Sunday, 22 October 2017
We have sacrificed much for Nigerian writers – BM Dzukogi
BM Dzukogi, writer and literary activist, has again thrown his hat in the race to be elected president of the Association of Nigerian Authors at Next weekend’s convention in Makurdi, Benue State. In this interview, he speaks about what derailed his chances in the last elections, his scathing assessment of the present administration and what he intends to bring to the table and lots more.
So, I take it that the ANA house is not ready yet for our practical contribution to the Nigerian literary space at that level. You know how Nigeria works, especially when it comes to elective offices. So much retreat to little enclaves. So many considerations for material, and so little for evident results. Otherwise, how could we have been beaten with our enormous contributions to the development of literature in Nigeria?
You are again contesting for president this year. What makes you think the outcome will be different this time?
You are always hopeful that the result will favour you. If you win, you win. If you lose, you lose. What is important is that, there is always a next time. The next time is here. For me, losing or wining is the same from a sportsman perspective. Our loss, last two years, didn’t affect our productivity. We returned to our Art Centre and did great things that even the national ANA didn’t do. The impact of our initiatives, programmes and book development are evident.
You had a comprehensive manifesto last time. Has this manifesto been updated, what changes have there been in your plans for ANA?
Not much has changed. The only addition is that we now have a national festival of teen authors called NIFESTEENA. Seven or so states participated in the maiden edition this year. We hope to stage the next one in Kaduna. We hope the wife of the governor will take up the challenge of hosting it. If I become the president of ANA, like we exported the Nigerian Writers Series and the national Teen Authorship Scheme there, we shall take this one there too. There is also a programme called Naija Book Hunt and Harvest which is a national book collection activity for onward distribution to schools. Our state chapters should be able to adopt these programmes for a holistic national book development plan we hope to launch in conjunction with state governments.
Everything in the former manifesto is alive. Even some of you who are wining prizes up and down, we shall persuade all of you to establish a national endowment fund for publishing teen authors. Win a prize, give the child-writer small. Simple. Annually, we shall select five states to benefit. By the end of two or four years, we should have introduced new little writers to the scene for which ANA can say, this is what we have done. With all sense of humility, I think we have the ideas that can work. We do not shy away from espousing them publicly because we have more, given the necessary resources. Our central focus shall be on young writers. Adults have their ways.
What is your assessment of ANA in the last two years? How do you think the administration has performed?
Because I think I can do better. I have not seen much from them other than trying to maintain the balance they met. We need adventures. Nobody grows in an atmosphere of mediocrity. We are not ANA president yet, but we have introduced NIFESTEENA that is gathering teen artists around the country for a festival. Who are the sponsors? ANA members and the Niger State government. Now, listen. Because of NIFESTEENA, Akpoveta and another girl from Bayelsa who attended the maiden edition and won trophies got a chance to meet Pa Gabriel Okara and the commissioner of education there. Can you quantify how much morale boosts it is for them, for their art? Our adventure led to that result. The same thing for kids from Kebbi State. This ANA leadership is not adventurous. They seem to be contented with the usual.
Development has begun on the ANA land finally. Is this something that has impressed you or do you think there could have been another way of going about it?
If development has started, that’s great. We all started it. I had to leave because of the book agency we got in Niger. I am happy to hear that it is on. All state chapters should seek to have theirs too. Niger has but left undeveloped.
One of the ANA projects you have been heavily involved with from inception was the Nigerian Writers’ Series. From publishing 10 books in the first series, the second has only three books. How do you think the project has fared?
That’s evidently a backward movement. You don’t need any serious mathematics to know that this is not progress. The first set of books came from the purse of Niger State government. There is no Nigerlite on the list because none qualified for it. We have sacrificed much for Nigerian writers. When the current leadership came on board, I thought they would be magnanimous enough to say Dzukogi, let’s go back to the Niger State government for the continuation of the series and teen authorship scheme. They didn’t. In fact, they sought to ban it. Even to visit Talba, who gave them the money, they didn’t. They should have gone to thank him in Abuja, they didn’t. To come to the current governor to say thank you, this is what the previous governor did, please, could you do the same? They didn’t. They just abandoned me because I contested against them. In Nigeria, an opposition is an enemy. Funny people. Now, they didn’t come to our governor and they didn’t get their governors to do the same. What has the president’s governor done for ANA, that Kogi State governor, since Denja became our leader, what has he done for ANA? It’s only Camilus. He is the one. The business of leading ANA is a bag of volunteerism in which any lack will retard the gains others have achieved in the past.
