. In his letter of congratulations to me, the Senate President, Senator Nnamani called my election a big honor for the Nigerian Parliament. He went ahead to sponsor an ANA prize for Igbo literature while the Speaker, Hon Aminu Masari hosted myself and the exco [ANA Executive Council] to a dinner to mark the occasion. All that demonstrations of support cut across party lines. The problem I had in pushing forward issues for writers actually came from the executive arm of government who by law are expected to execute decisions of the parliament. This difficulty came in view of the well-known hostility of our leaders to writers whom they don’t like to empower so that they will not expose their weaknesses and sometimes dishonesty.

: Who are your favourite writers in and outside Nigeria, and why?

Wale: I enjoy Russian Literature, especially the works of Pasternak and Dostoyevsky among others because the Russia of their time had so many similarities with Nigeria of today. In fact, Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed inspired my Dreams Die at Twilight, which was shortlisted for the first NNLG fiction contest. In Nigeria, Soyinka, Achebe, Osundare and the many of our other up and coming writers continue to fascinate me.

 : These days a President of ANA must also pay attention to the growing body of Nigerian writers and writings outside Nigeria. Is there any plan to formally organize ANA representation outside the home country?

 : We have been in touch with some of our writers abroad on the issue of engaging them one way or the other in order to make use of their skills and experience. I had a lengthy discussion on this issue with Harry Garuba during my last visit to Cape Town, South Africa, while Pius Adesanmi has promised to support the Association as soon as possible. We also welcome more suggestions from our members in the diaspora on this very important issue.

 : ANA is a writers’ body in a developing country with a continuing history of government emasculation of free speech, sometimes leading to the harassment of writers. Does ANA have a properly organized means of intervening in these circumstances, or of generating public debate on good government?

Wale: ANA has a pool of friends/members in the media, law enforcement agencies and government. These people have always been ready to assist us whenever we call on them for help.

 : Tell us about your own writing. You are a recent winner of an Association of Nigerian Authors Prize for Fiction. Is your writing being affected in any positive way by your involvements in politics?

Wale: Positively and negatively. Positive because I now have a lot of raw material, garnered from my political experience, with which I believe I can produce new and great works. In the negative way, the pressure and demands of [political] office have not allowed me enough time to read and write as I would have liked to do.

 : In these days of conflict in the perception and interpretation of generations of Nigerian writing, have you any final Presidential word for the country’s writers, young and old, new and established?

Wale: My final word will be for our writers to develop a high degree of Emotional Intelligence with which they should deal with each other. They should try as much as possible to avoid the penchant for keeping malice and losing their temper on the slightest provocation. It is also my hope that once we can have more publishing opportunities as well as literary activities, the vocational frustrations which usually spark off these crises in the first instance will have been dealt with.

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