How leadership, land tussle ripped Nigerian writers’ association apart

How leadership, land tussle ripped Nigerian writers’ association apart

The association was set up to unite Nigerian writers and bring them under a common organisation but the purpose is now threatened.

The ideals behind the setting up of the Nigerian writers’ association is currently imperilled as raging strife threatens to tear the body apart.

Sources say, on one hand, the battle is mainly for who heads the association which boasts of hundreds of Nigerian writers.

On the other, control over a large expanse of land, in a choice area of the Federal Capital Territory also seems to be a source of conflict.

In the current tussle, all is fair in war, as the major contenders hold fast to their positions even as the image of the association totters on the edge.

Chinua Achebe’s legacy

The association was birthed on June 27, 1981, during a conference called by the literary giant, Chinua Achebe.

At the maiden gathering which had in attendance major global players in the literary world, attendees agreed to form a major platform to harness the literary potentials in Nigeria.

Two Kenyan writers, Ngugi Wa Thiongo and Gacheche Wauringi, added colour to the event. The association was later registered as a corporate body with the Corporate Affairs Commission, Abuja.

Its board of trustees included, Kole Omotoso, Mabel Segun, Ernest Emenyonu, Labo Yari, Mr Achebe (now deceased) and T.M Aluko (deceased)

Its fundamental objectives are to promote Nigerian literature; encourage the collection, recording and transcription of oral literature and promote the interest of authors.

From Mr Achebe, its first president in 1981, the 39-year-old association has been led by prominent personalities including Kole Omotosho, Femi Osofisan, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Odia Ofeimun, Abubakar Gimba, Olu Obafemi, Wale Okediran, Jerry Agada, Remi Raji and lately, Denja Abdullahi.

But after Mr Abdullahi’s two-term tenure in 2019, the association was ripped apart by a crisis that is far from abating. Currently, there are two factions laying claim to the mantle of leadership of ANA while some others say the two factions are illegal.

Enugu impasse

The association’s 38th convention held between October 31 and November 3, 2019, at the Institute of Management (IMT) Enugu to herald new leaders, ended up a fiasco.

The quagmire later degenerated into confusion that has lingered over the last few months.

Accusations of vote-buying, imposition of delegates, disenfranchisement, ‘intimidation’ of voters, non-adherence to a regional ‘zoning formula’ and unethical conduct marred the process as contestants accused one another of illegalities. The event was later truncated when it degenerated into violence.

Dangote adbanner 728x90_2 (1)

At the convention, the top position attracted the greatest conflict. The major contenders for the presidency of the association were Camillus Ukah, Ahmed Maiwada, Ofonime Inyang and Chike Ofili.

Mr Ukah, who was then the vice president of the association, enjoys the support of the outgoing president, Mr Abdullahi. Mr Inyang was the outgoing general secretary. The other two also had considerable leverage.

The association is led by a governing National Executive Council which comprises 14 officials headed by a president. The officials are elected every two years at a national convention.

State executive councils also exist to manage the affairs of the different chapters.

After the botched Enugu event, two presidential aspirants now head the prominent factions at daggers drawn today: Messrs Ukah and Maiwada. The other two also appear not to have sheathed their swords.

Both (Maiwada, Ukah) men later gave their account of what led to the chaos at the event in separate interviews.

The immediate past president, Mr Abdullahi, also gave his own account in an April 24 interview.

None of them believe they were to blame for the Enugu fiasco.

The convention ended in a deadlock after the major contenders and the leaders of the association could not reach a compromise. By then, the Abdullahi-led executive had been dissolved hence there was a leadership vacuum.

To fill the vacuum, PREMIUM TIMES was told a committee tagged ANA advisory council led by Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo as chairman, Mr Ofeimun, (former ANA president), Remi Raji (also ex-ANA president), Diego Okenyodo and Yemi Adebiyi were mandated to set up another timeline for elections within six months.

The 25 ANA state chairmen were reported to have agreed to this.

But, perhaps, as an inkling to a budding crisis, two members of the now-dissolved electoral committee reportedly, at the same venue, also released a ‘new timetable’ for a subsequent election to be held on February 22, 2020.

One association, two presidents

The November 2019 botched event became the first in cascading steps that led to more crises.

On March 7, 2020, as the global coronavirus pandemic intensified, some state chapter chairpersons and secretaries of the association gathered in Abuja for an ‘emergency general meeting’ ostensibly to appraise the crisis.

Another electoral committee had been set up in the previous weeks by a faction reportedly led by one of the contestants (Maiwada) to conduct new polls.

At the end of the controversial Abuja event, which soon dovetailed into an election, a ‘new executive’ led by Mr Maiwada emerged to the consternation of the other faction.

During an interview with the Blueprint on March 13, Mr Maiwada reportedly said a ‘revolution’ had taken place in ANA with his emergence as the new president.

