Denja Abdullahi was the 11th president of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). He was the last president before the 38th elective convention of the union ended in a fiasco in Enugu last year. The union currently has two factions laying claim to its leadership. In this interview, the director, National Council for Arts/Culture explains why he had challenges handing over to a successor, the first time in the history of the 39-year-old union. Excerpts:
PREMIUM TIMES: Your administration will go down in history as the first time that ANA had challenges via leadership tussle. What is the cause of the present crisis?
Abdullahi: The crisis now in ANA was simply orchestrated by a group led by an erstwhile national legal adviser 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.
I spent 18 unbroken years in various positions in the National Executive Council of the Association since 2001 till 2019 when I left as President, so no one has the kind of institutional memory and factual records I have in ANA at the moment.
ANA had been peaceful though with the usual low scale politicking and manoeuvring for offices over the years developing incrementally and solidifying until the bitter contest to succeed me as President in 2019 by four candidates, unprecedented in ANA history, and obviously caused by the unprecedented heights I have raised the Association to.
One of those achievements, out of many I recorded, was the building of the Mamman Vatsa Writers’ village in Mpape, Abuja on land given to ANA by Vatsa in 1985 and which had been fallow until 2017 when my executive commenced actual development.
A particular candidate became obsessed about the land and made it his only campaign agenda and worked out desperately employing campaign of calumny, wide-scale bribery of delegates, importation of thugs to our congress and eventually disrupted the election in Enugu when he saw that he was not going to win. That got us to the point we are now.
PREMIUM TIMES: So who is the authentic president of ANA now?
Abdullahi: After the disruption of the election by the agents of the desperate candidate who everyone knows, we reverted to constitutional provision which clearly states that power should revert to the advisory council which should convoke an Emergency General Meeting (EGM) where a caretaker committee will be formed that would now conduct an election within 180 days.
The advisory council chaired by Prof Femi Osofisan, a co-founder of ANA alongside (Chinua) Achebe, followed the constitutional provision to the letter and that led to the election of Camillus Ukah as President on the 17th of July 2020 at the EGM held in Makurdi which is even with the approval of the BOT of ANA of Prof Ernest Emenyonu, Prof Kole Omotoso, Mama Mabel Segun and Labo Yari.
So Camillus is the validly elected president of ANA as we speak. Any other person parading himself as such is a violator of ANA constitution and must have resorted to self-help and anarchical antics.
PREMIUM TIMES: Give us an insight into what actually transpired at the botched Enugu election?
Abdullahi: The elections in Enugu were disrupted after my exco was constitutionally dissolved at the expiration of my tenure by a desperate group that was determined to hijack the leadership of the Association by any means necessary.
They imported thugs and non-members, compromised the security put in place and went against all conventions for the conduct of elections in ANA. They saw clearly that they would not win the election and they adopted the tactic of the Nigerian politician: any election you feel you cannot win, disrupt it if you can so you can have another chance at the poll. So, the lexicon of inconclusive election was introduced into ANA.
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That group had had meetings before Enugu and at Enugu to plot the disruption of the election. To justify that they went about with all sorts of unfounded allegations against my executive council of trying to impose a candidate on the Association, doctoring electoral register and blackmail against ANA elders that they must not preside over the elections, which has been our tradition, because they said the elders are not fair to them.
They insisted that presidential aspirants must have nominees into the electoral committee, against all reasons to the contrary, and the house succumbed to that. Even at that, they disrupted the elections with thuggery and violence.
PREMIUM TIMES: These are allegations. But we were told you sought to impose Camillus as president so he could cover up your illegalities since he served as your vice president. How true is this?
Abdullahi: That statement is most untrue. I had served for 4 years as President from 2015-2019 and give a comprehensive account of my stewardship in the office at the AGM of each annual convention we have held all throughout my tenure. No illegalities were raised and pointed out about me all through those 4 years I gave an account of my service in which these characters making such claims now were present.
So, how come those illegalities were not pointed out even at the AGM in Enugu but suddenly surfaced in the aftermath of a disrupted election? It is trite in ANA history to read any untoward meaning into a VP becoming President. I was VP before becoming President so was Prof Olu Obafemi, Abubakar Gimba, Prof Jerry Agada etc. So, what is the big deal if my VP aspired and got elected as President after me?
Are ANA members and the Congress blind not to know the right person to vote for? I have answered your question on purported illegalities. My records in office are well documented for anyone to read and verify. Let any illegality I have committed be pointed out. I do not need anyone to cover anything for me.
PREMIUM TIMES: There are claims the conflict is all about who controls the vast land owned by ANA in Abuja and also parts of this land have been sold by past leaders (including you) of the association illegally?
Abdullahi: 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.
The land was given in 1985 by Vatsa as Minister of FCT and a week after he was arrested for coup plotting and eventually killed. ANA could not even approach that land until the return to democracy in 1999.
In 1999 to 2000 the then ANA leadership of Abubakar Gimba got the C of O to the land. In 2001 to 2002, the Olu Obafemi leadership engaged a developer, Home Securities Ltd, to develop the land but the developer did nothing until that executive left office in 2005.
In 2007 the executive of Wale Okediran terminated the agreement between ANA and Home Securities and led to a breach of contract suit instituted against ANA by Home Securities that went on for four years and was decided in ANA’s favour in 2012 during the Remi Raji’s executive.
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.
ANA’s MOU with KMVL signed in 2012 and prepared by Ahmed Maiwada of Wadata Chambers and attested to by the then ANA President and General Secretary was premised on the available 36 hectares out of which the developer was authorised to dispose of parts of the land to put structures on five hectares for ANA. That was the subsisting MOU I met in office in 2015 when I became president and which was in force throughout my tenure.
When I came on board, in spite of the MOU that has run for about three years before I was elected there, was no single structure on that land until my executive forced the developer to commence development in 2017 and we now have various structures, about 60 per cent completed before I left office in 2019.
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?
My exco did not also sign any new agreement with any developer. No executive can even take any such step of entering into any agreement on the land without the approval of the ANA trustees. The issue of some desperate persons going about making baseless accusations against me and other past executives over that land is sheer wickedness arising out of the angling for an office that seems to be eluding them.
PREMIUM TIMES: What is the way out of this seeming impasse?
Abdullahi: 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.