Between liquids, writers’ confab solids

The 41st Nigerian Authors Association (ANA) has come and gone.

While it lasted, the spacious and opulent ambience of the Mamman Vatsa Writers’ Village, Mpape, Abuja, the venue of the meeting, witnessed the brilliance of the creative and intellectual expressions of the participants comprised of young ‘aspirants’ and luminaries of the writing profession from different parts of the globe.

I listened to scholarly discussions of bettering their fate and vocation inside the cavernous auditorium of the Chinua Achebe International Conference, an architectural masterpiece, still shining under a new coat of paint, an advertisement of the triumphant pride of the weavers of words over decades of struggle to have a ‘home’; and excursions into interwoven entertainment, theater and dance used to break the rocks and boredom of the four-day event.

This apprentice has discovered an interesting fact about some of the living legends and giants of African literature who impress the world with their sagacity and literary power: inside each of these mammoths there is a child – simple, natural , humorous, witty.

Like us, they also let their hair down and like to have fun in the company of peers.

I bring here parallax shots of some of those moments that I had the privilege of capturing during the festival.

Day one

On the first day, I arrived in the company of the famous playwright emeritus, Professor Femi Osofisan, with whom I had traveled from Ibadan. After being checked in and given the key to an apartment named in his honor in one of the guesthouses being developed on the sprawling estate, we both visited his friend and literary soulmate, Professor Olu Obafemi, who also had his next door.

I saw the two great literary scholars embrace like long-lost brothers, but I was amazed to hear Obafemi exclaim with obvious affection and excitement, “Ha, Femi, oju e re!” O t’odun meta. (There you are, Femi. It’s been a long time/three years since we last saw each other).

Although too young, I took the liberty of my familiarity with the two eldest to intervene: “You couldn’t say that, Prof! Are you two supposed to be twins?


“Yes, but is it our fault that the roads are unsafe and we cannot travel? The University of Ilorin has not retaliated with open criticism to the murderous reign of terror and insecurity that has gripped the Nigerian space.

He quickly faced another question, this time from Osofisan: “You don’t have beer in your fridge, do you?” »

“No,” Obafemi replied, complaining that he hadn’t had a drink since arriving earlier that morning. He lamented the lack of a pub or beer shop in the still partially built complex and suggested they might have to send someone into town to bring them their favorite drinks – him, wine red and Osofisan, the Heineken blond beer.

His explanations are no consolation to his friend, who dismisses them as “apologies.”

Expressing his disappointment, Prof Osofisan said: “You said you have been arriving since morning and lying here in this hot weather?

“Listen, I need to wet my parched throat…let’s get something to drink.” I also checked my fridge and there is nothing. Apparently it didn’t occur to Camillus and his family to store the place… I want to drink.

Obafemi, who had only a singlet over pants he was wearing, quickly put on a buba robe and followed us outside with Osofisan in the lead.

We were accosted by a lady working for the property developer simply called “Colonel”. She announced that lunch was ready and led us to a line of dining tables under a canopy erected in front of the completed guesthouse. Food was served. We all had the same meal – pounded yam with mixed vegetables in egusi soup served with chicken, fish or assorted meats. That was delicious.

Soon we were joined by Professor Ernest Emenyonu.


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The table greeted him with joy, Professor Obafemi inviting him to come and sit next to him.

But Emenyonu chose a seat next to mine and almost directly across from Obafemi. Dramatically turning aside one by one, the eminent literary critic was diplomatic in the face of his colleague’s insistent appeals tinged with a peremptory character.

“Here it is. You see, if I look here, I see something good. If I look over there, something better,” he said cheerfully, settling into the seat next to me.

“But that’s disobeying my order!” Obafemi protested with mock indignation.

At this, Professor Osofisan fired, “And who are you? Do you think you are in your university?

In what indicated he was probably still nursing a beef for encountering Obafemi’s fridge without alcohol, the renowned playwright scoffed:

“You are called Pro-Chancellor, a Pro-Chancellor in whose room we do not find a single bottle of beer!” You are a disgrace to your office, Mr Pro Chancellor. Right now…even before you arrived the whole place should have been stocked with cold beer and all kinds.

Just then, the pretty and distinguished professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo entered, lending her soft feminist aura to the raucous masculine atmosphere.

Upon catching sight of her, Osofisan rose and stood in a “loyal” salute as others welcomed the soft-spoken, septuagenarian beauty to the fold.

“I said I won’t eat until you arrive,” he told Akachi as he stood up for the Lady to sit down.

But his half-empty plate of food and his hand dripping with oil betrayed the false profession of the old comedian!

Also present were former ANA President Mallam Denja Abdullahi, Prof. Al-Bishak and Prof. Rezina Mohammed, who represented the keynote speaker, Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja, Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Na ‘Allah, to the convention.

“When is the next meal o?” It was still Osofisan! He had shouted the question to the amazement of the others still busy eating as he wiped his hands with paper towels to signal that he had finished eating his lunch.

Discussions

The discussion quickly turned to controversy over whether older people should have cold drinks.

The arguments were sparked by complaints from Obafemi and Osofisan

at the temperature of the bag of water served to the diners and of the food, which seemed to have been made in hell itself!.

Hiding in a heap under the scorching Abuja sun, the fluid burned like hot lava fresh from the bowels of an angry volcano.

Everyone felt it, but for Osofisan and Obafemi, wine connoisseurs, it was an opportune time to lament the inability to satisfy their craving in an environment they considered rather “unfriendly”.

Akachi Ezeigbo chastised the duo for craving a hard drink instead of plain water, which she said was best for quenching thirst.

She added that the hot water that both men seemed to disdain was recommended as even healthier than cold drinks for people their age.

“They’re going to kill us with all these ‘don’t eat this, don’t drink that’ warnings!” Professor Obafemi protested.

Osofisan seemed to agree with Akachi. He recalled that while he was teaching in China, every morning a large jug of hot water was placed on the table from which the students were served. “They said the tradition was because hot water is good for their health,” the dramatic scholar said, but added: “I protested. I said I’m from Africa , a continent that is already warm; why do you still want to give me something warm?

The joke drew another round of general laughter from the band like the previous ones.

Still, Osofisan’s eyes wandered relentlessly for even more mischief to do as the comedic mood seemed to fade.

He soon found one. He became interested in Professor Akachi’s cute handbag; he looked at her at first with admiration, then suddenly seized her.

Startled, the lady pulled the bag out of her lap and clung to it more tightly, giving Osofisan a look that a class mistress would have a naughty student.

“What do you want with my bag?” Don’t you know not to look at what’s in a woman’s bag? She growled with a friendliness that somewhat lessened the sting of reproach.

But Osofisan was not giving up. “Why?” He countered as he grabbed the bag again, causing the bag to shoot back and forth between him and Akachi.

“Leave my bag alone, leave my bag…” the literary Amazon shouted to everyone’s amusement.

Finally, tired of the game, Professor Osofisan let go.


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