READ ALSO: NBA Election: Presidential candidate alleges fraud, wants result cancelled

The other faction, which comprised the immediate past president and Mr Ukah, however, called his emergence a coup and asked all the state chapters to disregard the elections.

By July 18, the crisis deepened as the Adimora-Ezeigbo-led committee, despite moves by the new ‘president’ to frustrate its work, eventually concluded its ‘transition’ programme and conducted another election.

At the election which held in Makurdi, Benue State, Mr Ukah was elected yet as ‘president’ with a new crop of executives.

However, Mr Maiwada, who was elected during the first ‘election’ appeared initially to be holding the longer end of the stick as his executive team had been occupying a controversial Abuja land, which hosts the known office of the union. At least until last week, when the Camilus group said ‘’it had taken charge of the property’’.

Mr Maiwada, a lawyer, in previous interviews, insisted he worked closely with past ANA executives and was instrumental to the ‘recovery’ of a large expanse of land in Abuja, which was donated to the association to build a writers’ village.

Some sources, however, say the land, swathes of which were ‘illegally’ sold by some unnamed ex-leaders of the union, is the major source of conflict.

Abuja land controversy

Sources within the ANA leadership told PREMIUM TIMES the crisis, described as a perennial one, is linked to the tussle over who oversees over (initial) 60 hectares of land in Mpape, Abuja donated to the association by the late general, Mamman Vatsa, in 1985.

Mr Vatsa, a poet and writer, was executed by ex-military president, Ibrahim Babangida, on March 5, 1986, over an alleged coup attempt.

The ex-general, when he was the FCT minister, apart from hosting their annual conferences, also gave the massive piece of land to Nigerian writers to build a Writers’ Village.

The land, which is yet to be fully developed has been ‘encroached’ upon over the years and is now about 36.9 hectares according to one of the factional ANA presidents, Mr Maiwada, in an interview with Sun, who said he represented the association during the tussle to recover the land.

When PREMIUM TIMES reached out to Mr Maiwada during the werek, he initially agreed to comment on the leadership tussle and the apparent struggle over land. He asked the reporter to send his questions. But he then declined two days after with a short message:

‘’I didn’t have time to answer your questions, because I’d been battling with the contempt of the court committed by Mallam Denja Abdullahi, who led Mr Camillus Ukah and his team of illegal men and women to the ANA land yesterday, where they broke into our national headquarters office and entered while I still had the keys in my custody,’’ he said. ‘’Besides, answering some of the questions could make me run the risk of committing contempt of court, as the matter is already before the FCT High Court, awaiting determination.’’

He did not give further details on the said court issue.

But Mr Abdullahi, who says he has since handed over to the authentic president (Camillus) disputed this. He told PREMIUM TIMES there is ‘’no valid court order” barring his team from the land.

He said although he was ‘informed’ a case had been filed in court over the matter before the coronavirus pandemic, he is yet to receive any court papers ‘’as the court is yet to sit over the matter or issue any order’’.

Mr Camillus did not respond to enquiries on the issues. However, he deployed Bantex Torlafia, the national legal adviser of his faction, to give responses on his behalf and executive.

‘‘Maiwada brought two court bailiffs to serve us a writ of summons that is not addressed to any of us and does not concern any of us and had nothing to do with our purpose on the ANA land, seeking to enforce a nonexistent court order. I had to explain to them that their actions were illegal and that they were only being used. They realised this and left without any more troubles,’’ Mr Torlafia said on the Mpape confrontation during the week.

The Mpape divisional police officer had to intervene to avert a clash on the land between members of the two groups during the week. He reportedly advised them to seek judicial redress to resolve the crisis.

‘Land: centre of dispute’

A source, who asked not to be named, however, said the main source of conflict is over who controls the large expanse of land.

The writer-cum-activist, who was one of those who left the association in the heat of the crisis, said the major battle is not about leading the association.

He also insists portions of the land had been sold off by ‘past leaders and factions’ of the association illegally and the sharing of the proceeds led to conflict. He did not mention any name, when prodded further.

‘‘The land that was donated by the late general, Mamman Vatsa, was over 60 hectares. But over the years, that land has been illegally sold off until it remained about 36 hectares,’’ he said. ‘’A particular ‘faction’ had always been in control of ANA and ran the association the way they wanted. That was why some of us left the association. We were not happy at the way the union was being run.’’

He said the land controversy and ‘sharing’ proceeds from it ruptured the ‘clique’ that had been running the association and polarised them into the current factions.

Meanwhile, one of the current contenders, Mr Maiwada, in the Sun interview, had said the remaining land was worth N1.2 billion as of 2012.

