Hyacinth Dada Obunseh loves literature. For nearly three decades now, he has served the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA diligently at different levels: state, zonal and national. Interestingly, Obunseh, who understands ANA and the challenges writers face in Nigeria, is still as enthusiastic and ready for service today, as he was, many years ago.
He believes ANA has every reason to celebrate after 40 years of strengthening writing, discovering talents, creating platforms and opportunities, touching lives and engendering friendship and brotherhood across Nigeria.
Obunseh who received the ANA/Matatu Prize for Children’s Literature in 1998 is currently the Executive Secretary of ANA at the National Secretariat in Abuja. He speaks on ANA at 40, the challenge of leadership, the politics of the writers’ body and all the outstanding issues.
Q: Twenty-three years ago, your first book won you the ANA/MATATU Prize. Since then, what has happened?
Thank you very much for this question. My political interests in ANA have not been too much of a blessing to me. Rather, my interests have kept me too preoccupied so much so that there is little or no space for anything else. And when I could have gotten a breather after I lost my bid for re-election, I took ill for so many years. I was down with heart failure. But even at that, I did not completely lose touch with writing and my brethren. I contributed to anthologies, journals and reviews here and there. I could have done better though. I hope to publish my new collection of stories sometime this year. Who knows what it will do for me.
Q: Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA has gone through many phases since its inception. Looking back, how do you see leadership in your days as executive member and leadership today?
Well, I will borrow from ex international, Sunday Oliseh in answering this one. He compared playing now to then, and came up with the verdict that himself and his team mates and those before them played selflessly for a country with little appreciation from government or anywhere but these days, despite the pandemic, the players are pampered and yet they play for self. I see a new set of leaders different from my time in the light of our realities.
Q: You lost your re-election bid as General-Secretary; what went wrong?
Pure Politics and nothing more; that is ANA politics and this is part of the problems of leadership. I had stepped on some strong, powerful toes in my own camp in the actualization of my assignments and they came for my jugular, from the very top. There was nothing I could do. The forces against me simply overwhelmed me. More so, there were some internal crises within the leadership of the executive council then. Some of them felt I was too powerful and thought that I should be checkmated. Indeed there is no gain saying that I was one of ANA’s three most powerful General Secretaries in history if we add Nduka Otiono, the Duke and Denja Abdullahi, our own Ozzidi-Aare ‘kakanfo! That were power brokers in their time.
Q: From our findings, you were not around to witness the Enugu botched elections but you have been very outspoken on it. What are your views; or have they changed?
My views remain the same: candid and unshaken. The events that led to the Enugu debacle are very clear for any well-meaning and serious person to see without looking too deep. After my recovery, I had the dream of a Vice Presidency in mind and began to reach out to my old contacts. The reports that filtered back to me was not agreeable with the ANA I left. I heard about violence, intimidation, bags of money changing hands, campaign of calumny and all such undesirables. Worst of all, some campaigns were not based on issues and ideologies as usual but on character assassination, especially the character of the immediate past President, whom I know, respect and worked with for a long time. I chose to stay neutral at first and watch while questioning everything and probing everyone that was involved. I collected so many documents on the accusations, counters, and defense. I finally came up with some questions which those on the left could not answer
They rather chose to abuse and insult my person, using my medical history and family status (widower) against me. Even kids who have not blown their literary nose insulted me, all because of the naira rain they were enjoying. But by far, what hurt me most was their insulting and disparaging comments on our living ancestors like Olu Obafemi, Akachi Ezeigbo, Odia Ofeimun, Wale Okediran, Femi Osofisan to mention a few. But I am happy I took my stand. Then the Board of Trustees stepped in with a directive to the Advisory Board on the steps to take, while expelling the rabble rouser. I found myself on the side of truth and the High Court here in Abuja where they took the matter confirmed my position to be true and the right one.
Q: What really is this never-ending war in ANA all about? Is it leadership crisis or what exactly?
I can’t categorically say that the war has ended but the battle field is quiet now. Just like the end of the infamous Nigeria/Biafra War, the war continued after it had officially ended. Grapevine has it that the rebel writers may have secretly appealed the judgment. We wait to see the outcome. The fight, like our own Odia Ofeimun told me personally when I sought his intervention to stop the bruhaha, is not about literature per se or really about leadership tussle in the true sense of it, but control of the heart of our thirty-six hectares falliwMamman Jiya Vatsa Writers village land gift. Somebody wants it at all cost and even went ahead to get his family and close associates to pretend to vote for him and he purported, at least to him and them to now own the land and renamed it “my land, my father’s land”.
Q: The courts have spoken and the other camp seems to have taken their loss in good faith. Where are you now?
I believe I touched on this earlier. The battle field is quiet, no gun shots heard but they may be re-strategizing for another assault. As the desperados that they are, they cannot be trusted at all.
Q: How would you describe the current crop of ANA leaders that you are working with?
I would say they are not perfect, just like the rest of us, but they are led by a gentleman President, who was christened the people’s President after he won the court case, and a Lady Vice President. .
Q: What are you doing to engender total reconciliation?
Not much is being done at the moment but I must add I have loaned and still continues to lend my voice, but to no avail. What I do know however is that ANA is now one under the people’s President, Camillus Ukah. And complete peace, like that of lambs will finally return, and soon too.
Q: ANA turns 40 this year, is ANA celebrating?
Yes indeed, it’s been forty beautiful years for ANA and we are rolling out the drums and the red carpets from April. We are going on a ten city reflections on the resilience of Nigerian literature. We are also going back to Nsukka where it all began. And then to Ibadan that seems to be the literary breathing ground that groomed achebe, Clark, Okigbo, etc and then down south, Port Harcourt, Owerri, Lagos, up north, Bauchi, Minna, and Makurdi.
Q: Why so many cities?
The cities are not really much, all things considered. We are going to those cities because of what they represent in our lives. Mind you, those cities are significant and we can easily relate with each of them.
Q: Who funds your projects or how are you going to get funds to run your projects?
Just like any other organization, association and even company’s out there, these have not been the best of times for ANA. We always find funds for our projects. Each project finds its own funds. ANA has a worldwide membership in thousands, but unfortunately, most of this numbers hardly ever pay their dues until convention time and especially election years. But ANA has traditional and supportive friends in Cadbury, Nigeria LNG, Niger Delta Development Commission, Chevron, National Library, Copyright Commission, Centre for Black and African Art and Civilization, National Council for Arts and Culture, Ministry of Information and Culture, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and others who we go cap in hand to fund our projects. I have not left out the different state governments who host our programs and the institutions also. Some of these funders have also endowed our prizes in the different genres of literature. Prose, poetry, drama, women’s writings, environmental writings, short stories, newspapers and magazines articles and so on.
Q: How has the current world-wide pandemic affected your association?
We will cope, one way or the other. Our traditional friends are true friends who have been true to their friendship with us through the years. We believe they will stand by us again this year, especially as it is a special anniversary year.
Q: Celebrating in ten cities is going to cost your association quite some money, how are you going to cope, especially in this situation when the country is in a record third recession?
I am proud but humble enough to say that the top cadre of the current ANA leadership were able to see those qualities in me and deduced that they would do well to work with me and tap from my wealth of experience and history. They invited me to join the team when I showed interest in returning to work in Abuja and I immediately accepted. I must say, it has been a pleasant ride for us all so far. Thank you.