THE EXCLUSION OF NIGERIAN WRITERS FROM THE ALI BABA LED FEDERAL GOVERNMENT COVID19 CREATIVE SECTOR COMMITTEE: #WRITERSMATTERTOO!
The exclusion of Nigerian writers from the Ali Baba led Federal Government Covid19 Creative Sector Committee is telling of the contempt with which the government and other sector actors hold Against writers in the country. It explains why in spite of the many accolades and honours earned by Nigerian writers internationally, which has placed the country in an enviable position amongst the committees of nations known for knowledge production and excellence in the literary art globally, literature is still underdeveloped. Wole Soyinka is a global ambassador of culture and literature as the first black man to have won the coveted Nobel Prize for literature in 1986, Chinua Achebe occupies a legendary position in the world’s committee of men of letters because of his excellence as a creative writer and author of Things Fall Apart. Even today, Chimamanda Adichie, Helon Habila, E. E Sule, Teju Cole, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, and a thousand other young Nigerian literary creatives continue to astonish the world by winning global accolades as writers. Nigeria, of course, takes the credit for it all. No other creative sector has given Nigeria the kind of solid reputation that the creative writing as a sector or subsector has been able to achieve both in the past and present. Which Nigerian musician for example, has won a Grammy award for excellence in music aside nominations? Which Nigerian Actor from Nollywood has won an Oscar award for acting? And which Nigerian comedian has won and attracted any profound goodwill to this country? Why then are writers ignored in this country despite their overwhelming acts of valor and patriotism?
When the Minister for Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed set up the creative sector committee to gauge and determine the impact of the Covid19 on the sector and fashion out measures of government interventions in the sector, it conspicuously left out writers. The committee is headed by Ali Baba as chairman, with the likes of Segun Arinze, Dare Art Alade and other sector representatives as members. NO reputable Nigerian writer was considered fit at the outset to be respectfully included in the committee as a member. If this isn’t contempt what is? And to think that Ali Baba is also a published author, beats the imagination as to why writers were not represented in the committee. Naturally, Ali Baba is a comedian and as such he would regard himself as representing that subsector or the entertainment sector? Why couldn’t they consider a Nigerian writer to represent the creative subsector when we have the likes Lola Shoneyin, BM Dzukogi, Toni Kan, Ahmed Maiwada, Daga Tollar, and other reputable writers across the length and breadth of this country? I have mentioned here writers whose reputations are towering in the literary space in the country and who are known by likely anyone who regard his/herself as writer! Of course, the impression created was that there are no such person’s who can stand for the creative writing subsector. But that is a foul game aimed at silence and shortchanging Nigerian writers from any form of government intervention to the sector like they have always done, the entertainment sectors almost always monopolizes the system.
Well, steps were taken to correct this obvious anomaly by the nomination of BM Dzukogi, a well known writer, author, literary administrator, publisher and mentor to several equally well known younger writers in Nigeria today. He was eventually inaugurated as a member of the committee and he became active in mobilizing writers to participate in the online data collection by filling the form created by the committee. Many of us did fill the form, but the timeframe was short. Dzukogi is a former General Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) an as such he cannot be said to be invisible in the Nigerian literary space as he is well known by all the major actors, and he cannot equally afford to be silent or intimidated in a committee of creatives. Although he was nominated by a member of the Federal House of Representatives after complaints by some writers of their exclusion from the committee, on social media and in private. However, in what can best be described as a war of ego and anti-dissent, Ali Baba, after a heated argument with BM Dzukogi over the request or demand by Dzukogi for the inclusion of “Creative Writing” as a subsector, removed Dzukogi from the committee’s WhatsApp group which is the committee’s platform for communicating ideas and meeting. He did not only remove him from the group but also blocked him so that Dzukogi couldn’t reach him or the committee via any means. Some of us have been opportuned to read the exchanges that led to his removal, it is simply a matter of pushing for the interest of the subsector to be well placed in the committee’s work. Ali Baba insists that Creative writing fits into the subsector of “Book Publishing and Printing”, which largely includes creative writing. But that is not even true, although publishers work with materials written by writers to produce books and other stuffs, the art of creative writing is a distinct endeavour that has no bearing on the publisher and printing subsector in a direct sense. They even have distinct associations for example. Remember that, film, comedy, music, and dance all belong to the performing sector—entertainment. However, they are all have representatives on the committee as subsectors. What then is wrong to ask that creative writing be accorded a similar place in the committee’s resolution. Now, since they won’t bulge, Dzukogi suggested that creative writing should be added to the publishing and print subsector, to be regarded as “Creative writing, publishing and print” subsector. Even this suggestion is met with harsh antagonism from Ali Baba and some of his entertainment friends I the committee.
Clearly, Ali Baba’s comments or reactions to BM Dzukogi’s submission smacks of condescension, he makes it seem as though writers have no place in the committee just as suggested in the first place. He talks about writers having a sense of entitlement and feeling superior to other creatives, just because of a request to consider writers appropriately in a committee? If writers are not well captured in that document, whatever accrues to them automatically goes to publishers and printers, who operate on a different level. This is the point of difference that Ali Baba fails to appreciate and to tolerate from Dzukogi, which has clearly led to his expulsion of Dzukogi from the committee. But the questions many are asking is, Does Ali Baba have the right to remove a member of a committee set up by the federal government considering that he was also appointed by the same authority? Under what moral grounds did he take such a thoughtless decision? He is of course the chairman of the committee, something I am sure nobody is contesting in the committee. But what is the use a representative who cannot speak up for the interest of the people he is representing? Was he expecting Dzukogi to fold his arms and agree to everything they decide without pushing for the interest of his primary constituency which is creative writing and Nigerian writers? Ali Baba’s ant-dissent attitude is unprofessional and bereft of the consciousness that he prides himself as having and as could be seen through his art. He deserves to be called out and corrected accordingly.
Nigerian writers must fight for their place because we are all stakeholders contributing to the growth of the society. If publishers and printers are paying taxes it is because writers pay them to be able to pay taxes and writers too pay for ISBN and other taxes. No sector actors should lord it over others, we are all equals as creatives and deserve equal representation. I therefore call on Nigerian writers to rise to the occasion by speaking up for equal representation and recognition by the government of Nigeria. It is our right to be carried and supported by the government like saner nations are doing for their writers. We need a national grant for literature and the arts in general, not just the entertainment sector alone.
Paul Liam is a Nigerian poet, author, and critic.