A.E.: As an important player in the literary field in Nigeria, what is your position on the controversy dogging the NLNG prize’s limitation vis-à-vis the ‘onshore’ and ‘offshore’ Nigerian writers respectively. Do you agree with Odia Ofeimun’s position?
F.O.: You know I was on the Board which decided the policy, and so I am equally responsible for it. The reasons we have presented elsewhere, and I am prepared to defend them any time. However, the interesting thing is that, after all the controversy started by Odia, some of us were sacked rather unceremoniously from the Board, and a new Board set up. And what was interesting is that this new Board reconsidered the decision, and reaffirmed it! But I am glad to have been sacked, because it now makes it easy for me to compete!
A.E.: How does funding or lack thereof affect the production of drama or literature generally in Nigeria.
F.O.: The answer to that is obvious. How can one put up a play without financial support? How many people read, in order to support a literary industry? But even in the developed world (I am writing this from Berlin, at this year's Congress of the International PEN), you should come and see the financial support that artists enjoy from various state organizations, ranging from the city councils to national bodies set up precisely for that purpose! But it's not only the developed world. In all the francophone countries, in South Africa...it's a shame when we tell them that Nigeria gives no such support. And that's why we cannot vie for any of the international positions that our smaller neighbours are seizing right before our eyes left and right! It's really painful, I don't want to discuss it any longer... And you know that it's the state that stimulates the private sector in our country. Once the state is indifferent, then you know that no private company will be interested either. Yet this is a country in which artistic talent is abundant, and artists have gone on to win us some of the most prestigious prizes...!
A.E.: Is there any connection in your opinion, between the lack of state funding for the arts in Nigeria, bad governance and its resultant economic depression?
F.O.: Of course! It takes enlightened people to understand such questions, to appreciate the value of art and literature...
A.E.: Thank you for your precious time.
Sentinel Poetry (Online) #46
The International Journal of Poetry & Graphics...since 2002
Editor: Amatoritsero Ede