‘’When I finished that case, I recovered 36.9 hectares. The value of that 36.9 hectares, as at (of) 2012 when I recovered it, was N1.2 billion, according to KNVR, the new developer. After seeing that, I made a token request of N15 million only as my payment (it was supposed to be 10 per cent on the value of the recovered land), because I was also a member of ANA, and didn’t want to charge more than that. Unknown to me, the ANA authorities then had requested for N20 million from the developer to pay me, and got it, yet I did not get a kobo.

‘’They should have kept, at least, N5 million and pay me my N15 million; but they didn’t. The developer was not supposed to give them a kobo, for that was not part of the agreement we signed with the developer. But he still gave them. These people blew the money. At the Kaduna ANA convention (2015), I was about to tell the congress what was going on, but I was called aside to calm down, that I would still get my money despite the change of government. That was how I kept quiet,’’ he was quoted by the newspaper.

‘No land sold’

‘‘The allegations against successive leadership of the Association on the ANA land is utterly false. No leadership of ANA over the years has sold any piece to anyone. In fact, no leadership of ANA has ever had the capacity to sell the land to anyone,’’ Mr Abdullahi told PREMIUM TIMES.

He also said, the initial land allocated during the Vatsa era ‘’has since decreased from 61 hectares to 36 due to seizure by the FCT authorities and encroachment by locals’’.

‘‘The Remi Raji exco signed an MOU with another developer, KMVL, in 2012 and the firm went to take possession of the property. In the course of that, it was discovered at AGIS that the available land out of the initial 61 hectares given has reduced to 36 hectares.

‘’Government has over the years given parts of the land to other land users as a result of under-development by ANA. On the original land now stands a presidential police barracks and all other approved structures.

‘’No ANA executive has had any control or documents and the power to sell any part of the land to anyone. Even throughout my tenure, I did not have any legal titles or deeds to the land in my custody apart from the MOU I inherited from the previous executive, so with which documents would I and my executive have sold any land?,’’ he said while sharing a copy of the MOU with PREMIUM TIMES.

The MOU, which was signed between the association and KMVL on September 28, 2013, authorised the firm to develop the land on Plot 3158, Mpape District for the writers under specific terms.

The document was prepared by Mr Maiwada under the auspices of the Wadata Chambers.

The document also acknowledged that the original land title deeds were in the possession of the Abuja Geographical Information Service (AGIS).

KMVL was to develop on five (5) hectares of the land, a conference centre, secretariat, e-library, suites for state chapters, 50-bed hotel with an Olympic sized swimming pool and chalets for residency programmes. These were to be built within two years.

The firm was to operate the hotel under a build-transfer-operate agreement for 21 years while ‘’the remaining 13 hectares of land as indicated by the land budget were to be disposed of as earlier agreed’’.

Meanwhile, Mr Abdullahi also dismissed Mr Maiwada’s claims to the leadership of the association.

He said the official had already been expelled by the association during its July meeting in Makurdi where Mr Ukah was elected so he no longer had any rights in the group. He also denied manipulating the Enugu botched election or trying to foist his ex-deputy, Mr Ukah, on the association.

‘’The crisis now in ANA was simply orchestrated by a group led by an erstwhile national legal adviser (Maiwada) of the association who wants to forcefully enthrone himself on the association as president through peddling of false rumours, legalistic tricks, brigandage and all sorts of antics you find in the larger political field which he has imported into ANA out of sheer desperation,’’ said Mr Maiwada, who is now the director, National Council of Arts, Culture.

‘’The crisis was orchestrated by a desperate group and they have blacklisted all the elders from intervening. They have shown gross disrespect to all the elders and official organs of the Association. They claimed to have started a revolution in ANA and that they must lead or destroy the Association if not allowed to lead.

‘’They have rebuffed all the mediating roles of the elders so ANA has to just simply allow the constitutional provisions to play out. They have threatened to challenge everything in court and had even gone to court. They are being led by a lawyer so litigation is their forte and they think they can use the court to wrest power they could not get at the polls. ANA is waiting for them.’’

Also, Mr Torlafia said the Camillus faction was duly elected.

He said ‘’all laid down legalities stipulated by the ANA Constitution were followed during the July election as against what was illegally obtained in the Abuja elections (in March)’’.

‘’They (other faction) simply hijacked the process and played on the gullibility of non-discerning members through an upside-down reading of the National ANA Constitution, they went ahead with the abomination called National ANA election in Abuja in March, 2020,’’ he added. ‘’As far as I am concerned, they were not validity elected, inaugurated and have not had any handover from any of the past National ANA executives whether formal or not, done to them.’’

He also said there was nothing wrong in Mr Abdullahi supporting his ex-VP for the top position after his tenure.

‘‘There is no denying that Camillus was a part of the immediate past administration of Denja, but he can also be indicted if found wanting. He is answerable to Congress, not to Denja or any one person for that matter. For those saying this, the question at this point will be, has that been the practice? All the past National ANA presidential hopefuls at one point or the other were National ANA executives and part of one administration or another.’’

