Monday, June 2, 2008

Changing Chairs at JosANA

“For the reason that your friends are moving on up in their lives, do you feel less sad that they are moving away?” That question precisely, in its convoluted syntax and import, confronts JosANA. We are faced with the loss {not in the sense of death though} of our Chairman, Allen AbdulJabbar Omale, who has most unexpectedly been poached away by the smart alecs of ANA Abuja following his taking up an administrative appointment with the Nigerian College of Education Commission {N.C.E.C.} Abuja. The meeting held on Saturday 31st May 2008 at the Nigerian Film Institute, Jos was the last at which Allen Omale would preside as Chairman.

The meeting started with the arrival of Bose Tsevende who drove in with Alpha Emeka, Michael Emeka and David Onotu. They met Richard Ali just outside the gates and together they set up the chairs for the meeting. Redzie Jugo subsequently showed up. Chairman Allen was late in coming and Richard Ali assumed the chair of the meeting. Person by person, the balcony filled up with our members including Prof. Kanchana Ugbabe who had not been attending meetings as regularly as she used to and her student Stephanie Onyejekwe, poet, who just picked up a B.A. in English from the University of Jos. Banter and news about the fortnight were exchanged. Richard Ali confirmed that five of his poems were published in the well-approved African Writing 4 journal which until very recently was edited by Afam Akeh. Everyone congratulated him and Redzie Jugo asked, via a “motion”, that such information as how to send in submissions to journals such as AW ought to be relayed to the members of JosANA. Ali, who is Secretary General, agreed and said he would spread the word on that. At this point, Dr. Agboola arrived with his two kids, ‘Laja and Opeoluwa, aged ten and eight respectively. We really are catching them young at JosANA!

Adam Abubakar read an interesting poem - the typical situation writers find themselves in where they express their hearts to a woman in the form of verse and yet claim to have no words to say! It was a fine poem and Redzie Jugo made comments about a clash of imagery in the second stanza. Bose Tsevende and Alpha Emeka also suggested modifications. Abubakar eventually read the poem again and Richard Ali said the trouble with the stanza was that too many similes followed each other and the use of “fumes” in comparison to love tended to jar. Abubakar, BBC 2007 African Performance Playwright, took the comments in good faith. Dr. Agboola then took the floor and read a poem title “Iwa”. “Iwa” connotes “character”, “manners”, “grace” in Yoruba language and the striking thing about the poem was its blend of Yoruba and English. Its first stanza was a Yoruba proverb and it really came to life being read in the baritone of the dreadlocked poetaster. The House loved the poem and took the poet on on the Yoruba. Unwittingly, that poem set the theme of “performing” poetry as opposed to merely reading it. This theme kept recurring through the meeting like a hidden hand at cards. While Dr. Jide Agboola was reading, Chairman Allen Omale {as he then was} came in with his delectable wife, Rahmah. The House broke into applause. But it was strained applause, not because we were sad but because the exertion of our hands was for a fellow collaborator who was moving on and away.

Chairman Omale acknowledged the felicitation of his lieutenants, cronies and troops, each of us highly effective operatives, skilled in the operational arts of contemporary Nigerian writing and intellection. Like General Lee taking leave of his troops at Appomattox, the sadness was mutual but had to be borne like the soldiers we are. We went into the practical matter of the succession. The Vice Chairman, Matthew Mzegha, had declined the Chairmanship because he expected to be transferred from the Nigerian Television College, Jos in the near future. Richard Ali’s stay in Jos was not determinate so he could not take up the Chairmanship for what would amount to an interim period. It was decided that a Chairman be picked from the floor, someone who would guarantee the continuity necessary to consolidate the gains made by Allen Omale. Though we have always been aware of it, we became increasingly more aware of the immense role Allen Omale’s energy and dedication has played in reconsolidating JosANA. Allen Omale mentioned that Bose Tsevende had also declined the post.

However, the House, speaker after speaker, re-nominated Mrs. Ayeni-Tsevende. Everyone, from Redzie Jugo to Richard Ali to Kanchana Ugbabe to Michael Emeka affirmed their belief that she could do the job of chairman. Alpha Emeka however mentioned that the Chairmanship must not be forced on Mrs. Tsevende if she did not wish it. Aunty B, as she is fondly called, was then asked why she was declining. Her reasons were that she was new to JosANA and was not really an administrative person.

Concerning being “new”, the House replied that literary associations were like Phoenix’s; they renew themselves, spend themselves, revive and flag. Indeed, most current members of JosANA are new and it would be recalled that we did have some serious fractious troubles a few years back. Only Redzie Jugo, Allen Omale and Steve Rwang Pam remain from that “old” JosANA. In this way, Aunty B. Tsevende’s first excusat was discounted. As to the second, Richard Ali promised that he personally, and the rest of the EXCO, would be with her all the way if she accepted the JosANA Chair. It was resolved that Aunty B should reconsider her refusal over the next fortnight {until the next meeting}. Baring further declination, it is expected that Bose Ayeni-Tsevende, professional dancer, internationally recognized choreographer and lecturer of Dance at the University of Jos will be the next Chairman {or is it Chairwoman or Chairperson – na which one dey politically correct now sef?} of Jos ANA.

Redzie Jugo said he was sad Allen Omale was leaving but was happy since JosANA would get some “Abuja” checks {possibly Ghana-must-go’s} through him. The laughter following this crack led the House to a more important matter – literature. Matthew Mzegha informed us that Nigeria’s top breakfast TV Show - A.M. Express - had requested that JosANA feature in one of their upcoming editions. The House was so happy about this that grins broke across every face. It really was gratifying that JosANA is increasingly being taken seriously by the media as being one of the most active Association of Nigerian Authors chapters in Nigeria. Allen Omale commended Richard Ali on the work he had been doing viz publicity. But of course, only reality can be publicized, so the commendation went back to Chairman Allen and the members of JosANA.