One of the major challenges of ANA has been funding. Do you think this administration has done enough to raise funding for the association or is there a better way of doing it?
Of course not! If they did, where are the tangible results? Where are the books facilitated? We published 11 books in 2016 alone at the art centre. No state chapter has ever done that. For the past two years that we lost the election, there are three unmatchable feats we have achieved with little funding: the 11 books; NIFESTEENA; and establishing branches of our foundation in states of the federation. Little money can do great things, especially if it is about young people.
Is there any plan you have for improving the Nigerian Writers’ Series?
Sure man! I am not only going back to the Niger State government, we shall position the programme at chapter levels. We shall pool money from organisations, individuals, governments and institutions to build capacities of writers and publish their works. Anything short of fifteen titles annually, forget it. That’s how my colleagues in ANA Niger were showing concern that I was carrying too many bags on my head. I told them that my head is not my head; my mind is my head.
What is it that the mind does not carry? We shall do more for teen authors and young writers. Mine shall be a heavy dose of publishing. Sorry, enough of the old guards. These boys and girls must move to the centre stage. You can only achieve that when you are publishing the good ones en masse. They too would have to bear with the little ones that are sprouting behind. This is growth and development. It’s a movement in the offing, man! A movement has sprouted from Niger State. The movement is unstoppable whether with ANA presidency or not.
You have been instrumental in capacity building for writers, especially among young ones in Niger State. You have mentioned how keen you are to take this to the national level. How do you propose to do this?
I just mentioned them. We shall revive all we did before and push them further. We have the credibility, we have the diplomacy, and we have the heart. What you love to do, what you have interest in, is not a burden. It is all about volunteerism. That’s the unmatchable spirit of our operation and existence. This spirit now lives with many children.
You are a key figure in ANA Niger, the state chapter has suffered serious political crisis recently, some of which, it was said, contributed to you losing the elections last time. What caused these divisions in ANA Niger?
Brother, I am tired of that mess. A stranger came and scattered us. They almost killed our peace. Recounting that s**** is not for me again. We are re-positioning the chapter. Only writing writers would be our members, henceforth. We are drawing up a bye-law. We are making progress. Alhaji Dangana is handling the situation. To be ANA president is not compulsory. It is only a means to accelerate your vision for the writers’ community and Nigeria. Otherwise, we are already achieving a lot in many directions.
Do you think that now you can fully count on the support of ANA Niger at the congress?
Speaking of Niger and one of your major achievements, the Niger State Book Development Agency has devolved from a great idea to a typical government agency that hasn’t delivered much in the last two years. What went wrong with that idea?
I think those who are there now lack ideas. They can’t even do a thing to get the attention of government. In fact, they are losing ground. Other agencies have come to snatch away the offices because of their idleness. They have no D.G who will probably talk to the governor directly or use other ways of creating impact. They are just there. They allocate funds annually to the agency but the complaints I get is that the ministry of finance doesn’t release the funds. I think it has more to do with uncreative leadership there. Why is the governor listening to the Art Centre?
Why is the chief of staff listening to our programmes? Why did the former commissioners of education, madam Madugu, and Ramatu of Investment listen to us? The leadership at the book agency must wake up because government has been supporting our adventurous programmes from the Art Centre. The agency is in the right position to get more support than us. Let the leadership of the agency become pro-active.
You mentioned before that you had plans to replicate the Book Development Agency across the states if you become president. How do you intend to achieve this and crucially, if done, how do you hope to sustain it so it doesn’t go the way of the one in Niger?
Through advocacy visits to the state governments and getting a commitment from governors. Katsina State government is planning one right now. If we get governments to do it, are there no writers in the state to sustain them? If you look at that of Niger, it is not that it is dead, it is only in coma. It means it can be revived. But what are the writers there, who are staff of the agency doing? Why are they allowing it to die? Everyone comes to build on what has been established, that’s how society grow. You say that it becomes my sole responsibility to initiate and give it life forever? All the chapters of ANA will have a duty to sustain what is theirs. Our duty shall be to convince governments to have it.
All things considered, what would you say are your chances at the forthcoming elections?
As always; hopeful! It is in their interest to elect me. They are the ones to benefit because we do the thing we say. I am a sportsman. The spirit is dynamic. There shall always be a next time if there is life. But for this one, the hope is even higher than 2015 for the fact that what we have done at the Art Centre in the past two years is an exemplification of the potency of our fertility to be agents of genuine development.