A confluence of culture and literati in Ibadan

By Maik Ortsrrga

Ibadan

Running splash of rust

And gold-flung and scattered

Among seven hills like broken

China in the sun.

When the renowned Nigerian poet and writer, J.P Clark, wrote the famous five line poem “Ibadan’, It was his way of describing the ancient town, the differences in the different parts of the town and the lack of  plan. But apart from the jagged nature of Ibadan, it is unarguably Nigeria’s city of literature and Arts. It was here that a group of young writes under the guidance of Ulli Beier, gathered in 1961 to form the Mbari Club which became the centre for cultural and creative activities by African writers, artists and musicians. The choice of “Mbari” an Igbo word was suggested by Chinua Achebe as a concept relating to creation and laurels. The early Mbari members included Chris Okigbo, J.P Clark, the South African writer, Ezekiel Mphalele, Mabel Segun, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko, with Fela Kuti debuting as a band leader there.

With the above, background, it was not out of place for the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) to kick start the celebration of its forty years of existence in this pace-setter environment under the very relevant theme, “ Nigerian Literature : The Fertilising Power of Ibadan”.   The highlights of the three day event were as follows:

Day one which began on Thurday April 22, 2001 featured the arrival of several writers across Nigeria at Tunde Odunlade Arts and Culture Connexions, Bodija, Ibadan. There was a welcome party featuring poetry dance and jokes, with Femi Ajayi Internal Live Band performing for ANA members and invited guest from 6:00 p.m till late in to the night.

Writers gathered the next day at the Wole Soyinka Theatre, University of Ibadan with eagerness in their eyes to witness a bountiful celebration. It was a meeting of literature and culture with the Oyo State LOC members and ANA  president appearing in a green asoebi with white  stripes to celebrate ANA’s forty years.

The floor was opened by Mr. Biola Layonu, the ebullient Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA Oyo chapter, who gave a captivating welcome address, stating the significance of Ibadan in the development of literature and arts in Nigeria. He maintained that Ibadan is not just significant as the intellectual capital of Nigeria, but a place that is home to the highest number of Professors in the entire African continent.Mr. Loyonu also noted that some of the finest Nigerian writers of the Oyo Chapter of ANA such as Prof. Kole Omotosho, Prof. Femi Osofisan, Dr. Wale Okediran, and Prof. Remi Raji-Oyelade have held the highest position as national presidents of ANA at different epochs. He further stated that with this kind of background the ANA @ 40 celebrations kicking off in Ibadan is inspiring and that several activities were lined up for celebration.

ANA President, Camillus Ukah, in his address, revealed the significance that is often placed on the number forty which seems to represent the coming of age. He recounted the story of the sustenance of ANA by patriarchs and matriarchs like Prof. Femi Osofisan, Prof. Mabel Segun, Prof. Kole Omotoso, Alhaji Labo Yari, Prof. Olu Obafemi Dr. Wale Okediran, Prof. Remi Raji-Oyelade, Odia Ofeimum, Prof. May Nwosu, Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo, Barrister Yusuf Ali, Prof. Sam Ukala, Prof. Sunnie Ododo, Prof. Joe Ushie, Prof.  Idris  Amali, Mallam Denja Abduallahi, Prof. Al Bishak, Arch. Chukwudi Eze and many others who have availed today’s writers of their time, wisdom and counsel to build on the glorious heritage which they have handed down.

Mr Ukah maintained that ANA is open to all Nigerians authors / writers and that this great family of writers stands against any attempt to sectionalize and fractionalize the body. To him, it is on account of this that, the Association hopes to put smiles on the faces of the forebears by carrying out a befitting celebration to mark the association’s forty years.

The ANA @ 40 keynote address was delivered by Dr. Bayo Adebowale, an Associate Professor of literature at the Department of English University of Ibadan on the topic, “Nigerian Literature: From Golden Era to Age of Resilience.” The keynote speaker discussed Nigerian literature at three levels, the golden era, the crises period and the age of resilience. He identified the Golden Era of Nigerian Literature as beginning from the late 1950s and the late 1970s when the country’s literary output was greatly acknowledge word-wide through the efforts of writers like Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark, Chris Okigbo, Ola Rotimi, Niyi Osundare and so forth.

However, the crisis period came almost unconsciously like a thief in the night, bringing about the disappearance of notable literary series like Pacesetter, Drumbeat and African Writers’ Series among others which in the good days had taken Nigerian literature to limelight.

The crises period also witnessed the devaluation of the Naira, culminating into general economic depression affecting the issuance of literature books by publishers. There also came the migration of prominent Nigerian literary talents in search of greener pastures around the world. Also, the introduction of partisan politics into the administrative fabrics  of writers’ bodies, the disappearance of robust critical tradition of the era of Bem Obumselu, Bernth Lindfors, Charles Nnolim, Biodun Jeyifo, Ernest Emenyonu, Grace Ogot, Romanus Egudu, Oyin Ogunba, Abiola Irere, Ulli Bier, Sam Asein, Emmanuel Obiechina, Sunday Anozie and Eldred Durosinmi Jones were identified to be associated with the crises era.

The crisis era also witnessed the clamp down on writers by government and the elimination of others like Ken Saro-wiwa and Mamman Vatsa among other challenges like infrastructural decay making writers uncomfortable in carrying out their work..

Dr. Bayo concluded that despite  the above challenges Nigerian literature grew in resilience and refused to die as many writers won reputable prizes in the age of resilience including, the Orange Prize, Caine Prize, Booker Prize among others. The keynote speaker ended on a note of hope that Nigerian literature cannot die.

The keynote was followed by reactions from the audience before Day two was closed with presentation of awards to notable personalities and the presentation of the book, “ Flutes and Drums” by ANA Oyo State Chapter.

Writers were also treated to a Drama Night,  watching  a stage performance  Prof. Femi Osofisan’s play entitled “Medaye.”

Day three witnessed a lot of performances / readings from various writers and student groups. Prof. Femi Osofisan’s reading of the short story “Easter Drama” written by Prof. Akinyemi Ishola of blessed memory was quite hilarious. The session was rounded off by a panel discussion on the theme “ Nigerian Literature and the Fertilising Power of Ibadan.

The crack team of discussants included Dr. Charles Akinsete, Dr, Osarubu Igudia and Dr. Clement Akangbe under the chairmanship of Prof. Remi- Raji Oyelade.  The audience participated brilliantly all through the panel discussion.

What followed was a dance party in honour of ANA General Secretary, Mr. Maik Ortserga whose birthday culminated with the last day of the event on the 24th of April, 2021. There was also a cocktail party for writers to rewind after the three days of various literary and artistic activities before their departure from Ibadan the next day.