Next, Stephanie Onyejekwe, the freshest B.A. in the House, read her poem “Africa’s Maid” which was written for Aunty Bose Tsevende. It was a fantastic poem and as is typical of Stephanie’s finer poems, it was full of allusions well blended with exquisite diction. However, it prompted the show of the erstwhile hidden hand. Stephanie read the poem. But it was a poem that demanded to be performed. Allen said that the delivery is what gives life to a poem and he mentioned the Abuja Poetry Performance’s he had witnessed in the past. The Vice Chairman, Matthew Mzegha, who works for the NTA, hammered on the primacy of “performance”, saying basically that a listless performance made for ambivalent reception of an erstwhile extraordinary poem. Allen advised Stephanie to read her poems into a tape recorder so she could improve her presentation.

It was then that our first time member, the ten year old ‘Laja Agboola wowed us with his poem, “a sort of short rhyme” he called it. It went –

“Here comes a hungry man looking for some bread
If you have a piece of bread, don’t wait till he’s dead”.

- do you doubt now that the boy is a worthy son of his father and bonafide member of JosANA?

Dr. Agboola brought up the issue of artistic synergy. He noted JosANA comprised playwrights, poets, choreographers and very talented storywriters, arguing that there ought to be greater collaboration between all artists for the holistic expression of our take on Nigerian literature. Almost on cue, Jos City playwright extraordinaire, Paul Ugbede, joined us. The thing really is that when a writer writes, it takes a most perceptive reader to hear the text as it exists in the writers’ head. Considering that the average reader {while not in the least insulting the discernment of our literati} is not so sophisticated, a synergy between artists to provide a complete performance would go a long way in impressing our work in the minds of posterity.

Matthew Mzegha read a poem “Water is Life” which exalted the primacy of water much in the manner of Akeem Lasisi to whom Allen Omale rightly compared the Vice Chairman. It really was a fantastic poem except for the little-big issue of the title, which Redzie Jugo rightly said was cliché-ish. Mathew Mzegha’s poetry has been improving steadily over the last year and his effort was roundly praised. He told us that he had performed the poem with props, complete with beard and animal skins, for a TV program recently. Once again, “performance” slipped into our deliberations.

Redzie Jugo read an engaging short story title “Mirage” in what is becoming his characteristically punchy style. It was a tale of Dutch courage, a girl, father and son with cross-purpose expectations of each other, inopportune time, and a desire for marriage that goes fantastically wrong. Mirage. And all this in 601 words. Truly remarkable. Next David Onotu read “Season of Rain”, dedicated to his friend Michael Emeka who was present at the reading. I don’t know if Niyi Osundare has had anything to do with Jos City. I wonder because he has a protégé here! The tame lyricism of Onotu’s poetry begs comparison to Osundare’s “Waiting Laughters”. Richard Ali compared it to TS Eliot’s “The Waste Land” for its diction and the curiosity the poet sustained throughout the long poem.

There really is a Fourth Generation extant in Nigerian letters and many of its components are found bi-weekly at JosANA. One feels as if one is in the cusp of something auspicious and from my study of the Third {1990’s} Generation, it was the same with them. While we do not have dictatorships to rail against and be made martyrs by, we have our contemporary re-explanations of the world. This re-explanation is necessary because increasingly, appearances, in international politics and social interaction are not what they seem. Where are all those Lagos-Ibadan publishers? Come up north and catch the next wave of cosmopolitan, definitive Nigerian literature.

Richard Ali read next, but neither of his readings were his work, he chose to pay respect to his elders. The first was an Ifa divination for the outgoing Chairman, he took the liberty {hoping the purists don’t ask for his head} of reading five odu’s for Allen Omale at this most auspicious juncture of his life. He then presented the hand copied sacred verses to Mr. Omale. Next, he read from Olatoun Williams’s 1992 “The Triumvirate”. He read two paragraphs, a short story in its right, from that book titled “The Wild Rose Garden”. JosANA listened enthralled as he read and applause, for Ms. Williams, followed. Ali said what struck him was the sheer beauty of the lines –

“If sanity is provisional, the line separating mental health from lunacy is not the great distance we think it is. Not the gulf from which we feel ourselves spiritually removed. And if indeed it is an abyss, then we all float on its vast cerebral surface – from which access to the brink of a mad world is rapid.

If madness is incomprehensible, how can we hope to understand it? How can we hope to save the madman who may have traversed the nightmare journey of a life, punctuated by glimmers of light, thereupon reaching the frontiers of a uniform world – where the days number one, and the sun shines through moon rays and bathes in an acid-golden haze? The heady perfume of madness within which the man is drowning, cannot be restrained, drop by drop, its scent emanates from the private and passionate jungle of his senses.”

Where is Olatoun Williams now?

The meeting wound to a close with the reading of Alpha Emeka’s short story “The Celebration of Ugba” written for Allen Omale and Aunty B’s reading a passionate paean to the pen and all penners in a voice that was powerful and reminiscent of Toni Morrison. The poem was performed as only a natural habitué of the theatre can. Finally, Adam Abubakar read an excerpt from his debut novel due out in the United States by August. The novel is titled “The Quest For Nina” and he brought to bear his skill from writing drama and screenplays, creating a compelling, subtly powerful chapter.

At JosANA, we celebrate our own – our own that is leaving, our own that remains with us. And we are not sad, for we are wiser, we are happy.

Richard Ugbede Ali is Secretary General of Jos ANA. Enquiries may be made to 08062392145 or emailed to