On the alleged illegal land sale, he said they were still allegations

‘’This is an allegation nobody has yet seriously taken up, not to talk of proven. Informed findings indicate that the National ANA leadership gave up their rights to all the bequeathed land at Mpape, Abuja to a Property Development Company called KMVL to erect befitting structures on JUST 5 hectares of the land for National ANA at the total expense of the Property Development Company, and manage same for 21 years with shared benefits accrued to National ANA and the company.

‘’This contract was meant to be executed since (for) the last 4 years. So, for me what is even wrong is the clauses and the non-execution of that agreement, if you ask me. Nobody has come out to prove that any National ANA Land has been sold, the closest you can discover to this allegation is that as a result of not occupying the Mpape land for long, some criminal-minded persons who have nothing to do with ANA have poached, encroached and occupied several parts of the land, including its illegal sale to unsuspecting members of the public.

‘’This has been a matter the National ANA has been in a court battle for long in trying to recover the encroached land. And nobody till date has even come forward to say he or she bought National ANA Land from any National ANA officer,’’ he explained in a lengthy defence sent to PREMIUM TIMES.

PREMIUM TIMES reached out to Kola Shaw, the director of the developer, KMVL, to get reactions on the status of the land. He did not respond to calls or text messages seeking clarification. An online search for details of the firm did not yield any information or website detailing its operations.

However, two workers on the site, (Michael and Dare), when the reporter visited said work ‘’was going on’’ on the land but confirmed that there was indeed a conflict on which faction had authentic access to the land.

Apart from the unfinished buildings of the association, the reporter also noticed several structures already springing on the large expanse of land located in an affluent and lush area just on the outskirts of the urban area.

Sanni Abubakar, the FCT minister Muhammed Bello’s media aide, said he could not comment on the alleged reallocation/seizure of parts of the land by the FCT authorities yet until he sees relevant documents by those making the claims.

‘’We will need to see documentary evidence before we can react to the claim,’’ he said Friday. ‘’Without the documents, whatever we say will be speculations. Let them give you documents to back their claims, bring them to us to verify, then we can react.’’

‘Third force’

Meanwhile, there are some members who do not believe the association has no leaders for now. Members of this group are calling on Nigerians to ignore the two factions while new elections are held to usher in new leaders.

One of them is Mr Ofili, one of the contestants in 2019. He told PREMIUM TIMES that the two factions, which he said were ‘’once united in illegality’’, are illegal.

‘’There is no president in ANA yet because the last election was aborted. The two (Maiwada, Camillus) are pretenders on the throne,’’ he said. ‘’They are th**ves on the throne with the different gangs they belong to. ANA has no president.’’

He said the Enugu election was aborted because of irregularities and the ‘manipulation’ of the delegates lists. He said the subsequent elections in March and July were illegal.

‘’What both of them have been doing is organising themselves into power. So, don’t ever report that there are two factions. There are just two th**ves trying to take the ANA throne.’’

He said it is only the ANA Congress that has the powers to enthrone new leaders and the association must revert to it to get out of its present logjam. Or resort to the courts if this fails, he adds.

He also insisted that the battle for the soul of the association was over which ‘faction’ controls the Abuja land and how to cover up for the (alleged) illegal sale of portions of it.

‘’They have sold off portions of the land and now want to find themselves in power by hook or crook to ensure they perpetrate whatever they are trying to do with the land.’’

Another member who holds a similar position is Folu Agoi, ex-chairman of the Lagos chapter of ANA. Mr Agoi, who is the current president PEN, Nigeria, said his chapter and a few others do not recognise the two factions.

Giving the known background to the crisis, he also said the two elections held in 2020 were shambolic and the Lagos chapter condemned them.

‘’My thoughts are symbolic of the Lagos chapter…the way forward is to have conversations amongst the major parties involved, constitute a new electoral committee at a congress and then have a proper election,’’ the official said.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt that moves by prominent ex-leaders of the association to restore peace has largely been fruitless.

One of those who reportedly made moves to ensure peace among the factions is a globally acclaimed poet and polemicist Mr Ofeimun.

Mr Ofeimun, who served as the secretary of the union between 1986 and 1988, told PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday that he has since stopped trying to broker peace

‘’I will not speak about the ANA crisis. Sorry about that. I have decided not add one word,’’ Mr Ofeimun said tersely. ‘’I am no longer trying to broker peace. I want them (factions) to slug it out.’’

Despite his apparent exasperation, he subtly offered a solution out of the impasse.

‘’There is only one way to solve this problem. Let all the known Nigerian writers be listed, their membership (of the association) determined before any solution will take place. Bye-bye,’’ he said.


PT Mag Campaign AD